WORKS: Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin
PERFORMER: Thomas J Mayer, Julia Henning, Hans-Jürgen Schöpflin, Matthias Klein; Kiel Opera Chorus & Children’s Chorus, Kiel PO/Ulrich Windfuhr
CATALOGUE NO: 999 958-2
After the expectations aroused by his hugely successful opera Der ferne Klang in 1912, Franz Schreker had high hopes for The Music Box and the Princess at its double premiere a year later. Well-received in Frankfurt, it had to face the wrath of Korngold’s critic father Julius in Vienna and was taken off after five performances. Schreker later revised the work (as the one-act Das Spielwerk), so the production unveiled this January in Kiel, whence this recording comes, was its first revival in its original form for 90 years. It is a typical Schrekerian, fin de siècle concoction of psychology, emotion and eroticism, a post-Freudian Magic Flute that leads, rather than to enlightenment, to immolation and a kind of ‘Liebestod’, through the agent of a music box whose playing encourages Dionysian excess and flute playing that reawakens the contrivance’s Apollonian intent.
As live theatre recordings go, this one is especially successful, with little stage noise, no sense of restriction on the opulent orchestral palette and with an ideal forward balance for the singers. Kiel Opera has an enviable reputation for reviving this kind of forgotten work and here fields a mainly excellent cast. Julia Henning sounds a bit shrill as the party-loving princess, but then the booklet pictures suggest she was suspended above the stage for much of the performance, which may explain it. However, there’s a resonant Master Florian (the music box’s disillusioned creator) from baritone Thomas J Mayer and a lyrical Journeyman from house tenor Hans-Jürgen Schöpflin. Kiel’s music director Ulrich Windfuhr revels in the opera’s plush orchestration and has a good grasp of the drama’s frenetic emotional pacing. Matthew Rye