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Schubert - Fierrabras
Jonas Kaufmann (Actor), Juliane Banse (Actor), Claus Guth (Director

The stage is Schubert's own music room, with Schubert himself in the throes of composing an opera, Fierrabras to be, on a story he has hardly begun to resolve himself. Schubert speaks occasionally but never sings, jots notes to himself, escorts his characters on and off stage through the innumerable doors of his imagination, and hovers anxiously as they sing his impassioned music. The story concerns a Frankish king, a Moorish prince, and a triangle of lovers from both camps. In many ways, the libretto is leftover Baroque, not quite coherent but open-ended enough to allow poetic outbursts of sentiment to be rendered as Lieder. The music is pure German romanticism, equipoised between Beethoven and Wagner. The juxtaposition is sketchy at best, although if one saw enough productions one might begin to suspend disbelief. After all, the story is no more absurd than most of Handel's. The clever folk at the Zurich Opera House have done well to stage Fierrabras 'psychologically' and symbolically, rather than as a gaudy chivalric pageant. The tentative presence of poor love-stricken Schubert - literally stricken, soon to die of syphilis - aptly corresponds to the tentative nature of the opera, the composer's effort to invent a genre to satisfy his romantic inklings. The same opera company, with conductor Franz Welser-Möst, has produced one of the most intelligent and satisfying DVDs of Mozart's Magic Flute - the only production I've seen that realizes Mozart's philosophical intent.

Of course it's the music that justifies producing Fierrabras at all.

It would be hard to deny that Rossini was more entertaining and Donizetti more theatrical, and that Schubert had little chance of holding the stage against them. But in our multifarious era, when all the music of history can be heard in our own salons, an opera like Fierrabras is a worthy addition to the DVD repertoire. I enjoyed it. You might also.

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  • Seller location: Lower Hutt City, Wellington, NZ

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