About this Recording
2.110656 - WEBER, C.M. von: Euryanthe [Opera] (Theater an der Wien, 2018) (NTSC)
English  German 

Carl Maria von Weber (1786–1826)
Euryanthe

 

The demons inside us

Director Christof Loy on Euryanthe

Carl Maria von Weber’s Euryanthe has a reputation for outstanding music, but Helmina von Chézy’s libretto tends to be criticized, if not viewed as an outright failure. What do you find so fascinating as a director about this key work of the Romantic period?

It took a long time before I felt that I had truly discovered the work, fully accepted it and learnt to appreciate it. But the time I took led me to a profound enthusiasm for the work. One of the key scenes in stoking my new excitement for the opera was the opening of Act III with the central characters Euryanthe and Adolar, precisely because Weber’s musical language seems to be so wilful and unusual. It shows considerable courage to maintain a dark atmosphere for such a long time, with only very occasional moments of light intervening. Here I felt that it could be seen very clearly how important both of these characters were to Weber. It was with this scene that the piece effectively revealed itself to me, and I started getting interested in the situations that preceded it. I wanted to explore these characters further and I understood what Weber wanted to tell us. And this was how not just the story, but the entire language of the opera became accessible to me.

Are text and music an indivisible package, in your view?

I think the language is nothing out of the ordinary. Helmina von Chézy invented a language for the subject. This is no different from what Wagner did, when he developed a language of his own for the worlds he created. The libretto of Tristan isn’t immediately accessible or readily comprehensible either. You have to work the text out for yourself first of all. When preparing Euryanthe I remembered the way I had originally had to decipher Wagner’s opera for myself. It’s certainly true that Weber had to wrestle with the libretto in certain places, but his issues were to do with its dramatic function, never the quality of the language.

There’s no doubt that the text was an inspiration for Weber. Ultimately you can’t separate the one from the other in any case.

If the text had been no good, he would never have been able to invent this music for it. And after all there’s nothing unusual about there being a rocky road on the way from the textual basis of an opera to the finished product. Think only of Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal—we know very well that they argued with each other and that sometimes whole acts would end up in the bin.

The work certainly does seem to prefigure later opera, particularly if we think of Richard Wagner. We keep hearing aspects of construction and musical devices that would be developed not only in Tristan but are already present in Der fliegende Holländer (‘The Flying Dutchman’) and Lohengrin.

That is absolutely true, but we do the work a disservice if we only grant it a key role in musical history in a specific musicological sense. We have to be able to appreciate the work regardless of what came after. Here the history of the opera’s reception is very interesting. There have been numerous adaptations of Euryanthe that have tried to alter its language, practically telling a different story and rearranging the order of the musical numbers. We, on the other hand, decided to perform the original version but with a few small, minor cuts. We were already able to see very clearly in rehearsals that singers no longer question the text and its contents once they completely identify with events on stage and therefore with the text they have to sing.

Why, then, does the work lead this shadowy existence on stage, being relatively unknown? It has never completely vanished from the consciousness of opera-lovers and connoisseurs. It has always featured, and continues to feature, in opera guides.

One aspect that proved disconcerting and perhaps ended up pigeonholing the opera as somewhat outmoded was Weber’s theme of the proof of existence of God—as in Der Freischütz. Weber probes even more powerfully than in his earlier, successful work into the dark recesses of the human soul and of human nature. In Euryanthe the Satanic aspect is transferred to the psychology of the actual characters, being less the preserve of the macabre element that we encounter in Der Freischütz, chiefly in the ‘Wolf’s Glen’ scene. We can see this most of all in the work’s theatrical impact. There are similarities, perhaps, but here each character has his own inner Wolf’s Glen.

And Weber doesn’t need any outward appearances to probe into the psychology of his characters?

