Siegfried Wagner (1869–1930)
An allem ist Hütchen Schuld!, A fairy-tale opera in three acts, Op 11 (1914-15)
Little-Hat, A Goblin, Niklas Mix (silent role)
Frieder, Hans-Georg Priese (tenor)
Katherlies’chen, Rebecca Broberg (soprano)
Frieder’s Mother / The Sun / The Devil’s Grandmother, Alessandra di Giorgio (soprano)
Trude / The Innkeeper’s Wife / The Fairy-tale Lady, Maarja Purga (mezzo-soprano)
The Village Judge / The Sacristan / Neighbour / General / Lieutenant Devil, Daniel Arnaldos (tenor)
Nuremberg Philharmonic Chorus; PPP Music Theatre Ensemble, Munich; Karlovy Vary Symphony Orchestra/David Robert Coleman
rec. live, 8–9 August 2019, Margravial Opera House, Bayreuth, Germany
The German libretto and an English translation may be accessed at the Naxos website.
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview
MARCO POLO 8.225378-80 [3 CDs: 161]
Siegfried Wagner was born in 1869 to Richard Wagner and his wife-to-be Cosima, daughter of Franz Liszt, so his musical heritage was solid. It was also his grandfather who gave him some early instructions in harmony. Later he studied with Engelbert Humperdinck, Richard Wagner’s assistant, but his main interest at the time was architecture, which he studied in Berlin and Karlsruhe. In the early 1890s he was inspired by a friend to devote himself more wholeheartedly to music and started composing, and 1894 he made his conducting debut in Bayreuth, where he later became associate conductor. From 1908 until his death in 1930 he was Artistic Director of the Bayreuth Festival, after his mother had withdrawn. As a composer he was quite assiduous – among his compositions are a violin concerto and a symphony – but very little is played nowadays. Most of his many operas – there are eighteen listed, some of them never completed – were performed during his lifetime, but none has remained on the standard repertoire. Several of them are based on fairy-tales or legends, and An Allem ist Hütchen Schuld! (Little-Hat is to blame for everything!) is in that category. Wagner, who wrote his own librettos, has here drawn on episodes from around twenty fairy-tales by the Brothers Grimm and also one by Hans Christian Andersen.
As we all know, fairy-tales are not necessarily stories for children. There are light episodes but also a lot of darkness with witches, devils, violence and death. To give prospective buyers a fair picture of the complicated tidings, I take the liberty of making a compact version of the synopsis from the booklet. It is written by the leading authority on Siegfried Wagner, Peter P. Pachl, who also plays the role of Jacob Grimm on this recording:
“Frieder and Katherlies’chen (Little Katherlies) are in love and want to get married, but Katherlies’chen is poor and Frieder’s mother wants him to marry the rich Trude. Frieder is not interested and Katherlies’chen tells Trude how ugly she is. A little Witch tells Trude how she can enchant Frieder – and that sets the ball rolling. There is hostility between the rivalling women, and the village judge decides that Frieder and Katherlies’chen must go their separate ways, hating each other. They are chased out of the village. Independently of each other, Frieder and Katherlies’chen ask the Sun, Moon and Stars for advice, and are referred to Death and the Devil. Then follows a series of tidings with witchcraft and magic and tumultuous scenes of various kinds. It all ends when at the chaotic villager’ gathering it is revealed that everything is the fault of the invisible goblin Little-Hat, who can be made visible with garlic and pimpernel and is finally caught. Katherlies’chen accuses him of his misdeeds but still feels sympathy for the little fellow and lets him escape. The angry neighbours scorn Katherlies’chen for her inappropriate mercy. Little-Hat gets his revenge when he causes the house to collapse and everybody is buried in the ruins except for Frieder and Katherlies’chen. The fairy tale world once again takes over. Death and the Devil approach, but Frieder threatens to give them a thrashing and chases them away. Katherlies’chen revives those lying under the ruins with her magic salve. Everyone promises to be good from now on.”
As can be seen from the above, all the various ingredients from the fairy-tale world are to be found in this opera. Readers with a special interest in fairy-tales can find a list of tales from which Wagner culled elements for his libretto here.
From the outset Siegfried Wagner reveals in the long overture, that he is his father’s son – his harmonic language and his expert instrumentation – and knowing that Humperdinck was his teacher, I wasn’t surprised to find that his melodies very often have a distinct German folk song tinge. Hänsel und Gretel is without doubt the most obvious model for a fairy-tale opera, even though Humperdinck’s masterpiece is the more child-friendly – in spite of the nasty witch. Siegfried Wagner’s overture is a fine piece of music, more an agreeable, idyllic symphonic suite than a strict opera prelude. It changes character now and then, and some jarring dissonances supposedly tell us that there will be complications coming up. It is certainly a piece I would like to hear again, and in a symphony concert it could be an appetising opening number.
What is less appetising are the heavy bumps and steps during the whole overture. I suppose that the curtain was open from the beginning and that there was action of some kind, maybe a crowd of people moving back and forth, but when the play begins, only the two main characters, Frieder and Katherlies’chen, are heard and throughout the performance there are various, sometimes very disturbing, noises.
Siegfried Wagner’s eminent orchestral writing is frequently on display elsewhere too. Besides the interlude between scenes 7 and 8 in the second act, there are also seamless orchestral changeovers between the scenes, sometimes quite extensive, as between scenes 4 and 5 in Act 2. There are no arias or other formal numbers but dialogues, several times between Frieder and Katherlies’chen – the one in Act 3 (CD 3 tr. 3) takes more than twelve minutes. Katherlies’chen has also a long monologue in the first act, Geträumt hat mir von Rosmarin! (CD 1 tr. 8), where she plans her suicide and writes her testament. It is beautiful and touching, and possibly the best scene in the opera. Otherwise, there are several scenes with a lot of persons involved, and they tend to be quite noisy. There is also a lot of shouting and it is not easy to tell the various characters from each other without a libretto. There should be a libretto with English translation (see header), but I wasn’t able to download it, which was a pity.
The cast contains around forty roles, many of them small, and with a couple of exceptions most of the singers have to take on two or more roles. I’m afraid the general standard of singing is quite undistinguished. Only one of the soloists lives up to expectations, and that, fortunately, is Rebecca Broberg in the crucial role of Katherlies’chen. She has a brilliant lirico spinto voice and she copes admirably with the often high tessitura. Hans-Georg Priese, in the role of Frieder, has a strong dramatic tenor, but his tone lacks sonority and sometimes he has to resort to shouting. On the credit side is his expressivity, which to some extent compensates for his rough delivery. Maarja Purga, who sings Trude, Katherlies’chen’s rival, has a dramatic though slightly matronly mezzo-soprano, and her achievement is passable.
The booklet contains, besides the synopsis quoted above, several interesting and valuable articles and analyses that enhance the understanding of the work.
I’m afraid I can’t be more positive than this, but I admire the initiative to revive this work, which certainly doesn’t lack merits.
Death/The Man Eater, Ulf Dirk Mädler (baritone)
The Moon/The Devil/The Innkeeper, Axel Wolloscheck (bass)
Frieder’s Sister No. 1/A Little Green Witch/Guest, Silvia Micu (soprano)
The King’s Son/The Miller/Siegfried Wagner, Joa Helgesson (baritone)
Frieder’s Sister No. 3/The Miller’s Wife/Guest, Sarah Marguerite Ring (mezzo-soprano)
Frieder’s Sister No. 2/The Star/Lark/Little-Hat’s Voice/Guest, Antonia Schuchardt (soprano)
Frieder’s Sister No. 4/Guest, Sophie Catherin (contralto)
Jacob Grimm, Peter P. Pachl (narrator)
Neighbours/Generals/Lieutenant Devils, Matthew Peña (tenor), Max Jakob Rößeler (baritone), Reuben Scott Walker (baritone), Maximiliano Michailovsky (bass)