Monday, 3 February 2014

Richard Strauss Feuersnot - streaming from Munich

Richard Strauss's Feuersnots are breaking out all over! Above a still from the production in January at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo (read more HERE) . There's another new production in June at the Volksoper, Vienna, which should be interesting, too. There was a concert performance in December in New York conducted by Leon Botstein. Botstein's reputation is built on performing works unknown to his audiences, but his performances are so leaden that he does music great disservice. It's not as if recordings aren't available. Better then to listen to the concert performance of Strauss's Feuersnot from Munich, currently streamed on BR Rundfunk.  Ulf Schirmer conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester. 

Presumably some of the Munich singers are Bavarian,  because some of the text in in Strauss's native dialect, not High German. That's important to meaning, as Strauss is poking fun at the po-faced Bayreuth cult promoted by Cosima Wagner, whose deadly grip on the Wagner legacy did more to parody Wagner than any cheeky Strauss skit. When Feuersnot premiered in 1901, it bombed. Audiences were still too enthralled by the Cosima cult to appreciate just how funny Feuersnot can be. Strauss lays the satire on thick, but with pungent verve. Great "Wagnerian" sweeps of sound, exaggerated til they almost break the bounds of taste. Hyper-fervid emotionalism, not in the noble service of Heiligen Deutschen Kunst but in the service of Bayreuth fanaticism. Hitler swallowed the authoritarianism of Bayreuth. It possibly enflamed  his sense of divine right. Strauss's satire is a timely reminder that loving Wagner doesn't necessarily lead to fascism.

In Feuersnot, a provincial town  not so different from Nürnberg is gathered on Midsummer's Eve (Johannisnacht) but not to celebrate poetry and song. The children are gathering wood for some kind of pagan conflagration, which involves the worship of fire. Sweet, innocent children's voices, as perky as  dancing flames: but what do these flames signify? Kunrad the alchemist lets the townsfolk chop his house down to feed the bonfire: destruction rather than creative art. He loves the Mayor's daughter Diemut a hoch dramatisch soprano. Together they jump over the flames and he kisses her. But Diemut and her father play devious tricks. Kunrad is cast outside, like his former master who was driven for practising the dark arts. Diemut has Kunrad humiliated by being suspended in a basket, strung from the rafters, in front of the whole town. He uses his magic to create a "fire famine" dousing all the fires in town until a hot-blooded virgin surrenders to him. So Diemut, who does lust for Kunrad, does the deed, vividly illustrated in the orchestra. Suddenly all the fires are ignited and the town glows with unnatural brightness.

Strauss parodies not only Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg but also Tristan und Isolde, numerous different themes in Die Ring des Nibelungen and even Liebesverbot.  There's nothing timid about Feuersnot.  Diemut has the hots for Kunrad, the local "bad boy" but uses her social status to play power games with him. Even in 1901, Strauss was warning about fanatics who fuel flames to get what they want. So enjoy Feuersnot for the satire it is, and appreciate Ariadne auf Naxos in the same spirit. Please read my analysis of the Glyndebourne Ariadne auf Naxos HERE which further explains Strauss's subversive thoughts on Wagner and on the making of opera. Strauss, in his self-depreciating cheerfulness, put himself down, but he's a much more interesting composer than many appreciate.

No comments: