Hoffmann Liebe und Eifersucht
ETA Hoffmann was not just the author of fantastic tales and the central character of Offenbach’s opera but also – besides much else – a talented composer. His 1816 opera Undine has enjoyed occasional revival on German stages and has made it to CD. Liebe und Eifersucht (“Love and Jealousy”) is an earlier work that was never performed in Hoffmann’s lifetime. Only in 1999 was the score published, and only after the overture had been included in an earlier CPO collection of Hoffmann’s music was the whole work first staged at the 2008 Ludwigsburg Festival in the performance preserved here.
Described as “Singspiel” (having dialogue and no chorus), its libretto is an adaptation by Hoffmann himself of August Wilhelm Schlegel’s German translation of Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s play La banda y la flor (“The Sash and the Flower”). It’s a typical operatic tale of yearning, wooing and rejection, complicated by disguise (three veiled ladies) and misunderstood tokens of affection (the sash and the flower), all prompting the jealousy of the title. The principal male characters are a Florentine Duke and his sidekick Enrico, the ladies a pair of sisters whose father is about to enter the Duke’s service.
I soon gave up trying to unravel the obscurities of the booklet’s synopsis and translation of the text. Nor does the Mozart-going-on-Lortzing score always move the action along with the pace it might. But there’s a zippy and tuneful overture, and the set numbers have undoubted appeal – a couple of rhythmically inventive solos for Enrico, for instance, a finely pointed duet for his servant Ponlevi and the heroine’s chambermaid Lisida, and a lightly comical duet for the Duke and Enrico. The outstanding performers are Robert Sellier as Enrico and Sybilla Duffe as the chambermaid, while the original-instrument orchestra convincingly captures the period atmosphere under Michael Hofstetter. This can certainly be recommended to anyone with a taste for unpretentious and undemanding operatic rarities of its era.