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Heinrich August MARSCHNER (1795-1861)
Der Vampyr (1827)
Romantic opera in two acts
Martin Engel (bar) ... Sir Humphrey Davenaut; Carol Farley (mezzo) ... Malwin; Josef Protschka ( ten) ... Edgar Aubry; Siegmund Nimsgern (bar) ... Lord Ruthven; Wolfgang Lenz (bass) ... Sir Berkley; Galina Pisarenko (sop) ... Janthe
Chorus and Orchestra Sinfonica of Radio Italiana/Günter Neuhold
Live recording at the Auditorio del Foro Italico, Rome, Italy, 26 January 1980
HOMMAGE 7001834-HOM [64:14 + 66:43]

It is only once in a while one comes across a genuine bargain in the shape of a good work, slightly known and the only recording available. At a sale in a large HMV music store this two CD set (along with others) priced at £9 has been offered for sale at a mere £3.

Marschnerís The Vampyr may be remembered from the excellent BBC TV production in 1992 and issued on Virgin VC 759 294-2. In that experimental production, sumptuously recorded by the way (by the BBC Philharmonic, Manchester, England), the Janet Street Porter production had brought the libretto up to date and the Vampyr character passed off as a city tycoon, Ripley. At the time nothing was known about any BBC modification of the score and so sight of this original German recording was greeted with interest.

Marschner wrote The Vampyr in 1827. It was the first of his operas to win him recognition. The libretto had its beginnings in a book by Polidoriís The Vampyr, published eight years earlier. For such a plot to be composed as a romantic opera sounds unusual, but the music is exactly that ó melodious and yet fitting.

So what of this production, taken live at a performance in Italy, sung and spoken in German?

The cast are all strong and the orchestra plays well through both acts. I have reservations about the overture: it is stodgy, lacks flow and seems to be short of emotional feeling. The acoustic, particularly in the overture, is slightly boxy and at times sections of the orchestra are somewhat unbalanced for a recording made in the 1980s. This kind of difficulty shouldnít have been a problem. After the overture, the orchestra and conductor warm up considerably and there is some excellent material to listen to. The boxiness also seems to disappear. Could it be my conditioning to the acoustic or were adjustments made?

So with such a good recording, why so cheap? Is there a catch? Well yes, the problem lies with the booklet. This contains the libretto (in German and Italian only) and lacks any mention of the composer, or work or date. The libretto items are numbered as Marschnerís score but these do not relate to track numbers. Extraordinarily, there is no track-listing when there are two blank pages to be found at the back and there are 11/12 tracks on the discs.

After careful scrutiny I find that the libretto only gives Act I. Providing track details would have given the game away. English reading listeners would not persevere with following the libretto it seems. However, since there are many budget releases that have only a four page leaflet, this 36 page booklet looks respectable and the whole still represents a considerable bargain.

Raymond Walker

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