Carl Maria von Weber: Euryanthe (1823)

Grosse Romantische Oper im drei Akten. Running Time: 2 hours 53 minutes.

8-Skogsscenen_ur_Euryanthe-Svenska_Teatern_8

Betting on a woman’s virtue is never a good idea in any opera, but in this 1823 German opera, it proves almost lethal. Euryanthe is essentially the opera that Wagner’s Lohengrin is based on in musical terms. Musically it is considered to be great, but the libretto is one of the worst in the history of the art form. It is also considered too long and confusing.

At the suggestion of OperaScribe I have changed the review to the 1974 EMI studio recording with Jessye Norman, Nicolai Gedda, Tom Kraus, and Rita Hunter conducted by Marek Janowski. I’m really not sure if any cuts were made to the live performance I also reviewed, so the extra ten minutes could just be conducting speed.

SETTING: Prémery and Nevers, France, 1110. Count Adolar de Nevers (tenor) makes a Cymberline-esque bet with Lysiart, Count de Forest (baritone), that the latter cannot seduce his faithful fiancee Euryanthe (soprano). Eglantine de Puiset (soprano) is also in love with Adolar and plots with Lysiart to destroy Euryanthe after the latter reveals a grave secret concerning the suicide of Adolar’s sister (it involves a ring and the tears of a wronged maiden). Eglantine plants circumstantial evidence against Euryanthe and Adolar gives up all his property to Lysiart. Euryanthe convinces King Louis VI (bass) of her innocence and the couple is eventually reunited.

LINK:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hqx_eqZxloc

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: (65 minutes)

0: The overture *** is probably the best and certainly the most famous section of the opera. It consists of a series of tunes from the opera. It starts with a flourish and then the first statement of the “Euryanthe” theme which will pop up in Adolar’s vocal line from time to time.  This is the best tune in the entire opera. The rest consists of various shifts from mild angst, to placid charm, to a sort of melancholy (the ghost theme). In the last three minutes it turns a bit more excited, the flourish reappears.

Scene 1: A hall in the castle of King Louis of France at Premery.

11: Dem Frieden Heil! After a cheerful orchestral curtain riser, the opening betrothal chorus at first just the women rather dully, then the men arrive * and they sing collective praises of the not present Euryanthe. A lively four minute dance to the same tune follows.

18: Unter blüh’nden Mandelbäumen Adolar’s song * about the purity and beauty of Euryanthe. I actually found this irritating at first, and I love Nicolai Gedda, but it does improve with the second and third verses. The chorus eventually comes in with an unrelated number.

28: Ich bau’ auf Gott The bet itself occurs over a long and rather unexciting recitative and trio, eventually the chorus of male courtiers gets in on things and it improves somewhat but it is only with Adolar’s farewell bout of confidence in his betrothed that things even remotely get interesting musically with a bold statement “Euryanthe” theme from the overture **. Thankfully it does recur from time to time, although perhaps not frequently enough. I want to grab hold of it because the rest bores me so.

Scene 2: Euryanthe’s castle at Nevers.

33: Glöcklein im Thale After a dreamy interlude, Euryanthe’s first aria **.

44: Am letzten Mai After much dialogue between Euryanthe and Eglantine (including a mild aria from the latter which didn’t impress me at all, in fact the first time I heard it I didn’t even realize it was an aria, I had to look at the numbers listing!), Euryanthe tells the tale ** (ghost music from the overture appears): Emma, Adolar’s sister, committed suicide following the death of her knight lover by drinking poison from a ring. Emma soul can find no rest until the tears of a wronged and innocence maiden moisten the ring at her tomb. She recounts all of this in a recitative that is more lively than the sedate duet that immediately follows with Eglantine.

53: Er konnte mich Eglantine reveals her evil intentions in a furious aria which at least ends with some good vocal work *.

61: Fröhliche Klänge First Finale: Villagers come on for a song and dance sequence lasting about five minutes, Euryanthe welcomes Lysiart and the act ends with a sotto voce ensemble for the three principles plus the tertiary soprano-tenor couple Bertha and Rudolf and the chorus *. If there were a number I would either seriously modify or cut in order to combine the first two acts, it would be this one, I find it inept.

