> ZIMMERMANN Der Schuhu [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Udo ZIMMERMANN (born 1943)
Scenes from Der Schuhu und die fliegende Prinzessin (The Schuhu and the Flying Princess) (1976)
Helga Termer (soprano), Prinzessin; Jürgen Freier (baritone), Schuhu; Rundfunk-Sinfonie Orchester Leipzig; Peter Gülke
Recorded: Bethanienkirche, Leipzig, 1978
NOVA Rediscovered BERLIN CLASSICS 0013012 BC [44:11]


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Udo Zimmermann, not to be confused either with Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918 – 1970) or with Walter Zimmermann (born 1949), has several operas to his credit of which Der Schuhu und die fliegende Prinzessin is his fourth essay in the genre.

Zimmermann’s opera Der Schuhu und die fliegende Prinzessin is based on Peter Hacks’ eponymous fairy tale published in 1964 and dramatised some time later. It was commissioned by the Dresden Staatsoper and premiered by them in 1976.

The libretto tells an improbable story, as befits a fairy tale, in which a poor tailor’s wife lays a large egg containing a Schuhu, i.e. man and owl at the same time. The strange being is wiser than any other people in the city. The appalled father casts the Schuhu out unto the streets from where he sets out to see the wide world seeking to enter the service of some high person. He thus appeals to the Grand Duke of Coburg-Gotha who refuses him any job because the Court’s Schuhulogist deems him a fraud. The Emperor of Mesopotamia employs him as a night watchman for his seventeenth garden. The Schuhu and the flying princess (actually the daughter of the King of Tripoli) fall in love. Both the Emperor and his brother, the Grand Duke, vie for the affection of the princess, and are locked in an brotherly war. Nevertheless the brothers join forces, but suffer a crushing defeat. The princess, however, falls in love with a Dutch dignitary and elopes with him. Of course, her new-found love does not last and she yearns for the Schuhu again. The Schuhu has in the meantime discovered an almost inaccessible land where everyone seems to be happy. Back to the "normal" world, he fetches the princess and everyone follows him in the new-found land.

Such fanciful tale with, nevertheless, more than one touch of irony or social criticism, is treated in a boldly eclectic manner, i.e. musically speaking. Zimmermann uses a whole array of techniques and devices of late 20th Century music. This richly colourful score alternates moments of great beauty (often achieved with quite simple means) and episodes of some more aggressive character, this dichotomy evoking the clash between the "normal" world of men and the dream world of the Schuhu. There are indeed many beautifully lyrical passages, often accompanied by ecstatic wordless vocalises from the chorus and many fine orchestral touches. The violence and the heartless stupidity of the "normal" world are often expressed in a more brutal, sometimes crudely expressionist way including dissonant clusters, Sprechstimme (sometimes developed into dense counterpoint) and what sounds to me as electronic music or computer-generated sounds. A nice touch, that aptly sets the scene, is the opening music of the opera in which a recorder quartet imitates a barrel organ (while the conductor is seen on stage churning a barrel organ) accompanying a folk-like ballad sung by the tailor. A similar mood is recalled at the beginning of the last scene (solo violin supported by hesitant woodwind reminiscent of the barrel organ music of the first scene) whereas the scene ends with dreamy vocalises slowly dissolving into space.

The present release offers a selection of scenes from the opera, which helps in getting a fair idea of the whole work. All singers, I must confess, are totally unknown to me, but unite in a dedicated rendering of this all-embracing, colourful score. The 1978 recording still sounds remarkably well. Excellent notes in German and English, but no text included. Well worth investigating for Zimmermann seems to me to be a born opera composer, and I really wonder what his other operas may be like.

Hubert Culot


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