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Euryanthe - Grand heroic-romantic
opera in three acts (1823)
Vogel (bass) – King Louis VI; Nicolai Gedda
(tenor) – Adolar, Count of Nevera; Jessye Norman (soprano) – Euryanthe
von Savoyen, his bride; Tom Krause (bass) – Lysiart,
Count of Forest; Rita Hunter (mezzo) – Eglantine von
Puiset; Renate Krahmer (soprano) – Bertha, a country
girl; Harald Neukirch (tenor) – Rudolf, a knight; Rundfunkchor
Leipzig, Staatskapelle Dresden/Marek Janowski
rec. Lukaskirche, Dresden, June and July 1974
German libretto enclosed
CLASSICS 0184412BC [3 CDs: 64:53 + 45:20
(or Helmina as she called herself) von Chézy (1783 – 1856)
managed to immortalize herself in the annals of music
through two disastrous collaborations with leading composers
of her time. Franz Schubert wrote incidental music for
her play Rosamunde and Carl Maria von Weber wrote
the grand opera Euryanthe to a libretto by her. Rosamunde is
permanently lost and obviously mourned by nobody, but
Schubert’s music survived thanks to the fact that it
is so immediately appealing self-contained. Weber’s Euryanthe is
at a clear disadvantage, since it is obvious that an
opera can’t survive without a libretto. There have been
attempts made to rescue it but so far without success.
Inger Sørensen writes in the Danish “Gads Operaleksikon”: ‘… one
of the most improbable and incomprehensible texts in
the history of opera …’ and this seems to be the common
opinion. Horst Seeger, in his notes to the present issue,
tries to modify this view somewhat, pointing first and
foremost to the fact that stories of this kind were in
line with the attitudes of the Romantics, that she was
a conscientious writer – also known in her days as a
poet of some importance and that Weber actually approved
of what she did – not without objections, however: ‘Act
III, for example, was revised eleven times, and finally
Weber himself intervened … to rebuild the finale … according
to his own lights.’ Considering this it is a shame that
the result didn’t become better.
should be added that the plot wasn’t Helmina von Chézy’s
own invention. The story can in fact be traced back to
the early 13th century and Boccaccio as well
as Shakespeare have used motifs and it has been told
in several French stories. Helmina drew on an early French
romance, published by Comte Louis de Tressans in 1780.
The process of the libretto’s coming into being is recorded
in detail in the booklet notes. So what’s wrong with
it? Try this:
celebrations are in progress at the court of Louis VI.
Adolar, Count of Nevers, wistfully thinks of his betrothed,
Euryanthe. His secret rival, Lysiart of Forest, questions
Euryanthe’s constancy and boasts that he can lead her
astray. Adolar challenges him to a duel, but instead
they agree to stake all their possessions on the result
of Lysiart’s efforts to prove his claim.
the Palace of Nevers, Euryanthe sings of her longing
for Adolar. Eglantine, representing the unjust treatment
meted out to her father, is by no menas as sympathetic
to Euryanthe as the latter believes. Secretly in love
with Adolar, Eglantine unlocks a secret from Euryenthe.
Adolar’s sister, Emma, who killed herself by drinking
poison from her ring following the death of her lover,
will not find rest in her tomb until a girl innocently
accused wets the ring with tears. By making use of this
secret, which Euryanthehas pledged to keep locked in
her heart, Eglantine hopes to take her revenge on Adolar.
the King’s request, Lysiart arrives to conduct Euryanthe
to the royal palace. He has almost come to regret his
wager, but his hatred of Adolar proves stronger. Seeing
Eglantine emerge from Emma’s tomb with the accursed ring,
he throws in his lot with hers.
and Euryanthe are reunited, but Lysiart intervenes, claiming
to have won his wager and displaying the ring as proof.
Euryanthe protests her innocence, but in Adolars eyes
she is guilty and so he abandons her and gives up his
possessions to Lysiart.
a rocky gorge Adolar is about to slay Euryanthe who has
tried in vain to convince him of her faithfulness. When
a huge serpent appears, Euryanthe throws herself between
it and Adolar to save him. Adolar is deeply moved, but
he goes his own way to find inner peace. The King and
his hunting party discover Euryanthe. Before she collapses
in utter exhaustion, she discloses Eglantine’s betrayal.
