Meagan Miller, Joshua Kohl, Irina Jae Eun Park, Anja Jung, Katerina Hebelková; Freiburg Theatre Opera Choir; Freiburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Fabrice Bollon
Naxos 8.660480-82 161:35 mins (3 discs)
There’s a good reason why this is the premiere recording of César Franck’s last completed opera. Naxos are disappointing advocates for the work, too, failing to offer listeners a French/English libretto and directing them online to a loosely translated German translation of Charles-Jean Grandmougin’s stodgy text. So when Aslak’s warriors are dancing a war dance before carrying Hulda off into captivity we read: ‘You have to clarify again. I also found a translation variant, it could be called “sex orgy”. But that should be checked again. Note T. Beyer.’ Did anyone proof-read this?
Franck, alas, lacked the theatre gene. His family pressured him into writing Hulda, hoping for financial success. But a five-act Meyerbeerian Grand Opera about warring native tribes in 11th-century Norway, with the heroine Hulda exacting a bloody revenge against her enemies before committing suicide, was maybe too close to European politics in the 1870s as the Prussians destroyed the Second Empire at Sedan.
An intrepid cast led by Meagan Miller as Hulda and Joshua Kohl’s Eiolf, her faithless lover, negotiates a top-heavy score that mixes Franck’s thunderous organ chords with Berlioz and Wagner. In their Act III love duet the lovers appear to have taken a ship to King Marke’s Kornwall. Irina Jae Eun Park is a toothsome Schwannhilde making the best of another love duet with Eiolf. Oddly the most appealing music is for the obligatory ballet. And all credit to Fabrice Bollon and the Freiburg Philharmonic Orchestra for taking it seriously.