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Wilhelm PETERSON-BERGER (1867-1942)
Domedagsprofeterna (“The Doomsday Prophets”, comic opera in 3 acts — excerpts, 1917) [79:19]
Lennart Sporre, captain - Mikael Samuelson (baritone); Elin - Solveig Faringer (soprano); Lars - Thomas Sunnegårdh (tenor); Klas Mugg, Elin’s father - Göran Annebring (bass); Johan Bure, Professor - Bo Lundborg (bass); Simon Wolimhaus - Sven-Erik Alexandersson; Rector Magnificus - Curt Appelgren; Drottning Kristina - Inger Blom; Bengt Skytte - Lage Wedin; Fru Kerstin - IngMari Landin; Gorvel Mardh - Gunnel Bohman; Johan Papegoja - Nemgt Krantz; Brita - Catharina Olsson
Other roles by members of Orfeo Drängar and the Allmänna Sången/Robert Sund
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ulf Söderblom
rec. Stockholm, Swedish Radio, radio broadcast, January 1984. DDD
STERLING CDO1069-2 [79:19]



The Doomsday Prophets was the fourth of Wilhelm Peterson-Berger’s five operas and was composed between 1911 - when he completed the libretto - and 1917. It was moderately successful for a Swedish opera, being performed over twenty times at the Stockholm Opera following its premiere in 1919. It fell into near-total neglect after his death. Despite the portentous title, this is a comic opera, perhaps after the example of Die Meistersinger, with which it has occasionally been compared. As in Wagner’s opera, Peterson-Berger set his in Sweden’s past - although based on an apparently real event and featuring several historical characters - just before the close of the Thirty Years’ War in which Sweden became for a time a major European power. The opera has crowd scenes, disputes between academics, a bar brawl, a love triangle, the threat of ruin for several hard-working ordinary folk and some disagreeable minor nobles as well as the arrival of the Queen in the final scene to set everything to rights — all the elements a good comedy demands!
 
Set in the university city of Uppsala, the complex plot hangs on a wager between the professor, Bure - one of the real, historical personages - and the Queen’s apothecary, Simon Wolimhaus, as to when the world will end. The professor seems fated to lose and as a by-product of the terms of the wager the local innkeeper, Klas, and his daughter, Elin, will be evicted from their home. The flirtatious Elin is in love with the studious Lars who, because he is of peasant stock, is being bullied by the nobler students. Lars’s aunt is also endeavouring to match him with her own daughter. However, Lars gets himself arrested for threatening his tormentors with a pistol and is arraigned before a university tribunal from which he might well be expelled. This will dash his hopes of a career in the priesthood — well, he is descended from Vikings! — and marriage to Elin. All is saved through the timely intervention of a visiting army captain, Lennart Sporre, who proves to be the leading character of the opera. He it is who convinces Klas to let Elin marry Lars, if cleared, and who sets fire to Wolimhaus’ dog kennel which — and here things get really convoluted — invalidates the terms of the wager. This is because in the event of the world not ending when either ‘prophet’ predicted, Bure and Wolimhaus were to exchange all their property; as the fire devalues the latter’s effects the values are altered and the agreement nullified. Sporre it is who also convinces the populace and the visiting Queen that Lars should be pardoned.
 
The extracts given here are from an abbreviated performance made in January 1984 for a Swedish Radio broadcast. Why Sterling did not issue the entire work on (presumably) two discs, even in the reduced form, is not explained and regrettable as the music is certainly strong enough to stand being heard in toto. The thirteen excerpts, of varying lengths from between 2:17 and 21:27, assembled here provide a good overview of the essentials of the plot if not a coherent picture of the opera as a whole; the slightly untidy fadings in and out - necessary to cram as much on to the one disc as possible - and the jumps between scenes militates against this. There is a good deal of background noise - or special effects, if you will - to add a sense of the theatre to what was otherwise a studio recording: clinking crockery in the bar, the tamp of soldiers’ boots, incidental noises of crowds in the street, and so forth. As it is, Peterson-Berger’s music is bright and vivid, lyrical and charming by turns, its composer evidently dramatically aware, the whole sounding theatrically viable. The music, as in most comic operas, is not explicitly funny in itself, the opera being a comedy in the same way that Shakespeare’s comedies are, by ending happily and not in tragedy.
 