Nowadays people are practically ridiculed if they bring up questions of divinity and Hell. To have gone through Hell and to have the sense of having a protecting God at one’s side is something completely different for those who have ever lived through war and perhaps even survived it than for those who have never experienced such a thing. An additional factor is that Euryanthe also represents an examination. There is something of the martyr about the title character herself. She always finds fault with herself, never with others, and feels a great sense of shame about the fact she herself was not strong enough to keep to herself what was entrusted to her. She betrayed a secret. Everything that follows from that becomes an existential tragedy for her. And only in her confrontation with death can she make a confession of sorts. In a similar way Adolar has to go through the hell of jealousy. He is also affected by a highly complex construct of shame and guilt. Shame that his own sister has committed suicide, a big taboo at the time…

…and today still!

Adolar confides in Euryanthe, telling her about the suicide, but insisting that she must never speak a word of what she has heard. And he is himself guilty, when he makes a bet with Lysiart that puts the very loyalty of his beloved to the test. He involves himself in a game that plays with things that should never be played with!

In this sense Adolar’s own guilt is the theme here.

Perhaps his naivety is a consequence of that fact that he could never grow up normally, having had to set out for war at a young age, in the perpetual belief that Euryanthe is perfect in every way. Everything to do with emotion, love, sensuality and sexuality is repressed and—almost literally—locked away. A woman must be faithful—of that there is no question. And—what is more—he has unfinished business in his past with Eglantine.

Yet this story is not really told, but just hinted at. And so it is not made obvious in a psychological sense.

At the end Eglantine herself makes it pretty transparent that he must have been aware that she loves him.

The production is very heavily focused on the mental states of the four principal characters. Why this concentration on such intimate, private themes?

I am interested in this artistic form and also the aesthetic concentration on such themes because it allows one to convey the different levels revealed in the work far more articulately. Compare how the different layers of the music work when subjected to close analysis. If you were to stage the work as a ‘great heroic, romantic opera’, as indicated in the subtitle of the score, and to paint the piece in grand tableaux, you would lose these nuances. I suspect that Weber accepted the commission for an opera like this because he was well aware of how much he could communicate about these people through the orchestra. And to this end the ideal of a through-composed opera suited him perfectly. In this sense the conception of a chamber work is one created by the composer himself, through his own razorsharp analysis.

The in-depth probing of character that we have already mentioned and the element of the fantastic that was such a central focus for artists of the Romantic period leads directly into the realms of psychology and psychoanalysis. How does this relate to the present day?

Are we not nowadays all a bit like Adolar? We reckon that we’ve got it all figured out, when in reality far more is completely uncertain than we care to admit. In a world so heavily oriented around technology some basic conditions are lost. We are all living, mentally speaking, on a volcano. The need for psychological support is also on the rise, as are cases of burnout. We are often predisposed towards self-destructive behaviour, or quite generally are drawn towards destructive things, even if we don’t end up pursuing them. We are ill equipped to cope with the demons that unfortunately are inside us all. But we can only tackle things that we are actually aware of, that we know something about. With this in mind I think it is an inspired idea of both the work’s authors that they choose to begin with the description of a beautiful, ideal new world. A world that has successfully rebuilt itself after the war has been won, one in which problems seem no longer to exist. And Adolar, who has hitherto long been so very discreet and unobtrusive, suddenly turns out because of his particular sensibility no longer to be capable of functioning in this ideal world and fitting in with its universal rules. His highly sensitive and irritable nature causes the conflict between him and Lysiart to escalate. We see how unstable his character is. Such characters only emerge when a society merely seems to exist in harmony, when it has become too ‘soft’.

One major problem has been overcome, but the underlying issues remain unchanged. Should we not also consider the effect that the war has had on each individual—that that too has to be overcome?

Beneath the polished surface there are many inwardly wounded characters. Just as we would in a winter garden, we see many vulnerable plants. And the especially delicate ones, that tend to deprive one another of water, that wither and rot or infect others with their diseases, have to be watched and tended with particular care. Here four people from this society, four plants, are placed under the microscope.

