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WagnerS Schuld 8225378
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Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930)
An allem ist Hütchen Schuld! Op, 11 (1914-15)
Little-Hat (Hütchen) – Niklas Mix (silent role)
Frieder – Hans-Georg Priese (tenor)
Katherlies’chen – Rebecca Broberg (soprano)
Frieder’s Mother, The Sun, The Devil’s Grandmother – Alessandra di Giorgio (soprano)
Trude, The Innkeeper’s Wife, The Fairy-tale Lady – Maarja Purga (mezzo-soprano)
The Village Judge, The Sacristan, Neighbour, General, Lieutenant Devil – Daniel Arnaldos (tenor)
Nuremberg Philharmonic Chorus
PPP Music Theatre Ensemble, Munich
Karlovy Vary Symphony Orchestra/David Robert Coleman
rec. live, 8-9 August 2019, Margravial Opera House, Bayreuth, Germany
First audio recording
MARCO POLO 8.225378-80 [3 CDs: 161]

I note that when my colleague Göran Forsling reviewed this set (from a press preview) recently, he was unable to access the German libretto and English translation from the Naxos website where it was supposedly available. I decided then to postpone my investigation of the set until the text and translation did appear, since the highly complex nature of Siegfried Wagner’s lyrics drawing on multiple sources from what may be as many as eighty (yes, eighty!) Grimm fairy tales seemed to fully indicate that a full understanding of the dramatic situation and indeed of individual sentences would be highly desirable if not a matter of absolute necessity. Some four weeks later the link for the libretto as shown on the box was still not functional, but an e-mail enquiry to Naxos brought a response within minutes and a link to both text and translation as supplied by the Siegfried Wagner Society; one might presume therefore that the whole 68-page document is now available for download to all purchasers, although that is not altogether clear since the translation by Rebecca Broberg provided to me by Naxos makes reference to an ‘additional’ English translation by Susan Baxter where the indicated link remains unavailable.

In fact the recording in question has already in some measure been anticipated by an earlier DVD release of the same production (including many of the same cast) taken from a semi-staged performance in Bochum conducted by Lionel Friend which has been available for some five years now. That video recording did furnish English subtitles as well as those in German, but alas no other languages. This new audio recording, taken from a revival three years later at the Margrave Theatre in Bayreuth itself, appears now to enshrine a new critical edition of the score; but perhaps I may take the opportunity to welcome back the Marco Polo label, the senior and more expensive arm of Naxos which I assumed had been more or less wound up a decade or more ago, with older recordings progressively transferred to the budget label or available only online via streaming services. In fact there have been a couple of DVD releases of Siegfried Wagner operas also on Marco Polo, but this appears to be the first issue for some time on the CD branch of the label. And in the old days, mind you, full-price Marco Polo issues would have automatically furnished purchasers with the complete text and translation, in a separate booklet if necessary.

Marco Polo had an enviable record in the field of Siegfried Wagner operas, having over the years issued a number of CD sets that have enshrined première recordings of various pieces which would have remained unchallenged in the catalogues for many years. Many of those earlier recordings owed their inspiration to Volker Horn, who himself appeared in many of them; but all have now vanished from the current listings. Clearly now a new generation has taken over, to supplement occasional releases from CPO who have also in the last decade joined in the exploration of the Siegfried canon specialising in his orchestral scores. But while over the years eleven complete operas (out of sixteen or so) have been issued on CD by either Marco Polo or CPO as well as three DVDs, apart from downloads only the DVDs now remain available. Clearly CD sets of Siegfried Wagner have a limited shelf-life; those who wish to purchase are advised to do so quickly.

And (quite apart from the matter of the new edition of the score) given some of the stills in the booklet, it might be counted something of a relief to be freed from the staging or semi-staging inflicted on the opera in its DVD version. The convoluted nature of the plot, with its madcap helter-skelter of differing source materials, is better served by a comprehensive printed libretto than by any would-be clever visual interpretations. The opening stage direction says it all: Katherlies’chen pushes a big cheese towards the garden and wants to roll it down the hill. “You’re talking to the cheese?” asks her alarmed would-be husband. “Have you lost your mind?”. Just as you do in German fairy stories (at least in the less grim ones). No wonder Siegfried Wagner clearly enjoys himself so much; the music bubbles over with a sense of fun. There is no point however in making any attempt to summarise a plot which leaps with a fine sense of inconsequence from one fairy-tale motif to another without any more attempt at dramatic coherence than a Monty Python confection; those who would like a brief synopsis are referred to Göran Forsling’s review. The highest moment of absurdity comes during the final scene, when suddenly Jacob Grimm pops up to deliver a (spoken) attack on Siegfried Wagner’s misuse of his original material (“you steal from me right and left”) – only to be capped by another actor impersonating the composer himself and defending his actions (“I help you get on your feet, and you start to scream”), an argument which ends with a fist fight.

