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Michael Tanner
International Record Review, June 2007

Der Kobold (The Goblin) is Siegfried Wagner’s third opera, completed in 1903 when he was 34, and premièred in Hamburg in 1904, where it was a great success, more so than any of his later operas. As is the case with many of those, it is a strange mixture, dramatically, of invented fairy-tale-style story and ponderous consideration of complicated moral issues.

In Der Friedensengel Siegfried was to make a passionate plea for the legalization of suicide, significantly in relation to a man who kills himself rather than marry the woman his mother has chosen for him. In Der Kobold he is concerned with the somewhat more recondite issue of the fate of the souls of aborted foetuses or of babies killed immediately they are born. The notes attribute this strange operatic subject-matter to Siegfried’s having been the father of an unwanted child the year before he embarked on the opera; but it seems unlikely that he was, since he was a very active and fairly promiscuous homosexual. He had no interest in women until his sense of duty, and his terror of his mother, led him to marry Winifred Williams, a Welsh orphan who became mistress of Bayreuth from 1931 to 1944 – the age of its greatest achievements, at least musically – in 1915, to secure the succession. Since the Wagner family is obsessed with secrecy, it’s impossible to know the facts in detail, but it strikes me as most likely that Siegfried was of a deeply conservative disposition, as all we know about him suggests, that his homosexuality led him to take a liberal attitude on a range of social issues, and that the strain between these elements in his personality was largely responsible for his preoccupation with these matters and led him to work them out in the most coded forms of his fairy-tale operas.

This set of Der Kobold is not helped by the fact that the introductory notes are written by four contributors, who make few concessions to what an inquisitive opera lover might want. There is no plot summary; there is no text, in German or English, only a track summary from which it isn’t easy to deduce the plot. The full German text is available online,; and it is well worth consulting the website of the Siegfried Wagner Society at www.siegfried-wagner.org, where there is a huge amount about him and his works, lots of press reviews of the production of Der Kobold, and so forth. As the notes tell us, ‘a well-known comment on Der Kobold says the plot puts Il trovatore in the shade when it comes to making sense’ (I think it means ‘to not making sense’). Sections of the introduction are headed ‘Perversion as alchemical purification of the soul’, ‘Legally complex material”, “Onomatopoeia: Names as the key to interpretation’.

Skip them, and move straight on to listening, with the summary at hand, and you will hear an attractive, warm-hearted and musically unadventurous work which gives away the place and time of its composition in every bar. It is saturated with the ‘feel’ of Humperdinck, who was Siegfried’s composition teacher; of Weber, Marschner, and hardly at all of Richard Wagner, wisely. It was recorded at her Stadttheater in Fürth (where the maidens who dance with the apprentices come from in Die Meistersinger) in 2005, and is of a decent provincial standard. I don’t mean that to be at all condescending, just to alert listeners to the fact that they won’t hear great voices or orchestral playing, and that some members of the large cast are clearly not destined for important careers. Most of the names will be unfamiliar, apart perhaps from Volker Horn, who made his début on record at the age of ten on the 1955 Bayreuth recording of Tannhäuser, as the shepherd. He has taken part in recordings of five other of Siegfried’s operas, and his voice is no longer what it was, but he sings with intelligence and ardour. So does almost everyone – Peter Pachl, who has devoted his life to the composer, was in charge of the stage performances from which this recording derives. To hear the best of it, and the finest singing, listen to Act 3 first, which glows with lyrical warmth and shows Siegfried at his best dramatically – though it shows also that he had none of his father’s genius for taking matters of life and death and embodying them in vividly imagined three-dimensional characters, suffusing the whole with music of trandescendent greatness – but then neither has anyone else, ever.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2007

Der Kobold (The Goblin) is Siegfried Wagner’s third opera, completed in 1903 when he was 34, and premièred in Hamburg in 1904, where it was a great success, more so than any of his later operas. As is the case with many of those, it is a strange mixture, dramatically, of invented fairy-tale-style story and ponderous consideration of complicated moral issues.

In Der Friedensengel Siegfried was to make a passionate plea for the legalization of suicide, significantly in relation to a man who kills himself rather than marry the woman his mother has chosen for him. In Der Kobold he is concerned with the somewhat more recondite issue of the fate of the souls of aborted foetuses or of babies killed immediately they are born. The notes attribute this strange operatic subject-matter to Siegfried’s having been the father of an unwanted child the year before he embarked on the opera; but it seems unlikely that he was, since he was a very active and fairly promiscuous homosexual. He had no interest in women until his sense of duty, and his terror of his mother, led him to marry Winifred Williams, a Welsh orphan who became mistress of Bayreuth from 1931 to 1944 – the age of its greatest achievements, at least musically – in 1915, to secure the succession. Since the Wagner family is obsessed with secrecy, it’s impossible to know the facts in detail, but it strikes me as most likely that Siegfried was of a deeply conservative disposition, as all we know about him suggests, that his homosexuality led him to take a liberal attitude on a range of social issues, and that the strain between these elements in his personality was largely responsible for his preoccupation with these matters and led him to work them out in the most coded forms of his fairy-tale operas.

This set of Der Kobold is not helped by the fact that the introductory notes are written by four contributors, who make few concessions to what an inquisitive opera lover might want. There is no plot summary; there is no text, in German or English, only a track summary from which it isn’t easy to deduce the plot. The full German text is available online,; and it is well worth consulting the website of the Siegfried Wagner Society at www.siegfried-wagner.org, where there is a huge amount about him and his works, lots of press reviews of the production of Der Kobold, and so forth. As the notes tell us, ‘a well-known comment on Der Kobold says the plot puts Il trovatore in the shade when it comes to making sense’ (I think it means ‘to not making sense’). Sections of the introduction are headed ‘Perversion as alchemical purification of the soul’, ‘Legally complex material”, “Onomatopoeia: Names as the key to interpretation’.

Skip them, and move straight on to listening, with the summary at hand, and you will hear an attractive, warm-hearted and musically unadventurous work which gives away the place and time of its composition in every bar. It is saturated with the ‘feel’ of Humperdinck, who was Siegfried’s composition teacher; of Weber, Marschner, and hardly at all of Richard Wagner, wisely. It was recorded at her Stadttheater in Fürth (where the maidens who dance with the apprentices come from in Die Meistersinger) in 2005, and is of a decent provincial standard. I don’t mean that to be at all condescending, just to alert listeners to the fact that they won’t hear great voices or orchestral playing, and that some members of the large cast are clearly not destined for important careers. Most of the names will be unfamiliar, apart perhaps from Volker Horn, who made his début on record at the age of ten on the 1955 Bayreuth recording of Tannhäuser, as the shepherd. He has taken part in recordings of five other of Siegfried’s operas, and his voice is no longer what it was, but he sings with intelligence and ardour. So does almost everyone – Peter Pachl, who has devoted his life to the composer, was in charge of the stage performances from which this recording derives. To hear the best of it, and the finest singing, listen to Act 3 first, which glows with lyrical warmth and shows Siegfried at his best dramatically – though it shows also that he had none of his father’s genius for taking matters of life and death and embodying them in vividly imagined three-dimensional characters, suffusing the whole with music of trandescendent greatness – but then neither has anyone else, ever.






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2:21:32 AM, 20 April 2014
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