I increasingly find Euryanthe’s greatness emerging in her character. Despite all the challenges that she is constantly exposed to, love is her driving force. And this is something we should recognize as a strength. This love gives her a colossal strength, no matter what this man does to her. The real victim is Adolar—a victim of his own situation and his own inadequacy. The work derives its greatness from the fact that although nowadays we love to define characters as victims, neither of the principal ones here, man or woman, fit into any preconceived templates or into the patterns that we have created for ourselves for purely practical considerations. Euryanthe bears no resemblance whatsoever to a conventional victim. And then suddenly we become aware of certain values that may seem old-fashioned, but are of paramount importance. Euryanthe’s goodness had a devastating effect on me.

Maybe because we don’t concern ourselves with such ideas in the world we inhabit nowadays? Because the work reminds us how little attention we pay to others and take them into consideration? Until the very end Euryanthe does not know what game is being played with her. She is at the mercy of other people’s mental states and can only react to them.

She sleepwalks through the darkness and is guarded by protective hands, because she acts so clearly for herself. Adolar was also steadfast in his love for her, although he thought that she had betrayed him. But in the context of his conventional way of thinking, he views matters in terms of concepts like ‘condemnation’ and ‘punishment’. These categories do not exist for Euryanthe. At the end we do not have a deus ex machina, as encountered frequently in Baroque opera, but something like a miracle takes place. Euryanthe only seemed to be dead. Just as in the tests in Die Zauberflöte (‘The Magic Flute’), Euryanthe and Adolar endure the trials of night and death. At the end there awaits a kind of reward for all the brutal experiences they have gone through, for all the wounds that have been laid bare and all the depths that have been plumbed. Even if it is a case of wishful thinking, the upbeat conclusion, with its depiction of such miracles, offers an opportunity to reflect on the abyss we have gazed into in all its myriad facets. In this sense Euryanthe perhaps becomes a kind of figurehead. It is important—even if characters like Euryanthe do not really exist in real life—to portray these people on stage.

Interview by Klaus Bertisch
Translation: Saul Lipetz

Synopsis

Act I

A long war has ended, the enemy is defeated. Full of hope, the country looks forward to a time of peace. The returning warriors look forward to enjoying the love and loyalty of their womenfolk as a reward for their efforts. Count Adolar, a young noble, has still not returned to his bride Euryanthe. He still seems to be suffering from the horrors of the past years and avoids society. But it is chiefly he whom the country has to thank for the positive outcome of the war, for which reason the king himself wishes that he would overcome his melancholy. He desires to see Adolar swiftly reunited with his Euryanthe.

Adolar loves her above all else and his mood lightens at the very mention of her name. He, who is more of an artist than a soldier, tenderly sings of Euryanthe’s love and fidelity, although this exposes him to the mockery of his comrade-in-arms, Count Lysiart. Lysiart claims that Euryanthe is by no means as faithful as he thinks and that the virtue of women generally leaves much to be desired.

Adolar’s passions are aroused as quickly as if he were still on the battlefield. Only with difficulty can the king and his wife, the Duchess of Burgundy, prevent the two nobles duelling there and then and in public. Lysiart now suggests a fiendish wager. He should be given the chance to spend a night near Euryanthe during which he would succeed in seducing her. If he loses the wager he will give his entire fortune and his title to Adolar. Adolar, absolutely convinced of Euryanthe’s fidelity, agrees to the wager and stakes his entire possessions, his ancestors’ heritage, on the outcome. The king and his retinue witness this fateful dispute.

Euryanthe cannot understand why Adolar has not found his way to her following the end of the war. She suspects that returning to his castle would once again force him to face the painful loss of his sister Emma. Only Euryanthe and he know the true circumstances of her death. She took her own life after Udo, her betrothed, had fallen on the field of battle. Her soul, unable to find peace, appeared to Adolar and Euryanthe as a spirit. Her deadly sin means her soul cannot be reunited with Udo. Adolar had made Euryanthe swear never to tell anyone about Emma’s suicide. Euryanthe still hears the words of the dead Emma telling her that only tears of love and sorrow can redeem the suicide.

