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.
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