Friday, 30 March 2012

BBC Spirit of Schubert Opera Marathon

BBC Radio 3's Spirit of Schubert is pretty amazing : the secret is to listen carefully. Through the Night broadcasts are by far the best bet, because the material is well chosen. Also, no banal chatter, no desperate attempts to be trendy.  Just genuine music! It's been wonderful to hear so many of Schubert's operas together and also in context of his other work. It's more fun than listening on isolated CDs. For example, Die Freunde von Salamanka (Monday) with its chorus "Fidelio! Fidelio!". Guess where the young Schubert got that from.  Compare to the songs Schubert and Beethoven set to the same texts. Matthison's Andenken, for example.The poem uses a device of repeating phrases. Schubert's song is good but Beethoven's is a miracle! Or listen to the arias  from  Die Burgschaft (D435) with Elly Ameling (Tuesday). Listen to this in conjunction with the entirely separate song Die Burgschaft (D246) on Monday. The juxtapositions are part of the fun.

A dear friend and regular reader mailed me to say she felt Schubert's operas are like extended song cycles, with spoken dialogue and music. It's a great insight. That's the key. It helps you appreciate how Schubert's idiom works. Definitely not Grand Opera in the Wagner /Verdi sense but more intimate and personal.  Think about Weber's operas, whose charm lies in the songs and music. Hearing Schubert's opera in context with his part songs and choral work is illuminating. They're all part of the same flowing river. There's a lot of variety, too.  Die Verschwornenen (D787) is delightfully Arcadian while Der Vierjahrige Posten (D190) (Thursday) is a surprisingly strong work which would be excellent material for a ROH2  chamber production.  This would be more sympathetic to the kind of theatres where such pieces were produced in their own time. Listen to these two on the Thursday afternoon opera slot. Or Der Graf von Gleichen (D918) (Wednesday) with Florian Boesch. 

Yesterday there was a potentially interesting discussion when David Pountney and Lionel Friend were asked why Schubert's operas weren't better known. Not that they got to say much, poor guys, it's not that kind of programme..Part of the problem is that it's the British who don't appreciate Singspiele, not the works themselves per se. In German speaking countries, there's a lot more appreciation of the Singspiele tradition which starts from Goethean times and goes on to Brecht/Weill and Hartmann, Braunfels etc. Indeed, you could probably trace it back to medieval mystery plays. That's why there are such high quality recordings. Fierrabras, for example (last Saturday, the classsic Abbado recording) and the Opernhaus Zurich recording on DVD (read more here)  The plot is confusing, but instead of trying to make sense of it, Guth incorporates Schubert himself into the staging so it's perrceptive.

Alfonso and Estrella (Friday am) with an exceptionally strong cast (Fischer-Dieskau, Mathis, Prey, Schreier and Theo Adam). this opera is almost as well known as Fierrabras and there's a DVD, too. If only these broadcasts were available longer because there is so much to take in. Some of the recordings are hard to get hold of. So listen and enjoy.

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