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Frederich Von FLOTOW (1812-1883)
Alessandro Stradella, comic opera (1844)
Stradella, Werner Hollweg (ten); Leonore, Helen Donath (sop); Bassi, Richard Kogel (bass); Malvolio, Alexander Malta (bass); Barbarino, Ferry Gruber (ten).
Orchestra and Choir of Bayerischen Radio/Heinz Wallberg
Rec. Germany, 1977, ADD
Albert LORTZING (1801-1851)

Regina, opera excerpts (1848)
Simon, Gerhard Frei (bar); Regina, Irmgard Klein (sop); Stefan, Heinz Friedrich (bass); Richard, Karl Heinz Stracke (ten).
Choir and Orchestra of Berlin Radio/Walter Schartner
Rec. Berlin, Germany, 1951, ADD
GALA GL100.733 [63.38+75.03]

 

Nowadays Flotow is only remembered for one opera, Martha. However this was not his only success. Prior to Martha, Alessandro Stradella came into existence, a revision of an earlier work, Pièce lyrique (1837). It was by no means unusual for Flotow to revisit earlier works to remodel a new work, often with considerable success. Martha, 1847, had, for instance, been the result of revising a ballet, Lady Harriette, written in 1844. Originally Alessandro Stradella was released on LP. Until now there has been only a sprinkling of arias and an old recording of the overture (1928) available in the catalogue so this first CD release is welcome. Equally welcome is Gala's coupling with Lortzing's rare work, Regina, used as a fill-up on the second disc.

From the opening I find Alessandro Stradella as an operatic experience most refreshing: the score contains some brilliant material. This is young Flotow at his freshest and perhaps most exploratory. The kernel of the score was composed when Flotow was aged 25. One can understand why the opera has been dropped from regular repertoire of the operatic circuits. Despite being lengthened from one to three acts, it is rather too short to play on its own yet too long to provide a workable partnership like the Cav&Pag duo. The plot concerns the 17th century singer and composer, Stradella. However, the opera takes more of an interest in his colourful private life.

The story pivots on Stradella, the composer, born around 1639, who was perhaps the first composer to notate the use of the crescendo. A womaniser, extravagance brought him crippling debts. This colourful subject was worked into an 1830s play by Paul Duport and Phillipe Deforges. It was this that inspired Flotow. Originally written for private consumption as a light-weight one-acter, Flotow developed it for the stage as a two act work featuring two ballets (sadly omitted in this recording). Successfully premièred in Hamburg it was taken to Vienna where it led to the commission of Martha.

In the First Act one is immediately engaged by the haunting pizzicato accompaniment to the opening chorus number (CD1 tr.2) and the quality of composition is quickly evident. Much of the singing is carried by Alessandro and Leonore in aria, duets and the many ensembles in which they are involved. It is just as well that the singers with this responsibility are first class.

Werner Hollweg as Stradella is a bright tenor of good tonal range and with the right authoritative strength and robust charisma for the character. This is particularly evident at the start of the Act I finale (CD1 tr.7).

Helen Donath's clarity and lovely velvety warm tone is ideally suited to the sonorous Bellinian beauty of Leonore’s dreamy arias with their long arched phrases (CD1 tr.11). Her emotional outpouring may not quite be of Callas calibre but her charm is equally magnetic. She certainly has sufficient strength to match the energetic Stradella in the lively duets they share.

Richard Kogel's Bassi, with his noticably resonant harshness, took a little getting used to in Act I. However, in contrast, his Act III trios are rich, warm and graceful. In them he is joined by Malvolio (Alexander Malta) and Barbarino (Ferry Gruber) where all three voices are complementary and ideally balanced.

Wallberg's artistic direction is high-spirited and refreshing. The orchestra responding admirably. Wallberg is no stranger to Flotow: he made a very successful recording of Martha with Popp and the Bavarian Radio Choir, which achieved a three star Penguin rating (published under the Eurodisc and RCA labels). Here his handling of the nuances of this delightful score is excellent.

As if this set is not already an excellent library item on its own we have a bonus coupling of 50 minutes of overture and highlights from a rare Lortzing opera that collectors will also be interested in.

Little is heard of Regina, but to those of us who know the style of Lortzing operettas like Zar and Zimmerman (1837), Der Wildschütz (1842) or Der Waffenschmied (1846) this work will appear subdued. Perhaps I was expecting something more exciting and energetic. At first I wondered whether the fault lay in the reading by Schartner: but this isn't the case.

The 1951 singers and orchestra are of good quality and although the material is pleasant the spark of inspiration does not seem to have been with the composer. Amazingly, the overture is light in comparison to the vocal material that follows. The work was not staged in Lortzing's lifetime because its subject of Viennese revolutionary ideals was only topical over a short period and had passed by the time the composition was complete.

The recordings are both of good quality. There is a sumptuous richness to the Stradella where singers and orchestra are ideally placed. The top treble frequencies are for some reason slightly gritty but not unduly noticeable. The earlier Lortzing recording is more than satisfactory for the period. The music is sung in German with good notes written in English only. There is no libretto with the notes.

Raymond J. Walker




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