Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934)
Der Schatzgräber - opera in a prologue, four acts and an epilogue (1918) [140.04]
Josef Protschka (tenor) - Elis; Gabriele Schnaut (soprano) - Els; Harald Stamm (bass) - King; Peter Haage (tenor) - Fool; Hans Helm (baritone) - Bailiff; Heinz Kruse (tenor) - Albi; Carl Schultz (bass) - Innkeeper; Peter Galliard (tenor) - Chancellor, Scribe; Urban Malmberg (baritone) - Count, Herald; Franz Ferdinand Nentwig (bass) - Young nobleman; Ude Krekow (baritone) - Schoolmaster; Dieter Weller (bass) - Mayor
Hamburg State Opera Chorus Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra/Gerd Albrecht
rec. Hamburg State Opera, 24 May-2 June 1989
CAPRICCIO C5175 [66.18 + 73.46]
As I remarked when reviewing the reissue of Schmidt’s Notre Dame, one is absolutely delighted to welcome the re-emergence from the deletions box of the series of opera recordings made by Capriccio during the 1980s and 1990s. Many of these enshrine the only recorded performances available on disc of rare German romantic repertory from the earlier part of the twentieth century. Among these the re-releases of scores by Schreker have not the absolute scarcity value that they had at the time of their first release, but Der Schatzgräber has still received no other recording - a new version from the Netherlands Opera is advertised for release later this year - and accordingly this one from the Hamburg State Opera must be welcomed, despite some reservations about individual performance issues. However as I observed also in the case of Notre Dame the original issue also contained the complete text and translation, and although the rather prolix booklet note by Mathias Brzoska has been retained in thankfully abridged form at less than half its original length, in such unfamiliar works texts and translations are vital for the listener’s comprehension. One can understand the reluctance of the company to print out the substantial booklets required in such esoteric repertoire, but could they at the very least consider making the missing items available online? In reviewing this set I have made use of the booklet that came with the original 1989 issue, but purchasers of this new release will obviously not have that advantage. The vocal score, available in some countries from ISMLP (it remains in copyright elsewhere), has no English translation. This reissue does provide a brief synopsis, which is worse than useless as it does not even tie the description of the action to individual scenes let alone the tracks on the discs.
Of all the composers who suffered by being branded as ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis, Schreker - with the double jeopardy of being both Jewish and homosexual - was probably the one whose music was most totally eclipsed. His operas, which had been wildly successful during the 1920s, disappeared entirely from German stages. The fact that Schreker died so soon after Hitler came to power meant that he was denied the opportunity either to go into exile where he might have continued to compose, or to benefit from a possible revival of his scores after 1945. It was not until the 1970s that his operas began to be revived, and all of them are now available either on disc or on various internet downloads. Indeed, we have three alternative recordings of Der ferne Klang and four of Die Gezeichneten, although many of the available recordings suffer from cuts of one sort or another, which makes a considered judgement difficult to achieve. Presumably by association, Gerd Albrecht has a reputation for making abridgements in his opera recordings, and the scissors have been wielded with a will here - which is all the more annoying because of the lack of current alternative readings in the catalogue.
The first of these cuts on the first CD comes at 00.30 in track 6, where some 21 bars go missing to be replaced by a very inelegant and unwritten pause; and at the end of this track a further 12 bars are cut. In the opening scene of Act Two we are deprived of some 15 bars at track 17 4.18 to be followed by another 34 bars at the end of the same track. Another 16 bars go missing at track 20 2.18; then another 11 bar snip is taken shortly afterwards at 4.38 (involving a very unconvincing harmonic transition); and in the very next track 11 bars are taken out at 3.00. On the second CD, the Tristan-like duet which constitutes the whole of Act Three has a cut of 20 bars at track 3 0.26; 21 bars at track 5 00.28; and 11 bars at track 6 1.20 - this one involving the loss of part of the vocal line. In Act Four we have cuts of 6 bars at track 10 2.47, 3 bars at 3.06 and 6 bars at 3.49 with the chorus parts two bars later omitted (all on the same track); and another 3 bars at track 11 00.50. After that the scissors appear to have been consigned to the drawer, since we have the remainder of the Fourth Act and the whole of the Epilogue without any excisions at all.
