R Strauss

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Arthaus Musik DVD
ALBUM TITLE: R Strauss
WORKS: Feuersnot
PERFORMER: Nicola Beller Carbone, Dietrich Henschel, Alex Wawiloff, Ruben Amoretti; Orchestra, Chorus & Youth Chorus of the Teatro Massimo/Gabriele Ferro; dir. Emma Dante (Palermo, 2014)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 109605; Blu-ray: 109066

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Strauss’s second opera, satirising his (and Wagner’s) unpopularity in Munich, is rarely staged – a great shame, because it’s a delight, a sparkling tribute to the magic of sexual love. Strauss called his score ‘pure Lortzing’, but it’s actually more a merry pastiche of Humperdinck, Wagner – especially Meistersinger – and unmistakeable Strauss. Ernst von Wolzogen’s libretto, romanticised from a seriously bawdy folktale, is peppered with puns, innuendos and mild ruderies which got it banned by the Empress of Austria, no less. Feuersnot (Fire Famine) has fared well on CD, so it’s unfortunate that this first DVD is so determinedly mediocre.

Emma Dante’s production is the kind that seeks to substitute lack of ideas (and humour) with extraneous business – here, an omnipresent dance troupe who constantly confuse and upstage the action, at one point by stripping to bra and pants (unisex). They open with an interminable prance-about before the orchestra even enters. Their budget could have been spent strengthening the rather weedy chorus, outclassed by its youth section. Nor can the principals make up for this. Dietrich Henschel, a fine Lieder singer, is seriously strained as the passionate young sorcerer Kunrad (disciple of Richard der Meister). He makes too little of the huge central monologues, in which, humiliated, he extinguishes every flame to humble the teasing heroine. Nicola Beller Carbone’s much-touted Diemut also disappoints. Her voice turns shrill easily and she’s curiously unseductive; neither of her two expressions convince – sulk and silly grin, mostly sulk. The supporting roles are at best routine.

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Gabriele Ferro’s conducting doesn’t equal CD rivals, among them Erich Leinsdorf, with Gundula Janowitz and John Shirley-Quirk, veteran Heinz Fricke, with Júlia Várady and the formidable Bernd Weikl (currently deleted), and most recently Ulf Schirmer. Even Arthaus’s English subtitles are embarrassingly awful. Michael Scott Rohan