ACT 2: (45 minutes)

Scene 1: The same.

2: Schweigt, glüh’nden Sehnens Furious preluding, thunder storming, effective, leading to an equally furious recitative for Lysiart *. He thinks he will lose the bet, Euryanthe isn’t remotely interested in him.

7: So weih’ ich mich Suddenly we end up in whirlwind as Lysiart expresses his guilty passion for Euryanthe in a very good aria **.

13: Komm denn Eglantine comes on having stolen the ring from Emma’s tomb. She gives it to Lysiart and tells him Emma’s story. He proposes marriage to her out of thanks. At least this duet is more energetic **.

Scene 2: Same as Act 1 Scene 1.

19: Sie ist mir nah! A nice tenor aria for Adolar ** as he suffers an anxiety attack but also thinks longly of Euryanthe.

24: Hin nimm die Seele The first Euryanthe-Adolar duet **, not very long at all (all of two and a half minutes), but a nice tune.

27, 32, 37, 42: Leuchtend füllt die Königshallen/Komm an mein Herz!/Laß mich empor zum/Weh! das Mass The act eighteen minute finale has four very good passages: 1) the start with a gentle male chorus of courtiers with a gorgeous descant in the first violins **. Lysiart arrives and is about to present the ring and recount the story of Emma (claiming Euryanthe told him) 2) when Adolar breaks into the “Euryanthe” theme once more **. Lysiart presents the ring and tells the entire court that Adolar’s sister was a suicide. Euryanthe strongly protests having told Lysiart, which we know is true, she told Eglantine. Adolar rejects her but 3) she comes back in a nice passage ** which turns into a ensemble with the three men. Lysiart is knighted by the King and officially given all of Adolar’s properties as winner of the bet. The stretta finale expresses only utterly sorrow, even on the part of Lysiart. The orchestration is extremely lite, the male chorus a little dull, until 4) finally Euryanthe collapses and she is condemned by the furious courtiers **. Adolar drags her off to kill her in some barren place.

ACT 3: (63 minutes)

Scene 1: A rocky gorge.

0: The entr’acte *, utter gloom settles on the opera.

4, 8: Dies ist der Ort/Entsetzen! Adolar finally speaks * after a long and boring recitative from Euryanthe. He threatens to kill her and then commit suicide, but she protests her innocence. There is a lyrical patter passage * before they meet up with the snake. This is just stupid, and mostly consists of an aria passage for Euryanthe while the tenor is backstage “fighting” the reptile. Because of her bravery over the snake thing, Adolar decides not to kill her but rather leave her alone to fall prey to the elements. Oddly enough, even though this entire section is rather dull, one can see where Wagner got his inspiration here. Along with the aria for Euryanthe that follows, this is the most proto-wagnerian scene in the score.

16: So bin ich nun verlassen Alone, Euryanthe reflects on her life ** and waits for death. It is at times extremely sedate, but unlike the other quiet passages, this one has an attractive pathetic quality to it that makes it rather effective. Either that or Jessye Norman is just awesome and can even make lifeless crap sound great!

24, 28: Die Thale dampfen/Eglantines flehend Kosen Suddenly, something actually rather great for a change ***, as the King and the courtiers show up while on a hunt (so soon after the action of the previous act?) and come upon the exhausted Euryanthe. Apart from the overture, this is the best music in the entire opera. They wake her up and she recounts the whole story of how Eglantine betrayed her **. She passes out again after going on about trying to find Adolar and the courtiers carry her back to the palace.

Scene 2: The Hall in the Palace at Nevers.

34: More upbeat music at least * as we head into six minutes of classical ballet. Of the three ballet sequences, this is the best, although it is also irrelevant.

