Although I think about myself a deeply dedicated Richard Strauss-ophile, the composer’s Die Schweigsame Frau—a 1933-4 opera whose librettist was the distinguished Austrian author, Stefan Zweig—has eluded me in dwell efficiency. The information that Bard SummerScape would produce it this 12 months made a visit there a should.
On the similar time, I’m additionally a common believer that there’s often cause why some works are seldom introduced with out cuts. So the announcement that BSS’s revival would come with a really important quantity of fabric—greater than an hour, by my rely—that was eliminated even earlier than the premiere gave me pause.
In the long run, either side of me had been validated. Practically 4 hours of Schweigsame Frau is, frankly, greater than I want. But there’s a lot price listening to and seeing in efficiency. Bard SummerScape and its music director, Leon Botstein, who additionally carried out the efficiency, have performed the opera world an awesome service.
As to the historical past of these cuts, the Bard program essays go to appreciable lengths in positing that they had been a minimum of partially an try and neuter or undermine the work as a result of Zweig was Jewish (in 1942, in exile in Brazil, he would die by suicide, in despair over the world’s politics.) Botstein himself singles out unique conductor Karl Böhm for explicit scrutiny and criticism on this level.
It’s a heartbreaking story, and Botstein’s dedication to resurrecting the unique Schweigsame Frau is admirable and culturally necessary. But I believe the truth could also be extra difficult.
Within the case of Böhm, Botstein’s declare goes towards the proof: Böhm’s politics are certainly deplorable, however from early in his profession he notoriously favored drastic cuts in lots of works, together with Frau Ohne Schatten, Tristan und Isolde, and even Cosi fan tutte.
However in the end, a larger misperception is to recommend that Schweigsame Frau is stronger within the uncut model. Frankly, grateful as I’m to have seen all of it, I’ll be happier to return to the minimize model.
That’s sufficient backstory—let’s take a look at the work itself.
Schweigsame Frau is a captivating stylistic hybrid. The supply materials, Ben Jonson’s Epicoene, or The Silent Girl, is a British Renaissance comedy about Sir Morosus, a grumpy previous man whose seek for a tolerable spouse (in the end Aminta, the “Silent Girl” of the title, naturally) is engineered by a wily group of theatre of us, who form it to serve themselves. (This system’s declare that that is Strauss’ solely comedic opera is overreaching, however it’s the most broadly farcical.)
Strauss and Zweig’s setting is, after all, Germanic and richly late-Romantic. However the narrative underpinnings are pure Commedia dell’Arte, a sixteenth Century fashion that continued to paint Italian comedian operas for hundreds of years past, together with Don Pasquale and Gianni Schicchi.
The appeal of Schweigsame Frau is in nice half the combination of those parts, however after all for many people it’s Strauss’s music that’s the draw. His distinctive melismatic fashion and wealthy chromaticism are ever-present, which can give nice pleasure to his fans in addition to fodder for individuals who disapprovingly dismiss his “notice spinning.”
A lot of the vocal writing is Strauss at his most excessive in each sense: the sheer quantity of singing, the issue of the intervals, and the broad vocal ranges. Aminta should recurrently ship coloratura acuti, whereas Morosus usually dwells on the backside of the bass vary in Baron Ochs territory.
For an viewers, an even bigger problem of Schweigsame Frau is that for all of the stream of melodic loveliness, there are few sections that stand alone as memorable. So far as I can discover, just one pretty ultimate passage for Morosus, “Wie schön ist doch die Musik,” has had a lot life outdoors of the opera.
Heard at Bard, there have been a couple of different moments that registered—a piece for Morosus and Aminta that might, with a small quantity of tweaking, function an fascinating live performance piece. However by and huge, the through-composed nature of the rating doesn’t lend itself to excerpts.
Dramatically, the work is concurrently interesting and unwieldy. Schweigsame Frau is strongest dramatically in Act I, the place the set-up is achieved clearly and with a good quantity of humor. Act II has among the loveliest music, however the story goes in too many instructions.
Act III, with its comedic wrap-up, remembers among the excesses of its counterpart in Der Rosenkavalier, although alas with out the chic ultimate quarter-hour which have ensured that work’s lasting recognition.
For me, the last word realization is that Zweig—unquestionably a significant author and mental—isn’t a pure librettist. The place Hofmannsthal might seamlessly sculpt a theatrical scene, shifting gracefully from large-format plot factors to deep private narratives with uninterrupted circulation, Zweig appears to go jerkily from episode to episode. Frankly, the standard cuts assist even this out.
The Bard manufacturing, directed by Christian Räth, is a equally combined bag. Reset within the Thirties, which works fairly properly, the present is unfailingly visually alluring and witty. However Räth interprets the Commedia archetypes—with their very particular lazzi—into an ensemble of extra generalized comedian oddballs, and infrequently overcrowds the motion with pointless and even vulgar sight gags. (In an essay, Botstein basically apologizes for the opera’s misogyny, explaining it as an historic legacy—however what’s the excuse for the campy drag characters Räth has inserted?)
In musical phrases—in addition to full dedication by the forged to Schweigsame Frau’s broad theatricality—Bard’s manufacturing scores prime factors. Soprano Jana McIntyre sings the practically unattainable position of Aminta with crystalline magnificence, solely often flagging on the very prime; furthermore, she acts it with scrumptious verve. Harold Wilson brings a honey bass and equally advantageous comedian performing to Morosus.
There may be distinctive work throughout the board by David Portillo (Henry) Edward Nelson (The Barber), Anya Matanovi?, Jorell Willams (Morbio), Matthew Anchel (Vanuzzi), Federico De Michelis (Farfallo), and—in a really scene-stealing efficiency—Chrystal E. Williams (Carlotta).
The American Symphony Orchestra and Bard Competition Refrain (beneath James Bagwell) delivered superlatively in very tough materials. Botstein himself led a cohesive and propulsive efficiency, although I needed in some passages for a extra relaxed, lyrical shaping.
In sum, then—this manufacturing is a significant enterprise, and a scholarly present to these all for Richard Strauss and his world. I rely myself amongst them, and I’m grateful. In any kind, minimize or uncut, Schweigsame Frau won’t ever, I believe, discover a fashionable viewers. However there’s a lot right here to study from and even to like.
Leaving the theater, I spotted I felt about it a lot the way in which I do once I see certainly one of Tennessee Williams’ messy late works. There’s a lot right here that connects to the extra canonical works in a approach that’s illuminating and typically fantastic. For that alone, I wouldn’t have missed it.
Images by Stephanie Berger