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Subject: Re: Strauss Operas
From: scott tisdel <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:scott tisdel <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 5 Dec 2008 11:11:56 -0800

text/plain (92 lines)

<I, too, have found this thread to be quite interesting.  There is, however,
another angle through which to view the Strauss operas besides the grand vs.
chamber scheme.  Arno J. Mayer in his remarkable book The Persistence of the
Old Regime, touches on Strauss in his chapter, "Official High Cultures and
the Avant-Gardes."  He suggests that Strauss' operatic transition went from
a brief foray into modernity to an upholder to the values of the Ancient
Regime.  Strauss to some extent, and von Hofmannsthal to a much greater
extent, were particularly close to both the rulers and the values of the Old
Regime, and chose, after the failure in Vienna of Salome and Elektra to
retreat to much safer, "older" themes as found in Rosenkavalier.  Mayer
points out, for instance, that Strauss' devotion to the old regime is so
pronounced that Rosenkavalier doesn't even have a Figaro figure (a la Nozze
di Figaro) to satirize Faninal, a character ennobled because of the vast
fortune he amassed as an army contractor.  Mayer makes a point well worth

Wes Smith>

I guess I would disagree with the very premise of this argument, i.e., that Strauss abandoned the "modernity" of Salome/Elektra starting with Rosenkavalier, and remained "conservative" for the rest of his creative life.  Actually, there are many very "modern", tonally ambiguous, and highly dissonant passages in Frau (like the buildup to "Ich...will...nicht!" in Act III), Egyptian Helen (opening bars, repeated many times, and Daud's funeral procession in Act II), and Friedenstag (opening chorus), just to name a few.  Also, if Strauss got so conservative, why did he write such difficult parts for his leading singers?  Certainly one of the reasons why Liebe der Danae, Daphne, and Egyptian Helen (among others) are performed so infrequently is the difficulty in casting these operas adequately.

I have also very much enjoyed this thread.  Nice to have so many Strauss nuts out there!  It's a little late, but here is my Strauss opera ranking, if anyone is interested:

1) Rosenkavalier
The "hit tunes" (Trio, Rose presentation, "Time" aria) give me goose bumps like nothing else, but I think every single bar is genius.  I'm probably one of the few people that not only doesn't think it's too long, but would love to see the cuts opened up.  Solti proved that ALL the music is glorious, in his uncut recording.

2) Elektra
Packs a wallop like no other opera.  A near perfect marriage of words and music.  Despite its flaws, my favorite version is the Nilsson/Rysanek/Dunn Met telecast.  Watching it, you feel that you are a part of operatic history.

3) Die Frau Ohne Schatten
Did not really appreciate this one until Sawallisch's wonderful uncut recording.  SInce then, I've heard and seen productions in Chicago and the Met that have reinforced my opinion that this is Strauss at his greatest and most inspired.  Like Rosenkavalier, it's very long, but with music like this, WHO CARES?

4)  Ariadne
Like Frau, this one took a while, but now I love it all, even the supposedly weak final duet, which I find magnificent.  One of my favorite passages in all Strauss is the last 15 minutes of the prologue, with the Zerbinetta/Composer duet and the Composer's ecstatic "Music ist ein heiliger Kunst!".  Kempe or Karajan are great choices for the revised version, but worth seeking out also is the Price/Jo/Windbergh/Nagano recording of the original version.  There is much new music, and you get to hear Sumi Jo's essay of the original Zerbinetta's aria, which is much longer and more difficult than the revised version.  She tosses it off like it was nothing, and is very sexy to boot!

5) Salome
Salome fifth??  Well, I think I've seen too many disappointing productions, most recently Chicago (Voigt just didn't quite pull it off) and the Met (Matilla was great, but the production was wretched).  Also, there is a bit too much of the "shabby little shocker" in Salome-- The necrophilic aspects of the final scene, especially, for me detract and cheapen the music rather than intensify it.  I would love to see a production that really tried to match the glory of the music, rather than turn it into a cheap horror movie.  Until then, I have Strauss' magnificent music, and my Karajan/Behrens recording.

6) Capriccio
Only Strauss could have written a glorious opera about, well, nothing, other than some rich people talking at length about words vs. music.  Of course the final scene is great, but the entire opera is wonderful-- Strauss' powers of invention in this opera are truly astounding.  For those that can get past the static story, the rewards are great.  Bohm and Sawallisch are great choices for recordings, and I also enjoy the Te Kanawa and Fleming DVDs.

