Schubert: Opera arias

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Opera arias
PERFORMER: Oliver Widmer (baritone); Hungarian National PO/Jan Schultsz
Of Schubert’s nine completed stage works only the Singspiel Die Verschworenen (The Conspirators) enjoys any life in the theatre. Most of the others contain memorable numbers and flashes of dramatic insight; yet handicapped by third-rate librettos – often slow-moving and stilted, sometimes downright ludicrous – they present an almost insurmountable challenge to any opera director. Listening on disc is a different matter, of course; and Schubert lovers will find many delights in this cross-section of baritone scenes and arias, several recorded for the first time. Highlights include Friedrich’s idyllic paean to his homeland from Die Zwillingsbrüder (The Twin Brothers), King Froia’s two extended scenes from the ‘heroic Romantic opera’ Alfonso und Estrella, and a clutch of vivid numbers – some with Mozartian overtones – from the unfinished melodrama Die Bürgschaft (The Bond). With his incisive, cultivated high baritone and Lieder singer’s responsiveness to text and mood, Oliver Widmer is equally at home in the Sturm und Drang agitation of Möros’s first aria from Die Bürgschaft, the tyrant Dionysos’s cynical buffo number from the same opera and the anguished prayer from the fragmentary Der Graf von Gleichen (completed and orchestrated by the composer Richard Dünser). Orchestral support is dependable rather than distinctive. As usual, though, Hyperion’s documentation – full texts and translations, and a vastly informative essay on the context and background of each item – is in a class of its own. Richard Wigmore