About this Recording
8.223713-14 - WAGNER, S.: Barenhauter (Der)
English 

Siegfried Wagner (1869–1930)
Barenhauter (Der)

 

Siegfried Wagner was born in 1869 at Tribschen near Lucerne, the son of Richard Wagner and Liszt’s daughter Cosima, former wife of Hans von Bülow and later to be Wagner’s Second wife. He was educated privately at home until his father’s death in 1883, later studying music with Engelbert Humperdinck in Frankfurt. He turned from music to architecture after 1890, at first at the Berlin Polytechnic and then in Karlsruhe. It was here that he came under the influence of Karl Mottl. A voyage to China and India in 1892 finally decided him and he returned home to spend four years as an assistant at Bayreuth under his mother, Hans Richter and Julius Kniese, a preparation for his future rôle as producer, director and conductor at the Festival. In 1896 he conducted The Ring and in 1901 he staged The Flying Dutchman, taking charge of the Festival from 1306 until his death in 1930.

Siegfried Wagners fairy-tale opera Der Bärenhäuter was written in 1898 and first staged in the Royal Court and National Theatre in Munich the following year. Here and elsewhere he explored the realm of German traditional stories in a late romantic style that had immediate appeal. The opera enjoyed immediate contemporary success, with productions in Leipzig, Hamburg, Vienna, Gotha, Karlsruhe, Prague and Frankfurt, with some 77 performances in its first season. There followed productions in 25 more opera-houses, making Der Bärenhäuter one of the most successful operas of the time. It is possible to identify underlying symbolism in the work, with Hans Kraft (Hans as German culture, Kraft as many strength) representing the composer, returning from the war to find his mother dead, a release from his own dependency on his mother, with the search for a friend and companion, inherent in the story, a refection of his own search. The second meeting with the stranger and the rousing of the sleepers of Plassenburg coincided with Siegfried Wagner’s final parting with his friend Clement Harris. Apart from any personal reference in the text, the Thirty Years War, the background to the action, serves as a metaphor for the horrors of war and against this back-cloth is set a fairy-tale of the conflict of good and evil.

In his own writing Siegfried Wagner explained something of the dilemma of a composer who was the son of the great Richard Wagner: I was given the name Siegfried by my parents, but I have riven in two no anvil, slain no dragon and stridden through no sea of flames. In spite of this, however, I hope that I am not completely unworthy of this name, since fear is not my failing. The stories of my poems take generally from German folk-lore, where there remain still so many undiscovered treasures. Seeking these out, examining them and putting them together is not so easy. Our exceptional researchers, above all Jakob Grimm, have done great service to German culture in originally collecting all these stories of gods and heroes, fragmented, dispersed and often changed beyond recognition. It is a happy sign of our time that the need has grown to approach nearer to the soul of the people, the only defence against urban contamination that threatens to infect local customs.

There are people who would make of me a tragic figure. They regard me with sympathetic laughter and their thoughts may be expressed as follows: Poor fellow, how oppressive must be the burden of your great father’s reputation! We are sorry for you and that you have the boldness yourself to pose as an opera composer and are so naïve as to believe that you succeed with it! Poor pitiful fellow! My answer is this: Do I really seem so oppressed and crushed, dear reader? I am sorry if I give such an impression, since I feel perfectly sound and well. Nevertheless gladly grant that it was not so simple for me, it needed patience at feast for the removal of a certain amount of prejudice against the son of a great man. I do not know how this is in other countries; in Germany, in any case, there is a dogma that such a son is at least half an ass, if not a complete idiot. Now there comes one who does not completely fit this idea and so causes confusion.

Elsewhere Siegfried Wagner acknowledges his debt to his father, from whom he has acquired an understanding of style, declamation, instrumentation, conciseness, dramatic structure, of course, while guarding against a lofty dramatic style, else we become poor imitators. To be a Wagnerian one must know one’s limits, not working with a Nibelungen orchestra, if that is not one’s true bent. Above all one must learn delicacy in modulation and not splash wildly about in all tonalities…

Wagner gives the following account of the origin of his opera Der Bärenhäuter: In the spring of 1895 my sister, Frau Professor Thode in Heidelberg, wrote to me, telling me that she had met Engelbert Humperdinck, who had told her that he had it in mind to compose an opera on the subject of two related fairy-tales from Grimm, The Man in the Bear’s Skin and The Devil’s Dirty Brother, but had given up the idea, allowing me to take up the task and make something of it. After I had written the first act, I wrote to Humperdinck and told him what pleasure this splendid material had given me. In addition to the stories mentioned; also made use of a tale from the Spielmannsbuch of Wilhelm Hertz and of a historical event from the Thirty Years War, to provide a realistic background to the fantasy of the other material.

