About this Recording
8.223261-63 - WOLF-FERRARI: Himmelskleid (Das)
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Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) DAS HIMMELSKLEID

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948)


"The last comfort of the soul lies in music..."


That my present stage-work is a legend and not a comic opera is to many a matter of surprise; yes, it can be that many people think I am attempting here territory that is new to me. Whoever knows my choral work La vita nuova, after Dante, that I wrote 25 years ago, will know otherwise. I was then surprised myself that, barely a year after La vita nuova, I started to write Le donne curiose, a comic opera Today I am not surprised, since I now know much that I did not know then. Strictly speaking, every man, seen from outside, is a comic figure, and inside is a tragic one...


If I now have set to music a legend, I do not mean throughout to bring about something "more serious" than before, since art is anyway, in a higher sense, always joyful, but I have kept away from the everyday and let characters behave on the stage as inner men, consequently they seem much less in conflict with themselves. One also does not expect them to become restrained, limited and restricted. No, if my work somehow succeeds, it can only do this through a kind of magnetic attraction that emanates from it and to which the listener succumbs. It is a work of stillness, born of stillness and calling for stillness. Why should it not be just what is needed in a time of great disturbance? Yet on that I do not want to say much¡K


With these words Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari explained his views on the occasion of the first performance of his opera Das Himmelskleid, that was first performed on 21st April 1927 under Hans Knappertsbusch at the Munich National Opera. The critical reception of the work was mixed, with the composer previously having attracted attention for his comic operas. It was not the great success that Wolf-Ferrari had so much hoped for. There was talk of a "weight of ideas that were too philosophical and aesthetic", and people found fault with the longueurs and faults of dramatic tension of a "poem that does not have the pervasive breath of drama, without which a stage work cannot exist in the theatre". The critics were united on the question of the quality of the composition.


"In this symbolical twilight world of the work that rises musically to religious greatness and a world of dreams, Wolf-Ferrari has conveyed all the fervour that is at his command as a composer. He revels in lyrical ecstasy, his musical invention, like the brilliance of his instrumentation, is at the highest level, threatening to lose for us any consciousness of the theatre. We see and hear only the searcher for God among spiritual beings or the emissaries of Heaven¡K


Musically Wolf-Ferrari shows himself in his new work an idealist and a romantic. Here we seem to recognise a new aspect of the composer - for me it is only a new proof of his original musical gifts, which, obeying an unfailing inner feeling, can exhaustively express what the situation demands. The sensitivity of his sound and colour perception is amazing and the results are so self-evident that the structure is barely or absolutely not apparent..."

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, born on 12th January 1876, the son of a German painter and his Italian wife, was throughout his life divided between the two cultures, uniting in himself the deep-felt seriousness of the German and the cheerful calmness of the Italian, bel canto and counterpoint, philosophy and grace. He spent his life between Munich and Venice, in Germany longing for Italy and vice versa. This geographical division was also the foundation of his creative existence. It was very early in his life that Wolf-Ferrari enjoyed great cultural success, winning international fame with his choral work La vita nuova and the opera Le donne curiose. Already at the age of nineteen he was appointed choral director in Milan and at 27 he became, for his life-time, director of the Liceo Benedetto Marcello in Venice. After six years he ended his contract to settle in Munich, where he lived and worked for the next 35 years, in complete seclusion, seldom yielding to the light of publicity. The first World War brought about a great crisis in his life, resulting in a creative break of several years. After that came a new impulse to compose and Wolf-Ferrari produced one masterpiece after another. In 1939 he accepted appointment to the Salzburg Mozarteum. His last years were clouded by the second World War and its consequences. Suffering from heart disease, he dedicated himself strongly again to his old love, chamber music. He died of a heart attack in Venice on 21st January 1948.


The compositions left by Wolf-Ferrari include oratorios, choral and orchestral works, chamber music and songs, thirteen operas, three serious (I gioielli della Madonna, Das Himmelskleid and Sly) and ten comic, of which Le donne curiose and I quattro rusteghi are the best known, the most successful and most often staged. Of all his operas Wolf-Ferrari loved most his fairy-tale opera Das Himmelskleid.


