Der ferne Klang by Franz Schreker (1878-1934) premiered on August 18, 1912 at the Frankfurt Opera House. Schreker had already begun composing his first full-length opera in 1901, after the text he had written in just a few weeks. Now the work, which was initially considered impossible to perform, but which made Schreker suddenly famous, is returning to the location of it's premiere for the first time after 1945. Almost half of all operas by the Austrian, who with one exception was both composer and librettist for all of his stage works, performed or premiered in Frankfurt. The Choir of the Oper Frankfurt and Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester perform under the direction of Sebastian Weigle.
"Oper Frankfurt is arguably the “right” company to produce this Der ferne Klang recording, because Austrian composer Franz Schreker (1878-1934) had a special connection with this opera house. It was here that he scored his first big success with this opera, followed by the premiere of his complete version of Die Gezeichneten, two of his most definitive works. His musical idiom is decidedly Late/Post Romantic, yet uniquely his own, beguiling in its lush and translucent tone colours. His style can also extend into an intensely expressionistic and harmonically adventurous, if unsettling, musical soundscape. At the height of his fame during the early years of the Weimar Republic, Schreker was the most performed opera composer after Richard Strauss. He was also a noted pedagogue, as director of Berlin’s Hochschule für Musik, and counted Berthold Goldschmidt and Ernst Krenek as his students. But by the late 1920s, with the rise of National Socialism and its inherent antisemitism, Schreker, who was Jewish, lost his academic appointments and his compositions were banned. Sadly he descended into obscurity, suffered a stroke and died at the age of 56. It was only in the 1980s, through Decca’s “Entartete Musik” series, that Schreker reemerged from a decades-long obscurity. His revival gathered momentum both in Germany and America. Salzburg Festival’s striking 2005 Die Gezeichneten garnered critical and audience accolades, reaffirmed by the more recent Warlikowski production in Munich, which made a powerful (if nightmarish) impression on me in 2017...
Thankfully, Oper Frankfurt’s production of Der ferne Klang was revived before COVID shut everything down, and it is now commercially available on CD. It features a strong ensemble cast led by tenor Ian Koziara and soprano Jennifer Holloway as the two lovers. Both sing beautifully, with Koziara taking top vocal honours for his free, beautiful, never stentorian, ringing tone. Holloway is equally impressive, a few fleeting moments of steely sound notwithstanding.
This recording includes no less than three Canadians— bass-baritone Gordon Bintner, baritone Iain MacNeil, and mezzo Julia Dawson—all members of the Oper Frankfurt Ensemble. Bintner, as the Graf, has the most music to sing, including a very nice aria, “In einem Lande,” which he handles beautifully, particularly at the top. MacNeil and Dawson have less to sing but both offer fresh voices and vivid imagination. All supporting roles are well taken, perhaps with one painful exception. I debated whether to mention it as it involves a singer I have admired in the past. I heard soprano Nadine Secunde (Alte Frau Mama) as a marvelous Sieglinde and Elsa 30 years ago. Here she is in shockingly poor vocal estate, afflicted by a painful wobble —perhaps in character for an ‘Old Lady’, but does it have to be this way? Sebastian Weigle shows his fine understanding of Schreker, leading the Frankfurt forces with strength and eloquence— the Zwischenspiel in Act III is a highlight. This piece might not delight everybody, but if you are fond of Strauss and early Schoenberg, and have an inclination to stories with a Freudian bent, you are in for a treat.
The opera’s story has little to do with logic, yet is strangely suited to Schreker’s lush and atmospheric score. As the listener, one takes a journey of poetic imagination that’s oddly satisfying. This is a perfect opera to illustrate that one should listen not with the head but with the heart. As with a lot of Schreker, the visual element is important, if not crucial, to the total enjoyment of the work, so it’s regrettable that this isn’t a DVD release. That said, it is still very enjoyable and an important addition to the discography of a much neglected composer. Highly recommended." —— Joseph So