Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzosoprano
The Chamber Orchestra od Europe
Claudio Abbado, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 1991
Between 1812 and 1828, Franz Schubert wrote eleven complete works for the theatre and sketched seven more which he left unfinished. Among his best known works of this kind, the incidental music for Rosamunde, composed in 1823 in just few weeks, holds a prominent place.
Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern is a play in four acts written by Helmina von Chézy, a poet and playwright who had close connections with the music of her time, as she was the librettist of Weber’s popular opera Euryanthe (we reviewed an old recording featuring Joan Sutherland here). Euryanthe premiered at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna just a couple of months before Rosamunde and Chézy was therefore in the limelight. It was for this reason that Schubert decided to compose incidental music for her. However, the plot of Rosamunde was muddled and implausible and the play lasted only two performances before disappearing.
The original version of the play Rosamunde is lost and it survives only in a later adaptation in five acts, but it arouses little or no interest anymore. Schubert’s music, on the contrary, was never forgotten and it was so admired that it took on a life of its own despite the failure of the play.
Rosamunde is a cohesive work even though Schubert borrowed almost half of the music from his other compositions for lack of time. Among them, the overture is taken from Alfonso und Estrella, the Entr’acte in B flat is based on the song Der Leidende, and perhaps the Entr’acte in B minor was originally intended as the finale for the unfinished Symphony in B minor.
Rosamunde is seldom performed in its entirety despite its popularity. The present recording, conducted by Claudio Abbado, is one of the few complete performances of Rosamunde and, luckily enough, it is one of the best. There is only an odd thing to point out about it, that is, that the numbers are performed in an order that does not respect the original one – for listening purposes, as the booklet notes explain.
Claudio Abbado conducts the excellent Chamber Orchestra of Europe with taste and skill and overall the work is characterized by a blissfully dreamy atmosphere. As a matter of fact, Abbado emphasizes delicate and melancholic nuances rather than the vivacity of the work, so that this particular kind of grace is always directed towards sparkling joy rather than enthusiast. However, Abbado’s conduction makes the music of Rosamunde extremely suggestive and soulful and the wonderful Ernst-Senff-Chor and the excellent soloist Anne Sofie von Otter, always communicative and expressive, are perfectly aligned with the conductor.
There is only one downside – if you are inclined to consider it as such – in Abbado’s conduction. His prolonged placidity compromises the élan we are used to listen to in other recordings. It is clear that some more energy would have been preferable, at least in certain passages, but, when stamina fails, the colours are not and this is the reason why this Rosamunde is so fascinating. Orchestral colours are as shimmering and flamboyant as one might wish and they are so well blended that the entire work is light and brilliant.