WORKS: Der Cid
PERFORMER: Robert Schunk, Ronnie Johansen, Gertrud Ottenthal, Albert DohmenBerlin RSO & Chorus/Gustav Kuhn
CATALOGUE NO: 3-1522-2
Peter Cornelius (1824-74), one of the most gifted satellites of the Liszt-Wagner circle, barely clings to the fringe repertoire with his comic opera Der Barbier von Bagdad, premiered in 1858. Like Wagner, he wrote his own libretto, as he did for Der Cid, which followed in 1865. He based the latter on the exploits and amatory tangles of the 11th-century Castillian hero (known as El Cid), by way of Corneille’s drama and other sources. Where Der Barbier is a Singspiel in the style of Nicolai’s Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, the chivalric Der Cid is primarily indebted to Lohengrin, especially as Cornelius aimed to abandon self-contained arias and scenas in favour of a more continuous structure within each act. There are slow and dignified marches, bass-clarinet solos, numerous Wagnerian passages for dark-coloured wind combinations, meaty brass flourishes, mellifluous male choruses and extended declamatory lines for voices over orchestral textures with prominent ‘reminiscence motifs’ woven into the fabric. But despite the abundant craftsmanship in every bar of Cornelius’s score (Act III contains the best music), the composer lacks the melodic gift of a Wagner or of a lesser light such as Max Bruch. Moreover, the cardboard quality of most of Cornelius’s protagonists fails to involve us in the drama, and this is not helped by the generally stolid singing of the cast.
Nonetheless, this is an interesting work for students of German Romantic opera, and this competent if not stunning 1993 studio recording fills another void in 19th-century repertoire on disc. Barrymore Laurence Scherer