When the war broke out, Adolar, out of pity, had taken in Eglantine, the daughter of a traitor who had been condemned to death. Eglantine had fallen in love with Adolar, and had also let him know how she felt. Adolar, out of shame, had kept this fact from Euryanthe but did not dare banish Eglantine from his castle.

During the war and Adolar’s absence, Euryanthe and Eglantine became friends. In a moment of weakness Euryanthe tells Eglantine the secret of Emma’s suicide. Eglantine is still in love with Adolar and hopes one day to be able to exploit Euryanthe’s weakness in breaking her vow and betraying the secret. By doing so she hopes to bring about the downfall of Euryanthe, who is revered by all as possessing almost saintly virtue.

Count Lysiart appears at the castle to tell her that he will take her to the king’s court the next day where she will see her husband again. Euryanthe offers him a bed for the night. Eglantine suspects that in him she has found an accomplice for her planned revenge. Lysiart, on the other hand, falls in love with Euryanthe as soon as he sets eyes on her.

A stormy night begins.

Act II

Lysiart is forced to accept that he will never be able to win Euryanthe’s affections. He is shocked at her purity and innocence. Although he suppresses his feelings for her he is determined that she should never be united with Adolar.

He watches as Eglantine emerges from Emma’s tomb. She has taken the dead woman’s ring as proof of Euryanthe’s broken promise. Now half mad, she reveals her intention to have revenge on Euryanthe, leading Lysiart to suspect that she, like him, is also a victim of unrequited love. He offers to become not only her accomplice but also her husband if she helps him with his plan to drive Adolar and Euryanthe apart. Eglantine is willing to marry a man she does not love. The two form an alliance based on the thirst for revenge.

Next morning, Euryanthe and Adolar meet again at last. But their joy is shortlived. The utterly bewildered Euryanthe finds herself faced with accusations as if she were on trial. In front of the king and all those present Lysiart claims that Euryanthe spent the last night with him. When Lysiart presents the ring of the dead Emma as proof and prepares to reveal the details of Emma’s death, Euryanthe falls silent. She may not have betrayed her loyalty, but she has broken her promise. She is not yet able or willing to understand that Eglantine, who was and is always at her side, is in league with Lysiart. Adolar, however, feels that Euryanthe has betrayed him twice. He admits that he has lost the fateful wager on Euryanthe’s fidelity and surrenders his lands to Lysiart. He departs to go into exile, taking Euryanthe, now despised by all, with him.

Act III

Adolar intends to kill Euryanthe at a lonely spot. But the love he still feels for her stays his hand. He realizes that if their lives were in danger she would still try to save his rather than her own. Filled with shame, he leaves her alone. But without him and his love Euryanthe wishes only for death.

The king discovers her in the forest and eventually Euryanthe confides in him. She now suspects that Eglantine has betrayed her secret to Lysiart because Adolar did not return her love. The king promises Euryanthe that he will reconcile her with Adolar again and bear witness to her innocence. But all this love and sorrow proves too much for Euryanthe’s heart. It stops beating.

In the meantime, preparations have been made for the wedding of Lysiart and Eglantine. But Eglantine’s madness has now taken complete hold of her, and in front of all the wedding guests she accuses herself and Lysiart of terrible crimes. Adolar now suspects that he has been a victim of Lysiart’s scheming and challenges him to a duel to the death. But the king interrupts the fight with the news of Euryanthe’s sudden death.

When Eglantine, laughing derisively, reveals that it was she who was responsible for Euryanthe’s ruin, Lysiart is filled with hatred and strikes his bride down. Adolar, for his part, feels that it is he who is most to blame because he went along with this appalling wager and forced Euryanthe to remain silent about a matter that only concerned his own feelings of shame.

But, as though God has decided to have pity on the long-suffering couple, the rumour starts to spread that Euryanthe has come back to life. She appears, without a trace of reproach on her face, and the lovers fall into each other’s arms. Their tears moisten the ring of the deceased Emma. Adolar senses that his sister is now reunited with her beloved Udo in the realm of the dead. In their innocence, Euryanthe and Adolar have released the dead woman from the curse of her sufferings.

Christof Loy


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