40, 49, 52, 59: Der Mai bringt frische/Ich kann nicht weiter!/Trotze nicht/Hin nimm die Seele Eglantine is about to be married to Lysiart and the otherwise meaningless Bertha sings happily * until Adolar arrives dressed in black armour with his visor down planning to kill himself to a furious solo con coro (not an aria, it is less than a minute). He decides to challenge Lysiart who arrives to a weird march tune. Eglantine’s entrance and collapse of guilt is more annoying than dramatically effective. She is still in love with Adolar and feels totally guilty about her betrayal of Euryanthe. The duel is a furious affair with the chorus chugging their nut * before the King arrives and puts a stop to everything, including what was actually amounting to a real pick up in the score. He tells Adolar that Euryanthe is dead which prompts Eglantine to rejoice and give away Lysiart’s entire plot which triggers him to murder her in front of everyone. This comes off as stupidity. He is taken away and Adolar is left to mourn Euryanthe who shows up just moments later and Adolar is reinstated *. The ring has been moistened with her tears so Emma’s soul is at rest. A starchy chorus praising Adolar and Euryanthe ends the opera.

COMMENTS:

This opera is mostly characterized by a sense of calmness (the proto-type for Lohengrin?)  which can make the recitatives and numbers blur into each other. I had difficulty at times distinguishing between what was actually a number (Eglantine’s arias and her duet with Euryanthe) from recitative (Euryanthe’s recitation of Emma’s suicide). I still hold that this should be a two-act opera with the first two combined with cuts made to the ballets and the first act finale. The second act is of a far higher quality than the body of the first act (ignore the amazing overture, I mean the individual numbers of the first act), but the third act contains most of bad elements in the libretto, and the music is sub-par, especially the final scene which suffers from being both musically uninteresting and dramatically poorly paced and confusing. Apart from the first act finale, however, the boring bits are concentrated in the third act, which might be why critics find the whole opera boring since this is the final impression left by Euryanthe. These portions of the score are sometimes very forward looking (they are literally the proto-type for Wagnerian music drama) but being so experimental, they are also incredibly dull.  It is easy to spot where Wagner and Liszt (among others) would later imitate and build on this score but also equally where Weber himself made the pun that Euryanthe would be found to be more properly titled Ennuyante.

Now that I’ve complained, I will discuss what is actually good about this opera. The overture is magnificent and begins with a single absolutely amazing melody “Euryanthe” which really should have been reused more than the two times it shows up in Adolar’s vocal line. Euryanthe’s recitation of Emma’s suicide (and the ghost theme) are also very well done. Most of the second act is very good, nothing magnificent, but it is consistently good from start to finish unlike the other two. The third act has the hunting chorus, which is the single best vocal piece in the score.

The core of the opera is a masterpiece, but it is saddled with too much mindless junk, (ballets, the snake, the gratuitous murder of Eglantine) as well as Weber being experimental. The libretto is a notorious piece of work to put it mildly. Although a gamma is too good for the book and the music is of varying quality, the best music raises it to a beta.

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87 thoughts on “Carl Maria von Weber: Euryanthe (1823)

  1. It’s been a few years since I’ve heard Euryanthe, but I remember enjoying it. The overture is excellent, Romantic proto-Wagner; there’s a great passage in one of the finales (lots of percussion); and some fine arias.

    It is also, as you point out, what Lohengrin is based on. (Wagner turned out one of his masterpieces.)

    For the record, I’d rank Freischuetz as an A, and this as a B. (Oberon is a panto with a GREAT aria.)

    Have you heard the Janowski recording with Gedda and Norman?

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    1. I might do the Berlioz version of Freischutz. It is technically different from its dreaded singspiel namesake. I own a recording of this French version. At the very least I’m going to listen to it now, although I do enjoy listening to an opera and not reviewing it….

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  2. There were sections where I second guessed myself with the Janowski. I didn’t hear all of it but I did check out parts to compare it to the performance I did review, although it didn’t change anything favourably. I’ll listen to all of it later today and if I think I should make changes I will, but my overall impression of this opera is that it is very boring, or at least it is too long/too much padding. The second act is probably the better of the three. The first, after the overture, is almost inert (I re-heard the finale with the Janowski because I was so bored I almost fell asleep, so that one-star holds). The third has far too many plot confusions. I detest Weber’s tendency to throw in ballets here, there are three and none of them are particularly good. It just postpones things.

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    1. Ballets were part of an evening’s entertainment at the opera house. In Italy, they performed them between acts; in France (and Germany and Russia, to a lesser extent), they worked them into the opera.

