When it came to
librettos, Siegfried Wagner really needed a good editor. A talented
composer, he seems not to have understood that less is more
and many of his operas are crammed with incident and back-plot.
His third opera, Der Kobold was written in 1903 and premiered
in Hamburg in 1904. His mother Cosima was evidently critical
of the text, which Siegfried had written himself, but her comments
do not seem to have had any effect.
With a large cast,
sixteen named roles in all, Wagner crams in two or three plots
which compete with each other. One of the reasons for this is
perhaps that the principal elements deal with unsavoury matters
and can only really be addressed obliquely. In a later age Wagner
would probably have written a shorter, rather more direct opera.
was rather fond of dark plots, often dressed up as folk legend
or myth. Of course he was a pretty conflicted figure himself.
A composer whose work was never performed at his father’s theatre
in Bayreuth. A homosexual who was manoeuvred into marriage by
his family in order to provide for the Bayreuth succession.
Given this sort of background, and with a mother like Cosima
Wagner, it is surprising that Siegfried succeeded as a composer
at all and only a pity that he never found a librettist who
could give him satisfactorily constructed operas.
The opera’s leading
lady - hardly a heroine - is Verena (Rebecca Broberg). The opera
takes place on her birthday, when she comes of age. She is troubled
by the fact that her mother killed Verena’s illegitimate child
at birth. The Kobold of the title - it roughly translates as
‘goblin’ but I think it more helpful to leave the word untranslated
- is the soul of her murdered child (Young Jae Park). The child
is accompanied by a chorus of Kobolds, souls of aborted children
and illegitimate children killed at birth.
Verena is brought
a birthday present by an old man, Ekhart (Andreas Mitschke).
It is a stone which he claims will bind her lover to her. There
is much unnecessary by-play with this stone and eventually,
at the end of Act 2, Verena’s murdered child acquires it.
During Act 2 Verena
is nearly raped by the local Count - more of him anon - and
finally in Act 3 she is led into the forest by Ekhart who encourages
her to commit suicide to atone for her mother’s guilt at murdering
Verena’s child. Verena does this but not before saving her friends
from an attack upon them.
Ekhart is an ambivalent
figure; the rather nasty Count (Nicholas Isherwood) seems to
have had visits from him as a child and there are hints of child
abuse. This is another area where Siegfried could have been
more direct in the libretto. Whilst the Count is trying to rape
Verena he is attacked and the identity of the attacker is something
of a mystery until the attacks in Act 3, thus adding a rather
unnecessary element of who-dunnit to the plot.
The main armature
onto which this is wound is the visit of a group of travelling
players. Verena rather loves one of them, Friedrich (Volker
Horn) but he is also flirting with the Countess (Martina Borst)
and would like her to run away with him. She, on the other hand,
just wants a bit of fun on the side.
The central event
in Act 2 is the play which the players perform for the Count
and Countess – Eros tries to free the nymph Eukaleia who has
been abducted by Satyr and Faun, but Heliodoros vies with him
for her attention. I am not quite sure whether the plot of this
playlet has any bearing on the background plot or not. Too often
in Siegfried Wagner’s self-penned libretti, the charm of the
individual episodes seems to have blinded him to the overall
construction of the piece.
There is much of
interest in the opera and I imagine a strong production could
emphasise the dark undertones of the plot. The chorus of Kobolds
play quite a big part in the proceedings and when they are singing,
Wagner’s writing is ravishing, bringing to mind the sound world
of Humperdinck in Hansel and Gretel.
When Siegfried Wagner
is dealing with the players and their interaction with the locals,
the musical language hovers between that of his father and that
of the earlier generation such as Weber and Marschner. Only
in the last Act when Verena is transfigured whilst facing her
death, do we get any hints of the mature Richard Wagner.
Despite the large
cast, Siegfried only brings us close to one or two characters.
The role of Verena is a substantial one and requires considerable
stamina. By and large Rebecca Broberg succeeds, she has a lovely
rich voice though it shows some strain at the top. Verena is
not an innocent, she is complex and ambivalent and Broberg allows
this to come out.
Her potential lover
Friedrich is a typically operatic feckless hero. We never really
learn much about his depths and he effectively disappears part
of the way through Act 2. Volker Horn does pretty well. He has
a striking voice but the part lies quite high and Horn does
not always seem comfortable with this.
The Count is a character
which Siegfried Wagner should have allowed to develop. He has
one monologue when he talks about his background and Ekhart’s
mysterious visits. Nicholas Isherwood has a fine, dark voice
and rightly dominates his scenes.
is a little dry voiced as Ekhart, but then again he is supposed
to be elderly. The remaining cast are decently cast and form
a strong ensemble. Obviously it helps that this recording is
live, based on stage performances. There are pictures of the
production in the booklet and it looks as if it might have been
The PPP Music Theatre
Ensemble and Munich Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra provide the
principals with strong support. Frank Strobel conducts with
a good feel for the piece, keeping things flowing.
is entirely creditable and makes as good a case as possible
for Siegfried Wagner’s rather curious work. Where it lets itself
down is in the booklet. This contains a number of abstruse essays
and a plot summary but no libretto. The libretto can be downloaded
from the Naxos web site, but there is no English translation.
I have not been able to discover one. Naxos could have done
the work a great deal of service by providing an English libretto;
without it the dark undertones of the plot are not brought out
adequately for those without fluent German.
There are some ravishing
moments in this score; Siegfried Wagner was a talented orchestrator
and could write well for voices. Libretto apart, this recording
gives the work a pretty good chance and is worth investigating
by anyone interested in what Richard Wagner’s son got up to.