Notes and Editorial Reviews
Ulf Schirmer, cond; Johanna Stojkovic (
); Theresa Holzhauser (
); Jean Broekhuizen (
); Daniel Kirch (
); Ralf Simon (
); Detlef Roth (
); Peter Schöne (
); Albert Pesendorfer (
); Prague P Ch; Munich RSO
CPO 777 710-2 (2CDs: 136: 39
Text and Translation) Live: Munich 1/28 & 30/11
The year 1848 was one of the more eventful ones of the 19th century. Gauguin was born and Donizetti died. Dumas
La Dame aux Camélias
and Murger wrote
Scènes de la vie de Bohème
, both of which were turned into beloved operas. The Gold Rush to California began. Marx and Engels issued their
. All across Europe revolt and revolution raged—in Paris, in Vienna, Berlin, Parma, Rome….And against the backdrop of all this, Albert Lortzing wrote an opera that had no chance of being produced in his lifetime, as its opening scene just happened to be about factory workers threatening to strike for higher wages and prepared to resort to violence if their demands weren’t met. A roving band of “freedom fighters” (really just a bunch of thugs) also plays a role in the story.
’s first performance waited until 1899, and even then it was with a greatly revised storyline. Other productions followed, but Lortzing’s original score was not seen and heard until 1998 in Gelsenkirchen. (This is all recounted in Wolfgang Stähr’s illuminating booklet essay.) This live recording was taken from performances at the Prinzregententheater in Munich in January 2011. It would appear to be the first recording of the original version of the opera; the only other I could locate of any version is a 1951 mono performance with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Walter Schartner.
So much for historical background. Is the music any good? Absolutely. In fact, it is continuously engaging, chock full of memorable melodies, rousing choruses, and jaunty tunes in 4/4 meter
Weber. The Weber connection extends also to the pervasive use of the earlier composer’s signature ninth chords, though otherwise there is nothing harmonically adventurous at all about the score. The title character is a sweet village maiden much like the Agathe of
, and there is even another
character named Kilian. The plot is basically a search and rescue drama in the line of
, with many lines that Lortzing might well have borrowed from Beethoven: Regina’s big solo number in the final scene is a small-scale “Abscheulicher,” including the line “Ha, evil man!” The final chorus’s opening line is “O glory! O victory!” There are also parallels with Wagner: We often read that Wagner was the first major composer to write his own librettos, but Lortzing was doing so contemporaneously. He also composed a Hans Sachs opera a quarter century before Wagner did. And also like Wagner, he was out in the streets with armed patrols during the revolution.
The storyline can be laid out in a few words: Regina’s father promises her in marriage to Richard, whom she loves and who had disarmed the angry workers threatening to strike. Stephen, Richard’s rival in love, abducts Regina, and the rest of the opera is spent in Richard’s trying to recover her. Matters come to a head when Stephen threatens to blow up the ammunition dump with Regina trapped inside. Characters are two-dimensional and the plot is almost laughably simple-minded. Every event is resolved, for better or for worse, with a mere snap of the fingers. An ordinary factory worker disarms the mob out of the aforementioned impending strike with a few glib words. Regina, who has surely never held a gun in her hands in her life, shoots the villain dead with a single shot. Wow!
The cast is first-rate, with a particularly heroic-voiced Richard (Daniel Kirch). Johanna Stojkovic makes a strong case for the gentle Agathe. Their big act I duet is one of the score’s highlights. The Prague Philharmonic Chorus sings lustily, though not always exactly together, and Ulf Schirmer conducts the Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra with aplomb and brilliance. The sung libretto is in German and English translation, but you’ll need to understand German to follow the spoken dialogue, which is not printed. Fortunately a good synopsis is included. Though this is a live recording, I heard not a trace of audience noise or applause until the end. Highly recommended, especially if you like Weber.
FANFARE: Robert Markow