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Happy Birthday
Franz and Gaetano,
two great melodists

By Joel Kasow

lettrinen this commemorative year, we are also taking notice of the 100th anniversary of the death of Johannes Brahms, but the 200th birthday of two composers who have too often been misunderstood strikes me as the more imperative. Schubert has suffered less with his protean personality finding expression in so many different genres, even though one of them has suffered undue neglect. Considering some of the drivel we must endure in the opera house, why has almost no one pushed harder for Schubert the opera composer. This year Zürich is giving us Der Teufels Lustschloss which is also going to the Wiener Festwochen which itself will offer Alfonso und Estrella. A revival of Fierrabras in Vienna several years ago seems to have been sunk by the inapt staging of Ruth Berghaus but, fortunately, an aural memory subsists (DGG 427 341-2).

Almost all of Schubert's operatic output has been recorded at one time or another in the last 30 years, mostly with top casts, but neither EMI nor DGG seems to have been overly willing to profit from this anniversary year. Fortunately Berlin Classics has seen fit to offer at a bargain price its recording of Alfonso und Estrella (BC 2156-2), with luxury casting in the form of Mathis, Schreier, Fischer-Dieskau, Prey and Adam. But where's the rest? The small company Opus 111 has taken the initiative to record Der Hausliche Krieg (OPS 30-167), a one-act singspiel. For the German market there is a version with dialogue while the rest of the world must make do with nothing but the music, not a bad solution although a bit of context is never a bad thing. Christoph Spering and Das Neue Orchester demonstrate the fact that there are many groups which have now achieved sufficient proficiency on their "ancient" instruments so that we need no longer bemoan the scratchy sound of the strings or the wind and brass bleatings. An inspired cast features the Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski, she of the silvery tones, in the leading role of the Countess who convinces the other women to deny themselves to their returning husbands until they promise no longer to go off to war. Peter Lika may lack the authority of Kurt Moll in the old EMI version, but the cohesion of the cast makes up for the lack of starry voices. A must acquisition.

Donizetti long suffered under the popularity of three works - Lucia, Elisir d'Amore and Don Pasquale - with occasional revivals of La Favorita (the Italian mistranslation of La Favorite), La Fille (or Figlia) du Régiment or Linda di Chamonix to "round out" our view of the composer. All of these were presented in much-chopped versions and it wasn't until Maria Callas burst on the scene with a dramatic Lucia that the way was opened for Anna Bolena and Poliuto, two of her later successes. Many more operas have since been given, often in performances which have done little to illuminate the qualities of the work in question, but when the likes of a Gencer, Caballé or Sutherland took up the cudgels we were able to appreciate the dramatic Donizetti, without which our comprehension of Verdi is severely compromised. Unfortunately too few of our opera houses are this year taking suitable note of Donizetti's birthday, other than new productions of Linda di Chamonix at Bologna, Le Convenienze e Inconvenienze Teatrali at Rome and Turin, Les Martyrs at Reggio Emilia, but where are Torquato Tasso, the type of role the much-abused Paolo Coni should be singing, or Il Furioso, or Dom Sébastien?

The Opéra de Monte Carlo has done its best with a presentation of the "Tudor Trilogy", an opportunity to hear the three operas on successive evenings. John Mordler, Director of the Opera, explains in an interview the logistic problems which have resulted from the narrow confines of the small house where alternation of productions has never been the policy. Hearing Anna Bolena,Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux in chronological order was instructive, Donizetti becoming more and more concise - even though repeats of cabalettas were generally omitted in the first two operas. While appreciating the considerable work of conductor Evelino Pido, his instinctive support of the under-form Marianna Nicolesco or the debutante Maria Pia Piscitelli (who had learned the role in three weeks), there were moments of enthusiasm when he drowned out the singers. Jonathan Miller's summary stagings worked when the singers were themselves capable of dramatic projection but otherwise resembled the movements of cardboard figures. Thank you, John Mordler, for attempting the almost impossible, a feat for which we are grateful despite the moments at which we might also carp. Donizetti is a much-undervalued musician and any effort to resuscitate his works is sure of praise in my book.

How do you feel about the problem of works with spoken dialogue - do you want all, nothing or just a small amount to set the context and break up the musical selections which were not meant to flow together?

Do you agree as to the musical and dramatic worth of Donizetti?

Photos of the two Queens : C. Mac Burnie

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