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Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Silvana (1810) [142.34]
Lea Marlen Woitack (speaker) – Silvana; Michaela Kaune (soprano) – Mechtilde; Ines Krapp (soprano) – Clärchen; Ferdinand von Bothmer (tenor) – Rudolph; Jörg Schörner (tenor) – Albert; Detlef Roth (baritone) – Adelhart; Andreas Burkhart (baritone) – Fust; Simon Pauly (baritone) – Krips; Tareq Nazmi (bass) – Kurt; Marko Cilic (speaker) – Herald, Ulrich
Bavarian Radio Choir; Munich Radio Orchestra/Ulf Schirmer
rec. Prinzregententheater, Munich, 17-18 April 2010
CPO 777 727-2 [73.19 + 69.15]

It was inevitable that, as opera in the German language evolved from the traditional eighteenth century Singspiel with its spoken dialogue, that attempts should be made to incorporate the spoken word into the body of the music. We see this as early as Mozart, whose Entführung aus dem Serail and Zauberflöte fall solidly into the Singspiel tradition but who experimented with melodrama in other works. Beethoven too incorporated such techniques into both Fidelio and his incidental music to Goethe’s Egmont. However, it was Weber who made the most prominent use of the spoken word in combination with the orchestra. Indeed his Euryanthe is the only opera of his maturity which avoids the juxtaposition altogether.

Silvana, an early work, employs melodrama extensively throughout its length, and as such it has effectively relegated itself to the very fringes of the repertory. That is not altogether surprising, as the integration of spoken dialogue with music is extremely difficult to realise effectively in performance. The text needs to be cued in closely with the music, which is comparatively straightforward when it is restricted to short interjections as in Fidelio and Der Freischütz; but the more extensive the dialogue becomes, the more problematic it becomes to make sure that the spoken cues match the orchestral commentary upon it. A close match is needed; it is in effect an anticipation of the techniques used in modern films, where the difficulties are usually obviated by having the music composed after the dialogue has been recorded.

All of which may help to explain the rarity of appearances of Silvana on stage or on record, since the music itself is straight out of Weber’s top drawer and does not deserve to be neglected. Indeed, there appears to have been only one previous recording, issued on Marco Polo (8.223844-45) in 1997, which does not feature in current listings on Archiv but might deserve resuscitation on Naxos in due course. This recording derived from performances at the Hagen Opera, a company that showed commendable resource in rescuing forgotten works from oblivion at the time. Its performance may best be described as efficient and dutiful rather than inspired and recording is sometimes congested in texture. In both these respects the current issue scores considerably, and since it is now the only readily available version in the catalogues it is an essential acquisition for those interested in Weber’s earlier career and the development of German opera in the nineteenth century.

In particular the Munich Radio Orchestra is a cut above their Hagen counterparts on the earlier set. The Munich players too have an enviable reputation for their commitment to rare scores, and the string tone in particular is smoother and less edgy. Ulf Schirmer too shows a commitment to the dramatic passages, such as the storm at the beginning of Act Three (CD2, track 14) which anticipates in many ways the composer of Der Freischütz. After a brisk and forthright delivery of the relatively familiar overture, the First Act opens with a Huntsmen’s Chorus which (like its confrère in Der Freischütz) features some thrilling writing for horns and is delivered in forthright manner by the Bavarian Radio Choir.

To take the principal singers in the order in which we hear them: Simon Pauly makes a good impression in the essentially buffo role of Krips, but Ferdinand von Bothmer is considerably stressed by the heroic role of Rudolph, which cruelly requires trumpeting declamation in conjunction with coloratura elaboration. He is less taxed by his later aria with cello obbligato but there remains a sense of some strain. These two singers have the lion’s share of the music in the First Act, and it is not until the Second Act that the female voices enter - again anticipating the distribution of parts in Freischütz. Michaela Kaune has a delicate voice suitable for her rather insipid character, but sometimes hits high notes with a force that surprises. She is heard first in duet with her father, taken by Detlef Roth with a baritone that sounds positively tenorial in places. Again Weber asks for some flights of coloratura, which both manage with conscientiousness rather than panache. The only other major role, that of Mechtilde’s lover Albert, is restricted to participation in concerted passages, but we hear enough of Jörg Schöner to perhaps hazard a wish that he and Ferdinand von Bothmer might have exchanged parts.

Indeed it is in the concerted passages rather than the solo arias that the incipient maturity of Weber as a composer is most clearly demonstrated. The finale to Act Two is combines four of the soloists with chorus in a passage that has the dramatic drive of early Verdi, with a fiery orchestral accompaniment in which Schirmer conjures up a positive furore of conflicting emotions. The storm which begins Act Three not only looks forward to Der Freischütz, but even Wagner in Der fliegende Holländer with its surging bass lines in the orchestra. It is a rather brief depiction, however; one wishes that Weber had allowed it to expand it further. After this the score becomes rather more conventional, with only an aria (whose coloratura Roth negotiates with good style) and a more extended trio before the final chorus of reconciliation, and the entanglements of the plot are entirely resolved in spoken dialogue.

Weber thought highly enough of the score to have subjected it to considerable revision following its first performance in 1810, as well as extracting a set of variations on a theme from the opera (heard in CD1, track 18) for clarinet and piano. The amendments were incorporated into Berlin performances in 1812 and further revision followed. These alterations are adopted here in what we are informed is based on a new “critical scholarly edition” not available to the performers in Hagen. We are also given the full text and translation of the sung numbers, but curiously the passages of spoken dialogue (extensive in places) are not included, which will leave all but German speakers at a considerable disadvantage when following the twists and turns of the plot. Confusion is further compounded by the existence of a narrator who links certain numbers, but the identity of whom – let alone what is being said – is concealed in anonymity. In her booklet note Alexandra Maria Delitz misleadingly claims that Silvana herself is a mute role — anticipating in that regard such later works as Adam’s La muette de Portici and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada — whereas she does fully participate in the spoken dialogue even though she never sings. In fact we hear her voice (I think) in a spoken interjection as early as the opening Hunting Chorus, a passage which is omitted from the text provided in the booklet. I say “I think” because we hear a distinctly female voice, but the vocal score available on the valuable IMSLP site (oddly enough in a French translation) does not provide any dialogue at this point although Silvana is present on stage. At the same time the score is not helpful in disentangling the mystery, since the dialogue between numbers is omitted entirely; there is no date of publication given, although the typeface looks very nineteenth century. It also cuts sections of the score which this recording gives in full, as well as making other major alterations.

Although this recording appears to be taken from dramatic performances – at all events, we sometimes hear footsteps during the dialogue as the singers move about the stage of the Prinzregententheater - there is no evidence of any audience apart from a ripple of laughter during the final section of dialogue, and the general sound suggests that it was taped under studio conditions. Despite my reservations about the presentation of the opera in the booklet — surprising in releases from this company, usually punctilious in such matters — the recording is a worthy addition to catalogue and is much to be welcomed.

Paul Corfield Godfrey



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