“Trove Thursday ” presents one of the most successful German romantic operas between Weber and Wagner: Heinrich Marschner’s Hans Heiling in a 2001 performance from Berlin conducted by Christian Thielemann and featuring Alessandra Marc as the title character’s mom, the Queen of the Elves.
If anyone remembers Marschner today it’s probably for Der Vampyr which is occasionally still revived no doubt due to its sanguine subject matter. Leon Botstein conducted an enjoyable 2013 concert version at Carnegie Hall which was most memorable for Tamara Wilson’s glowing Malwina.
However Hans Heiling, another work dealing with the supernatural,is generally considered the composer’s best work partly due to the fine libretto (originally written for Mendelssohn by Eduard Devrient who had once been a baritone who appeared in several of Marschner’s earlier works.
Marschner started out writing singspiels but without success. Der Vampyr and Hans Heiling are not through-composed but do consist of large-scale components. The latter’s unusual beginning may sound odd but it’s a prologue that is then followed by the overture. Though he lived almost 30 years after the 1833 premiere of Hans Heiling none of his later operas approached its success.
Today’s leading lady (although Claudia Barainsky in the role of Anna is the romantic lead), Marc had one of the more puzzling careers in the past few decades never quite achieving the prominence or success she might have had. I only caught her a few times, the first an impressively refulgent Rossini Stabat Mater at the Cincinnati May Festival thirty years ago.
It was then another 12 years before I heard her again in one of her few performances at the Met where she debuted as Aïda in 1989. She had been scheduled to return there as Turandot later in the 2000-01 season but due to the illness of Sharon Sweet (who in fact never sang at the Met again) Marc was announced a few days ahead to sing the season’s first performance. Curious to hear her again, I grabbed a standing room ticket for the matinee.
I hadn’t seen Franco Zeffirelli’s extravaganza since its first season but I have seen it a number of times this century. Marc remains one of its more impressive ice princesses; the voice huge and exciting, she used it with delicacy and care and for a large woman not known for her acting chops delivered one of the more compellingly acted Turandots I’ve seen.
Just two years later someone I knew heard that the New Jersey Symphony was offering discounted (or maybe even free, I forget) tickets for Marc in the Vier Letzte Lieder. So several of us journeyed to Newark for what turned out to be a frustrating evening. The soprano’s virtues were in evidence—an opulent, soaring voice but it was used so inconsistently that we were left just shaking our heads.
The scooping and extreme glottal attacks and only an occasional connection to the text helped to explain why Marc hadn’t attained stardom or even a consistent international career.
German tenor Endrik Wottrich, today’s Konrad, died a year ago today at the age of 52.
No Marschner on the local horizon at the moment but the Bronx Opera, as part of the upcoming expansive New York Opera Festival, will be presenting four performances of Weber’s Der Freischütz beginning May 5.
Marschner: Hans Heiling
Deutsche Oper Berlin
15 May 2001
Königin der Erdgeister – Alessandra Marc
Anna – Claudia Barainsky
Gertrude – Yvonne Wiedstruck
Hans Heiling – Wolfgang Schöne
Konrad – Endrik Wottrich
Stefan – Friedrich Molsberger
Conductor — Christian Thielemann
Hans Heiling can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.
One can trace the evolution of German Romantic opera through a number of previous “Trove Thursday” podcasts: Weber’s Der Freischütz starring Jonas Kaufmann and his Euryanthe with Anne Schwanewilms pitted against Lauren Flanigan. Then Wagner’s early grand opera Rienzi with Andreas Schager and Anja Kampe and the opera that directly followed Rienzi and was no doubt influenced by both Der Vampyr and Hans Heiling, Der Fliegende Holl?nder with Johanna Meier.