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Siegfried WAGNER (1869–1930)
Der Kobold (1903/4) [195.27]
Verena – Rebecca Broberg (soprano)
Gertrud – Regina Mauel (contralto)
Ekhart – Andreas Mitschke (bass)
Trutz – Achim Hoffmann (baritone)
Fink – Johannes Fottinger (tenor)
Kummel – Philipp Meierhofer (baritone)
Friedrich – Volker Horn (tenor)
Der Graf – Nicholas Isherwood (bass)
Die Grafin – Martina Borst (mezzo)
Jeanette – Ksenija Luic (soprano)
Jean – Marco Bappert (baritone)
Knorz - Joachim Hochbauer (bass)
Kathe – Heike Kohler (mezzo)
Seelchen – Young Jae Park (male soprano)
PPP Music Theatre Ensemble, Munich
Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra/Frank Strobel
rec. 10–12 November 2005, Stadttheater Furth, Germany
MARCO POLO 8.225329-31 [3 CDs: 71.57 + 71.03 + 52.27]

 


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.

Siegfried Wagner 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.

Andreas Mischke 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 rather fascinating.

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.

This performance 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. 

Robert Hugill 

 

 


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