Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Giovanni Simon Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

Véronique Gens: Visions from Grand Opéra

Ravishing : Visions, Véronique Gens in a glorious new recording of French operatic gems, with Hervé Niquet conducting the Münchener Rundfunkorchester. This disc is a companion piece to Néère, where Gens sang familiar Duparc, Hahn, and Chausson mélodies.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

Critic and scholar John Barker has several times complained, in the pages of American Record Guide, about Baroque vocal recitals that add instrumental works or movements as supposed relief or (as he nicely calls them) “spacers.”

Knappertsbusch’s Only Recording of Lohengrin Released for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians.

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall. Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.

Jonas Kaufmann : Mahler Das Lied von der Erde

Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Christophorus oder “Die Vision einer Oper”
29 Dec 2005

SCHREKER: Christophorus oder “Die Vision einer Oper”

How easy it might be to overlook this lesser-known Schreker opera, composed in 1928 and dedicated to Schreker’s good friend Arnold Schoenberg, here in its recorded debut. It has a quite curious libretto, complex and multilayered, and Schreker moves between what are at times quite disparate styles.

Franz Schreker: Christophorus oder “Die Vision einer Oper"

Ahrens, Bernhard, Sabrowski, Chafin, Klein, Gebhardt, Schöpflin, Pauly, Arnold, Kieler Opernchor, Kieler Philharmoniker, Ulrich Windfuhr (cond.)

cpo 999-903-2 [2CDs]

 

How easy it might be to overlook this lesser-known Schreker opera, composed in 1928 and dedicated to Schreker’s good friend Arnold Schoenberg, here in its recorded debut. It has a quite curious libretto, complex and multilayered, and Schreker moves between what are at times quite disparate styles. The whole thing comes off at first blush like a kind of soup made of the leftovers of earlier post-romantic and expressionist idoms, and were it not for our warming sympathies on repeated listening, we might have happily consigned it to the dustbin of history.

Repeated listenings have not been sufficient to entirely sort out the improbable libretto. The story, set in large part in a sort of composer’s atelier, concerns three principal characters, Anselm, Lisa, and Christoph. Anselm is at work upon an opera about the legend of St. Christopher, in which Anselm himself, Lisa, and Christoph, a fellow composition apprentice, are all to play roles. Christopher, Christoph, fiction, real life–the thing’s a narrative muddle, from the dramatic Prelude on. The story comes off like a befuddled Pirandello: half a dozen characters, having found a librettist, now desperately in search of a composer.

Despite the curious nature of the narrative–no let’s get this straight, indeed uninhibited by the narrative–Schreker is in close to full form here. The score is well turned, moments of Berg’s Wozzeck blended with the later Strauss–Ariadne or Arabella . The characters are probable, believable in a kind of irritating way, since they demand a better story line. Anselm’s character, in its developing anger and cynicism, is a model of modernism, and his impassioned interactions with Lisa in Act I are very good operatic duets.

The opera is in two short acts, the first act and its dramatic prelude running just shy of an hour, the second running on 40 minutes. The latter is the tighter of the two: it contains several scenes of good drama and the run away characterizations of the first act settle down here into real persona. Throughout the opera, there is an unusual amount of dialogue, much of it accompanied–a sort of modernist melodrama, where spoken lines are cushioned by a lush, often quietly dissonant orchestral pad. In the whole of Act II, in fact, there is really only one “number,” per se, Scene 3 (track 4), Rosita’s lied. This is Schreker’s portrait of jazz (worthy of comparison with jazz portraits by Weill and Stravinsky), with lisping saxophones and a limpid barrelhouse piano. The lied, in fact, is structured like a duet, and set to a divided stage, on one side Rosita, on the other Christoph in a kind of evaporated opium dream that gradually takes over the stage. Elsewhere operatic “numbers” make an initial appearance, seem to hesitate, and then morph into something else. Now this is nothing new; in German opera, it has been going on at least since Weber’s Euryanthe . But Schreker turns it to his own modernist advantage. Scenes 5 and 6 constitute a lengthy operatic conjuring with a half a dozen characters (and what sounds like a theramin [but may be only a musical saw] and a creepy mandolin obligato) that, in its intensity, harkens back to Weber’s Freischutz Wolfglen scene. And there is a tiny Kinderlied (scene 8), reminiscent of Wozzeck , as well as a lengthier song for child’s voice in the Epilogue, responding in similar fashion to a hazy lied-like passage for Christoph (tracks 14 and 15).

The orchestral writing throughout the work is nothing short of excellent. Orchestral interludes, motivated or not, crop up repeatedly, and beg symphonic treatment. One of the longest of these extends from the end of scene 8 into scene 9 and then moves smoothly into a curious orchestral recitative of a selection from Lao Tzu, before moving into the conclusion of the opera.

On the whole the performance is smooth and competent, if the voices are mostly unexceptional. Hans Georg Ahrens does a most sympathetic Anselm, Susan Bernhard an occasionally uneven Lisa, and Joerg Sabrowski a rather cardboard Christoph. Two voices stand out as very good: Roland Holz, in a speaking role as the critic Starkmann, spoken with a lovely Berliner nasal, gritty and nicely irritating; and Hans Georg Ahrens, bass, as the composition master Johann, with a deep, noble resonance. The live recording is sensitive, with a minimum of boots clumping around on stage and a good set of microphones in the pit.

The booklet is of good use here, explaining the opera’s misfortunes in terms of the years after the First World War, Schreker’s career, the stylistic turns of fortune in which the opera got caught up, and a nice excurse on the stylistic politics of the day. For good measure, the booklet reproduces an “Introduction” penned by the composer, which would seem to explain the need for this twisted narrative (sometimes in unabashedly personal terms), but instead merely adds to the confusion. Schreker’s introduction reads like an apology, but in truth the only thing to be regretted here is the storyline.

It would be a shame to make this work simply an historical artifact, a product, warted, of its day and its composer’s traumas. There is enough good writing here, however, to make the opera worthy of our admiration without recourse to history. What we need now (now that most of Schreker’s opera are available in modern scores and good recordings) is a critical overview. It would be good to compare Christophorus with the “hits,” the better known Schreker operas such as Der ferne Klang , Die Gezeichneten , and Der Schatzgräber , not merely in historical terms (a subject interesting in their own right) but as possible entries into the canon of twentieth-century opera.

This recording stems from a three-part Schrecker cycle at the Kiel Opera from 2001 to 2003, under the artistic director, Kirsten Harms, the other two operas being the premier in full score of Die Flammen , Schreker’s first opera, and Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin from 1913, perhaps the moment at which Schreker’s career was in fullest flower. The latter two operas are also available on the CPO label.

Murray Dineen
University of Ottawa

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):