Lortzing Der Waffenschmied Hussain Capriccio C5490

Albert Lortzing (1801-1851)
Der Waffenschmied (1846), Comical opera in 3 acts
Hans Stadinger – Günther Groissböck (bass)
Marie – Miriam Kutrowatz (soprano)
Irmentraut – Juliette Mars (contralto)
Ritter Graf von Liebenau – Timothy Connor (baritone)
Georg – Andrew Morstein (tenor)
Ritter Adelhof – Ivan Zinoviev (baritone)
Brenner – Jan Petryka (tenor)                     
Arnold Schönberg Chor
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Leo Hussain
rec. live, 21 October 2021, Theater an der Wien 
Libretto, articles and translations in booklet
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview.
Capriccio C5490 [2 CDs: 103]

Lortzing is considered to be the foremost representative of the German Spieloper, a relative of the French Opéra comique. His fame rests primarily on Tsar und Zimmermann and Der Wildschütz with Der Waffenschmied as the closest runner-up. The first two are still relatively regularly played – at least in Germany. Gustav Mahler, no less, held him in the highest esteem, ranking him in the same division as Mozart and Wagner as the most important German-language opera composers. During the ten years he was director of the Vienna Hofoper, Mahler also conducted the three Lortzing operas mentioned above and moreover introduced the one-act Die Opernprobe in 1899. 

As always, Lortzing was his own librettist when he created Der Waffenschmied and again as always, the story is complicated. It was based on a once popular play, Friedrich Wilhelm Ziegler’s Liebhaber und Nebenbuhler in einer Person (Lover and Rival in One Person), first performed at Vienna’s Burgtheater in 1790. Lortzing had himself played Graf von Liebenau during his time as an actor, so he knew the story well. He may also have known that the play had already inspired two composer colleagues from an earlier generation to write operas on this subject: Ferdinand Kauer’s Waffenschmied premiered in 1797 at the Theater in der Leopoldstadt in Vienna, and Josef Weigl, whose Il rivale di se stesso (His own Rival), premiered in 1808 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. It was later also performed in Vienna. Romanelli’s libretto has been reprinted in recent times; whether there are any likenesses with Lortzing’s own I don’t know, but Lortzing had a penchant for intricacies and complications – which is quite common in comical operas, irrespective of nationality. In broad outline, this particular specimen goes like this:

The action takes place in Worms in Germany in the 16th century. Count von Liebenau loves Marie. In order to see her he has become employed under the name of Konrad, together with his squire Georg, by Marie’s father, the armorer Hans Stadinger. After many complications, amongst which the ridiculous knight Adelhof and the garrulous Irmentraut are involved, the Count/Konrad eventually gets his Marie. 

The complications are well accounted for in the detailed synopsis, and with libretto in hand it is easy to follow the development of the story, which is quite amusing. Unfortunately, the spoken dialogue is cut, which creates a kind of vacuum between the vocal numbers. The rivalling Electrola recording from 1964 at least has abridged dialogue. 

Der Waffenschmied premiered on 16 May 1846 at the Theater an der Wien, and that’s where this live recording was made in October 2021 on the 175th anniversary of the premiere. I suppose it was a concert performance, since there are no stage noises, but there are no signs of an audience either, no applause, no reactions. The sound and the balance are excellent and have all the signs of a plain studio recording.

Lortzing’s overtures are always a joy to listen to. He was a good orchestrator; an excellent tunesmith and he was no stranger to contrapuntal writing. This is one of his best, and it is followed by a jolly opening scene, where the choral singing is superbly refined – but how could it be otherwise than with the Arnold Schönberg Choir under the masterly Erwin Ortner? There are some welding sounds, pointing forward to Wagner’s Siegfried. Enter Hans Stadinger, the armorer himself. Günther Groissböck is unfortunately not in best voice, being dry-toned and a bit strained but certainly authoritative, and he delivers the patter-singing with aplomb. One of the hit songs in this opera is Georg’s Man wird ja nur einmal geboren (CD 1 tr. 4). Andrew Morstein sings it with relish and his quick vibrato is quite charming, but he lacks the swagger and intensity of Gerhard Unger on the old Electrola recording under Fritz Lehan, whose conducting also is more vivid. Juliette Mars is an expressive Irmentraut, Marie’s governess and she sings the arietta Welt, du kannst mir nicht gefallen (CD 1 tr. 5) nuanced and with great involvement. In the extended first act finale Irmentraut is joined by the count, whom we have heard briefly in the opening scene, and Marie, and the trio sounds excellent. The real highpoint is Marie’s big recitative and aria that concludes the act (CD 1 tr. 8). The role was, according to Wikipedia, written with Jenny Lind in mind, but she doesn’t seem to have ever sung it. The young and tremendously gifted Miriam Kutrowatz sings here with glorious tone and technique to match. 

The entr’acte that follows is a little gem, and the duet between the Count and Marie is also fine. Generally speaking, Lortzing has relatively few arias but several ensemble pieces. In this opera there is an extended sextet in the second act and even a septet in act III. Neither of them is quite on the level of the rightly famous billiard quintet in Der Wildschütz, but the duet between Stadinger, the employer, and Georg, his employee, whom Stadinger wishes to see as his son-in-law, is a comic masterpiece, where Georg in vain tries to be spared. Somewhat later, Georg sings an autobiographical song about the shortcomings in his amorous life. He wanted to travel, and his sweetheart warned him: “O don’t go out into the world, you’d better stay at home with me, it’s often detrimental to travel!” The chorus repeats her warning, but travel he does, and is caught by pirates. Then he regrets his choice: “Oh, why didn’t I stay at home? That’s what happens when you travel” – and the chorus agrees. Finally, he is freed and returns home; he rushes to his sweetheart, happy and bold. She introduces her bridegroom to him and whispers in his ear: “That’s what happens when you travel!” Curtain!

In the third act Marie, sitting at the spinning wheel, complains how bad it is to be a girl: “I wish I were a man! Our good reputation is easily done; one cannot foresee everything with the best will in the world. We poor, poor girls are so badly off; I wish I wasn’t a girl!” But everything will be sorted out; Stadinger, after some pressure has been put on him, remembers that he has also been young, in the most famous number in this score: “Auch ich war ein Jüngling mit lockigem Haar”. Günther Groissböck sings it with expression but in rather monochrome tone. His counterpart on the Electrola recording, Kurt Böhme, was past 65, showed signs of unsteadiness and had to shout to achieve his highest notes. Both are still acceptable readings, but for an ideal interpretation we have to search out Kurt Moll’s unsurpassed reading on a recital disc (Orfeo C009821). 

By and large, this is a worthy reading of Der Waffenschmied, and it is good to see a brand-new recording of the work. In the last resort I still prefer Fritz Lehan’s almost 60-year-old recording (Warner Classics 9123102, download only), which sonically is fresh as new paint, sparklingly conducted and sports a cast that includes such luminaries as Hermann Prey as Count Liebenau and the great but under-recorded buffo Fritz Ollendorff as Adelhof. 

Göran Forsling

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