Actually, I will be reporting on a production of the Zurich Opera,
under the direction of Franz Welser-Mo"st, but brought to the Theatre
du Chatelet this week for its Paris premiere: Schubert's opera FIERRABRAS.
Schubert wrote a number of operas but he was not notably successful in
getting them produced--as was also the case with his symphonies. When
he wrote Fierrabras, a "heroic-romantic" opera in three acts, with a
libretto by Josef Kupelwieser, in 1823, he had already written fifteen
works for the stage, but only two had been performed. This was due to
be put on, but a personal scandal involving Kupelweiser, who was also a
theatre manager, saw a promised performance scrubbed. A partial concert
version was given in Vienna in 1958. A much-cut stage version was put
on for the centenary of Schubert's birth, in 1897 in Karlsruhe. The
program book says there was no further interest for another eighty years.
Not sure what happened then, but another (concert?) performance by Claudio
Abbado, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Arnold Schoenberg Chorus
is scheduled for a festival in Vienna May 12-June 18 this spring.
THE PLOT involves Charlemagne, his daughter, Emma; two of his nobles,
Eginhard and Roland; two Moors, Fierrabras and his sister Florinda, in
love with Emma and Roland respectively. Eginhard also loves Emma and
she loves him. At the end four of these are happily united, with
Fierrabras' love unrequited. The Moors become Christian along the way,
though (incurring their father's denunciation), which makes one wonder
about the tactfulness of producing this right now, but I really don't
want to go there. The final scene is a preposterous rescue scene in
which a large group of ladies, rather than warriors, make a grand entrance.
The language is very much German, clearly enunciated and accompanied
with French side-titles (too small to read from where I was toward the
rear of the floor, and too culturally jarring to attend to anyway.)
THE PRODUCTION is strange. Schubert appears as an actor on stage
throughout, along with an enormous--and I mean huge--piano and piano
bench, which my wife Jean suggests means that Schubert's music is bigger
than he is. Perhaps so; I found this prop obtrusive. There are also
dozens of closets to the rear and right, from which and into which
Schubert pulls and pushes his--sometimes blindfolded--characters. The
action suggests a rehearsal, or perhaps the creative process of producing
the opera and its music, which is handed to various singers a page at a
time, and sometimes they tear it up.
THE MUSIC makes it worthwhile to produce, or at least perform, this
opera. There is no doubt about Schubert's ability to write for the voice
or orchestra. What it sounds like is a combination of lieder, marches,
operatic style including duets and trios, and choruses which, perhaps
amazingly, sound somewhat like the choral music of Brahms written many
years later. There were fanfares echoing the offstage trumpet calls in
Fidelio, no doubt in conscious imitation.
THE PERFORMANCES were excellent. The orchestra was more than adequate.
Juliane Banse, as Emma, was very fine, as was Twyla Robinson as Florinda,
and the men had strong good voices. The chorus was substantial and well