Strauss’s Feuersnot: A Strong Performance All Around

10/06/2014

 Strauss: Feuersnot, Dresdner Festspielorchester, Staatsopernchor Dresden, Kinderchor der Singakademie Dresden, Stefan Klingele (conductor), Residenzschloss, Dresden, 7.6.2014 (JMI)

Carolina Ullrich, Simone Schröder, Rachel Willis-Sørensen, Angela Liebold © Matthias Creutziger

Carolina Ullrich, Simone Schröder, Rachel Willis-Sørensen, Angela Liebold
© Matthias Creutziger

 

Cast:
Diemut: Rachel Willis-Sørensen
Kunrad: Tómas Tómasson
Schweiker: Jürgen Müller
Ortolf: Michael Eder
Elsbeth: Angela Liebold
Wigelis: Simone Schröder
Margret: Carolina Ullrich
Pöschel: Tilman Rönnebeck
Hämmerlein: Matthias Henneberg
Kofel: Gunyong Na
Kunz: Tomislav Lucic
Ortlieb: Rainer Maria Röhr
Ursula: Tichina Vaughn
Ruger: Tom Martinsen
Walpurg: Catalina Bertucci

 

Coproduction: Semperoper and Musikfestspiele Dresden
Direction: Angela Brandt

The relationship between Richard Strauss and Dresden was very special, as evidenced by the fact that nine of his fifteen operas were premiered in the so-called Florence on the Elbe. I still remember the festival organized by the Semperoper in 2007, when ten Strauss operas were performed on ten conscutive days. Regretfully, the festival has not been repeated. However, the composer’s 150th birthday could not go unnoticed in Dresden, and we’ve been offered this rarely-seen opera, the second in the Strauss catalog, which had its premiere here in November 1901.

Feuersnot  ̶  “a need for fire”  ̶  was not successful; neither was its predecessor, Guntram. It took four more years for Strauss to achieve success with Salome which, incidentally, also premiered in Dresden. Neither Guntram nor Feuersnot are works that deserve to be left in oblivion; they’re not masterpieces, but they are solid operas with spectacular orchestration. Feuersnot is an opera in one act, and it’s at its best during the second part. There are monologues, duets and ensembles  of outstanding quality, and it’s very demanding for the two main protagonists. It is a pity that the opera isn’t performed more often.

The opera takes place in medieval Munich on the night of St. John, where children are collecting everything possible for the bonfires, including here the orchestra’s chairs and instruments. Kunrad, a citizen with magical powers, has come to the attention of  Diemut, the mayor’s daughter, and they have immediately fallen in love. Scandalizing the neighbors, Kunrad kisses Diemut. When later he tries to visit her, she lowers a basket to be hoisted up to her balcony but leaves it hanging halfway. Kunrad becomes an object of mockery by the citizens, who consider that he has received a deserved punishment for his insolence. Using his magical powers to extinguish all the fires, Kunrad leaves the city in darkness and promises that light will not return until Diemut consents to receive him. Now it’s the neighbors who repeatedly ask Diemut to accept Kunrad, to which she gladly agrees. After their night of love, the fires are relighted in Munich.

The performance was announced as a concert taking place in the beautiful courtyard of the Ducal Palace in Dresden, an architectural gem. Subsequently, there was talk of a semi-staged version, but this was a full performance, or nearly so. The work by Angela Brandt is worthy of great praise and a lesson to so many expensive and uninteresting stage productions. It is true that there were not sets, but one had the beauty of the building where the courtyard is located. All the soloists and the children’s choir sang without scores and were clad in Bavarian costumes (except for Kunrad who was dressed in black). The movement of the singers was excellent, not only on the stage, where orchestra and choir were located, but also all over the yard. In this regard it worth noting Angela Brandt’s imagination in placing the bonfire in the yard and using doubles for the protagonists for the balcony and basket scene, which took place in the building to the right  of the stage. Even the lighting worked to perfection, with excellent effects. A great show!

Stefan Klingele gave a bright and vibrant reading of the score. He had to solve many difficulties to coordinate the musical forces, especially with regard to the Kinderchor and the numerous soloists, and he was quite successful. He even participated in the feast of St. John, dancing with Diemut’s friends. There was a strong performance from the Festspielorchester, which is in charge of the numerous concerts of the Dresden Music Festival now taking place in the city. The Kinderchor  gave a great performance, both singing and acting, and the Staatsopernchor was an outstanding complement.

Soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen was an excellent interpreter of Diemut. She is the most important soprano of the Semperoper company, with an attractive and consistent voice, and has proven to be a great singer. She’s a full lyric soprano with huge potential on the international circuit.

The enigmatic character of Kunrad was well-served by baritone Tómas Tómasson, who was a very compelling interpreter.

The other parts are less important, but they were well-covered in all cases. Diemut’s three friends were played by Angela Liebold, Simone Schröder and Carolina Ullrich, who was especially good. There was a strong performance from Michael Eder as Burgomaster, and a less interesting one by Jugen Müller. Among the citizens of Munich we had a good Tilmann Rönnebeck, a sound Matthias Henneberg, an interesting Gunyong Na, a modest Tomislav Lucic and, finally, the character tenor Rainer Maria Rohr. Tichina Vaughn and Catalina Bertucci were also excellent.

The courtyard of the Palace held some 800 chairs and was almost fully sold out. There was a very warm reception for all the artists.

José Mª Irurzun

 

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