Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Die schweigsame Frau (1934) [153:13]
Franz Hawlata - Sir Morosus; Julia Bauer - Aminta; Bernhard Berchtold
- Henry Morosus; Monika Straube - Theodosia Zimmerlein - Haushalterin;
Andreas Kindschuh - Der Barbier; Guibee Yang - Isotta; Tiina Penttinen
- Carlotta; Matthias Winter - Carlo Morbio; Kouta Räsänen - Cesare Vanuzzi;
Martin Gäbler - Giuseppe Farfallo
Chor des Oper Chemnitz; Robert-Schumann-Philharmonie/Frank Beermann
rec. 7-12 May 2012, Opernhaus Chemnitz, Germany. DDD
CPO 777 757-2 [3 CDs: 52:59 + 63:32 + 36:42]
Strauss was already seventy when he composed this
comic opera. It contains all the features typical of the works of his
later years: a very fluid admixture of Sprechgesang and recitative,
sparkling orchestration, sudden passages of soaring lyricism alternating
with almost Expressionist jaggedness and a tendency to "talkiness"
which places greater weight upon the quality and audibility of the libretto.
This latter was the result of his only collaboration with Stefan Zweig
before the Jewish author had to flee via Austria, London and ultimately
Brazil, where he and his wife committed suicide in 1942. Premiered in
1935, the opera has never been amongst Strauss's most popular.
Like "Intermezzo", it is probably too wordy ever to be so
but it has its fervent admirers.
I certainly enjoy it but could not, in all honesty, place it amongst
my favourites even in as good a performance as this. Despite being based
on Ben Jonson's play, “Epicoene or The Silent Woman”, it appears
to be a direct rip-off of "Don Pasquale", itself yet another
manifestation of a time-honoured, archetypal plot: a silly old man seeks
to disinherit a deserving nephew by marrying a supposedly biddable young
wife. I hope I am not offending die-hard Straussians if I say that I
find I prefer to think of this opera almost as much as a play set to
music than an opera. That said, I suppose there is a perfectly good
argument for saying that is exactly what an opera ideally should be
- and both Wagner and Hofmannsthal would certainly agree. The libretto
is literary and rather good, as you would expect from a celebrated playwright.
It helps if your German is up to snuff or if you at least follow with
the German-English libretto provided here. It is in some ways more subtle
and certainly more moving than Donizetti's version. The Grumpy
Old Man is a sympathetic figure despite his peccadilloes, who truly
seeks love and is initially grateful when he thinks he has found it.
Whether the music is the equal of Donizetti's, I leave to you
For many, the preferred recording has long been the live, mono, Salzburg
Festival performance from 6 August 1959 under Karl Böhm – always at
his finest in Strauss. Obviously this modern digital recording scores
over that one in terms of sheer sound. It is lovely to hear orchestral
details that are swallowed up by the cruder acoustic of the old recording.
Apart from that given advantage, it is hard to find anything else from
Chemnitz which is superior - certainly not the tenor Bernhard Berchtold,
who sounds strained, small-voiced and over-parted. Even if he had not
the misfortune to be up against Fritz Wunderlich in freest, most lyrical
voice, he would be unimpressive. His last aria, “Willst du wirklich
mich nicht kennen?”, with its murderously high tessitura, comes close
to being an embarrassment. It is so poorly sung in a very uncomfortable,
mixed falsetto whine. The best singer here is soprano Julia Bauer; there
is a touch of steam whistle in the voice but those top notes are mightily
powerful and impressive. She characterises convincingly, even if she
is not as charming as Hilde Güden. Franz Hawlata is in good voice as
Sir Morosus without quite conjuring up the larger-than-life humour that
Hotter finds in the role. Even if Hotter is a little breathy and hollow-toned,
he is compelling, singing on a large scale. You will immediately hear
this in the “Bells” aria early on in Act 1, where Hawlata is more gravelly,
restrained and given to Sprechstimme. Andreas Kindschuh displays a handsome
baritone as the Barber but even he cannot be expected to eclipse the
suave Hermann Prey. The wobbly alto Housekeeper is no asset.
Conductor Franz Beermann must be congratulated for enabling an essentially
provincial orchestra to rise to the occasion and cope with this highly
complex score with its tricksy cross-rhythms. That said, they are not
the Vienna Philharmonic and Böhm points the humour more wittily. Both
the DG issue and this new recording offer a full libretto and English
In short, unless modern sound is essential to you, there is little reason
to opt for this new recording if you want to hear this late flowering
of Strauss’s theatrical genius.