Der ferne Klang

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Der ferne Klang (The Distant Sound) is an opera by Franz Schreker, libretto by the composer.

Composition history[edit]

Drafted in 1901, Schreker completed the three-act libretto in 1903. However, composing the music would take about ten years. Criticism from his composition teacher Robert Fuchs caused Schreker to abandon the project for the first time in 1903. He did not return to it until 1905, after having attended the first performances of Richard Strauss' opera Salome. The orchestral interlude of Act 3 (entitled Nachtstück) was given its first concert performance by the Wiener Tonkünstlerorchester on 25 November 1909 under the direction of Oskar Nedbal. Although the performance was a stormy one, propelling Schreker to the forefront of progressive Viennese composers,[1] Schreker felt encouraged enough to finally complete the opera in 1910.

Alban Berg prepared the vocal score of the opera in 1911.

Performance history[edit]

The opera was first performed on 18 August 1912 at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt conducted by Ludwig Rottenberg and continued to be performed regularly over the next two decades when it held a special place in the German-speaking world as one of the pioneering works of modern opera. Important productions included the Czech premiere in May 1920 at the Neues Deutsches Theater in Prague under Alexander Zemlinsky[2] and the highly successful Berlin State Opera production of May 1925 under Erich Kleiber with the composers wife Maria Schreker and Richard Tauber in the leading roles.[1] The opera was also staged in Leningrad (1925) and Stockholm (1927).[3] The last productions during Schreker's lifetime were at the Stadttheater Aachen and in Teplitz-Schönau during the 1930-31 season,[1] whereafter the Nazi ban on Entartete Musik caused it to disappear from the repertory.

The opera has been rediscovered in recent years and its continuing popularity is illustrated by the number of performances it received in 2010. These included three at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin[4] and another production at the Zurich Opera House under conductor Ingo Metzmacher with Juliane Banse as Grete and Roberto Sacca as Fritz. The opera was also given as part of Bard SummerScape, Bard College's summer festival in July and August in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York under music director Leon Botstein and staged by "visionary director" Thaddeus Strassberger. [5]

A new production at Bonn Opera opened in December 2011 and another staging took place at the Opéra national du Rhin in Strasbourg in October 2012.

Roles[edit]

Role[6] Voice type Premiere Cast[7]
18 August 1912
(Conductor: Ludwig Rottenberg)
Act 1
Old Graumann, a retired civil servant baritone Richard Korschen
Old Graumann's Wife mezzosoprano Marie Welling-Bertram
Grete, their daughter soprano Lisbeth Sellin
Fritz, a young artist tenor Karl Gentner
Landlord of the inn "Zum Schwan" bass Josef Gareis
A bad actor baritone Rudolf Brinkmann
Dr. Vigelius, a pettifogger high bass Herbert Stock
An old woman mezzosoprano Bella Fortner-Halbaerth
Act 2
Greta, a dancer (alias Grete Graumann) soprano Lisbeth Sellin
Mizi, a dancer soprano Anita Franz
Milli, a dancer soprano Fulda Kopp
Mary, a dancer soprano Lina Doninger
A Spanish girl, a dancer soprano Frieda Cornelius
The count, 24 years old baritone Richard Breitenfeld
The baron, 50 years old bass Alfred Hauck
The chevalier, 30-35 years old tenor Erik Wirl
Fritz tenor Karl Gentner
Act 3
Fritz tenor Karl Gentner
Tini (alias Grete Graumann) soprano Lisbeth Sellin
Rudolf, a doctor, Fritz's friend high bass or baritone Walter Schneider
Dr. Vigelius high bass Herbert Stock
An actor baritone Rudolf Brinkmann
First chorus member tenor Otto Weindel
Second chorus member bass Carl Bauermann
Waitress mezzosoprano Alma Wendorf
A dubious individual tenor Hermann Schramm
A policeman bass Wilhelm Drumm
A servant speaking role

Instrumentation[edit]

The orchestral score requires:

offstage: flute, clarinet, 2 horns, timpani, tambourine, harp, 3 mandolins, 2 guitars, 2 violins, viola, violoncello, double bass, piano

onstage (gypsy music): clarinet in D, cimbalom, 2 violins, viola, violoncello, double bass.

Synopsis[edit]

Act 1[edit]

Fritz, a composer, and Grete Graumann, the daughter of a poor retired officer, are in love. Fritz wants to marry Grete, but he tells her that before that happens, he has to write a great piece of music and discover the mysterious distant sound ("der ferne Klang") which he hears within him. Grete tries in vain to convince him to stay with her. Fritz leaves his childhood sweetheart and goes in search of the distant sound.

As Grete is returning to her house, she meets a strange old woman, who asks the surprised girl about Fritz and promises to help Grete if she needs it. Grete continues on her way home.