Keith Anderson
Based on material provided by Peter P. Pachl and Rupert Lummer

The Plot

Act 1

The war is over. The soldier Hans returns home. He has no family and can find no work. No one wants him. The Devil offers him employment. In Hell he is to heat and tend the seething cauldron that holds human souls. A mysterious stranger comes and persuades him to gamble. The stake is a high one - the souls in the cauldron. Hans loses. The souls are overjoyed. The Devil’s revenge follows swiftly. He must make his way through the world, stinking and dirty, in the skin of a bear. Release, so that he may be a man again like any other, can only come on one condition: he must remain unwashed and find a girl to stay true to him for three years.

Act 2

Hans, with his bear’s skin, is regarded with suspicion in the village. He is repulsive and filthy; he is a stranger, a foreigner, but he has money, it is rumoured. Finally he helps the mayor in pressing money difficulties. The arrangement looks perfect: Hans gives money and has in exchange one of the three daughters of the mayor as his wife. Two of them refuse, but the third and youngest stands by him. She discovers under the filthy exterior the sensitive soul of an outcast. She defends him against everyone, although he had seemed before the very Devil incarnate.

Act 3

Three years have passed. If Luise remains true, then Hans will be released by the Devil. In spite of the latter’s efforts, he is released from his punishment, resuming his normal appearance. On the way home to his bride he achieves, with the help of the stranger, a deed of war-like heroism. His great fame now goes before him. It only needs Luise to recognise in the new hero her Hans. A happy ending?

CD 1

[1] Overture (9:20)

Act 1
[2] Scene 1 A village in Hummelgau (2:55)

In the first scene the villagers greet the returning soldiers. Here they come, they cry. One sees his son, as they draw nearer, cheering, in response to the welcome. Hans, who is among them, asks for shelter, but a villager tells him there is no room at his house: he must try the inn. In the inn, with noise and dancing? Hans asks, but the villager cannot help him. He asks a girl for help, but she has no time for him. A bad-tempered lot, says Hans, turning to an old woman, still asking for a night’s lodging, but she has nothing even for herself. Hans asks only for a hay-loft, but she refuses: he would probably set the house on fire. Hans rails at the lack of hospitality of the peasants and tells them they will not be rid of him so easily: the man is a fool who does not stand up for himself: he must have a night’s sleep, a room, even by force, from these mean villagers.

[3] Scene 2 (8:55)

Diabolical laughter is heard, and Hans asks who it is. The Devil announces himself and can hardly restrain himself from laughing at the joke. Hans is puzzled and the Devil explains, asking his pardon for laughing like that: he was just sitting in the forest, where, as everyone knows, the sound echoes and voices sound louder: there he heard scolding and terrible threats, but Hans cannot be so young and innocent. Hans asks who he is and the Devil tells him to look at him. Hans sees someone of dark complexion, as if from down below, with horns, so who is he? The Devil tells him to look again and Hans now sees the cloven hoof. Wonderful, now he can guess, and Hans realises that this must be the Devil and asks him what he wants. The Devil resents such direct questioning and demands more delicacy: Hans, poor man, is in need; his pockets are empty and the people are not kind, and he is sorry for him: Hans must not starve, he has suffered enough, but he has worked out a plan: now Hans must listen.

Hans cannot believe his ears, but the Devil goes on to explain that his kingdom is there below, a mighty country: now the war is ended there is no more pay, no more soldiering, absolutely nothing. He has a fine position for Hans and good pay, such as he has never dreamed of, gold in plenty, as his heart desires, and precious stones, whatever refreshes the senses, pleasure and delight. Hans now believes this is really the Devil. He may have all he desires, with only some small trouble. What are his duties? Hans asks. Only to see that the cauldron in which the souls of those punished for their sins suffer bubbles properly and that the fire below keeps burning, with log on log: that would be his task, so how does it seem to him? Hans asks if that is all. He must take good care that no one escapes. But is that all, Hans asks again, if so, that can be done, but how long will it last? A year, the Devil tells him. Can I leave then? As you like. But are you honest? What a question! But the Devil tells him that he must take good care of the cauldron: if any soul escape from it, he must be punished. Hans is a soldier and knows all about keeping watch. The Devil urges him away, telling him to shut his eyes for a moment and to stand firm and not tremble. An entr’acte depicts the journey to Hell.