These fourteen cuts enumerated here, none of which would probably last longer than a minute, are all the more annoying because they are so niggling, saving next to no time in performance but at the same time depriving us of the opportunity to hear the score as it was conceived by the composer. Even more ridiculously, one massive cut of a full 80 bars during the later part of Act Four (CD 2, track 12) which Schreker actually authorises as an option in the vocal score, is not taken here - although quite rightly so, since it is a most impressive passage which also has dramatic relevance to the later development of the plot.
As in all his operas, Schreker wrote his own libretto and once again the complicated scenario - which I will not begin to attempt to summarise here - involves the search for perfection in art. In Der ferne Klang this was the sound of an unimaginable music; in Die Gezeichneten it was the beauty of the ideal form; and here it is the ‘treasure’ which Elis seeks and which persistently eludes him. The symbolism is obvious, although it is clothed in a complex web of sexual and emotional jealousy. The score is through-composed in a style that closely anticipates later Richard Strauss - think of Daphne or Die Liebe von Danae. There’s only one readily excerptable item in the form of the lullaby that opens Act Three which might figure successfully in recital. A complex web of leitmotifs bind the music together, many of which are really memorable. The orchestration, with its prominent role for the celesta, has the sparkling patina of Korngold.
The recorded sound places the voices very far forward, which does not allow for full justice to be given to Schreker’s rich and romantic scoring. Some of the climactic orchestral passages, such as that at 00.40 in CD 1 track 13 or the extended interlude in CD 2 tracks 6-7 - which is familiar from other recordings of Schreker’s orchestral music - sound unpleasantly boxy. The music simply demands more glamour than we are given here, with the string playing for example sounding rather wiry in the prelude to the Second Act and the many expressive woodwind solos - with the occasional exception of the oboe - uninflected and backward. In Act Four the duet between Els and the clarinet at track 16 1.30, when instrument and voice echo each other’s phrases, is particularly grotesque in its total lack of balance.
What all this really means is that Schreker’s operas sound far more convincing when they are given the benefit of a well-balanced studio recording, as in the Decca set of Die Gezeichneten. Incidentally this recording states that it is taken “live from Hamburg State Opera” but there is no sign of any audience being present, and stage noises are rare in the extreme. There are a couple of minor verbal slips but otherwise the production bears witness to careful and scrupulous preparation and possibly a ‘correction session’ with the audience absent. As it is, even the final chord is allowed to die away with natural reverberation with never the slightest suspicion of applause.
Gabriele Schnaut also appeared in the Capriccio release of Schreker’s Der ferne Klang, and her gusty singing there came close to wrecking the opera. Here, in the only female role, her contribution is nothing short of disastrous; she treats the part of the virginal maiden for all the world like Elektra in her most vengeful mood, and her often unsteady high notes have a raw and stressed quality which is most unpleasant. Even when Schreker specifically marks a high A and A sharp to be sung piano (at CD 1, track 9 1.09, track 17 0.42 and track 19 0.32) Schnaut each time delivers the relevant note at a strenuous forte.
This is a great shame, since otherwise Hamburg State Opera have cast the opera from strength. Josef Protschka may lack the ideal heroic ring for his more strenuous passages, but his singing is always heartfelt and lyrical in tone and he manages - possibly with aid of the recorded balance - to rise above the frequent clamour of Schreker’s orchestration. Peter Haage, a celebrated Mime, brings plenty of character to the role of the Fool, and even subsidiary roles are well taken by the likes of Hans Helm, Heinz Kruse and Harald Stamm although the microphone placement occasionally exaggerates the forcefulness of their delivery. Best of all is the resonant Urban Malmberg in the small role of the Herald, rendered even smaller by one of Albrecht’s pettifogging cuts. The chorus, hampered by being kept offstage for much of the time, are not very well defined even when they should be in the foreground as during the final Act. They sound decidedly under-populated and under-powered.
The provenance of the cover photograph used here - the original issue was very plainly presented - is not made clear, but if it is intended to depict Gabriele Schnaut it appears to have been taken from a production of Turandot rather than Die Schatzgräber but never mind. However, and more seriously, given the forthcoming new release from the Netherlands Opera - presumably taken from last year’s stage production with Manuela Uhl rather than Schnaut as the leading female protagonist - potential purchasers may well now wish to hold their fire for a month or two. It is to be hoped that the new recording will also give us the score absolutely complete. If it does not, this set still gives us a chance to hear a neglected score, and one which remains well worth hearing.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Blemishes but still gives us a chance to hear a neglected score that is well worth hearing.
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