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Strauss: Die Schweigsame Frau / Beermann, Hawlata, Bauer, Straube, Berchtold

Strauss / Hawlata / Chor Der Oper Chemnitz
Release Date: 04/30/2013 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777757  
Composer:  Richard Strauss
Performer:  Monika StraubeBernhard BerchtoldJulia BauerFranz Hawlata,   ... 
Conductor:  Frank Beermann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Robert Schumann PhilharmonicChemnitz Opera Chorus
Number of Discs: 3 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

R. STRAUSS Die schweigsame Frau Frank Beerman, cond; Franz Hawlata ( Morosus ); Julia Bauer ( Aminta ); Bernard Berchtold ( Henry ); Op Ch of Chemnitz; Robert-Schumann PO CPO 777757 (3 CDs: 152:58 Text and Translation)

Lighthearted, frivolous, charming—these adjectives are not among the first to leap to Read more mind when one thinks of Richard Strauss. But they are excellent descriptors of Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman). You wouldn’t think one could make a viable opera out of the material here, centering around a grumpy old man who cannot tolerate noise, but Strauss manages to create a very beautiful and, in fact, touching score. Sir Morosus is, in the end, revealed to be a kinder, more sensitive person than is apparent at the beginning, and his nephew Henry and Henry’s bride, Aminta, are clever, attractive characters as well.

The problem for any new recording of Die schweigsame Frau is the DG issue of a 1959 Salzburg Festival production with a cast that represents the pinnacle of Strauss singing: Hans Hotter, Fritz Wunderlich, and Hilde Gueden. As if that weren’t enough, the conductor is Karl Böhm, who led the world premiere in 1935. If you can live with good 1959 broadcast-quality monaural sound, this sets a standard that is unlikely to be equaled, let alone surpassed, by any subsequent recording (DG 445 535; Want Listed by me in 1995).

Subsequent recordings include an EMI set from Dresden led by Marek Janowski that lacks the required light touch, and is marred by uneven singing; a live Bavarian State Opera performance led by Wolfgang Sawallisch (on Orfeo) that is damaged by serious cuts; and a Teatro Colon performance led by Heinz Wallberg featuring Kurt Böhme, Wunderlich, and Ingeborg Hallster (on Myto), which I have not heard.

There was, therefore, a need for a modern sounding recording that would at least be able to hold up its head in the presence of the DG. This fulfills that need. Frank Beerman’s growing reputation as an imaginative conductor who understands and displays both a lyrical impulse and a feel for drama and for dramatic contrasts is further enhanced by his leadership here. The conductor may be the most important “character” in a performance of Die schweigsame Frau . The opera is very conversational, and while there are wonderful and tuneful moments, it lacks “highlight” moments (like Salome’s final scene, the “Recognition Scene” from Elektra , the final trio from Rosenkavalier , or the final scene of Capriccio ). The opera mixes wit and sentiment in a way that requires a delicate balance. Beerman gives appropriate attention to both elements, and as a result the performance moves forward at all times, and it touches the heart as Strauss meant it to. He doesn’t have quite the playfulness and variety of instrumental inflection that Böhm demonstrates, and Beerman’s tempos are just a hair slower at times, but he turns in a more satisfying reading than Janowski or Sawallisch.

His cast is certainly not up to the starry levels of that 1959 Salzburg production, and in fact is rather uneven. Franz Hawlata, in the crucial role of Sir Morosus, is superb—bringing a genuine and human face to the role, and singing beautifully. Hotter, of course, is equally excellent in the DG recording, but it is gratifying to have a performance on that level. A difficulty for the interpreter of this role is to persuasively convey and illuminate Morosus’s transformation from an annoying, overbearing grouch to the more human, sensitive person he becomes at the opera’s end. It requires not overdoing the negative side, so we can believe he has the potential to change. Hawlata manages all of this very well.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn’t quite up to that level, except for Julia Bauer’s Aminta. Her bright lyric soprano is attractive, and never thins out or sounds pushed, except where (appropriately) she turns into a shrew after her fake marriage to Morosus. She comes close to equaling the successful performance of Gueden in the Salzburg/DG production, both vocally and dramatically. Aminta’s Norina-like conversion into a viper is very well done, and her singing in the lyrical moments is truly lovely.The same cannot be said for the Henry Morosus: Bernhard Berchtold’s monochromatic and somewhat whiny tenor begins to wear. When set against Fritz Wunderlich, particularly in the duet that ends the Second Act, it is really no contest. In the secondary roles this recording falls considerably short. Monika Straube’s hooty Housekeeper is outclassed by Georgine von Milinkovi? on the DG, and an even heavier tilt in favor of the DG is in the important role of the Barber. Andreas Kindschuch here is unsteady and thin in tonal production; in Salzburg the role was taken by the great Hermann Prey.

Overall, this new recording is the choice for those who want modern stereo sound. Although recorded in conjunction with a production at the Chemnitz Opera, this appears to be a studio recording, and the sound is excellent. The orchestra never covers the singers, but neither is it treated as secondary accompaniment. Given the importance of the orchestra in this opera, that is a good thing. The strength of Beerman’s conducting and the performances of Hawlata and Bauer outweigh the weaknesses. But I would urge you to try to audition the DG, even if you think that a monaural recording would not be of interest. It is a performance virtually without flaws. Although the opera itself may be more of an acquired taste than standard repertoire works like Tosca and Tristan , as a performance the DG recording of Die schweigsame Frau is, as a representation of the work, as much of a classic as the first Callas Tosca and the Furtwängler Tristan.

FANFARE: Henry Fogel
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Works on This Recording

Die schweigsame Frau, Op. 80 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Monika Straube (Alto), Bernhard Berchtold (Tenor), Julia Bauer (Mezzo Soprano),
Franz Hawlata (Bass), Andreas Kindschuh (Voice)
Conductor:  Frank Beermann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Robert Schumann Philharmonic,  Chemnitz Opera Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1933-1934; Germany 

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