Monday, January 07, 2008


The Zurich Opera, my home away from home, has produced a genuine curiosity: Franz Schubert's Fierrabras. The tiny folder that comes with the DVD tells why we have never heard it, or indeed unless you are memorizing lists of things for your doctoral orals, heard of it. The Viennese company that commissioned the work changed management just before it was to be produced, and the new managers dropped it. It had its first Viennese performance in 1988.

We seem to have wandered into a staging rehearsal where Schubert himself is the director. All are costumed in clothing from Schubert's era, and Schubert, who occasionally speaks, moves them around the stage. I imagine the Schubert character is a Regie insertion into the fairy tale plot, that his lines are borrowed from the other characters. He hands out lines and scores to the characters who appear to read from this copy.

There is a cute bit of business at the end where Schubert is handing out scores to the characters and Jonas Kaufmann who plays Fierrabras follows him around the stage insisting on his score. He is quite irate. He opens the skimpy book he is finally handed, sees that there are only a couple of pages for him, that he doesn't even get the girl, and he stalks off in a huff. Schubert shrugs.

Jonas is relatively cheerful about the insignificant nature of his music. Indeed only the two women, Juliane Banse as Emma and Twyla Robinson as Florinda, seem to have anything like an aria. László Polgár as Charlemagne has a fairly significant part. He has grown a beard which improves his looks.

Most of the music is ensembles, and all has a lovely stately quality. The two love affairs end as they should. Would you want to buy this? Only for the historical curiosity aspect of the thing. Compare with Fidelio.

spoken dialog..............spoken dialog
fabulous arias.............ariettas at best and none to write home about
great plot.................plot too complicated
great part for Jonas.......lousy part for Jonas, though he looked cute
great soprano role.........two halfway decent soprano roles
off stage stage trumpets
great music................good but rather bland music
lots of arias.............endless tedious ensembles
happy ending..............happy ending

The absence of significant arias is key. It never rises above nice. All of my advice to opera composers would seem to apply to Schubert as well.


Anonymous said...

Greetings Again!:

I hope all has been well with you since I was last here!

Schubert's operas seem to be getting some attention these days. At most, I have only heard a little from them, but, from what I hear, even the most passionate of his admirers have to rate them lower than the rest of his output. The Owner of Mr. Kaufmann's unofficial Website frequently attends performances involving him in Zurich, so perhaps she saw this production.

In one of my other Google Alerts for him which I received the other day, I learned that he is to sing Lohengrin in Munich next year. I expect, though his voice may be darker than most who sing this role, that he will do _SPLENDIDLY_ with it if all goes well, he having both the power and the lyricism that it requires!

Hoping again that this finds you well, and wishing you the very best for 2008,

J. V.

Dr.B said...

I think he would make an excellent Lohengrin. Maybe I'll go see.