[4] Scene 3 Hell (7:56)

The Devil announces their arrival and tells Hans to wake up: now comes the serious business, he must listen: he has to go on a journey and will leave Hans there alone, so what must he do? Hans knows he must watch the souls and heat the cauldron, if he does not, he will be punished. And what have you promised? asks the Devil. To bear my punishment, Hans replies. The Devil leaves Hans to his task, but he wonders now if he is dreaming: only dead sinners come to this place, but he is still alive and he sets to work. A sigh of woe comes from the souls of women in the cauldron, and Hans wonders what it is, but returns to his task, loading log on log. The voice of a corporal is heard and Hans wonders if there is anything living in this infernal cauldron. The voices of women are heard again, begging him spare the wood. The soldier’s voice is heard again and Hans asks who is there, voice in the cauldron, to which the voice asks who the ass is shouting there outside. Hans recognises the voice and greets the old growler, his corporal, who asks to be released by his recruit, his mess-mate. Hans asks the fool if he thinks he will help him out of the pot: what had he done on earth but give him trouble: when he was happily on horseback, the man had cursed and unseated him and he can feel still the rib he broke: he will not forget and now let him roast: whoever was so bad up there can be the subject of mockery down here.

[5] Scene 4 (20:40)

A stranger appears and wishes Hans good morning and asks why he is so cheerful. Hans is surprised to see a man down in Hell, but the stranger continues, telling him he likes to go where people are cheerful and dislikes surly people. He asks Hans what he is doing and learns that he is the stoker of Hell. Hans tells him that if he does what he has been told to, soon he will be back again in the world of men. The stranger wants to know how he came there, and Hans asks who he is, before answering his question. The stranger explains that he is a sinner, like everyone, one who weeps in order to laugh, a liar who bears witness to the truth, a waking sleeper woken by the cock: his name is Peter the Door-keeper. Hans has heard enough and asks him now what he wants in Hell. The stranger has come to chat with him and share a bottle of wine. None here, says Hans, then, says the stranger, we must chat dry, unless Hans would prefer a game. But what can we play for? Whatever you like, money and possessions. I have nothing, Hans tells him. There must be something, the stranger suggests. It is true, Hans replies. But have you no earthly goods, say a couple of years of his life, or perhaps happiness: if Hans will stake nothing, they cannot play. Then the stranger suggests that Hans stake the souls in the cauldron against his money, a couple of them. The stranger will stake ten florins against two souls, and Hans agrees. The game begins and Hans curses; he has thrown only a five and the stranger has a six. The game goes on, with higher stakes, the stranger suggesting five hundred souls or all the souls. Hans throws two sixes, but the stranger throws thirteen, an impossible number, a six and a seven. Hans accuses him of cheating, but the stranger claims victory and the release of all the souls, whose voices are heard in jubilant hallelujahs. The stranger thanks Hans for his generosity and tells him that his present sorrow will bring future joy. He advises him that now he is under the Devil’s curse, having walked into the trap, and now must do penance and suffer. This he must endure patiently but he will find a friend. He wishes Hans farewell, the poor, clumsy fellow.

Scene 5

The Devil returns, cursing in anger and threatening punishment that will bring Hans mockery, contempt and ridicule as something grotesque. Hans pleads that he was lured into it, but the Devil bids him be silent and hear his punishment: like the Devil, black as soot, he must wander through the world, never using water or washing, letting his nails grow and not cleaning his ears, covered with dirt and filth and scorned by everyone and ending up in the cauldron: only one thing can save him, if a girl falls in love with him. Are you mad?, Hans asks. If you find a girl who is true, the Devil goes on, who really loves you, then you are free and you can happily wash yourself again. To see whether she is true, divide your ring in two and put half on her finger. After three years, when you are far from her and the gold has not lost its colour, then you are saved. How, Hans asks, can he find a girl who will love him enough to see his true face? So that Hans does not starve, the Devil goes on, he will give him a magic sack and if he wins the wager he will be granted three wishes. Hans will have his three wishes, he says, and hear the Devil sing Amen. The Devil now calls on the spirits that will do his bidding.

Scene 6

Hans sees now the spirits, ape-cat-men, fawning and dancing. The Devil tells these playful spirits to listen to him: they must go to the oven and take from it filth and dirt and then put it on the man, spatter him with mud, from top to toe and give him the hide of a bear against the cold. Then throw him out, ghost of Hell, for never will he find a wife for himself.

