Carl Maria von Weber
CAST: Steve Davislim: Oberon, Hillevi Martinpelto: Reiza, Jonas Kaufmann: Sir Huon of Bordeaux, Marina Comparato: Fatima, William Dazeley: Sherasmin, Frances Bourne: Puck, Katherine Fuge, Charlotte Mobbs: Mermaids, Roger Allam: narrator
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor
Oberon is an opera that is surprising in the story of its composition, considering that at that time Carl Maria von Weber was already suffering from the disease that would take him to the grave, and that, nevertheless, has accepted the proposal to write an opera for the theatre of Covent Garden, learning English specifically to understand the libretto by James Robinson Planché and also leaving for London to attend the premiere. If at that distant past you add a contemporary recording like the one conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, you cannot fail to admire Oberon beyond all its faults and prejudices that accompanied it so far.
Gardiner had already to his credit two productions of Oberon before this one, the first performed in Lyon in 1986 (in English) and the second in Zurich in 1998 (in German translation). In the present edition, he achieves a masterpiece conducting the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and the limits of Oberon, which for its plot was considered impossible to stage until the twentieth century, do not seem to disturb him, who focuses on the magic of the score. Although Oberon was often compared in Die Zauberflöte and although there are similarities in the enchanted atmosphere and in the use of key themes, magic in Mozart is more mysterious, while in Weber is “clearer” and, thanks to Gardiner’s direction, here it is possible to catch a glimpse of the elven kingdom of Oberon and Titania through the whole opera.
Among the singers, Jonas Kaufmann is the touchstone for his extremely flexible and rich voice that, despite the baritonal colour, permits him to sing brilliant high notes. His unusual technique and his “throat singing” are less perceptible here than in later recording and his singing is much more homogeneous. The rondo I revel in hope deserves absolutely a listening.
Oberon is sung by Steve Davislim, the second tenor voice of the opera: I should have said “the first tenor voice” but, compared to Kaufmann, Davislim lacks the authority and the skill to emerge, although he creates an interesting contrast with the other tenor with his clear voice.
Hillevi Martinpelto creates the character of Reiza alternating moments of intense singing to others (fortunately brief) where her energy seems to fade away. Nevertheless, the singer is lovable and able to express many feelings, of which the best example is in the desolate aria Mourn thou poor heart.
The other singers have less relevant parts but are no less good and, at least in the case of Marina Comparato (Fatima), it is worth remembering the clear timbre of her voice and her great vivacity, which have the opportunity to emerge in two arias and some duets and trios. Equally good are William Dazeley (Sherasmin) and Frances Bourne (Puck).