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8.550507 - German Operatic Choruses
German Opera Choruses
German opera came into its own in the nineteenth century, notably with the first great romantic German opera of Weber, Der Freischutz.
In the previous century there had, in German-speaking countries, been a preference for opera in Italian. The Emperor Joseph II in Vienna made attempts to establish comparable German opera, distinct from the earlier less elevated traditions of popular operatic comedy in the vernacular. A notable product of this was Mozart's German opera, a Singspiel including spoken dialogue rather than the sung recitative of the Italian genre, Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). Written in 1782, this treated a fashionable
Turkish subject, in which the noble Pasha Selim proves a model of paternal benevolence, forgiving his Christian prisoner Constanze and her lover Belmonte, who has tried to engineer her escape from captivity. The subject allowed Mozart to explore the possibilities of so-called Turkish music, principally with piccolo, additional percussion and static harmonies. The Pasha is greeted in the final chorus by Janissaries, the crack soldiers of the Sultan, who sing his praise.
The last of Mozart's operas to be staged and the penultimate in order of composition was Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute), which was running at a suburban Vienna theatre at the time of the composer's death in the winter of 1791. With a libretto by the actor-manager Emanuel Schikaneder, the German opera, strongly in fluenced by masonic ideas, deals with the ordeals to be endured by the hero Tamino before he is admitted into the company of the enlightened, under their priest Sarastro, and united with his beloved Pamina, in spite of the machinations of her mother, the wicked Queen of the Night. The chorus of priests O, Isis und Osiris, welche Wonne (O, Isis and Osiris, what delight) marks the sacred rites of the enlightened while the final chorus hymns the triumph of good over evil.
Beethoven, in 1805, took the Singspiel into new territory. In 1791 Mozart had
explored the current genre of magic opera in Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute), where he made use of earlier Viennese comic traditions. In Fidelio, his only opera, Beethoven attempted a subject that was in essence political and revolutionary, with a debt to French examples of the form. The opera is set in a prison, from which Leonora sets out to rescue her husband, a political prisoner, disguising herself as a boy and entering the service of the gaoler, Rocco, a good enough hearted man, who nevertheless obeys orders, however unjust these may be. One of the most moving scenes in the opera is the moment in the first act when the prisoners are allowed, at Leonora's request, to leave for a moment their dungeons and see again the light of day.
Der Freischutz (The Marksman), first staged in Berlin in 1821, has all the characteristics of developing romanticism. The story, set in the German forest, concerns the marksman of the title, Max, induced to seek the help of the Devil, whose magic bullets will help him win a shooting contest and the hand of his beloved Agathe. Weber's score provides a suitable evocation of mystery and ghosts, huntsmen and hermit. The Huntsmen's Chorus celebrates the joys of a huntsman's life, before the climax of the opera, when Max shoots a white dove, in fact Agathe, who is saved by the timely intervention of a hermit. The earlier
Bridesmaids' Chorus prepares Agathe for her marriage to the winner of the shooting contest, but ominously the marriage garland presented to her is, in fact, a funeral wreath, portending disaster.
With Albert Lortzing the tradition of Weber is continued. The most popular of his operas now in international repertoire is Zar und Zimmermann (Tsar and Carpenter), first staged in Leipzig in 1837. The story concerns Peter the Great, working, in disguise, in a Dutch shipyard, under the name of Peter Michaelov, and a fellow Russian, the carpenter Peter Ivanov. The latter is in love with the daughter of the Burgomaster, who treats him with exaggerated respect, imagining that he is the Tsar. The plot mingles the romance of Ivanov and Marie with diplomatic intrigue. The second act opens with a drinking scene that is to serve as a cover for diplomatic intrigue, as rival powers seek to identify the Tsar and learn his plans.
Otto Nicolai died two months after the first staging of his opera Die lustigen Weibervon Windsor (The Merry Wives of Windsor) in Berlin in March 1849. The work is based on Shakespeare's comedy in which Sir John Falstaff endeavours, without success, to woo the wives of worthy citizens of Windsor, only to be finally mocked when he undertakes an assignation at midnight in Windsor Forest, there tormented by bogus fairies and terrified by the appearance of Heme the Hunter, Oberon and Titania, his Windsor acquaintances in disguise. The chorus O suβer Mond (O sweet moon) opens the final scene.
The achievement of Richard Wagner in music-drama is monumental. Uniting all the arts under his own genius, he developed new techniques of dramatic music in works that celebrated German art, German legend and German history. His opera The Flying Dutchman completed and first staged in Dresden in 1843, deals with the dramatic story of the Dutchman and his ghostly crew and ship, condemned to sail the seas for ever, until he can be redeemed by the pure love of a woman. Every seven years he is allowed to land, in pursuit of his quest, and Wagner's opera, following a version of the story by Heine, finds the Dutchman and his ship moored in a Norwegian fjord, where he is welcomed by the Norwegian captain Daland and his daughter senta, a girl who has long been fascinated by the legendary Dutchman. She gives him her love, but when he overhears her former lover, the huntsman Eril, protesting to her, he sets sail again and senta, breaking free of those who try to restrain her, leaps into the sea after him. The ghostly ship sinks in the waves, where Senta and the Dutchman are seen, now united, the curse broken. The Sailors' Chorus Steuersmann, lass die Wacht (Helmsman, leave your watch) opens the third act, as the Norwegian sailors, celebrating their homecoming, invite the crew of the mysterious ship alongside to join them. The earlier spinning chorus Summ und Brumm (Hum and sing) opens the second act, in Daland's house, where the women spin and senta muses on the portrait and legend of the Dutchman.
Wagner's opera Tannhauser, first mounted in Dresden in 1845, deals with supposed episodes in the life of the medieval knight and minstrel of the title, divided in his heart between the sensual delights of Venus on the Venusberg and the demands of religion and true love. The chorus Freudig begruβen wir (Joyfully we greet) is sung by knights and noblewomen in the great Minstrels' Hall, where the song contest is to take place, at which Tannhauser is to cause scandal by his praise of sensual love. Elisabeth, daughter of the ruling Land grave who presides over the contest, persuades her father to allow Tannhauser to expiate his sin, and he is condemned to undertake a pilgrimage to Rome. The later song of the pilgrims marks their return, followed by Tannhauser, who, in spite of his own despair, is saved by the prayers of Elisabeth.
Wagner's opera Lohengrin takes its subject in part from legends of the Knights of the Holy Grail. It was first staged by Lisztin Weimarin 1850, at a time when Wagner, having involved himself in revolutionary activities in Dresden, had been obliged to seek refuge in Switzerland. Set in tenth century Antwerp, the plot deals with the marriage of Elsa, daughter of the late DUke of Brabant, to the mysterious and unnamed Knight of the Grail, later revealed as Lohengrin. The machinations of the nobleman Telramund and his evil sorceress wife Ortrud are defeated by the power of Lohengrin, who has married Elsa, the occasion for the well known Bridal March. Later, his name at her insistence finally revealed, he is compelled to leave her, but not before he has restored her brother to his rightful position as Duke of Brabant.
Die Meistersinger van Nurnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg), first performed in Munich in 1868, centres on the song contest of the traditional Nuremberg guild of the sixteenth century. Wagner takes the opportunity to praise German art and to satirise his enemies in a drama in which the wisdom, moderation and self-sacrifice of the master-shoemaker Hans Sachs prevails. The chorus Wach auf (Awake) introduces the song contest itself, in which the young knight Walther defeats his opponent Beckmesser, the latter failing miserably with his stolen song, and wins the hand of Eva, with the blessing of Sachs, who has also loved her.
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