Max Bruch: Die Loreley (1863)

Opera in four acts. Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes.

I don’t usually bother with reviewing German operas, I’ve done 3 so far apart from this one, and this is mostly because I find the German language to not be suitable to operatic singing, but I thought this was an interesting curio and it is short. The plot is closer to Alfredo Catalani’s Elda but the setting is the same as his Loreley. It is written in the tradition of German romantic opera and through-composed with arias and choruses connected by interesting passages of recitative. Although a German-language opera, there is something strangely Italianate about it, although it is firmly within the tradition Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, and very early Wagner.

PLOT: The Rheinland, Middle Ages. There are nine soloist characters. Count Otto (tenor) is reminded by his steward Leupold (tenor) that he is to marry Berthe, Countess of Stahleck (soprano) and niece of the Archbishop of Mainz (bass) the following day. The Count, however, is in love with Lenore (soprano) daughter of Hubert (bass), who is the ferryman. Reinald (bass) is a ballad singer hired out for the wedding. The other two roles are a priest and a female winemaker. Lenore sells her soul to the Rhein in exchange for being transformed into the most irresistible woman in the world. She crashes the wedding and is put on trial (re: act 3 of Elda).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEQkMDCd4-4

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: (38 minutes)

0: The overture * is a stroll through the Rhenish countryside. Bucolic with traces of Beethoven and Weber, and what is wrong with that?

Scene 1: A bucolic scene in the Rhenish countryside.

6: An aria * for Count Otto as he waits for Lenore, it flows along like the Rhein. It has an oddly Italianate sound in the tenor line. Leopold reminds him of his wedding and then his thoughts turn agitated. Otto has never revealed his true identity to Lenore, nor his upcoming wedding to Berthe.

10: Lenore comes on singing a lovely little song and her duet * with Otto which follows includes traces of what, if one did not know better, sounds like Meistersinger. Much of it is structured in the form of a waltz-like tune for Lenore with interjections of angst from Otto. The sound goes low for about five seconds at 15 minutes in. It continues on to yet another bucolic melody.

20: Bells ring from a distance church. Otto eventually departs out of guilt leaving Lenore to pray for him and their love as the chorus is heard in the distance **.

Scene 2: The banks of the Rhine river.

23: A Mozartean winemakers chorus * with interjections for Hubert. This turns into more leading from Hubert and then more from the chorus. They off load their best produce for the wedding. Hubert is worried about Lenore  as she seems to be disturbed and distant.

27: The winemaker’s song *. Lenore is chosen for a local custom as the maid who gives a cup of wine to the bridal pair.

29: The bridal chorus **. Lenore sees Otto and confronts him but he denies knowing her. Lenore goes into shock.

35:  A tragic ensemble **. In particular Reinald here observes how sad everyone is. There is a reprisal of the bridal chorus.

ACT 2: The banks of the Rhine. (11 minutes)

0: Alone, Lenore makes her pact with the spirits of the Rhein. She will trade her soul and the ability to love (rather melodically **) for the ultimate makeover: total irresistibility to men to the point of being able to drive them to suicide by drowning in the river.

6: The agitated chorus of the Rhein spirits *.

9: Lenore sacrifices herself to the Rhein **.

ACT 3: (38 minutes)

Scene 1: The wedding feast at Berthe’s castle.

0: Happy Teutonic party music from orchestra and chorus **. Leutold and the Winemaid have some oddly liltingly sex music.

4: Reinald’s ballad of sexual innuendo *.

10: Otto calls for the bridal cup, there is a joyous chorus and he is confronted by Lenore amid a gloriously solemn chorus and goes crazy over her seductive song of the Loreley **.

14: Watch for the series of crescendos that occur here **. Lenore is Loreley-ing, Otto going insane, Berthe pleading with him.

18: The arrival of the Archbishop of Mainz, a menacing figure *. He condemns Lenore as a witch and orders a trial, although Otto continues to champion her, but his sanity at this point is greatly questionable.

Scene 2: Before the court.

22: Berthe is very depressed and contemplating suicide * because Otto does not love her.

28: Reinald arrives and tries to get Berthe to leave. There is then a scared/scary chorus of priests * and the trial begins with the Archbishop presiding.

31: Lenore addresses the court in an arioso bordering on Monteverdi ** leading some intense choral work with the Archbishop giving his pennyworth. She is acquitted but the Archbishop wants Otto to return to Berthe and he refuses.

37: The Archbishop excommunicates Otto *.

ACT 4:

Scene 1: Near the local church (25 minutes).

0: Oddly chromatic prelude * leads to Hubert talking to some villagers about his daughter, who has been expelled from the community. Berthe has died of a broken heart and the funeral procession comes on. Hubert comments on this.

7: Otto comes on and decides rightly that he should pay his respects to Berthe from a distance. The chorus can be heard in the distance and then we get a very good aria out of him ** as he goes off in search of his desired Lenore.

Scene 2: The shore of the Rhein.

10: A lovely bucolic prelude ** leading to a tragic aria from Lenore **.

15: Otto arrives full of desire for her and their duet is dramatic and romantic **.

20: The Finale ***: Lenore is inclined to forgive him but the Rhein Spirits remind her of her pact with them and the mutual fate she and Otto share. Otto is drowned in the river amid the joyous cries of the spirits only to have everything rounded out by Lenore’s song one last time. The chromatic strings of the prelude to the act return and the orchestra has one last strong push before fading away with more spirits.

COMMENTS:

This opera probably has the strongest and most bel canto vocal lines of any German opera, ever. Although it is not as orchestrally rich as Tannhauser or Lohengrin, from a strictly vocal standpoint this surpasses anything Wagner could have dreamed of writing. The score is somewhat retro, but to my personal taste, as a sort of low-key German grand opera with lots of influence from Beethoven and especially Weber, and proves that many musical gestures passed off as Wagnerian today were actually just standard German practice. Bruch was an anti-Wagnerian, so when Die Loreley sounds like pre-Lohengrin Wagner (which is very often), it is because Wagner sounded like German mid-19th century romantic music in general and not the other way around. According to the Penguin Opera Guide the opera should be about 39 minutes longer than the recording here, I am not sure if this is a misprint or if there is in fact additional material cut from this performance. The best music would be the choruses, the orchestral pieces, and Lenore’s multiple solos. Die Loreley must be marked down as a forgotten treasure, A-.

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