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Reinhard KEISER (1674-1739)
Fredegunda - opera in five acts (sung in German and Italian) (1715)
Dora Pavliková (soprano) – Fredegunda; Bianca Koch (soprano) – Galsuinde; Katja Stuber (soprano) – Bazina; Tomi Wendt (baritone) – Chilperich; Michael Kranebitter (baritone) – Sigibert; Tomo Matsubara (tenor) – Hermenegild; Tobias Haaks (tenor) – Landerich
Munich Neue Hofkapelle/Christoph Hammer
rec. live, Prinzregententheater, Munich, Germany, 6-14 February 2007
The libretto may be accessed at
NAXOS 8.660231-32 [77:35 + 64:34]
Experience Classicsonline

The Oper am Gänsemarkt in Hamburg was for sixty years (1678-1738) the most important theatre in the German-speaking part of Europe. Seating 2000 onlookers it was also the biggest anywhere. Numerous authors and composers were also associated with the house. Among the latter the young Handel, before he went to Italy, Johann Mattheson, Georg Philipp Telemann and Reinhard Keiser are still in the collective memory to this day. It was the last-named that dominated the proceedings during the heyday of the theatre. From 1697 he was musical director and 1703-1707 he was also manager. In 1722 Telemann took over the leadership until the house was closed down in 1738. Besides his other responsibilities he composed enormous quantities of music, including more than one hundred operas. Today they are largely forgotten but at least Croesus (1710) and Fredegunda (1715) may be known from the history books. Croesus was extensively revised for a 1730 production and this is the version that has survived. It was first revived in modern times by René Jacobs in 1999 at the Berlin State Opera and has had further productions by Opera North and the Minnesota Opera. A search for Fredegunda on Operabase gave a hit for Theater Bremen, which played the work in March and April 2008. The production on the present recording with a cast of advanced and masterclass students of three music high schools was launched ‘as part of their education to become opera singers and allows them to experience music theatre under realistic circumstances with a professional orchestra and a professional production team’.

The libretto was by Johann Ulrich von König (1688-1744) after the Italian text by Francesco Silvani (c. 1660-c.1725).

The plot is about as complicated as any present day soap opera. King Chilperich is going to marry Princess Galsuinde for reasons of state. His lover Fredegunda is not too happy about this and when they fall into each other’s arms Galsuinde and the King’s brother Sigibert enter. Sigibert  takes advantage of the situation and declares his love for Galsuinde, promising that he will dispute his brother’s right to the throne. Galsuinde is outraged.

Fredegunda in her turn has a secret lover, Landerich. Then there is Bazina, the daughter of Sigibert (I believe) and Hermenegild, who is the brother of Galsuinde (I’m sure). They are in love - with each other. Fredegunda and Landerich inform the lovers of the present state of affairs and Hermenegild is furious and repudiates Bazina … Sounds promising, doesn’t it? Relax. We are still in the first act and there are four more to go. I won’t spoil the listening pleasure and tell the rest. And, to be honest, it is quite possible to enjoy the opera without attaching great attention to the story.

The musical structure is simple, following the baroque opera conventions: a short overture, here called sonata and then a string of pearls of arias interspersed with secco recitative. This is the pattern until the end of act III, where there is a short duet. Oh, yes, early in the act there is a half-minute-long sinfonia, but not at the very beginning. Act IV also opens with a duet and there is another one after a while. In act V there is even a chorus (six seconds!) and the opera ends with everybody joining in in the final aria.

This may not sound very uplifting – but it is! There are occasionally fairly long stretches of recitative but they are executed tautly and with flair. Recorded live during performances the theatricality is tangible and the various stage noises are rarely disturbing - they rather enhance the feeling of being there. Recitatives and music are mostly seamlessly joined together, making this a continuous drama – not just a number of pieces loosely connected.

The Munich Neue Hofkapelle, playing on period instruments, are superb with crisp rhythms and verve in the playing. The springy opening sonata brings us straight into the proceedings and Keiser’s music is highly individual. Many of the fast or dramatic arias have a rugged incisiveness that in a way remove them from standard conceptions and he sometimes creates scenes rather than the expected stock da capo arias. Particularly in several of the slow lyrical arias he has obbligato solo instruments - Fredegunda’s Ach, nenne mich doch nur noch einmal Königin (CD 2 tr. 19) may be the most beautiful music in the whole opera. But there is a lot to admire, not least the many opportunities for the soloists to show off their virtuosity. This was common practice in the opera houses of the early 18th century and so was, at least in Hamburg, the strange habit of mixing languages. The recitatives are in German, well enunciated from all parties, but some of the arias are in Italian. I own some excerpts from Keiser’s Croesus as well as his colleague Johann Mattheson’s Boris Goudenow and in both works there is this mix.

The young soloists are certainly accomplished. Prague-born Dora Pavlíková in the title role has no less than nine arias and a duet. She has a formidable technique, a creamy beautiful tone and she sings with taste and expression. Try her Ihr reizende Blicke (CD 1 tr. 20) a rather unusually constructed aria Schliesset euch, ihr holde Kerzen  (CD 1 tr. 22). Even better things are to come and Lass sich die Wolken (CD 2 tr. 33) is the virtuoso high-spot on this set. I am eagerly looking forward to hearing more from her. Bianca Koch, who sings Galsuinde, is also technically assured though her tone tends to be rather acidulous. She improves through the performance, however, and her last act aria Felice morirň (CD 2 tr. 30) is excellent.  Katja Stuber has an agreeable voice, warm and secure and she makes Bazina a lovely creature. Du drohest und rasest (CD 1 tr. tr. 30) and Ein Sklav’ ist mehr beglückt zu schützen (CD 2 tr. 3) are excellent calling cards. 

On the male side Tomi Wendt as Chilperich has the required power and intensity for the King’s outbursts. His aria Zur Rache, zur Rache (CD 1 tr. 24) is impressively dramatic. Michael Kranebitter’s Sigibert is more lyrical but he can also muster intensity when required. Just listen to his florid Mich schrecket kein Eifer (CD 1 tr. 37). Tomo Matsubara makes a good stab at Hermemegild’s Eine stolze Hand zu Küssen (CD 1 tr. 11) and Tobias Haaks sings Da voi fieri guerrieri (CD 2 tr. 15) with fine tone and technical accomplishment. He should be an asset in any Mozartean tenor role.

There is an audience present but we are only aware of it at the close of act III and at the very end. The recording is excellent though voices occasionally become more distant due to stage movements. But this is a small price to pay for such lively and engaged performances for and such accomplished singing. Maybe I won’t be listening to the opera straight through too often in the near future but I will certainly return to several of the numbers and Dora Pavlíková is definitely a singer to watch. 

Göran Forsling

see also Review by Brian Wilson




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