Notes and Editorial Reviews
Schubert's Alfonso und Estrella was completed in 1822 but rejected by the Vienna Court Opera and not presented until after the composer's death, when Liszt gave its first performance in Weimar in 1854. It is a Romantic opera whose plot involves Alfonso, who lives in exile with his father, the deposed King Froila (although Alfonso doesn't know his royal identity), and concerns his love for Estrella, whose father Mauregato has usurped Froila's throne. Mauregato's general, Adolfo, loves Estrella, but she's not interested in him, and when Adolfo asks Mauregato for Estrella's hand, Mauregato decrees that she will marry whoever brings the Chain of Eurich back from Froila.
In Act 2, Estrella, lost during a hunt, meets Alfonso,
who gives her the Chain because he likes her. Mauregato is happy to see the Chain, but just then, a revolt and attempted coup by Adolfo interrupts. Battle ensues. The last act finds Estrella separated from her father, with Adolfo attempting to force himself on her. Alfonso and a band of hunters arrive; Adolfo is defeated. Mauregato returns the throne voluntarily to Froila, who abdicates in favor of his son, who will reign with Estrella. Everyone is happy.
The opera, which feels like a Singspiel without spoken dialog, is a dramatic mess. Whenever there's a hint that real emotional urgency may take over, an endless duet suddenly shows up. How Schubert could have considered this his finest opera is a mystery. This is not to say that the music isn't enjoyable: listening to an arioso here, a duet there, or to one of the ensembles, you can't help but be entertained by the melodic invention, fine scoring, and energy; but taken as a theatrical whole, it just doesn't work. There are many choral interruptions, and the arias for the main characters tend to be brief and song-like, direct and un-complex. The first-act finale begins with an Estrella/Mauregato/Adolfo trio that could pass for one of the composer's songs. Only the entrance of the chorus turns it into a "moveable" situation, and the brief stretta is awfully jolly for the situation. Both title characters seem innocent and sweet, and their music, separately and together, contains both of those traits.
Eva Mei and Rainer Trost are excellent in their roles, giving the text all the potency they can. Alfred Muff's Adolfo is as evil as possible without mugging, and his dark sound contrasts nicely with Markus Werba's lighter, more mellow sound as the good-as-gold Froila. Jochen Schmeckenbecher rounds out the low voices as Mauregato, and he sounds properly villainous.
The performance is beautifully held together by conductor Gérard Korsten, who brings a forward impetus to the music whenever he can, lingers on the lovely, melodic moments, and makes certain that Schubert's masterful orchestration is clear. The Cagliari Orchestra and Chorus are marvelous; working here in a live performance, they bring polish to the score. The accompanying booklet contains notes, synopsis, and the complete English-German text, and the sound is excellent. I imagine it would be hard to better this performance of this strange work, and it is highly recommended to all Schubertians.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Alfonso und Estrella, D 732 by Franz Schubert
Rainer Trost (Tenor),
Markus Werba (Baritone),
Eva Mei (Soprano)
Cagliari Lyric Theater Chorus,
Cagliari Lyric Theater Orchestra
Written: 1821; Vienna, Austria
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