Die Feen

Sebastian Weigle
Chor der Oper Frankfurt
Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester
3/6 May 2011
Alte Oper Frankfurt
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Der FeenkönigAlfred Reiter
AdaTamara Wilson
FarzanaJuanita Lascarro
ZeminaAnja Fidelia Ulrich
ArindalBurkhard Fritz
LoraBrenda Rae
MoraldMichael Nagy
GernotThorsten Grümbel
DrollaChristiane Karg
GuntherSimon Bode
HaraldSebastian Geyer
Ein BoteSimon Bode
Stimme GromasSimon Bailey

Although Die Feen (“The fairies”) was the first opera Richard Wagner composed (back in 1833, when he was the choir director at Würzburg), it didnt have its premiere until after Wagner died, in Munich in 1888. Since then this opera has been performed on only a few occasions, the last and better known one to have taken place two years ago at Paris Chatelet in a production by Emilio Sagi and conducted by Mark Minkowski. Just last year ago it premiered in the United States, in Los Angeles, performed by an amateur company. Some 5 years ago there were a couple of productions in Germany, one in Würzburg and the other in Kaiserlauten. In all these cases the casts were rather too modest, including Paris. Frankfurt changed that.

Wagner, as he would go on to do, wrote both score and libretto, but it has little to do with the Wagner (more with Weber) we know from his mature years. There are aspects where Wagner comes up, especially in the text, with the redemption by love and the riddles of not asking questions between lovers, which remind us of Lohengrin. But still, Die Feen is a valuable opera, contrary to the composer’s own assessment. The libretto is its weakest part, but then that’s nothing new when it comes to Richard Wagner. The opera, a weak first act apart, has its moments, good and bad… but the good ones are of undeniable quality. The overture lasts 11 minutes, and its final part offers faint whiffs of the Flying Dutchman. There are also remarkable influences from Mozart (the duet of Gernot and Droll reminds Papageno and Papagena), Beethoven (especially in the Ada’s aria in the second act), and above all Weber. Lora’s music is very reminiscent of that of Agathe in Der Freischütz and the same goes for Arindal’s aria. No doubt Wagner’s activity in Würzburg as the chorus director must have influenced the composition of this opera, since the choral passages are among the most prominent and best.

Frankfurt offered two concert performances of this opera under the musical direction of Sebastian Weigle, who offered the finest direction I’ve seen from him in recent years, where he has disappointed me more than he has convinced me. On this occasion his reading was excellent, effective, and well suited to the demands of this score… and orchestra and chorus went right along with it.

American soprano Tamara Wilson ​​was an outstanding interpreter of the character of Ada, a kind of proto-Elsa, which moves between the pure lyricism and a few dramatic moments. She is a sturdy full lyric soprano with an attractive and very well projected voice, very homogeneous and she is able to sing piano when necessary.

Tenor Burkhard Fritz had to face a most difficult part, since the tessitura of Arindal is tough. Few tenors today could cope with such a demanding role. There was an announcement of indisposition, probably to take pressure off. Burkhard Fritz’s performance was remarkable, but could not avoid almost cracking in his arioso of the third act, but I say that it would have been a miracle otherwise, healthy or not.

The other big winner of the night was American soprano Brenda Rae in the part of Lora, King Arindal’s sister and wife of his friend Morald. In my previous trip to Frankfurt I could enjoy her Konstanze as I did this time in this grateful role.

Among the friends of King Arindal I should mention the performance of baritone Michael Nagy as Morald and bass Thosrten Grümbel as Gernot. Mr. Nagy offered a remarkable baritone, well-pitched and very expressive. Mr. Grümbel again showed off his beautiful voice, not too big, but full of nobility. It was a luxury to have both of them in the cast. The role of Drolla, Gernot’s fiancée, is of not much importance and it had an excellent performer in soprano Christiane Karg. The fairies were two sopranos, German Anja Fidelia Ulrich (Zemina) and Colombian Juanita Lascarro (Farzana). Both did well, particularly the former. Young Simon Bode doubled as Gunther (the third of Arindal’s friends) and the Messenger. His tenor is somewhat white, but it projects very well. His timbre reminded me of Klaus Florian Vogt’s.

The smaller parts were covered by Alfred Reiter as King of the Fairies, a luxury for such a small character, Sebastian Geyer, as an excellent Herald, and Simon Bailey as the Magician Groma, who provides the tools to Arindal (shield, sword and lyre) so that he can recover his beloved Ada, as if Orfeo with Euridice. When it came to the final bows, ovations lasted nearly ten minutes, especially remarkable for a concert performance.

I will end my review with a few lines on the beautiful building of the Alte Oper (not to be mistaken with the modern (fairly unattractive) opera house. It was built in 1880 and destroyed in the bombing of Frankfurt in 1944. In the 60s reconstruction started by popular subscription and today is a true jewel, occupying a magnificent pedestrian plaza with restaurants and pavement cafes in the vicinity, with a beautiful walk through a park to get to the theater. One of the most beautiful classical music venues I know.

