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Detlev GLANERT (b. 1960)
Oceane, opera in two acts
Oceane von Parceval, a young woman, Maria Bengtsson (soprano)
Martin von Dircksen, landowner, Nikolai Schukoff (tenor)
Dr Albert Felgentreu, his friend, a scholar, Christoph Pohl (baritone)
Kristina, Oceane's companion, Nicole Haslett (coloratura soprano)
Pastor Baltzer, clergyman, Albert Pesendorfer (bass)
Madame Louise, hotel owner, Doris Soffel (mezzo-soprano)
George, servant, Stephen Bronk (baritone)
Hotel guests, The Voice of the Sea, Chorus
Chorus and orchestra of Deutsche Oper Berlin/Donald Runnicles
rec. live, 25 April, 15 and 17 May 2019, Deutsche Oper Berlin
German text included
OEHMS OC985 [44:31 + 50:57]

Glanert is well-established as an opera composer in Germany, where he seems to be becoming the natural successor to Henze, with whom at one time he studied. It is, however, taking recordings some time to catch up. As far as I know, the only one of his fifteen stage works to have been recorded previously is Caligula, as it happens also by Oehms, the same company which has now given us Oceane. This was a great success at its première in 2019 and we now have this recording, taken from that production and brought to us with commendable speed.

The libretto is by Hans-Ulrich Treichel, who also wrote the libretto for Caligula. It is based on an unfinished short story by the nineteenth century novelist Théodor Fontane. Oceane is a Melusine figure, that is a water spirit, who longs to be accepted into the human social world but fails. However, Treichel and Glanert modernize her, omitting ‘all this fairy tale stuff.’ Her problem is that she cannot fit into social norms but also, and more seriously, she cannot feel normal human emotions.

The story is set in around 1880. Madame Louise runs a seaside hotel which is going through a hard time. A group of guests arrive, who include the landowner Martin and the clergyman Pastor Baltzer. They all await the arrival of the mysterious Oceane. When she arrives, Martin is fascinated by her and persuades her join the others in dancing. However, her dancing gets wilder and wilder and the party breaks up in disarray. She flees. Martin follows her out on to the shore, declares his love and kisses her. She pushes him away. He leaves and she shouts her feelings into an approaching storm.

The second act takes place on the next morning. The body of a fisherman has been found; Oceane is the only one who feels nothing about him. Martin and Oceane, along with Kristina and Felgentrau, go for a picnic but again Oceane behaves strangely, wanting to drink lots of water and bathe in the nude. She does respond to Martin this time and kisses him but feels nothing. Pastor Baltzer arrives and makes critical remarks. On their return to the hotel the two couples announce their engagements, although Oceane has not actually agreed. Oceane is rejected by the rest of the group. She departs back into the sea from which she came; Martin receives her letter saying goodbye.

The opera opens and closes with Oceane’s voice and she also has a monologue at the end of the first act. These are wonderfully beautiful, also using the chorus and a rich panoply of sound from the orchestra: the opening, which evokes dawn, reminded me not only of Ravel’s dawn scene in Daphnis and Chloé but also of the sumptuous opening of Szymanowski’s King Roger. The scenes with the guests are lively, with several dance numbers and a generally fast tempo. Glanert offers a good deal of variety in mood and pace, and the vocal lines are attractive and easily followed. Kristina and Albert make a contrasting couple to Oceane and Martin, more down to earth. The character Pastor Baltzer is a pompous bore, but his part in the opera is not.

This story is a fable and the characters are types rather than individuals. I do not see this as a fault, and the opera preserves more of the fairy-tale quality perhaps than the composer and librettist realised or intended. I see this as a merit, partly because I like ‘all this fairy tale stuff’ and also because a story just about someone not fitting in would not be very interesting. But Oceane’s other-worldly quality comes over vividly in the music, where it is given a special character with the use of the chorus and a wind machine.

The recording is taken from three of the performances of the first production. Maria Bengtsson in the title role is hypnotic and carries all before her. Nikolai Schukoff is an ardent and besotted Martin. Nicole Haslett is a charming Kristina with a very florid part, and Christoph Pohl a worthy Albert. Albert Pesendorfer’s fruity bass makes Pastor Baltzer, who would be intolerable in real life, a pleasure to listen to. Only the veteran Doris Soffel as Madame Louise slightly disappointed me, as her vibrato is too wide for my taste. The chorus and orchestra sing and play with a will and Donald Runnicles brings out the Wagnerian affiliations of the score. The recording is clean and natural. Some scattered applause is included.

The two CD set is nicely packaged in a box. The booklet contains background information, synopses and biographies in both English and German but the complete libretto only in German. This is a shame because the scenes with the guests are closely written and worth following in detail. I urge Oehms to reconsider their policy on translations. Despite this, I both enjoyed and was impressed by Oceane and hope that it will be taken up elsewhere.

Stephen Barber

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