MARSCHNER Hans Heiling (Beermann)
A spot of research – but not in the regular catalogues – should uncover around half a dozen recordings of Heinrich Marschner’s 1833 Schauerromantik (‘horror romance’) opera. They include the live DVD from Cagliari which I reviewed in December 2005 and a 1960s broadcast from Cologne under Joseph Keilberth with a strong-looking cast including Hermann Prey in the title-role. If you’ve looked into the early history of German Romantic opera, especially its connections with Wagner, the names of both composer and work will be familiar. But you’ll only find excerpts from the score – especially ‘An jenem Tag, da du mir Treue versprochen’, Heiling’s declaration of love to the mortal village girl Anna – on recital discs of pre-1950s singers.
The very title of that aria will remind you of Erik pleading with Senta in Der fliegende Holländer and indeed it’s Wagner’s borrowings from every aspect of Marschner’s opera (libretto by its star singer and Wagner colleague-to-be Eduard Devrient) that have helped keep at least its name before the public. The younger composer took both musical and dramatic hints from Hans Heiling, repaying them with the interest of strengthening what he had ‘stolen’ both melodically and dramaturgically. Listen to the scene in Act 2 where Heiling’s good-at-heart mother the Queen of the Earth Spirits warns Anna off her spirit of a son and you will hear what sounds like a draft of the Todesverkündigung from Die Walküre 20 years down the road. And, like Wagner’s Dutchman, Heiling offers jewels to tempt his would-be bride.
The present recording is drawn live from the stage of Essen’s opera. It grieves me to say that it is very uneven in quality. Jeffrey Dowd will not be the first tenor occasionally to be confounded by the merciless tessitura of Konrad, Marschner’s Erik. Tuning also sometimes affects his Anna. The Essen version performs the dialogue, and with the ‘right’ people doing it in the ‘right’ places, but, although similar in subject and content, it is not at all the dialogue offered in my Universal Edition vocal score ‘revised and completed after the original’ by Wilhelm Kienzl. But the only cut I can see comes in the Der Freischütz-like wedding preparations in Act 3, one of the passages where Marschner sets aside his more epic template and lets his scoring intriguingly recreate Bohemian folk and dance music. If you enjoy the atmosphere in those horror-film village scenes set near a wicked Count’s castle where all are afraid to speak to strangers, you will warm to the unsubtle fun that Marschner/Devrient have with Konrad’s friends Stephan and Niklas.
If you want this opera inexpensively on new CDs, as of now this is your unique but not wholly brilliant choice. The 2005 Dynamic DVD – if you can still find it – has a stronger cast.