Die Feen

Wolfgang Sawallisch
Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
25/26 July 1983
Herkulessaal and Bayerische Staatsoper München
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Der FeenkönigKurt Moll
AdaLinda Esther Gray
FarzanaKari Lövaas
ZeminaKrisztina Laki
ArindalJohn Alexander
LoraJune Anderson
MoraldRoland Hermann
GernotJan-Hendrik Rootering
DrollaCheryl Studer
GuntherNorbert Orth
HaraldKarl Helm
Ein BoteFriedrich Lenz
Stimme GromasRoland Bracht

How narrow-minded can one be ? Very much so in the case of Richard Wagner who succeeded in not mentioning once the name of Verdi in all his writings. And is not his To mark the centenary of Wagner’s death last year, the Munich Festival offered performances of his three immature operas. I caugh the stagings of Das Liebesverbot and Rienzi, but had to leave before the concert of Die Feen from which this recording derives. Having now heard it, with the other two works fresh in my memory, I am convinced that, in spite of the fact that it is the first of the three, it is the most unified in concept, simply because it adheres to one idiom whereas the other two pieces range so far afield and so tend to lose focus. The influence of Marschner and Weber is here paramount; there is no attempt to ape (unsuccessfully, in my opinion) Italian models as in Das Liebesverbot or strive for grand-opera pretentiousness as in Rienzi. The later works may contain individual passages that are more ‘advanced’ than anything in the youthfully imitative ways of Die Feen, but as entities they are less satisfying. Ronald Taylor in Richard Wagner: his life, art and thought (Elek: 1979), probably the best and most succinct introduction now available to the composer and his oeuvre (it has recently been issued in paperback), writes that Die Feen ”is based on the fairy-tale motif of the love between a mortal and a fairy, symbolizing the conflict between the finite world of man and the eternal world of the spirits, with the achievement of salvation through the power of love. These themes are dominant in Wagner’s work, and they are clearly stated in his first opera. It is as though Der fliegende Hollander, Tannhauser, Lohengrin and Tristan und Isolde already lay in embryo in his mind, the mind of an unknown, part-time chorus master who was still not twenty-one, yet who could compose an entire three-act opera, words and music, fully orchestrated and ready for performance, in barely a year.” That could not be better expressed. The libretto is impossibly awkward, its language stilted, many of its musical structures ill-considered, but much is enjoyable in its own right as much as for the enjoyment in discovering seeds of future triumphs. Arindal, the tortured human hero married to the elusive but faithful fairy Ada (substantial enough to have borne him two children), has elements of Max and Adolar, but his long solos also look forward to the music of Rienzi, Tannhauser and Lohengrin, and need a tenor of similar heroic makeup. Ada herself, torn between the worlds of mortals and immortals, has her dilemma powerfully delinated in her huge Act 2 scene, which calls for a genuine dramatic soprano (Nilsson has recorded it—Philips 6500 294, 6/72). This shows Wagner already adept at adapting Weberian models to his own needs. And the various ensembles are quite obviously the forerunners of those in Tannhauser and Lohengrin, as is much of the orchestration and the feeling for the right timbre of instrumentation to conjure up a milieu or mood; in that sense, too, the score seems to me more typical than the two that were to follow it. The mood of Das Liebesverbot is suggested by the delightful buffo duet for Gernot, Arindal’s henchman, who has followed him to fairyland, and Drolla, his girl-friend, when they are reunited after eight years apart, except that it surpasses in unassuming tunefulness anything in the following score. The performance under Wolfgang Sawallisch, responsible for all the Wagner revivals in Munich, is full of brio and character, helping to make a strong case for the work with the help of the Bavarian Radio forces. A few moments of hesitant ensemble apart, this is an alert and involving performance. John Alexander, sounding like a lighter, somewhat more consistent Jon Vickers, is unworried by most of the vocal hurdles in Arindal’s part. Other Wagnerian tenors of the day (Kollo was busy with Rienzi, Hofmann and Jerusalem at Bayreuth) might have sounded more youthful; none would have bettered Alexander’s steadiness and sense of legato. Only his German vowels are sometimes problematical. So are those of Linda Esther Gray as Ada. As is her custom, she throws herself wholeheartedly into her part, and her forceful account of the scene already referred to draws enthusiastic applause from the audience. Against that must be set some singing that is rough and ungainly in tone, perhaps indicative of a tendency to force that may have caused the cancellations that have marred her career in recent months. June Anderson as Ada’s sister, Lora, and Roland Hermann; as her lover Morald, are both secure in voice. The strength and depth of bass singing at present in Germany is shown here. The young Jan-Hendrik Rootering’s round and flexible tone is well used as Gernot. As the dei ex machina, Roland Bracht, voice of the sorcerer Groma, who assists Arindal in his Zauberflote-like trials to re-win Ada, and Kurt Moll, in the tiny but important part of the Fairy King, are both admirable. So is the American soprano Cheryl Studer, one of Munich’s most impressive young singers, who is a charming Drolla. The recording is excellent, with few signs of audience participation, applause apart—and this is mostly at the end of acts. As it is extremely unlikely that we shall ever have another recording of this work, I am pleased this one gives it such a successful outing. Every Wagnerian will want it in his or her collection. (Alan Blyth)

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Media Type/Label
Orfeo, Premiere
Technical Specifications
576 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 688 MByte (flac)
Recorded at the Münchner Opernfestspiele 1983
Concert performances