The King promises to bring about her reconciliation with
Adolar and orders the huntsmen to take Euryanthe to Adolar.
A peasant wedding is taking place near the Palace of
Nevers. Adolar, aimlessly roaming about, enters the scene.
As the conflict with Lysiart mounts in intensity, Adolar
challenges him to combat. At this moment the King arrives,
pretending that Euryanthe has died. Now the treacherous
Eglantine confesses her crime whereupon Lysiart, enraged,
stabs her fatally and is taken into custody. Adolar is
crazed with grief, but at this moment Euryanthe enters,
alive and well, and rushes into his arms.’
this mishmash Weber lavished all his skill and talent,
writing a grandiose, through-composed three act opera.
His other two full length operas, Der Freischütz and Oberon are
Singspiele, i.e. there is spoken dialogue, and that also
goes for his early Abu Hassan. It is large scale
music with expressive recitatives, long arias and extended
ensembles with spectacular writing for the chorus. The
overture, the only music from this opera can be claimed
to be well known, with some typical lyrical episodes
in the middle and powerful contrapuntal writing. There
is also some ballet music and a fresh wedding march.
The hunters’ chorus in act III is a kind of sequel to
the one in Der Freischütz and would be an attractive
feature in a concert with orchestra and chorus, why not
at the Last Night of the Proms?
recitatives are more than just preliminaries before the
arias; they are flexibly written with frequent arioso
passages and several of the arias are outstanding creations – not
so immediately melodious and folk music attractive as
those in Der Freischütz, but Eglantine’s recitative
and aria Betörte, die an meine Liebe glaubt … Er konnte
mich um sie verschmähn CD 1 tr. 13) is fully comparable
to the better known Ocean aria from Oberon, highly
dramatic and with some hazardous coloratura. Lysiart’s
long scene that opens act II is also dramatic writing
in the top flight – also with a long arioso section.
Euryanthe’s beautiful cavatina in act III is another
piece that should be attractive for recital purposes.
was outstanding among early 19th century opera
composers in the German speaking world – Beethoven possibly
excluded but his Fidelio is more epic than truly
dramatic – and it is so sad that his works should be
marred by inferior librettos. Der Freischütz is
however still played, at least in Germany, and there
are a number of fine recordings, and the others are well
worth the outlay for the quality of the music. I have
owned this recording of Euryanthe – as far as
I know the only existing one – for almost two decades
and in all honesty I have to admit that it hasn’t been
played that frequently. But when I have searched it out
I have invariably admired it and the performance can
hardly be bettered. The then East German choral and orchestral
forces are superb. Marek Janowski, first established
himself as a major conductor when he was Music Director
at Freiburg and at Dortmund Opera (1973-79) and this
recording was made at the beginning of that period. He
sculptures the music admirably and injects the playing
and singing with dramatic verve.
cast is headed by the young Jessye Norman, then not yet
30, and she is glorious all through the opera, singing
with noble tone and fine nuances and her recitatives
are always expressive. The evil Eglantine is sung with
great intensity by Rita Hunter, well known for her Brünnhilde
at ENO, a role she also sang at Metropolitan. The cast
list describes her as mezzo-soprano but to my ears she
certainly sounds like the dramatic soprano she always
was. Tom Krause actually sounds as the bass the cast
list describes him as, and he is in excellent form throughout,
Siegfried Vogel is an acceptable King and Renate Krahmer
a charming and fresh voiced country girl. The one comparative
disappointment is Nicolai Gedda as Adolar. He is truly
heroic and as always expressive with words but his actual
tone is hard and strained. He is however deeply involved
and his soft singing, on the few occasions that he is
allowed to sing below forte, is as agreeable as always.
recording is excellent, the notes, from which I have
culled much of the background information and quoted
the synopsis, illuminating. The booklet includes the
complete libretto in German but no translations.
an opera Euryanthe may not be among the top-ten
recommendations, not even the top-100, but as a performance
of Euryanthe, this recording can be wholeheartedly
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