[6] Introduction (0:15)

Act 2

[7] Scene 1 An inn near Kulmbach (11 :49)

The young peasant Heiner is telling Anna what has happened. It was dark when he left the village, the clock struck eleven and he heard a noise by the mill, by the poplars. Behind the tree, at the edge of the forest, he suddenly saw a strange figure lurking, going across the field to the graveyard. Anna thinks that is nothing, but in March, the year before, when she was fetching the washing, she heard footsteps. The moon was shining bright through the window: it struck twelve and hardly had she looked round, but there came a knock at the door. The others who are listening are alarmed, for now there is a knock at the inn door, and argument as to who shall open. Anna urges the pastor, who demurs, and the landlord. With some presence of mind she tells them to block the door and put chairs in front of it and the windows: she has seen something outside, the Devil. There is thunder and lightning and they hurry, while Hans, from outside calls to be let in; he is hungry, and pleads with them to admit him. The pastor thinks he must be the Devil, and Hans, calling him a sheep-head and a fool threatens that, as the Devil, he will break in. The mayor thinks he is cursing like one of them and to be sure one must see his feet. The peasants agree and the mayor now asks it the creature outside is really the Devil and demands to see his feet. Hans appreciates the wisdom of this and lets them see his foot, on which they all see there are five toes. The mayor demands the other foot, and Hans remonstrates, telling them to take a good look at him. The peasants wonder at what they see, as does the pastor, concluding that he resembles the Devil closely enough. The mayor shows them that the figure is human: since the war there have always been new things happening. They are amazed at what they see and stare at Hans in amazement, with his bear’s skin and long nails, covered with dirt. He must be a Pole or a Hungarian. Eventually Hans is allowed in and commands a beer. The landlord answers his guest ironically, craving pardon of his lordship, whose identity had not been evident in those clothes. The landlord tells Anna to ask who he is, and she addresses the Bärenhäuter, seeking his identity. He tells her that he is the Emperor of Morocco, exiled, as the earth shook and earth and heaven shuddered and quaked. Anna is amazed and the pastor tells the landlord to give the strange creature a room for the night: the following day is Whit Sunday and everyone must come to church to pray for an end to war. Anna asks if there can be dancing and he tells her that the two are not mutually exclusive, as he wishes the company goodnight. They return the salutation, joined by Hans.

[8] Scene 2 (2:57)

The landlord of the inn is talking to himself. He says that he will settle with the mayor, now the new day is dawning. Waking him up, he demands payment and will have his due, since the other’s purse is not yet empty: now is the final day of reckoning. The two quarrel and Hans, overhearing, says he will pay the debt. After some discussion the mayor and Hans are left alone, as the latter bids the landlord goodnight.

[9] Scene 3 (6:17)

Hans, left alone with the mayor, begs pardon for his presumption. The mayor thanks him and asks how it is that Hans is helping him out of his troubles. He explains the difficulties of his position: he has three daughters, one is twenty, Lene is still older, and there is the youngest, Luise!, his favourite. Haltingly Hans tells him what he needs: he must have one of the mayor’s daughters and in this he is in earnest. The next day is the May Feast and the mayor will take Hans to the village common, where he may choose his bride, but can he wash before the morning? Hans refuses, nor can he wash the next day, nor the next.

CD 2

[1] Scene 4 (2:21)

The landlord stealthily creeps in, trying to steal from the bag Hans carries. He is terrified, since the bag is full of spirits, haunted. Hans asks if the landlord had come stealing. The latter admits it, and Hans, remarking on his honourable behaviour, bids him again goodnight.

[2] Whit Procession (6:55)

Scene 5

The landlord enters with his three daughters, Gunda, Lene and Luise, prepared to see their possible husband. The first two are horrified at the sight of Hans, remarking on his swarthy complexion and ironically on his delicate beard and soft hair, his nails and the filth. They reject any notion of marrying such a figure, in spite of their father’s jibes.

[3] Scene 6 (13:50)

Luise, however, takes a different point of view. Hans appears funny to her and she nearly laughs, but sees tears in his eyes and feels pity: perhaps her laughter has offended him and she asks him to forgive her sisters who are so childish and thoughtless. Hans addresses her. She seems to understand him, asking if he was always like this, or is he perhaps bewitched, which would only need a magic word to put all to rights. Hans wonders if this is the release he has sought, the miracle he needs. He tells her that only one person can release him from the spell and shows her the ring: if she wears the ring for three years without the gold fading, then the spell will be litted. Luise cheerfully and light heartedly takes the ring, pledging her faith. Hans doubts her, but Luise reassures him and Hans thanks Heaven for this prospect of salvation.

