Notes and Editorial Reviews
Frieder Bernius, cond; Colin Balzer (
); Daniel Ochoa (
); Sophie Harmsen (
); Sarah Wegener (
); Christian Immler (
); Tilman Lichdi (
); Kammerchor Stuttgart, Hofkapelle Stuttgart
CARUS 83.296 (78:11
, German only) Live: Stuttgart 04/19-20/2012
This is a first recording of a “romantic opera” first performed in 1813, by a composer known today almost only for his chamber music for winds. Yet Franz Danzi (1763-1826) wrote a considerable amount of music in most genres of the day, including at least a dozen operas.
In his informative notes, Bernd Schmitt says that for Danzi, romanticism meant spirits, ghosts, and other unnatural beings interfering in the natural world, and wants to place him as one who straddles the movement from what we call neo-classicism to that kind of romanticism—from Mozart, say, whom Danzi greatly admired, to Weber, whose work he recognized and encouraged. Now, it is true that Danzi physically spanned that shift, but his compositional heart in this opera was clearly with the moderns, as represented by Weber but not Rossini. Indeed, Danzi was one of the earliest to refer to his work as a “romantic opera.”
The plot of this tale dependes in part on the general acquaintance of the audience with the stories which had been in circulation for about a decade surrounding the principal character, Rübezahl, a powerful but cynical warrior whose wife, a mermaid queen, has been abducted and put into a 100-year sleep, and who can only be awakened by being touched by a “pure, heroic, virgin.” There being no shortage of virgins in romantic opera, Rübezahl, who in the course of this opera needs no less than four changes of disguise, uses one to select Anne as being sufficiently pure, heroic, and virginal, and wrecks her betrothal to Heinrich so as to give her the time to rescue his wife. After two more changes of clothes, he makes all well between the two lovers and sends them on their way from his damp abode. It’s hardly enough to keep the mind alive, but it’s no less believable than the more elaborate configurations of Wagner.
We have here a technical problem. I have never seen this opera (few have) and do not know this score. Though it is called an opera, the published libretto from 1813 is considerably longer than what we have here, and whole scenes from it are missing from the recording. There are clear indications in the libretto published with this recording that two pieces have been cut, both of them relatively short, but there is no indication anywhere that larger chunks of the full libretto are missing. I infer from this that though called an opera, there is considerable spoken text, in the fashion of Weber’s (later)
for example, and that we are given here only most of the sections set to music by Danzi. This would also account for the long pauses between tracks of what is billed as a live recording. If so, it also accounts for the fairly complete lack of librettist Carl Philip von Lohbauer’s dramatic nuances in his story. None of this is made clear anywhere in connection with this recording. That leaves the music, of which this is the record.
There may be a reason why Danzi’s chamber music has survived while his operas have been relegated to the library. Do not misunderstand me: this is good music and I am glad to have heard it. But there is little here that is by itself musically gripping, even in the big moments of the two finales. This condition is true, of course, of most operas ever written, as a look at any historical repertory list will quickly make clear. CPO has, as so often, done us all a service by letting us hear it, but there is more to this opera than we have here. Its musical points are not enough when shorn of their dramatic context. It is, however, also true that, from a commercial standpoint, music with large tracts of spoken dialogue rarely comes to market unshorn. This is as true for Mozart as it is for Gilbert and Sullivan, to say nothing of the modern musical. Indeed, even through-composed operas are frequently purveyed with cuts, often described as “standard.”
It’s a tough call. The singing is uniformly fine, even if there are no outstanding voices; the playing is clean, and it is not unknown for recordings to pay little attention to the libretto or the idea that the story exists in the words as well as in the music.
Prima la musica….
FANFARE: Alan Swanson