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      1. By the way did you read any of the other Erkel posts? What did you think? I noticed that Dozsa Gyorgy has a disproportionate number of hits in comparison to the other Erkel operas which is weird because it my worst of the eight posts. Also, working on a revision for Euryanthe using the 1974 recording you mentioned. There will be some changes, I can’t lie, but I’m still not overtly impressed with it and I’m in Adolar’s act two aria. Norman, Gedda, Krause, and Hunter are a better cast though. I did clean up some mistakes I made with the timings. I reinstated two-stars for the Adolar-Euryanthe duet in act two (I had originally given it two but changed it to one because it was so short). I still think act two is the best act, even if the overture and the third act hunting chorus are the best numbers.

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      2. I listened to the first half-hour of Lully’s Roland, out of morbid curiosity. Half an hour was enough! The next two (or three?) reviews will be of operas by one of the greats. Sublime!

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      3. Well, there’s Atys. The high point is where the hero falls asleep in the middle of the opera; he’s turned into a tree at the end.

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      4. Okay, maybe Szymanowski? I’m just really not in the mood for something modern right now. I’m down right now so Stockhausen would probably kill me.

        How do you know so much about Baroque and post-modern opera (like Lully, Rameau, Lenz, Henze, Penderecki), but I was able to stump you on Traviata and Erkel? Oh well, I guess my tastes are stuck in the 19th century.

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      5. Lully and Rameau are big names. You know the development of opera!

        Erkel’s not very well-known.

        Hmmm… Mercadante’s Orazi e Curiazi? You haven’t done any Auber. Chérubini, Méhul, Lesueur, Spontini’s Olympie…

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      6. Auber, La Muette de Portici, I bought the album with Kraus a year ago! Good suggestion!

        I got through the first half hour of Orazi e Curiazi, lots of twos and threes there already. I wonder why I haven’t finished it yet because I’m rather certain it will end up an A+. I’ve never heard of Lesueur but I have heard Mehul’s Joseph. Medea might be a good first Cherubini.

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      7. Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie is one of the most imaginative scores I’ve heard. Dardanus and Castor et Pollux are pretty damn good, too!

        Gluck is G L U C K.
        (At the very least, he should be as much a staple as Mozart.)

        And Salieri’s Danaides is gripping. This was the first opera Berlioz heard. It’s definitely in the Gluck idiom, like Lemoyne, Sacchini, and Piccinni’s operas were, too. Concert version online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQ36JLVhcmU
        ABC Classic FM was playing the overture a few minutes ago.

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      8. Apart from the warhorse comedies (Barber, Cenerentola, Italiana), the important ones you haven’t done are:

        Donna del lago
        Armida (you can do better than the Fleming, though!)
        Matilde di Shabran
        Semiramide
        Tell

        Ricciardo e Zoraide has some terrific music, too – a quartet and trio are both ***.

        Bianca e Falliero has a great quartet, but is *much* too long for its content.

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      9. I started Matilde di Shabran. I wasn’t really into it. Bianca e Falliero interests me for the plot for some reason (Venetian setting perhaps?) It is three hours, so your point is taken. I’ll avoid the three warhorses for Forman, although ironically the first proto-type review I ever did was of La Cenerentola!

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      10. Shabran has some terrific ensembles, and Matilde is one of Rossini’s early feminist heroines. Did Forman review Cenerentola?

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      11. The new Semiramide out from Opera Rara is supposed to be good. More complete than the Bonynge, and more Rossinian in style. The Met production earlier this year was tedious camp; Rossini needs better handling!

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      12. I was thinking of one of the La Fenice productions. The Met’s standards have really gone down recently, they would probably make a gamma hash out of Bank Ban if Domingo had his way of exporting it to North America.

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      13. Oh, so you are going to work your way through the chronology? That is an interesting goal. It might take decades to get through all of it but it would make for an interesting structure for your blog! Like a chronicle of the steps from Peri to the modern day.

        I did notice that you have borrowed some traces of my more laid back attempts at humour in your synopsis of Iphigenie. It is also a bit more fluid.

