Albert LORTZING (1801-1851)
Der Waffenschmied - comic opera in three acts (1846)
Kurt Böhme (bass) - Hans Stadlinger; Lotte Schädle (soprano) - Marie; Hermann Prey (baritone) - Count Liebenau; Gerhard Unger (tenor) - Georg; Fritz Ollendorf (baritone) - Adelhof; Gisela Litz (mezzo) - Immentraut; Franz Klarwein (tenor) - Brenner; Otto Dechantsreiter (bass) - Apprentice
Bavarian State Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Fritz Lehan
rec. Bürgerbräu, Munich, 3-7 February 1964
EMI CLASSICS 9123102 [45.20 + 61.07]
At the time this recording was made Lortzing’s Der Waffenschmied was incredibly popular in Germany. During the late 1950s the only opera which was more frequently performed in opera houses there was Mozart’s Zauberflöte. Lortzing’s work comprehensively outstripped Carmen, Madam Butterfly and Der fliegende Holländer for second place in the popularity stakes. The original recording had limited circulation, being issued in the UK only in the form of an LP of highlights. Although it has been intermittently available since as an imported reissue, this appears to be its first international release in its complete form.
This makes it all the more infuriating that as in so many of their recent reissues EMI have given the international audience almost nothing to help them in understanding the work. We are given a booklet note of less than two pages by Ingo Dorfmüller which gives us no idea of the plot of the opera beyond a statement that the work was recognised by the recording team as containing “social criticism” and was not just a “harmless farce”. Needless to say, there is no translation provided in the booklet or online. Once again I was driven to the invaluable ISMLP site for a copy of the vocal score - it can be obtained from (http://imslp.org/wiki/Der_Waffenschmied_(Lortzing,_Albert) - but none of the copies of the score on that site have English translations or include the text of the spoken dialogue. The text - again without translation - can be found at http://www.opera-guide.ch/opera.php?id=200&uilang=de - but why should purchasers (and reviewers) have to undertake such research in order properly to enjoy this excellent performance?
The performance is excellent, deserving of better presentation than it is given here. The presence of singers such as Hermann Prey, Kurt Böhme and Gerhard Unger in the cast testify to the care that was taken by the Electrola recording team over the whole production. Their performances knock spots off what one might expect from the standard German provincial opera houses who would normally have staged the work at that time. The music demands a good deal of verbal dexterity, but this poses no problems at all to these singers. The female side is not so well represented. Gisela Litz is a rather matronly-sounding Irmenlaut. The small-voiced and piping Lotte Schädle is a Papagena rather than the Pamina we would ideally like to hear - for example in the delightful and unexpected lullaby that closes the First Act - even though her notes are always true. None of the singers need to take advantage of the alternative vocal lines (avoiding high notes) that are given throughout the score. A few appogiature are inserted where they would seem to be appropriate.
The orchestral playing is fine, even the genuinely fruity cornet solo near the beginning of the Rossinian overture. The brief fugal passage towards the end has a real Mendelssohnian lightness of touch. The chorus are vigorous and full-toned, not least in the opening anvil male chorus which anticipates Verdi in Il trovatore by some years. Did Wagner think of the descending scales at the end when he wrote Siegfried’s forging song? As was not unusual in German opera sets at that time which employed dialogue between numbers, one gets the impression that actors may have been used to replace some of the singers in these sections. That said, the booklet makes no reference to such a procedure, so I may be wrong. The dialogue passages are in any event not lengthy being quite heavily abridged from the extensive original. They are separately tracked so they can be ‘programmed out’. There are also some touches of ‘production’ - knocking at doors, stage placement of singers within a realistic perspective, murmuring from the chorus - which add to the pervasive sense of theatrical vitality.
Fritz Lehan keeps everything on the move, and has an appropriately light touch in this music. Commendably the score is given nearly complete, without any of the cuts which one imagines might have been customary at the time. We get all three verses of Georg’s strophic song in Act Two, for example. Only the brief Entr’acte which precedes the Third Act is omitted from the text as given in the 1890 Peters vocal score. There is a small cut of some repeated music at the end of the septet (CD 2, track 16). The best-known number in the score, the song Auch ich war ein Jüngling, has five repeated verses including some stanzas added by Lortzing to allow for encores. Here we are given three verses - using different words from those in the Peters score - which seems ample. The March written to cover the scene-change before the brief finale is thankfully shorn of its many marked repeats. Some delightful orchestral touches, such as the timpani solo underpinning the vocal line at CD 1 track 12, 4.40, are well and sensitively realised by players and recording engineers. Lortzing was never a great composer, but his music is always tuneful. He displays such touches of originality often enough to explain his erstwhile popularity in Germany even while one recognises the reasons this may have waned somewhat over the last fifty years.
Nevertheless Lortzing remains largely an unknown quantity outside Germany. Appreciation has not been helped by the fact that recordings of his operas have largely been represented by live and radio performances from the 1950s in often problematic sound. We should therefore be grateful for the few recordings we have which present the scores in an approachable manner - one thinks of the Electrola studio sets of Der Wildschütz, Undine and Zar und Zimmermann in particular. This is a welcome addition to that regrettably small roster.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Be grateful for this recording which, with the exception of a libretto and translation, presents the score in an approachable manner.
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