Unfortunately, in this recording, the sense of riotous fun is all too apparent in the sheer amount of noise coming from the stage. Even during the opening overture (nearly a quarter of an hour) we are subjected to loud sounds like the tearing of newspaper which are not only totally meaningless in the context of an audio recording but unnecessary; surely it should have been possible to turn down the microphones onstage during the purely orchestral passages (and the same applies during later the substantial interludes between scenes). These unexplained onstage noises become somewhat less obtrusive later on, but even so the sounds like clinking coins during the scene with the King’s Son (CD 2, track 5) are particularly annoying because they interfere with the flow of the music. Fortunately, on the other hand, there are also moments of repose amidst all the jollity, beginning with the delousing of the Devil’s hair by his grandmother (CD 2, track 6); and darker passages such as the passage through the realm of Death (CD 2, track 3).

Other highlights in the score are often purely orchestral, with the lengthy interlude preceding the meeting of the lovers (CD 2, track 9) which is worthy of Siegfried’s father in its deployment of the instrumental forces of a large romantic body of players; and the orchestral playing under David Robert Coleman is one of the major highlights of this recording. Once upon a time, in live recordings of Siegfried Wagner from German opera houses, the orchestral writing was frequently pushed into the background by microphone placing designed to focus on the solo singers; here the balance between voices and instruments is much better managed, and the playing is of correspondingly higher quality. The singers too seem to benefit from the recorded sound, and there are none of the superannuated German provincial house comprimarios who sometimes produced such unpleasant results in earlier versions of these operas. Here the cast, assembled from international sources, are predominantly young and produce excellent and well-focused results. The two leading roles are taken by Hans-Georg Priese, who manages his transitions from lyric into heldentenor territory with aplomb and without any sense of strain; and Rebecca Broberg as his not-quite-such-a-simpleton beloved, although her gentle aria as she manifests as a star-child (don’t ask!) is not altogether free from a sense of strain and suffers yet again from clinkings of stage machinery which sound annoyingly as if one’s CD player is developing a fault (CD 3, track 4). Among the remaining large cast, many heard in multiple roles, Joa Helgesson is exceptionally impressive as the King’s son although he is short-changed by his microphone amplification when he turns up in Act Three as Siegfried Wagner himself, comprehensively drowned out by the bellowing Peter P Pracht as Jacob Grimm. On the other hand Pracht is largely responsible from the organisation and promotion of this issue, so is probably entitled to grant himself a degree of aggrandisement.

The opera is very long for its content (another composer without Wagnerian bloodlines could probably have got through the material in half the time) but nonetheless it is pleasing that the temptation to inflict cuts on the music has been resisted. The singers certainly don’t seem to show any signs of tiredness as the evening wears on, although the girls’ vocal line in their wedding chorus (CD 3, track 4) is suspiciously flat even if it is perhaps intended to convey a sense of character. But then the reappearance of the innocent Katherlies’chen to her beloved Frieder which follows brings a moment of resplendent glory, complete with rapturous violin solo, which is worthy of Richard Strauss, brings a sense of rich fulfilment to the score in its closing section.

The booklet brings essays by conductor David Robert Coleman, Peter P Pacht as producer and Achim Bahr who draws attention to potentially darker undertones in the text constructed by Siegfried Wagner. He lays emphasis on the identification of the mischievous goblin Hütchen whose activities provoke most of the action of the plot with his appearance in an earlier Siegfried Wagner opera Der Kobold where he is described as one of a number of murdered (that is, aborted) children. Deep material indeed, especially given the composer’s own complex psychological motivations. I am not altogether sure that such close investigation really repays dividends here. The music of the opera certainly contains no evidence of sinister or tragic underpinnings, and it is perhaps best to regard this as one of the most genuinely light-hearted and enjoyable of the younger Wagner’s operas, the nearest approach of his career to the style of his teacher Humperdinck. Despite my complains about the noises deriving from live performance, we are unlikely to get a better recording any time soon. And, given the short shelf life of audio CDs of Siegfried Wagner, it is certainly worth while snapping these ones up while they remain available.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

Previous review: Göran Forsling (September 2022)

Other cast
Death, The Man Eater – Ulf Dirk Mädler (baritone)
The Moon, The Devil, The Innkeeper – Axel Wolloscheck (bass)
Frieder’s Sister No. 1, A Little Green Witch, Guest – Silvia Micu (soprano)
The King’s Son, The Miller, Siegfried Wagner – Joa Helgesson (baritone)
Frieder’s Sister No. 3, The Miller’s Wife, Guest – Sarah Marguerite Ring (mezzo-soprano)
Frieder’s Sister No. 2, The Star, Lark, Hütchen’s voice, Guest – Antonia Schuchardt (soprano)
Frieder’s Sister No. 4, Guest – Sophie Catherin (contralto)
Jacob Grimm – Peter P Pachl (narrator)
Neighbours, Generals, Lieutenant Devils – Matthew Peña (tenor), Max Jakob Rößeler and Reuben Scott Walker (baritones), Maximiliano Michailovsky (bass)

Published: November 3, 2022

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