The text of Das Himmelskleid is based on the French story The Donkey-Skin by Charles Perrault. This is a parable of a young princess and the story of the development of a human soul. The princess is born with the garment of Heaven, forgotten during the course of her life as a result of the misuse of her wealth, greed and thoughts of power. Through the "holy beggar" she is deprived of all her earthly goods and of the honourable love of a prince, whom she sends away to bring her the garments of the wind, the sun and the moon. Wretched and lonely she wanders through the world until finally she comes to understand her faults. At the end, recognising that man is born with the clothing of Heaven, the princess awaits death, until the prince finds her again...


To the great disappointment of Wolf-Ferrari this work, at its first performance in Munich in 1927, in spite of a brilliant interpretation (Knappertsbusch was on the podium and Fritz Krauss and Luise Willer sang the principal rôles), won no great success. This was not because of the music; it is perhaps the most profound and mature, and the most German, that he had written, the sensitivity of his feeling for sound and colour is amazing and was not bettered in any other work. Possibly the public had expected something different or the text that he had devised himself held too much that was symbolic. In any case there was not the usual response and Wolf-Ferrari expressed his dismay: "Hostility one can bear, not indifference".


On 6th May 1995 Das Himmelskleid was revived at the Hagen Theater, with its reputation for rediscoveries, in a production that drew much attention. Under the musical direction of Gerhard Markson, the Hagen General Music Director, with stage direction by the young régisseur Anette Leistenschneider and décor by Gerd Friedrich, the opera had a positive reception from the public and the press. From the Hagen performances came the idea of the present recording, which will help to bring Wolf-Ferrari's favourite work to a wider audience.


Astrid Rech

English version by Keith Anderson




A beggar had given the king of a little country, in gratitude for his goodness and love for his people, a golden ass, which assured material prosperity to the country for ever. When the old king died, his daughter came to power. The beggar who had made the gift to the old king before, put to the test the young princess, who in her life had only known wealth and prosperity: true happiness would only be bestowed on her if she had in her possession the clothing of the wind, the moon and the sun. The ambitious princess had it proclaimed that she would only take for her husband a prince who gave her these garments. Many princes journeyed there and laid at the feet of the princess the most costly robes, but all were rejected.


Act I

CD 1 [1] - [8]


The chancellor is disconsolate. Yet again has the young princess spurned and rejected three suitors. The people are becoming restless and there is fear of a war with the neighbouring kingdoms. Then a new prince declares himself. At their first meeting the prince and the princess recognise their love for one another, yet instead of the garments that are wanted the prince holds in his hand only a flower. The princess insists on her wish being fulfilled and sends the prince away, telling him to return when he has the garments in his possession. Left alone the princess curses her wealth and the golden ass that she believes responsible for her unhappiness. She destroys the statue of the donkey and with it its magic. The kingdom falls into ruin and the princess, clad only in the donkey-skin, is driven out of her realm by her subjects.


Act II

CD 2 [1] - [7] & CD 3 [1] - [2]


The prince travels to the world of the air, to find there the garment of the wind, but finds only mockery from the spirits of the air. In the realm of the moon he meets the moon-fairy, who wants to win the prince for herself and drives him scornfully away, out of her realm, when he asks her for the garment of the moon. In the realm of the sun the sun-maidens tell him that no mortal can wear the garment of the sun. He learns that the young princess has been driven out of her kingdom and is in want. Alarmed, he hurries back to the earth.



CD 3 [3] - [6]


The princess wanders, clad only in the donkey-skin, through a forest. She is ready to die. Here she finds the prince, who stands before her again without the desired garments. Yet now the princess realises that she has in her possession the garments of the wind, the moon and the sun, in her nakedness and in her love. The beggar's magic is renewed and the kingdom shines out in new splendour.


Angelina Ruzzafante

Born in Holland, the soprano Angelina Ruzzafante studied at the Maastricht Conservatory and in 1992 won the Cristina Deutekomm Competition and took first prize in the International s'Hertogenbosch Competition. She appeared as a guest soloist in Maastricht and Rotterdam and from 1993 to 1996 was engaged by Theater Hagen, where her distinguished performances included, in particular, the rôle of Mimi. She has performed under the direction of the conductors Schlomo Mintz and Roberto Benzi and, in Amsterdam, under Sir Simon Rattle in Parsifal.