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      14. Well, not decades! Probably about three or four years. I’m not planning to do every single opera on the list – just the important ones. It sure beats throwing things at the omniscient lobster, and getting six really obscure works in Bulgarian, without a score or libretto in any language I know!

        Listening to Montéclair’s Jephthé (1732); really attractive.
        Marais’s musical setting of a bladder-stone operation: less so.

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      15. Why would I want to listen to Meyerbeer?

        Is Huguenots really that good? I know it was popular in its day; so are Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Evita. Meyerbeer, from what I’ve heard, was the Andrew Lloyd Webber of the 19th century; he served up extravaganzas to an unsophisticated, undemanding public. (Hell, he even had a skating ballet, just like Starlight Express.) Effects without causes, like Wagner said. He was a sham, a Jew banker who happened to write music – for money (less Prophete than profit!); he foisted his overblown monstrosities on Paris after greasing the palms of the press. Some critics – and even some composers – were taken in for a while, but they soon saw through Meyerbeer’s shoddy wares. Schumann, Mendelssohn, and above all Wagner recognized Meyerbeer for the sham he was. True, the young Wagner was impressed by the special effects, and some scenes in the mature music dramas are influenced by “grand opera” – but in every case Wagner far outstrips the model. The difference between an artist of genius and an operatic conman.

        Anyway, I’ve wasted enough time on Meyerbeer; I’m halfway through the Solti Siegfried. *There* is great music drama!

        It’s fascinating comparing Ring cycles; I’m listening to Karajan, Bohm, Furtwangler, and Sawallisch’s. The Ring is endlessly rewarding; grand opera isn’t.

        (And there’s an aria sung by St Bris? Gosh!)

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      16. Yeah, I know it wasn’t an aria for Saint-Bris (there isn’t an aria for Saint-Bris, I think that was the main reason for your trip to the dark side), but I’m also not sure what it was as it isn’t in any of the librettos I’ve seen (yet again is there a 100% complete libretto or performance of Les Huguenots?). My first guess was that it was for Marcel but it made more logically sense for it to be Saint-Bris because I’ve never understood exactly how Valentine found out about the plot to kill Raoul. She just pops on knowing the plot and warns Marcel. We are supposed to imply that she has been listening to everything for close to an hour at the door of the chapel.

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      17. There’s an aria for Marcel in the Brussels Minkowski production : https://tinyurl.com/yctxjgg5. Meyerbeer cut it because it was too modern for audiences.

        In the full libretto, the Pre aux Clercs scene is actually scene 2 of Act III. In the first scene, St Bris tries to kill Coligny.

        Doesn’t Valentine overhear the plotting? She does in the Sydney production.

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      18. I guess I really didn’t take it as a joke then. I’ve been contemplating shutting down the blog for about three months now.

        She does, I just never understood the how and why.

        Well the attempted assassination scene makes a lot of sense. I remember hearing about it. I wonder if the music still exists/if anyone has ever performed it.

        In any case, I really liked the aria. I find the usage of the cello to be extraordinary.

        I wonder how many other things were cut that I’ll never get to hear?

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      19. Well that is true, I will concede to you that bit of criticism.

        However, what is up with all the criticism of Meyerbeer all of a sudden? Have you pulled a Rush Limbaugh on me or something?

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      20. I plan to cover the important operas between Peri and, say, Saariaho. I want to look more at the development of opera, and situate works in context. 2019 will probably be 18th century; not sure if I’ll get up to Rossini. I’ll get my fix of more mainstream opera from cinema broadcasts; hopefully some live ones, too. I’d like to see Anna Bolena.

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      21. That is really interesting, and distinctive from my approach, which I like! Whereas I am more preoccupied with how the music just sounds (basically I’m a moody music critic who likes to put on his historian’s hat for plots and chronology), you will look more at the actual development of the art form! You would be much better at that because you have a wider appreciation of opera than I do. I tend to find most pre-1800 material tedious (I will probably never review a Handel or Lully opera). There are exceptions, but again, there is a reason why I tend not to go back earlier than Rossini.

