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.
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
, whilst some of the soaring music and the rich vocal lines hail from Gurrelieder
. 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
my iPod). However, a work that is new to many opera buffs - as I guess Der
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.
see also review by Rob
original release (CDS5570872)