Sibrand Basa

After activity as a chorister and organist, Sibrand Basa made his début in 1981 in the Bayreuth Youth Festival in the title-rôle of Manuel de Falla's Master Peter's Puppet Show. Holder of a German government award, he completed his period of vocal study with a year at the London Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Engagements have taken Sibrand Basa to the opera-houses of Lübeck, Brunswick, Augsburg, Freiburg, Nuremberg and Hagen, in the last house appearing, among other works, in the first performance of Philippe Hersant's Das Karpathenschloß.


Reinhard Leisenheimer

Reinhard Leisenheimer studied in Mainz and in 1969 took an engagement with the Lower Saxony State Theatre in Hanover. From 1972 to 1975 he appeared at the National Theatre in Mannheim and since 1976 has been with Theater Hagen. At the same time he has appeared as a guest performer in many theatres in Germany, with broadcasts and concert performances that have won him a wide reputation. Since 1992 he has served as a member of the teaching staff of the Cologne Musikhochschule, where he was appointed professor of Vocal Studies in 1993.


Stefan Adam

Stefan Adam had his vocal training at the Cologne Musikhochschule and enjoys a busy career in the concert-hall and opera-house. He has, since 1994, been a member of Theater Hagen.


Sergio Gómez

Sergio Gómez was born in Chile and from 1976 to 1980 was a member of the vocal quartet América Sur. He studied singing at the Catholic Pontifical University of Chile in Santiago and at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, followed by further study at Karlsruhe. He joined Theater Hagen in 1993, and continues his work in South American folk-music.


Peer-Martin Sturm

The young tenor Peer-Martin Sturm had his vocal training in Göttingen and in Frankfurt-am-Main, in the latter city appearing with Frankfurt Chamber Opera. Since completing his studies in 1993, he has been a member of the Theater Hagen company.


Michael Kurz

After earlier study in Essen, Michael Kurz became a pupil of Reinhard Leisenheimer and of Kurt Moll in Cologne. He has made frequent appearances with Theater Hagen and in Würzburg, as well as at the Opéra-Comique in Paris and with the Vienna Chamber Opera and with the company of the Vienna Volksoper.


Anna-Maria Cur

The Dutch-born singer Anna-Maria Dur studied singing in Brussels and in Amsterdam, and has appeared with Theater Hagen and at the Amsterdam Opera. She is also a specialist in Baroque performance, appearing with Musica Antiqua and in performances under conductors of the greatest distinction.


Gerhard Markson

Gerhard Markson, General Music Director since 1991, studied with Karl Maria Zwissler and Franco Ferrara and with his mentor Igor Markevitch, whose assistant he was for many years. Before his appointment to Hagen he was General Music Director in Freiburg and has enjoyed a busy career as guest conductor in concert-halls and opera-houses throughout Europe. Since 1991 he has recorded extensively for1he Naxos and Marco Polo labels.


Hagen Philharmonic Orchestra

The Hagen Philharmonic Orchestra was established in 1907 as the Hagen City Orchestra, with, from 1923, a complement of 52 players. After the Second World War it was re-formed and 1964 brought the first Hagen Music Series, with concerts for families, special concerts for school-children, chamber-concert matinees and guest concerts in many venues, to make up a full regular concert schedule. Since 1990 there have been audiences of some 18,000 annually for the concerts of the Philharmonic Orchestra, which, since 1991, has been under the direction of Gerhard Markson. During the ninety years of its existence the orchestra has collaborated with soloists of the greatest distinction. There are frequent broadcasts and recordings, including, under the previous Musical Director Michael Hal8.sz, a Marco Polo recording of Franz Schreker's Der ferne Klang, and, under Gerhard Markson, recordings for the same label of Weber's Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn and Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's Das Himmelskleid.


Theater Hagen

Theater Hagen was founded in 1911 as a civic initiative. Originally a drama repertory theatre, after the Second World War it became a theatre for music, developing an important place for itself in the rich theatrical life of Nordrhein- Westphalia. Under the Intendant Manfred Schabel it won a considerable reputation and became known for its opera productions, with, under the Intendant Peter Pietsch, a name for new or rare performances. New productions have included the English composer Ethel Smythe's opera The Wreckers, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's Das Himmelskleid and rare operas by Weber and by Siegfried Wagner, with a series of opera recordings for Marco Polo.


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