        Are you sure about Anna Bolena? I’ve had second thoughts about it since my review. I feel like I was too kind….

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      22. I’ve heard both are good. I’ve only heard bits and pieces here and there of both personally however. I really am not the best person to ask anything pre-1810 about, at least as far as opera is concerned. That is the main reason why I’ve done only six pre-1810 operas.

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      23. I’m not reviewing Werther, but I was watching the film from the 1980s for pleasure.

        Euridice is, interesting. Like I said, pre-19th century is a bit beyond me. I would be bored to tears listening to Handel (I’ve never gotten from beginning to end of Giulio Cesare). As an historian I can appreciate its importance in the development of the art form and admire it as such (although I found myself comparing it to Monteverdi’s better version both musically and structurally). But you are right, it is like visiting Jurassic Park!

        It does form a first stepping stone on the path ultimately from Peri, Monteverdi, Gluck’s 18th century reform of the musical abortion that was opera seria, to through-composed musical drama as per late-Wagner and late-Verdi going into the 20th century. The goal was always the same, to recreate and build upon something resembling Greek drama (however distant or not opera may be from it). I would say that today opera is mostly degrading rather than progressing, but yet again if I had my way everything would sound like Otello and Falstaff!

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      24. Well, I really like the individual Handel arias I’ve heard: things like “Or la tromba”, “Va tacito e nascosto”, and “Ombra mai fu” are great. (And as a glottomane, you should like them!) But the couple of Handels I’ve seen (the Janet Baker Giulio Cesare; a staged oratorio) haven’t convinced me they work as music drama.

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      25. The final aria is superb, and there are one or two interesting pieces – but it lacks drama, as Gounod himself admitted.

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      26. Doesn’t all of Gounod lack any real sense of drama, or at best had a flawed sense of drama, period? This is the guy who tacked on Marguerite’s prison scene after a twenty minute ballet we are talking about after all!

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      27. I know what I’m doing for the year; you’ll be able to tell either from my next or my tgird next post.

        I’ve also solved the synopsis problem. I don’t know about you, but I find synopses mind-numbingly tedious to write!

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      28. And a certain composer (no, not Wagner) might not be as tedious as I’d feared. Rave reviews of two of his works from the Met. Productions sound fun (as they were meant to be).

        I’m dreading another composer, though; historically important, of course – and I’m fascinated by the historical period in the opera – but the music is quite dry. Ah, well, q.a.p., and all that!

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      29. Who Lully? You could just do an Erkel opera for an “exotic” change. I’d suggest one of the first three because you will never find much that isn’t in Hungarian on the other five.

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      30. I’m reading half a dozen books of criticism. I will then write about three great operas by this composer. I hope to have at least two up by the end of the year. I also have a firmer idea of what to do with the blog.

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      31. Well, you’ll have to listen to a few recordings (Solti, at least; maybe the Furtwangler Rome), watch the Met and the Chereau…

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      32. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Probably should do the Mercadante, I do have thirty minutes finished already and I really did enjoy it. I wish I hadn’t binged all the Erkel operas because I want more Erkel now! I even thought of issuing a new review of Brankovics Gyorgy just because! I don’t know what possessed me to listen to seven operas in less than 48 hours, and weirdly I never got bored for some reason. Usually I can go three hours of continuous opera before tiring, last weekend I just plowed through almost 16 hours of Hungarian opera almost without a thought! It was like I had become immune or a super opera snob or something. Since then I have found myself just listening to opera for hours and hours without thinking. It is good therapy though for when you are depressed.

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  3. It isn’t so much that there are ballets (some opera ballets are the best part of the score, like the Bacchanal in Samson et Delila or the Dance of the Hours in La Gioconda), as much as I find the ballets in this specific opera musically boring. It is specific to Euryanthe, not to opera ballet scenes in general. One of the complaints about this opera is that it feels too long. It has even been mutilated unsuccessfully in various ways to try to make it more theatrically relevant. Logically the ballets should be the first thing to be eliminated, they contribute nothing and just slow up everything. The libretto is an abomination against theatre, but if I were a conductor I would try to figure out how to eliminate the two meaningless tenor and soprano roles, needless casting.

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