WEBER Euryanthe (Trinks)
Reviews of Weber’s follow-up to Der Freischütz tend to begin with the listener, enchanted all over again by the score’s magic, depth and pace, holding up his hands in protest at the work’s still serious neglect. Helmina von Chézy’s libretto is regularly slated for both its verbal weaknesses and its reliance on over-melodramatic events to link up the plot. Yet those actually involved in working on Euryanthe in performance have often leapt to von Chézy’s defence: from Mahler in Vienna (although he made some retouchings of his own) to Christof Loy (also in Vienna), stage director of the recent production from which this new recording is taken.
Weber’s dramaturgical use of his music is understandably advanced as a stick with which to beat the later, but parallel, fantasy-novel atmosphere of Wagner’s Lohengrin. One could imagine a counter-factual visit to his successor’s opera by Weber, perceiving with gimlet-eyed clarity where to make improvements. A big one of these is surely the baddies’ plot where Weber’s Lysiart and Eglantine – sketched with greater economy but more venom than Wagner’s Telramund and Ortrud – are given (in Act 2) one of the most frightening vengeance duets in 19th-century Romantic opera, musically a straight arrow from Fidelio to Götterdämmerung. And their individual monologues of distress and resentment (Acts 2 and 3) do not come far behind in the imaginative stretching of convention.
The chorus also (like Lohengrin’s in an almost constant state of shock and awe) never outstays its welcome, although it is involved in the only cut here, around the aborted Act 3 wedding of the villains, a snip almost as incomprehensible as those still applied to Lohengrin in Bayreuth. It also means that the soubrette role of the peasant Bertha is not heard, although her music in Act 3, taken over by the chorus, is. Neither of these changes, nor the loss of the small-part knight Rudolf, has been communicated to the booklet editors.
If you want 100 per cent of the score (which I suspect carries many musicological or, at least, textual problems) you still have EMI’s (now Berlin Classics’) Dresden recording under Janowski, a little obviously off the book for the microphones but a thoroughly professional result. But I would now put this new performance first. Trinks handles the score with great drive and a good sense of scale for a modern-instrument band. As for the cast, there may be more famous names elsewhere but few identify with and project their characters as strongly through the Weber/von Chézy text. Reinhardt is as ideally toned a hero as Foster-Williams is a black unmelodramatic villain. Kronthaler is especially clear in her frustrations and Wagner shining and radiant where necessary but never merely pretty.
It’s rather bad luck that this precise moment was chosen to relaunch Nimbus’s takeover of a 1955 BBC broadcast (see A/05 for Gramophone’s first review of it). For, despite big cuts (including around 20 minutes’ worth of Act 3), this is a well-prepared performance of considerable merits. Not the least of these is the proof that Joan Sutherland could indeed have made a serious career in the dramatic German Fach: she sounds an outstandingly fluent and natural exponent of the title-role. Conductor Fritz Stiedry’s preserved Wagner performances are often a little spotty but here he seems in well-ordered control of everything. All the other major roles are on committed top form. But it’s now rather a case of ‘if this were the only recording …’.
The new Capriccio Euryanthe is recommended as the best performance on disc now available pace those minor cuts. The reissued Nimbus performance, however, is in no way de-recommended and, in more than reasonable sound, is essential for students and fans of Dame Joan Sutherland’s work.