Back at home, Grete's mother, Frau Graumann, speaks to Grete about the debts the family has accrued. Frau Graumann has decided that instead of borrowing money, Grete should get a job to help improve the money situation. Grete complains that her father drinks too much.

Just as she is saying this, Grete's father, Graumann, arrives with his drinking companions, an actor and Dr. Vigelius. Graumann has just gambled his daughter away to his landlord in a dice game and they have come to collect the debt. When Grete refuses, her father becomes furious. Before he can do violence to his daughter, his comrades drag Graumann back to the pub.

To calm her mother down, Grete pretends to be happy to marry the landlord. But when her mother leaves her alone in the room, she jumps out of the window and hurries away to find Fritz.

Grete cannot catch up with Fritz, and falls exhausted on the bank of a lake. She thinks of drowning herself, but then becomes conscious of the beauty of nature at night. She falls asleep, dreaming of their loving. The old woman, in reality a prostitute, appears again and promises to bring Grete a shining future if she will only follow her.

Act 2[edit]

Ten years later, Grete is the celebrated queen of the demimonde on an island in the gulf of Venice, where we find her in the famous dance salon "La Casa di Maschere." But even with her fame and success, she still thinks of Fritz.

This particular day, she promises that she will end the suffering of her suitors and decide on her next lover, announcing that whoever can touch her heart the most deeply with a song will win her. The Count sings "In einem Lande ein bleicher König," a sad but beautiful song, which the crowd applauds. The Chevalier counters with "Das Blumenmädchen von Sorrent," a bawdy song that the crowd enjoys as they noisily join in the singing.

As Grete is making up her mind, a stranger appears in the midst. It is Fritz, who recognizes Grete immediately and goes straight to her. He tells her that he has not found the distant sound that has been eluding him these past ten years, so he has gone in search of her instead and now wants to make her his wife.

While Grete is still in love with Fritz and would like to be with him, she decides she must reveal to him that she is a courtesan, and then asks if he still wants to marry her. At first he does not believe it, but when the Count challenges him to a duel, Fritz, shaken and disappointed, refuses to duel and departs. Grete, in her despair, falls into the arms of the Count.

Act 3[edit]

Five more years have passed, and Fritz has completed his opera, Die Harfe. During the premiere, the first act goes well, but the second act ends with an audience riot because nobody likes the music.

Grete, meanwhile, has lost the protection of the Count and is now a common streetwalker. She hears of the riot and is concerned for Fritz. On the way home, she is accosted by someone on the street, and Dr. Vigelius and the actors, who are staying in a hotel close by, appear and save her from being molested. Dr. Vigelius escorts Grete to his house, telling her that he very much regrets allowing Graumann to gamble away his daughter.

Fritz sits at home, old and depressed. He recognizes too late that he has destroyed not only his life, but also his love. In vain, his friend Rudolf tries to cheer him up and reminds him that there is still time to rewrite the opera. Fritz tells him that he is near the end of his life and only wants to see Grete, whom he foolishly pushed away twice. Rudolf goes to look for her, but Dr. Vigelius arrives instead, bringing Grete.

Grete and Fritz gratefully sink into each other's arms. Finally the composer hears the distant sound, which, it seems, was always within reach. He joyfully begins to write a new ending to his opera, but before he can finish, he dies in the arms of his beloved.

Recordings[edit]

  • In 1991 Capriccio released a 1990 recording with Gerd Albrecht conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and Gabriele Schnaut and Thomas Moser in the principal roles.[8]
  • In 2000, Naxos released a January 1989 live recording from the Hagen Municipal Hall, Germany, with Michael Halász conducting the Hagen Philharmonic Orchestra, and Elena Grigorescu and Thomas Harper in the principal roles.[9][10]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ a b c Christopher Hailey: 'Franz Schreker: A cultural biography' (Cambridge University Press, 1993)
  2. ^ Michael Frith (ed.): 'Zemlinsky Studies' (Middlesex University Press, 2007)
  3. ^ "Chronology". Franz Schreker Foundation. Retrieved 21 November 2010. 
  4. ^ Staatsoper official website
  5. ^ Fischer Center website
  6. ^ "Der ferne Klang, Vocal Score, Title and Dramatis Personae". IMSLP. Retrieved 31 July 2010. 
  7. ^ "Musical events 18 August 1912". Italy: Amadeusonline. Retrieved 31 July 2010. 
  8. ^ "Schreker: Ferne Klang (Der)". Naxos Records / Capriccio. Retrieved 27 September 2010. 
  9. ^ "Schreker: Ferne Klang (Der)". Naxos Records. Retrieved 31 July 2010. 
  10. ^ R.E.B. (June 2000). "Schreker: Der ferne Klang". Classical CD Review. Retrieved 3 August 2010. 

Sources

  • Bennett, Clive, "Franz Schreker" in Holden, Amanda (ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, London, New York, et al.: Penguin Putnam Books, 2001, p. 832