LABELS: C Major DVD
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert
PERFORMER: Werba, Benjamin Bernheim, Michael Schade, Marie-Claude Chappuis, Manuel Walser; Vienna Philharmonic/Ingo Metzmacher; dir. Peter Stein (Salzburg, 2014)
CATALOGUE NO: 730708; Blu-ray: 730804
This is an almost perfect performance, both vocally and in its staging and acting, of Schubert’s greatest claim to operatic success – which unfortunately is still, in the end, a failure. A large part of its unsatisfactoriness must be put down to its wretched libretto, a ramshackle tale of Moors and Christians, set in the time of Charlemagne. One of the most striking things about this production is that its director, Peter Stein, actually sets the opera in that period. In an engaging interview he dismisses the contemporary vogue for setting everything in the near-present as rubbish, and insists that for this opera to have any credibility it has to be seen as set long ago: this despite the enormous temptation, since it deals with Muslims and Christians, to set it now, especially as its characters inevitably have the tendency to fall in love with a member of the hostile other religion.
Stein and his designers’ aim seems to have been to make it all look as beautiful as possible. The sets are fairly simple but delightful and ideal for the actors, and costumes are white, black, or silver (chain-mail). The plot doesn’t admit of much intelligible action, but what there is is persuasive and even, occasionally, moving. One marvels at the reams of nonsense which the gifted singers have learned to speak and sing. Charlemagne is taken by the young and magnificent bass-baritone Georg Zeppenfeld, and Fierrabras himself, son of the Moorish prince, by Michael Schade. They both deservedly get huge applause, but Dorothea Röschmann gets even more, and whenever she is singing the whole thing does get more intense. Benjamin Bernheim sings Edingard, an important role, with assurance. If this doesn’t put Fierrabras securely on the map, nothing can. Michael Tanner