We’re going to start tonight with one of the great pieces of music in the entire operatic canon, Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, or we can use its English title, The Barber of Seville. The full title is The Barber of Seville, or The Futile Precaution. Using a libretto by Pierre Beaumarchais that was actually the first part of a trilogy of plays that also gave us Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, it premiered in Rome in 1816. It was also one of the first Italian operas to be performed in the United States, being premiered in New York City in 1825. Interestingly enough, its 1816 premiere was booed and hissed, an organized effort by a rival composer who had already used the play in an opera of his own. But the second performance was an unqualified success, and that success has continued to the present day.
One can expect that a composer doesn’t grow up to anticipate starting a new era in composition – indeed, such composers probably aren’t aware of the significance of their achievements. But Carl Maria von Weber found himself at a fulcrum point of time. He was a musical heir of Mozart (Mozart actually married Constance Weber, one of Weber’s cousins), and he was noted as a brilliant pianist, as a composer for woodwinds (his woodwind compositions are an important part of woodwind literature) and of vocal music, and as an excellent conductor and arranger (Berlioz makes references to him in his Treatise on Instrumentation). Given these conditions, it is no surprise that our next opera is considered one of the first important German Romantic era operas, and as such was an important influence on composers such as Wagner (who performed at Weber’s reburial in Dresden) and Strauss.
Weber premiered Der Freischütz in 1821, with a libretto by Frederich Kind that was based on the German folk legend of the Freischütz. The role of the Hunter requires a strong tenor voice (in this instance, Peter Schreier), and it notable for the portions at the end of Act two that depicts the supernatural scene at Wolf’s Glen, which at the time ranked as some of the most intense musical depictions of the day, and even now can be found to be somewhat startling, such is the brilliance of the orchestration.
Tonight’s performance is a 1973 recording with Gundula Janowitz, Peter Schreier, Edith Mathis, and Theo Adam; Carlos Kleiber conducted the Staatskapelle Dresden. It should be noted that, like with many recordings of German operatic works that use Singspiel for the dialog that advances the plot, the dialog speakers are different from the singers. However, the dialog, like with most Singspiel works, is so clearly articulated that I can imagine them being good for those wanting to learn German.