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Franz Ignaz DANZI (1763-1826)
Der Berggeist - romantic opera in two acts (1813)
Colin Balzer (tenor) - Rübezahl
Daniel Ochoa (baritone) - Jacob Landenhag
Sophie Harmsen (mezzo) - Marthe
Sarah Wegener (soprano) - Anne
Christian Immler (baritone) - Konrad Ehrmann
Tilman Lichdi (tenor) - Heinrich
Patrick Pobeschin (baritone) - Pux
Robert Buckland (tenor) - Nachwächter and Url
Philip Niederberger (baritone) - Meerungeheuer
Vincent Frisch (boy soprano) - Hanns
Bernd Schmitt (speaker) - The Spirit
Kammerchor Stuttgart; Hofkapelle Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius
rec. April 2012, live, Musikhochschule, Stuttgart
German text included: no translations
CARUS 83.296 [78:11]

This is the world premiere recording of Franz Danzi’s 1813 romantic opera in two acts, Der Berggeist - or, The Spirit of the Mountain. The whole idea of a ‘romantic opera’, as self-designated, was new to German opera. The term had been used previously by Viennese composer Ignaz Ritter von Seyfried in 1805, and E.T.A. Hoffmann deployed it too. Danzi was unusual in so deliberately pinning the idea of a romantic opera to Der Berggeist - though with Weber and Marschner in the 1820s the concept became both far more concrete and prevalent. The business of earthly and ghostly commingling in romantic art was, however, established and the fairy and spirit world became part of the lexicon of romantic or magic opera. This was the realm chosen by Danzi and he constructed a series of fine ensembles, ariosos, storm scenes, supernatural passages, and everywhere established contrast between the world of the human and the world of the spirit. There are strophic songs, choruses, and instrumental postludes and plenty of moments for orchestral uproar and characterisation where Danzi is clearly primarily interested in sonic effect.
I won’t go into any detail about the plot - magic spells, the purity of love, the question of the gnomes, and the rest of it, though I should counsel Anglophones that the text is in German only. So brush up your German, and cling on to the separately tracked scenes which have synopses printed in the booklet.
Danzi is a fine orchestral composer. The overture is well crafted and effective, and if you were told it was a lesser-known work by Weber I doubt you’d demur. The long opening scene is stylistically wide-ranging, deftly pointed and enshrines a consecutive series of elements - high wind writing in support of arioso and aria, and a vigorous storm declamation that demarcate Danzi’s self-confidence. Such things go hand-in-hand in the opera; the rustic winds and choruses are both apt and effective. Danzi makes much of internal contrasts within scenes, often quite stark ones, that show the breadth of his conception even in a work that might strike us now as naïve in its depiction of faery or spirit worlds.
He also evokes older times, such as introducing music rooted in late seventeenth-century polyphony. At times he feints towards a Mozartian sense of drama; there is something lightly Seraglio-like about Jacob’s aria Ja, schon im Geist, seh ich es ragen in the first act, for example, and a Weberian and Mozartian quality to the finale of the same act. This doesn’t suggest a duality in Danzi’s imagination, so much as a conflation of two influences that work harmoniously together. Contrastingly voiced trios add to the timbral and vocal variety to be enjoyed; the introduction of a ballad aria - Ich bleibet hier, in act two - similarly is an act of inclusion rather than diffusion. The strong role accorded the solo cello in the orchestral passage towards the end of the work - it’s an unashamed orchesterstück - is as deft as it is appropriate.
Frieder Bernius directs with imagination and attention to detail. He has been doing great things in Stuttgart and continues the list of accomplishment here. He has a fine, youthful cast around him, equipped with refined, clear often Mozartian-sounding voices. There are no outstanding singers, as such, but then it’s a real ensemble piece. If I had to, I would single out tenor Tilman Lichdi for the mellifluousness of his tone and his vocal placement. But really it’s invidious to do so. This is a very enjoyable romantic opera, deeply rooted in folkloric soil, and splendidly performed. It was recorded live, by the way, and you’d only really know it from the applause at the end.
Jonathan Woolf