Scene 7

The peasants come in, looking for Hans, eager to rid themselves of this Devil’s son and wanting to know what is in the bag that the landlord has told them about. They think the bag must have evil spirits inside. Hans replies angrily, since the landlord is boasting of his attempt in the night to steal from him. The latter is at first indignant and then abashed when Hans mentions the sixty florins, which he now demands, the debt repaid for the mayor. The landlord is forced to show the money from the magic sack, but he and the peasants now attack Hans, to Luise’s distress, as she calls for help. An old peasant tells her to go home but she remonstrates with the people, making trouble even on Whit Sunday. She argues with the villagers, defending Hans as a good man, a stranger, who should be allowed to go his way in peace.

Act 3

[4] Introduction (6:41)

[5] Scene 1 The Forest (5:35)

The Devil presides, with incantations to the spirits of the water, bidding the fairest embrace Hans and kiss his mouth, as he lies asleep there. The chorus of water spirits call on Hans to give them his ring. The Devil renews his commands, telling them to seize it from his hand, before he wakes up, to pull it off quickly. But too late. Hans wakes, worried about the ring on his finger. Just a bad dream, the Devil assures him. Hans looks at the ring, shining brightly in the morning sun. The Devil agrees that a fine morning is a splendid thing to dispel all sorrow. Hans sings in delight, about to defeat the Devil, Monsieur Horse-hoof, Mister Mean, Old Monster: three years have passed and the wager has been won. At your service, says the Devil. But for his first wish Hans wants to be as he was and he is transformed, looking at his reflection, clean, with his nails trimmed and ears clean, his hair cut. The second thing he wants is the bag, without the gold and magic spirits and third, he wants the Devil to leave him in peace for the future. The Devil admires his modest demands, but Hans is happy enough. The Devil asks him what of the bear’s skin, but that must be a reminder that even the Devil can make mistakes, and Hans bids him farewell, as he plans to set out to meet his bride.

[6] Entr’acte (2:47)

[7] Scene 2 Near Plassenburg (2:47)

As Hans makes his way back to Luise, he is accosted by the stranger, who tells him to hurry first to Plassenburg, which is in danger. The castle is under attack, and the garrison must be roused. Hans recognises the voice of the stranger, who bids him hurry: this chance to distinguish himself is compensation for his suffering.

[8] Scene 3 (6:55)

The villagers are gathered together, alarmed at the battle for the castle and the return of Wallenstein and his soldiers. They hear the garrison awaken and watch with joy as the enemy is routed by Colonel Muffel and his men. The corporal Caspar runs in with the good news of victory and tells the peasants how Hans Kraft had roused the sentries and had bravely joined in the defeat of the enemy. Their victory is owed entirely to Hans Kraft, who rode off in this direction after the battle.

Colonel Muffel comes in, to general applause, but tells them that Hans Kraft is the real hero, and he must be found. As the Colonel and his men march out, Caspar joins the villagers in celebration in which Luise is unwilling to join, testing her father’s patience.

[9] Scene 4 (20:17)

Left alone, Luise ponders, regretting the little comfort she brings her rather, as she waits for the man to whom she has promised loyalty. She prays that he may find his way to her, through the forest, and that his sufferings may have an end. The ring she wears still shines brightly. Hans, approaching, sees Luise, but hesitates to address her. Plucking up courage, he greets her, and, thinking he is wounded, she offers help. Hans shows her his hand and she sees to his hurt. He asks her why she is so sad and envies the man she will marry. Asking for water, he lets his half of the ring slip into the water and Luise thinks at first that it is her own that has fallen into the water, but then understands, as Hans reveals his identity: he was the filthy creature in the bear’s skin, but the spell is now broken. He greets her as his bride, and she accepts with joy, thanking Heaven for answering her prayers.

Scene 5

Caspar returns, finding the two embracing and recognising Hans Kraft. Luise now realises that the man to whom she is betrothed is none other than the hero of Plassenburg. The villagers, who have gathered, applaud the brave soldier, to be rewarded by the Colonel. The mayor calls Luise away, but she tells her father that Hans Kraft is the man she will marry. The landlord of the inn offers refreshment, and Hans, in return, gives him the sack he carries. The landlord is terrified, remembering his earlier experience, and Hans is now revealed as the man in the bear’s skin that the people had once tried to do to death: it is Luise who has saved him. She demurs, praising the angels, who help the simple of heart. The mayor gives the couple his blessing and the company join together, sharing a happiness that Hans attributes to the advice of the stranger and Luise to the powers of Heaven.

Peter P. Pachl, Rupert Lummer and Eckart Kröplin


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