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Daniel François Esprit AUBER (1782-1871)
Le Maçon, opéra comique (1825)
Libretto by Eugène Scribe and Germain Delavigne (sung in German)
Walter Anton Dotzer – Roger (tenor)
Franz Fuchs – Baptiste (baritone)
Herakles Politis - Léon de Merinville (tenor)
Hilde Rychling – Irma (soprano)
Maria Salten – Henriette (soprano)
Hildegard Rössl-Majdan - Mme Bertrand (mezzo)
Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich/Kurt Tenner
rec. 14 December 1950, ORF Studios, Vienna, Austria. Mono
ORFEO C985191 [52:48]

Auber seems to have come back into favour recently. His opera in a forgotten radio broadcast from Vienna is now given a welcome airing. Despite Auber’s considerable output of 46 comic and full operas, only a few are regularly played or recorded. Orfeo have other vintage Auber re-releases in this series.

Le Maçon, premiered in Paris in 1825, was Auber’s thirteenth opera, composed during his fertile period of activity that commenced in 1819. It is the first opera in which he adopts more of the simplicity of a composer like Boieldieu rather than the complexity of Rossini, yet it still carries Rossini’s Italianate brightness (especially in the second act finale). The work also has an underlying grace of the French opera tradition that was to come. Although the plot seems an unlikely one for comedy treatment, this agrees with Auber’s recipe for comic opera that ruled his earlier compositions written with Scribe. Its vivacious and jolly overture leads us into the opening scene: Roger, a stonemason (the subject of the opera), is celebrating his marriage to the village locksmith’s sister. After the party have left for the reception, Roger gets abducted by two strangers. He is taken to an Embassy were he finds the locksmith is also being held. Meanwhile the village busybody tells the distraught bride that, recognising the style of coach, they are likely to be held in the Turkish Embassy. The police are informed and Roger and his brother-in-law are rescued from the Turks, who soon flee to safety.

Walter Anton Dotzer as Roger and Herakles Politis as Léon are both good singers, very acceptable in their lyrical tenor roles. Roger engages well in in his duet “Ohne Rast” with Baptiste (Franz Fuchs). Maria Salten, as his bride Henriette, comes across as young and attractive with her particularly light and clear voice. Sadly, Auber only assigns her one short arietta. I find that her delicate vibrato nicely blends well with the charming string accompaniment. The gossipy neighbour, Mme Bertrand, provides an appropriately haughty presence to match her personality. Support from the other singers may not always be top drawer, but they blend well together and work ideally together in ensembles.

The booklet contains the notes and the plot of the opera in German and English. The indexing of tracks is unfortunate: each one starts with narration to set the scene that follows as one might expect for a broadcast. It would have been far better had tracks started with the musical number and commentary were to follow (so that the spoken sections could be easily skipped). This is difficult when the narration overlaps the opening bars of the next number. Better still, it could have been possible to have individual tracks provided for both passage of narration and music.

This 1950 recording does not suffer from the usual boxy sound typical of many broadcasts of the period; the orchestra is set in a nicely-spaced acoustic. All is not ideal, because the recorded sound is brittle and badly needs a bass lift that would have been sensible at the time of this 2019 re-mastering. Fortunately, there is no ‘print-through’ as is sometimes found with tapes of this age, giving a delayed echo effect. The orchestra was recorded in a good ambience, but the soloists have a non-flattering dry acoustic from closely placed microphones. This tends to affect one’s judgment of the singing quality, yet all performances are very acceptable and Kurt Tenner’s orchestra is particularly well rehearsed.

Raymond J Walker



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