E.T.A. HOFFMANN (1776-1822)
Liebe und Eifersucht (1807)
Gary Martin (baritone) – The Duke of Florence
Robert Sellier (tenor) – Enrico
Florian Simson (tenor) – Ottavio
Jörg Simon (bass) – Fabio
Christina Gerstberger (soprano) – Lisida
Thérèse Wincent (soprano) – Cloris
Sybille Specht (mezzo) – Nisa
Sybilla Duffe (soprano) – Celia
Stefan Sevenich (bass) – Ponlevi
Orchester der Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele/Michael Hofstetter
rec. 27-28 July 2008, Forum am Schlosspark, Ludwigsburg
Text and English translation included
CPO 777 435-2 [56:25 + 65:31]
Hoffmann was by any standards a remarkable man. His novels and short stories - though neither term is really satisfactory for his idiosyncratic creations - were a significant influence on figures such as Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka. They were studied by both Jung and Freud. Offenbach found in them the inspiration for his opera Tales of Hoffmann. There were also operas by Hindemith (Cardillac) and Busoni (Die Brautwahl), at least two ballets – the Coppelia of Delibes and The Nutcracker of Tchaikovsky – and for Schumann’s piano suite Kreisleriana. He was an accomplished caricaturist whose work had many distinguished contemporary admirers - and earned him more than a few enemies. He was a successful lawyer and, incidentally, an alcoholic. He was a fine music critic – writing an important early essay on Don Giovanni and reviews of Beethoven. And, yes, he was a composer. Christened Ernst Theodor Wilhelm, in 1809 he changed the third of those names to Amadeus in honour of you-know-who. He composed several operas – of which Undine, premiered in Berlin in 1816 is the best known – four settings of the Mass, one symphony, a quintet for harp, two violins, viola and cello - of which I once heard a good amateur performance and which sounded very interesting - and a range of secular vocal works.
Liebe und Eifersucht (Love and Jealousy) was, it seems, largely written in 1807. It was never performed during Hoffmann’s lifetime. It was then lost until the 1960s and was then edited, based on versions surviving in libraries in Würzburg and Berlin, by Friedrich Schnapp. The opera finally received its premiere in 2008 at Munich’s Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz. This recording is based on that production.
Hoffmann wrote his own libretto, based on August Wilhelm Schlegel’s translation (Die Schärpe und die Blume) of Calderón’s play La banda y la flor. The resulting singspiel in three Acts has charm and a fair degree of elegance and wit. The music is everywhere marked by understanding and craftsmanship – and nowhere distinguished by genius. The plot is an elaborate trifle about amatory confusions, hopes and fears, in which disguise plays its part and jealousy sees what it wants to see or fears to see. Signs and tokens of love are misunderstood and confusion reigns before, naturally, everybody finishes up with their ‘proper’ partner. None of the characters really develops a plausible human identity. On the plus side, there are some attractive arias and some good ensemble writing; the Act I finale is particularly enjoyable. Hoffmann’s admiration for Mozart is frequently obvious and there are plenty of echoes and some near-pastiche; but there are also some harmonies which - no doubt owed to his perceptive familiarity with Beethoven’s work - resemble those of such composers as Marschner or Weber.
The performance is eminently listenable. In some part this is due to the excellent work of the Orchester der Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele conducted by Michael Hofstetter. The orchestra play on period instruments - or as the splendid German compound puts it auf Originalklanginstrumenten – which says it so much more vividly! There is vigour and colour in their performance even if tempered by the occasional blemish and they create a real sense of period, making a significant contribution to the listener’s sense of this as a theatrical event. All of the singers largely acquit themselves well. Robert Sellier’s light tenor is thoroughly idiomatic and graceful; Gary Martin sings with conviction and sureness of pitch, shaping his phrases very effectively. All of the women are, by the very highest standards, a little inconsistent, unable to maintain their work at its very best throughout. But there are nice voices to be heard and some fine moments – as well as a few slightly awkward ones. Christina Gerstberger and Sybilla Duffe impress most, but there is no one who really lets the side down, no one who spoils the listener’s enjoyment of the unexpected opportunity to become familiar with this little-known work. Some listeners may, I suppose, find their patience tested by the substantial quantity of spoken German dialogue – so be warned.
CPO’s booklet contains a full German libretto, with English translation, as well as some attractive photographs of the premiere production. Anyone interested in German opera, or in opera rara - to borrow a phrase - or in Mozart’s influence or, indeed, in Hoffmann, will surely want to take the chance to hear this recording.
It’s no undiscovered masterpiece, but Hoffmann’s singspiel makes for enjoyable listening.