The cast acquit themselves with distinction, particularly Mikael Samuelson in the lead role of Captain Sporre. Solveig Faringer is breezy and girlish as Elin, Thomas Sunnegårdh stolidly ardent as the hot-headed Lars. There are many fine cameos - a result of the truncated performance - amongst the remainder, not least Bo Lundborg as the distracted Johan Bure. The orchestral accompaniment is sympathetically played under Ulf Söderblom’s sensitive direction and Sterling’s remastering of the 23-year-old sound more than acceptable. Stig Jakobson provides informative notes which, as with the libretto for those sections which are sung here, is presented in Swedish and English. They contain an interesting aside on the humiliating initiation rites students were forced to undergo — often in defiance of the law — in Swedish universities. What a shame that the entire work was not made available.
 
Guy Rickards
 
And a further perspective from Rob Barnett:

 

The five Peterson-Berger operas were distributed evenly across his life with the first - Sveagaldrar - written in 1897 and the last - Adils and Elisif - in 1927. Fame during his lifetime was attributable to his music criticism which was as ferocious as that of his countryman, fellow dramatist and symphonist, Kurt Atterberg. He wrote Domedagsprofeterna between 1912 and 1917 for most of which period the Great War raged in the rest of Europe. Amid the ritual humiliations of first year students the backdrop to the opera is the Thirty Years War and, in the foreground there are the perils and pleasures of two couples whose ultimate happiness crowns act III.
 
It is to be expected of any Sterling production that every aspect will be exemplary. Making allowance for the inherently unsatisfactory nature of any excerpts project everything here is just as it should be. The excerpts are generous. Technically there is no need for reservations about this being derived from a 22 year old radio recording. The occasional end-track fade-downs are regrettable but once the project was fixed to be on a single CD what else could practically have been done? I should also add that the plot is aided by the use of aural effects including the sound of a table being laid, knocking at a door and a thunderclap. Voices are intimately recorded close up to the listener - a delightful feature given the well chosen voices for Elin and Klas.
 
Scene 1 immediately introduces the listener to this composer’s translucent scoring. In those first few moment Peterson-Berger accelerates from solo dialogue into music that is light on the palate with waltz elements integrated into the orchestral skein. At one moment this is close to Lehár; to the beguiling banter of Rosenkavalier at others. The flow tends to be driven by the conversation rather than by the music. The composer's mastery of blithe writing and translucent orchestration is well exemplified by Act I sc. 13 with its delightful repartee - musical, conversational and sensuous - between the trio of Fru Skytte, Lennart and Gorval. Real excitement is generated in the encounter at the inn (Act I sc. 18), a crowd scene in which Lars terrifies the students with a pistol.
 
Two scenes are extracted from act II. Scene 12 sets out a gently pastoral wind serenade capturing the coolness of early evening. This develops into a fugal fantasy. There is carefree Sibelian writing for Elin in Act II at 14:12. The last Act is represented by scenes 2 and 9-11. This includes joyous student singing typical of the Swedish choral idyll tradition (tr. 8 2:02). Scene 9 mixes grand serious music with slightly absurd trumpeted ceremonials and student songs in the manner of Gaudeamus Igitur. Finally the fable is rounded out with scene 11 of act III. In this the writing radiates a blessed happiness that looks to the Same atnam symphony. Two couples are engaged and the proceedings are wreathed in smiles but not before a faintly absurd little march. The chorus sing in praise of the aspiring youthful queen and 'New life, new soul, new blood in Sweden.' All is well - a beautiful tale comes to its well harvested rest. As for the ‘Doomsday Prophets’: they are the ones who predict the end of the world; one of their chosen dates is the day after the first act ends. Such Armageddon is refuted by the delights of act III.
 
There are full background notes and synopsis by Stig Jakobson as well as the sung text in Swedish and translation to English.
 
All credit to Bo Hyttner - who is Sterling - for this valuable entry to the lists. Here, in addition to carrying the responsibility and praise for this production, he translated the texts into English and in his usual capacity as Executive Producer was no doubt involved in extensive negotiations with Swedish Radio and the host of other IPR holders.
 
Rob Barnett
 

Message received from Sterling: All the music that was available without interruptions is on the CD. For the rest there was a Swedish announcer explaining the action over the music so this could not be used.



 


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