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Alexander ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Der Traumgörge
- An opera in two acts and an epilogue (1904-07)
David Kuebler (Görge); Patricia Racette (Gertraud); Iride Martinez (Grete); Andreas Schmidt (Hans) with Susan Anthony; Michael Volle, Lothar Odinius, Zelotes Edmund Toliver, Julian Rodescu, Natalie Karl, John Pierce, Machiko Obata.
Opernchor der Musikhochschule Köln
Gürzenich-Orchester Kölner Philharmoniker/James Conlon
rec 6-8 July 1999, Köln
EMI CLASSICS 6876792 [72.55 + 74.32]

Experience Classicsonline

I was surprised when this CD dropped through my letter-box for review. My knowledge and understanding of opera is limited. In fact, I recall being taken to task by a lady who was an opera cognoscente for not progressing beyond The Yeoman of the Guard, Merrie England and The Rebel Maid. She could not understand how someone who claimed to enjoy classical music could not appreciate Verdi, Donizetti and Wagner. I thought to myself, ‘How can anyone not appreciate Schoenberg, Sorabji or Stanford’, but I wisely held my peace!

I believed that I was getting a disc of orchestral music by Alexander Zemlinsky - but it was Der Traumgörge that was demanding a review.

Der Traumgörge or ‘George the Dreamer’ was Alexander Zemlinsky’s third opera: it was composed between 1904 and 1907. There is an autobiographical element to this opera revolving around the composer’s relationship with Alma Schindler - the future wife of Gustav Mahler. Alas, the opera was not performed at the Vienna Court Opera. Mahler resigned when it was at an advanced state of rehearsals and his successor Felix Weingartner did not wish to perform it. The work remained unheard until 1980 - some 38 years after the composer’s death.

The plot of Der Traumgörge is a little bit confused. In fact it is quite difficult to get one’s head around the hero Gorge. On the one hand, he is a mummy’s boy - someone who does not appear to have an ounce of volition or self-determination. And then he is about to be married to a grasping woman, Grete, who is more interested in his entailed property and his mill business than she is in his dreams of fairytales and fantastic heroes, and most importantly a Dream Princess. A vision encourages him to dip out of his forthcoming marriage and head for the world of fantasy and beauty. Unfortunately, this does not go to plan and he becomes somewhat dissolute. After a touch to much drink he gets involved in a local uprising. He later becomes enamoured of a certain Gertraud: she has been expelled from the village having been accused of witchcraft and arson. He turns on his revolutionary friends and goes to Gertraud who is on the brink of committing suicide. Inevitably, they fall in love with each other. The opera closes with an epilogue back in the village of the first act. No longer a mummy’s boy he has won the admiration of all the villagers - no doubt with the exception of Grete. And, right at the end Gertraud turns into the Dream Princess for which Gorge had been searching. All live happily ever after!

If I were to try to give a flavour of the music I would have to suggest it is a little bit of a mixture of Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg, Engelbert Humperdinck and Mahler himself. It is not fair to imply that somehow the composer deliberately mixed these elements up, but it is not hard to hear these musical references as the opera progresses. The fairytale nature of the work surely nods to Hansel ünd Gretel, whilst some of the soaring music and the rich vocal lines hail from Gurrelieder and Der Rosenkavalier. Perhaps it is easier to describe this work as an opera that Mahler might have written he had been so inclined.

The most obvious criticism of this fine CD is the lack of text (whereas the original 2001 issue had a full booklet of sung text and translations). A quick search of the internet reveals no libretto for this work: there is certainly no copy of the score on my bookshelves. The Westminster Music Library does not have one either. Musicroom.com does not have a copy available for purchase. In fact the only place that seems to have the score is the British Library. So, unless the listener has a good grasp of German (I can ask for a cup of tea and know a fair few musical terms) or can sneak their CD player into the BL at St Pancras they will have little notion as to the progress of the opera. All this great music and no way of understanding what they are singing! Perhaps there should be a downloadable libretto in English, French and German on the EMI website?

Yet I have no doubt this is a great opera. I am impressed by the sheer depth of the music, the power of the singing and the palpable beauty of the integrated orchestral part. The singing is committed and the balance between the orchestra and the soloist is near perfect.

One important fact is that the present recording is the complete score; the cuts made by Gustav Mahler for the abandoned first performance have been completely restored by James Conlon.

Lastly, it may be a naive observation, but I feel that opera is best watched on the stage or, second best on the television. It may be OK to have CDs of operas that are well-known to the listener (I have The Pirates of Penzance on my iPod). However, a work that is new to many opera buffs - as I guess Der Traumgörge will be - needs to have the full works: music, stage and actions. Roll on the DVD!

That said, it is a great recording of music that is at one and the same time inspiring, beautiful and moving. It will find a place in the collection of all post-Wagnerian opera enthusiasts.

John France

see also review by Rob Barnett of original release (CDS5570872)

 


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