José Mª Irurzun

Opera News

On the evidence of Die Feen, Richard Wagner at twenty was already a dramatist. His score is startling in its freedom from convention. The standard view of Wagner’s development is that he moved from early conformity — adherence to the formulaic aria structure and tunefulness of Romantic-era opera — to a more fluid, open, unpredictable style more dependent on text. But this precocious 1833 work finds him already breaking traditional molds and — while skillful in details such as orchestration — not especially adept at, or interested in, sustained melody such as we find in the early 1840s in Holländer or even Rienzi.

He was also juggling multiple influences in Die Feen — Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, Weber and, not least, Heinrich August Marschner (1795–1861), a composer who affected both Wagner’s choice of fantastical subject matter and his irregular, through-composed musical structure. While we recognize a cavatina here and a cabaletta there, as models or points of departure, their realization is intermittent, sometimes camouflaged and distorted. Weber-style climaxes with multiple scalar passages are broken by sustained, anarchic high notes that unsettle the harmony and the period style. Often the promise of song gives way to dramatic events and reactions; the goal seems always to be excitement. The prevailing vocal mode is accompanied recitative, restless in tonality and especially tempo, interrupted rather than supported by instrumental gestures, and somewhat overheated in manner even for this lurid libretto of repeated moral tests (anticipating Lohengrin) and revolving-door metamorphoses. The composer wrote his own text, based on plays by Carlo Gozzi.

But all is not sturm und drang. Another arresting innovation is the mostly skillful arioso style, blending recitative and melody. (There’s even comic relief in the Act II reunion of two lovers long separated by war, a Papageno–Papagena style exercise.) Young Wagner also maintains interest with his instrumentation, often with flute coloring, which is sometimes said to derive from Marschner as well. The chorus gets opportunities for rousing finales (though never very extensive) and brief interaction, sometimes cross-cut by recitative. One fascinating moment comes in the elaborate a cappella passage in Act III for five principals and chorus, a fine example of vocal counterpoint that extends without accompaniment for thirty-six measures. Arindal’s Act III music includes two winning solos, a brief scene of delusion (“Hallo! Lasst alle Hunde los”) and then, following the sudden recovery of his senses, a lyrical appeal to the gods, with harp accompaniment, to spare Ada, the heroine, who has been (temporarily) turned to stone.

One mark of continuity with the mature Wagner is the taxing vocal writing, which requires the services of a dramatic tenor and two stalwart sopranos of considerable range. (An often brilliant performance recorded under Wolfgang Sawallisch in 1983 had John Alexander, June Anderson and Cheryl Studer in the cast.) In this set’s concert performance from Frankfurt, Burkhard Fritz as Arindal, barring some strain in his plea for Ada’s life, is confident and flexible, while two American sopranos — Tamara Wilson and Brenda Rae — shine in the roles of the fairy queen Ada and the hero’s sister Lora, both of whom are nearly always in crisis. Rae, as Lora, displays an especially distinctive tone and an assured delivery that proves riveting even in the most complex passages.

Conductor Sebastian Weigle leads an assertive, high-spirited performance, never slighting details such as the colorful instrumentation, with its interesting woodwind touches, and consistently allowing singers to make vivid dramatic points without losing momentum. spacer DAVID J. BAKER


Elsa sollte ihren Lohengrin nie befragen, wie sein Nam’ und Art. Arindal muss seine Neugier nur für acht Jahre zügeln. Solange darf ihn die Identität seiner Angetrauten nicht kümmern. Nachdem er schon zwei Kinder mit ihr gezeugt hat, interessiert es den Herren dann aber doch, was es mit seiner Ada auf sich hat. Und so kommt es, wie es kommen muss: Kurz vor Ablauf der Frist stellt Arindal die verbotene Frage. Die mangelnde Kommunikation unter Ehegatten und die daraus resultierenden Katastrophen scheinen es Wagner also schon in jungen Jahren angetan zu haben.

Nun gehört es unter Opernfans – und ganz besonders unter Wagner-Anhängern – zum guten Ton, sich über “Die Feen” nur verächtlich zu äußern, sie als des großen Meisters unwürdige Jugendsünde abzutun. Ein Urteil, das dieser Frankfurter Live-Mitschnitt von zwei konzertanten Aufführungen im Mai 2011 mit Leichtigkeit als borniert und unzutreffend entlarvt. Sebastian Weigle nimmt das knapp dreistündige Werk ernst, vermittelt dem Hörer inspiriert die Reize der Partitur (die freilich auch einige schwache Passagen kennt). Vor allem aber steht dem Frankfurter GMD ein fast ohne Einschränkung zu lobendes Ensemble zur Verfügung. Angeführt wird es von der fantastischen Tamara Wilson als Ada, deren an Verdi geschulter, ebenso biegsamer wie strahlender Sopran mit konzentrierten, perfekt fokussierten Spitzentönen begeistert. Da kann man es niemandem verdenken, wenn er nach dem Namen fragt.

Michael Blümke (Rating: 4/5)

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Media Type/Label
Oehms Classic
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686 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 857 MByte (flac)
Concert performances