7) Daphne
Other than casting difficulties, for the life of me I cannot understand why this opera has remained on the fringes of the repertory.  Like Capriccio, it has a magnificent final scene, but the entire opera is on this level!  There is Daphne's apostrophe to nature, her extremely moving eulogy to Leukippos, Apollo's Tannhauser-ish "Immer umkreist des Lichtes Wagen" and glorious final aria, the Daphne/Apollo "love scene", almost Tristan-like in intensity (but not length!), wonderful "mini arias" from Leukippos, Penios, and Gaea-- The list goes on and on!  If there is a "sleeper" Strauss opera, Daphne is it.  Many love the Bohm recording, but I prefer Haitink, which has superior orchestra playing, the incandescent Lucia Popp, and is without the annoying cuts that Bohm seems to find necessary.

8) Arabella
Wonderful, enchanting music. Act I Zdenka/Arabella duett and Arabella's "Mein Elemer!" major "goosebump" moments.  Story goes a little askew in Acts II and III--  If Hofmannsthal had lived to finish the creative process (with Strauss' guidance), it undoubtadly would have been "tighter".  However, joining Acts II and III (heard on the Keilberth recording) is no solution--  The cut used to accomplish this is almost laughably horrendous.  I prefer Sawallisch again here--  Solti is too hyper and aggressive with the piece, especially in the prelude to Act III.

9) Feuersnot
Yes, Strauss' pre-Salome opera is wonderful-- Sort of a cross between Till Eulenspeigel and Hansel und Gretel, it is the "folksyest" of Strauss' operas, with great music for the two leads, the chorus, and a devilishly intricate children's chorus, all with a "light" touch that we will hear again in later operas (Ariadne, Capriccio etc).  A highlight is the "lovemaking scene" which (like Arabella and Rosenkavalier) is played by the orchestra alone- Incredible music! The Weikl/Varady/Fricke recording remains the standard, though I think we are ready for a new one (Thielemann, are you listening?). It also deserves some stateside performances, or anywhere outside of Munich!

10) Egyptian Helen
If Act II was as good as Act I, Helen would be higher on my list. Act I is fantastic, with wonderful music for Aithra, a glorious "anti-love" scene, which, like Daphne's, builds to an almost unbearable level, and is topped off with the magical "Helena's Erwachen".  Act II goes astray, with (I think) unnecessary characters and a confusing plot, but still has great music, including (of course) Helena's ecstatic "Zweite Brautnacht!".  Jones/Dorati remains a great recording, but worth seeking out also is Rysanek/Keilberth. Rysanek is on fire in this role, and, unlike Dorati, Keilberth uses Strauss' revised version (unfortunately with cuts), which tidies up Act II a bit, and has some lovely new music.

11) Liebe der Danae
One of Strauss' greatest baritone roles is surely Jupiter in Danae, with equally great music for the title role.  It's an opera I need to get to know better.  The Botstein/Flanigan/Wright live concert version is OK, but I think far better is Krauss/Kupper/Schoffler, despite the cuts and the antiquated 1952 sound.

12) Intermezzo
A bit too slight and "conversational" for my taste-- For me it is a bad sign when the best music is in the orchestral interludes.  Still, I need to get to know the opera better-- The Sawallisch/Popp/DFD recording would be a good place to start.

13) Schwiegsame Frau
I confess that I haven't made it all the way through this one. The problem is my recording (Janowski/Adam/Burmeister) I find boring and uninspired.  Obviously, I need to seek out Bohm/Hotter/Gueden, despite the cuts.

14) Guntram
Here again I am hampered by a truly awful recording (Queller/Goldberg/Tokody).  The singing is OK, but Queller's orchestra is flaccid and uninspired, and she uses the extremely dubious late revision, which butchers the original score, removing appr. 40% of the music in very clumsy fashion.  We desperately need a competent, relatively complete recording of this opera, which, despite its heavy Wagnerian influence, has many beautiful moments.

15) Freidenstag
Yes, it's dead last on my list (mainly because of a distressingly banal "happy ending"), but it is not without interest.  The choral writing at the beginning is unique in Strauss (I would describe it as "creepy"), and of course the best music is a magnificent extended scene for Maria, the Commandant's wife.  Robert Bass' recording is worth getting just to hear Alessandra Marc in this scene, but overall I think Sawallisch/Weikl/Hass is the better option.

16)  For those true Strauss nuts, I would also recommend two curio items, the incomplete singspiel "Die Esel's Schatten", and the complete "Bourgeois Gentilhomme" incidental music, both recorded by Karl Anton Rickenbacher.  "Bourgeois", in particular, contains some great music that is not in the orchestral suite or in the first version of Ariadne.  Worth checking out.

For those of you that have made it this far, thanks for reading!
Scott Tisdel
Associate Principal Cellist
Milwaukee Symphony

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