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Siegfried Wagner: Der Schmeid von Marienburg
11 Oct 2009

Siegfried Wagner: Der Schmeid von Marienburg

Will the 22nd century still see the opera-loving world as fascinated by the ongoing saga of the Wagner family as the 20th did and the 21st does?

Siegfried Wagner: Der Schmeid von Marienburg

Marco Polo 8.225346-48 [3CDs]

$30.98  Click to buy

They retain essential control over their great ancestor’s festival theater in Bayreuth, and their squabbles, successes, and failures make headlines with regularity. The line might well have died out if Richard Wagner’s son Siegfried had not decided late in life that he needed to marry and produce heirs - although even the booklet essay of this Marco Polo recording of the thirteenth of Siegfried’s operas makes no compunction about calling Siegfried a homosexual. His marriage to Winifred produced the desired children, but Peter P. Pachl’s notes, translated by Keith Anderson, claim that Winifred blocked further performances of her husband’s works after his passing, and burnt his uncompleted compositions.

All that drama, historical and psychological, proves more interesting than Siegfried’s actual work, unfortunately. Marco Polo’s booklet in the set for Der Schmeid von Marienburg provides no libretto (an internet address is given for a German libretto only), but it does have notes on the opera’s production, the historical background of its story, and a biography of the composer, all by Rupert Lummer, besides the Pachl note. Lummer maintains that Siegfried’s operas “are very different from those of his father,” tying Siegfried’s development to his teacher, Humperdinck. Yet Humperdinck famously helped with the music to some transitional passages to Parsifal, and many have heard the influence of Wagner’s style in the score to Hansel und Gretel. In the Siegfried opera here not only does the title resemble that of his father’s great comic opera, but both are set in the Middle Ages. Plot details otherwise differ, it’s true, but to listen to the music of Siegfried’s opera, especially of acts one and two, is to hear many passages resembling the earlier work of father Richard, especially from Lohengrin or Tannhaüser. Long monologues dominate the narrative, and the idiom of swooping horns and anxious strings invites comparison to those earlier Richard Wagner scores. Act three does have some music that suggests Siegfried’s talent did not only lie in producing work that, to put it as nicely as possible, honored the memory of his father’s creations. If only he had pursued an artistic route distant from his father’s achievements, Siegfried’s operas might be more than curiosities.

Der Schmeid von Marienburg provokes little interest, despite being a curiosity. The detailed plot synopsis baffles more than clarifies, and just one line from one scene of one act should serve to catch the general flavor: “On the square in front of the Marienburg, Muthart explains how the army’s defeat at the Tannenburg was caused by the treacherous Lizard Knights of Kulm.” Besides Lizard Knights, watch for a devil-figure called The Lame Wanderer” (who gets the best music), secret tunnels, a “newly-forged” helmet, and much more. Too much more, if fact, and yet not enough recognizable human psychology, which Richard Wagner always had, even in his most far-fetched action. Wagner also had a supreme gift for memorable melody, which his son, sadly, did not inherit. But Siegfried was not an incompetent composer. The orchestration holds together a loose fabric of themes and motifs. It just never breaks free often enough into an individual style.

This live performance originated from essay-author Pachl’s June 2008 production at the Filharmonia Gdańsk, with Frank Strobel conducting the Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra. Without a libretto, following the action and identifying particular roles becomes all but impossible, especially as Marco Polo divides each act of over an hour into just a few tracks; act two on disc two has 64 minutes of music and only 5 tracks. The cast list gives 17 roles. The men fare very well, but one of the sopranos, possibly Maacha Deubner but more probably Rebecca Broberg in the role of Friedelind, has the sort of big, heroic voice that strays fairly often from pitch -a quality admittedly not unknown in performances of Richard’s work.

For a live recording, the sound is admirably clear and spacious. Followers of the never-ending Wagner family saga may want this, or any lover of early Wagner who would like more of the same - and yet, less.

Chris Mullins

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