COMPOSERS: R Strauss
PERFORMER: Simone Schneider, Markus Eiche, Martina Welschenbach, Martin Homrich, Michael Dries, Maria Bulgakova, Brenden Gunnell, Marc Kugel, Peter Schöne, Günter Missenhardt, Sophie Mitterhuber, Brigitte Fassbaender; Munich Radio Orchestra/Ulf Schirmer
CATALOGUE NO: 777 901-2
‘She’s really one of those gentle, shy and tender creatures, but rough on the outside,’ sings Robert Storch – aka Richard Strauss – of his temperamental wife Christine, the real composer’s beloved Pauline, in this autobiographical marriage comedy. The role created by Lotte Lehmann has been lucky in the charming charisma of its more recent leading ladies – Lucia Popp and Elisabeth Söderström on CD, Felicity Lott on DVD. Simone Schneider joins their elite company. Hers is a dusky voice, with effortlessly bright and nuanced top notes when necessary, signalling a former Queen of the Night. She plays down her character’s overbearing quality, as any soprano must if Pauline/Christine’s ‘beautiful soul’, as Strauss put it, is to shine through.
Strauss’s own alter ego has no flaw: with Markus Eiche generally equable in performance, we don’t believe in the distress kicked off by Christine’s hasty decision to instigate divorce proceedings on a misunderstanding. The wife’s not quite blameless friendship with an impecunious young baron is nicely done, though I’d have cast the more word-aware tenor of the two here, Brenden Gunnell who sings the role of Stroh, rather than Martin Homrich. Brigitte Fassbaender, now director of Strauss operas, delivers the cameo speaking roles in this concert performance (dialect-heavy servants and, I’m assuming, the Storch’s son).
Ulf Schirmer’s conducting is remarkable less for effulgence than clear textures, over-assisted by woodwind-heavy engineering (highlighting one brief lack of synchronisation at the crucial heart of the opera’s most beautiful interlude). It needs to be divided into more tracks. I’m very grateful, though, to have Andrew Porter’s excellent translation in the booklet.