Alfonso und Estrella

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Playbill Weimar 1854, conductor Liszt

Alfonso und Estrella (Alfonso and Estrella) is an opera with music by Franz Schubert, set to a German libretto by Franz von Schober, written in 1822. Along with the later Fierrabras, composed in 1823, it marks Schubert's attempt to compose grand Romantic opera in German, departing from the Singspiel tradition. Unlike Fierrabras, it contains no spoken dialogue.

Background[edit]

In close collaboration with von Schober in the region of St. Pölten, Schubert wrote the music for Alfonso und Estrella between September 1821 and February 1822.[1][2] Schober, only one year older than the young Schubert, and a dabbler in literature, music and theatre, was enthusiastic about the collaboration. Schubert and Schober shared an appreciation for the operatic theories of Ignaz von Mosel, a patron of Schubert's, who supported Gluck’s operatic ideals. This influence may have led to the omission of all spoken dialog, parting from the German Singspiel form followed in operas such as Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, Beethoven's Fidelio, and Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz.[3]

Performance history[edit]

Schubert never heard the opera performed in his lifetime. Opera houses in Vienna, Berlin, Dresden and Graz all had refused to stage it.[4] The opera received its premiere performance in Weimar on 24 June 1854, conducted by Franz Liszt.[5] Liszt had published an essay on the opera in advance of the first Weimar performance, and also had made cuts to the score for the production. Subsequent productions in the 1880s were in Karlsruhe, Vienna and Berlin.[2][6] The first UK stage premiere was at Reading University Opera on 22 February 1977.[7][8] The opera did not receive a complete, uncut performance; even the realisations in Graz (1991) and Vienna (1997, conducted by Harnoncourt) had been shortened.[2]

Context and analysis[edit]

A repeated criticism of the opera is its lack of dramatic action and pacing.[4][7] Critics have suggested it is precisely because Schubert had minimal opportunity to see his late dramatic works performed during his lifetime that he lacked the perspective, and that which might have been revealed by it, available to other composers such as Beethoven who revised Fidelio on multiple occasions after public performance, to judge his operas from a distance.[9] Elizabeth Norman McKay has noted how Schubert incorporated his understanding of the music of Gioachino Rossini into the opera. Till Gerrit Waidelich has published a monograph on the opera, detailing its history in composition and performance.[10] Although it is believed Schubert intended to compose a grand Romantic opera, employing a large chorus and orchestra, at many points in the work he retained the simpler style of his earlier Singspiels. At other times, however, strong vocal lines, rich orchestration, and jarring harmonic progressions predominate. McKay has noted that, "[i]n such sections Schubert shows not only his genius for setting words to music and his sensitivity to orchestral colors but also his ability to manage the large resources of big operatic ensembles."[3] As one critic has elegantly stated, "Schubert's great operatic asset -- aside from his incredible gift for melody -- was the ability to take cues from a word, a thought or a verbal description and translate them into musical accompaniment."[9]

Roles[edit]

Autograph vocal score, Aria Adolfo
Role Voice type Premiere cast[11]
24 June 1854
(Conductor: Franz Liszt)
King Froila baritone August Höfer
Mauregato, the usurper baritone Hans Feodor von Milde
Estrella, Mauregato's daughter soprano Rosa von Milde-Agthe
Alfonso, King Froila's son tenor Eduard Liebert
Adolfo, Mauregato's general bass Carl Mayerhofer

Synopsis[edit]

Alfonso is the son of the deposed King Froila, of León. Froila is concerned that Alfonso is anxious to lead a revolt against Mauregato, the usurper of Froila's throne. At the court of Leon, Adolfo, an ambitious general, is in love with Estrella, the daughter of Mauregato. However, Mauregato has said that only the man who has the "Chain of Eurich" may marry Estrella. Angry at being denied Estrella in marriage, Adolfo plans a coup against Mauregato.

During a hunting expedition, Estrella is separated from her party. She and Alfonso meet and fall in love, unaware of the identity of the other. Alfonso gives Estrella a necklace that he has always carried, and directs her on a safe path home. Back at court, she tells her story, and Mauregato recognizes the necklace as the "Chain of Eurich". Before he can tell her of its meaning, the rebellion led by Adolfo has begun, and Adolfo captures Estrella. Alfonso learns that Estrella is Mauregato's daughter, and then sides with Mauregato against the rebels. Mauregato's forces defeat Adolfo, and Alfonso rescues Estrella. However, Mauregato has a crisis of conscience, and he restores Froila to his throne. In turn, Froila gives up his power to Alfonso and Estrella.

Note: Historically, the Kingdom of León did have a king called Froila, and the kingdom was in his time troubled by instability and power struggles, but not those recounted in the opera.

Recordings[edit]

A complete recording of the opera was issued in 1978, with Otmar Suitner conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin and Berlin Radio Chorus and major parts sung by Edith Mathis (Estrella), Peter Schreier (Alfonso), Hermann Prey (Mauregato), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Froila) and Theo Adam (Adolfo). Originally made by the East German record company VEB Deutsche Schallplatten, it was first issued in the West on EMI (US catalogue: Angel SCLX-3878) and has since been issued on CD on Berlin Classics 0021562BC.

  • Video on DVD : 2004 Teatro Lirico di Cagliari- Gérard Korsten, conductor
    Cast: Eva Mei, Rainer Trost, Alfred Muff, Markus Werba - Dynamic (record label) - Cat. 33451

References[edit]

  1. ^ McKay, Elizabeth Norman (1966–1967). "Schubert's Music for the Theatre". Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association. 93rd Session: pp. 51–66. 
  2. ^ a b c Nieder, Christopher (translated by Mary Whittall) (February 1993). "Review of "Franz Schubert, Alfonso und Estrella, eine frühe durchkomponierte Oper: Geschichte und Analyse" by Till Gerrit Waidelich". Music & Letters 74 (1): pp. 94–96. 
  3. ^ a b McKay, Elizabeth Norman. "Alfonso und Estrella". Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 9 November 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-30. 
  4. ^ a b Boas, Robert (January 1992). "The Review Section: Live Performance - Schubert's Inhibition". The Musical Times 133 (1787): pp. 33–41. doi:10.2307/966249. JSTOR 966249. 
  5. ^ Walker, Alan (1987, revised 1993 (paperback)). Franz Liszt. v. 2. The Weimar years, 1848-1861. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. p. 289. ISBN 0-8014-9721-3. 
  6. ^ Keiler, Alan (1986). "Liszt and the Weimar Hoftheater". Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae. T. 28, Fasc. 1/4 (1/4): pp. 431–450. doi:10.2307/902434. JSTOR 902434. 
  7. ^ a b Dean, Winton (April 1977). "The University Opera Season - Reading: Alfonso und Estrella". The Musical Times 118 (1610): pp. 323–325. doi:10.2307/958081. JSTOR 958081. 
  8. ^ Charlton, David (November 1978). "Revival or Survival?". 19th-Century Music 2 (2): pp. 159–164. doi:10.2307/746311. 
  9. ^ a b Holland, Bernard (December 31, 1989). "The Forgotten Schubert Is Getting Another Chance". New York Times. 
  10. ^ Branscombe, Peter (March 1995). "Book Reviews: Nineteenth Century". Notes (2nd Ser.) 51 (3): pp. 930–933. 
  11. ^ "Almannaco 24 June 1854" (in Italian). AmadeusOnline. Retrieved 7 September 2010. 

Sources[edit]

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