I am in beautiful Dresden – birthplace of the coaster– for the annual three-week Music Festival that has taken place since 1978. After Mozart-joys, Malkovichean divertissement, Bach despairs and delights, Thielemann’s Bruckner, and a triple-bill of violinists, it was time for the re-premiere of a royal opera.
Princess Amalie of Saxony (1794-1870) was by all accounts an eager student of music and a successful writer of light plays. Her tutors included Carl Maria von Weber (only eight years her senior), and you could read his diary entry about his royal student in any number of ways: “[Princess Amalie] has a beautiful talent and admirable diligence.” Once you’ve heard her long-lost opera “La casa disabitata” (The Uninhabited House), a one-act Farsa unperformed for 177 years, you’re more likely to know how he might have meant it.
There’s nothing wrong with the very charming overture in which the Princess strings together a series of well-formed conventional phrases. At their best they amount to occasional touches of Spohr, within otherwise plain classical flair. The “Phrase-A, repeat – Phrase B, repeat – Phrase A, Phrase B, repeat, repeat” approach is not unusual for music of her time – or rather music before her time, since the prudent rest is like lesser Cimarosa all the way home, and if there was any hint Rossini in there, it wasn’t the good kind. Easily patronized, darling stuff this is; a pleasant 100-minute divertissement that would go down well if iced drinks were served during the performance and if one could lounge on comfy ottomans. The Russian archive that still owns the vocal parts (they were ‘protected’ from Germans after World War II) only allowed one concert-performance (broadcast on August 11th on Deutschlandradio Kultur), but then maybe it’s enough to dig this uninhabited house out only every 177 years.
The Italian libretto, written by the Princess, is a little clunky. In the name of efficiency, I’ll try to convey its lack of eloquence by rhyming the synopsis:
This flat, so says a sign, is free!
The People gather mightily,
“Just how”, they wonder, “can this be?
Should I say yes, the joke’s on me??”
Eu•stich•io studied Lit-Ra-Ture,
And nat’rally he is rather poor.
“Free”! It’s what I can afford!
And my old wife will be on board.
A caveat: A ghost lives here!
E. has a gun, so what the hell,
He deftly manages his fear…
'Til midnight rings the bell.
Callisto, butler, saucy chap,
Followed orphan-rescue with kid-nap,
He locks her up and feeds her Schnitzel,
He’s, if you will, an early Fritzl.
The girl, her name’s Anetta,
Won’t marry him, that cad.
Raimondo would be so much bettuh,
(He’s the owner of the pad.)
At night Anetta runs away,
And after some discussion can convey,
She’s not a ghost per se,
Euastchio takes her on her way.
Sinforosa (wife, no money, aged)
Feels jealously enraged.
Callisto shows - as ghost disguised...
Gets shot, found out, and then despised.
The scheme is up, the truth emerges
A happy-end ensues for all
Raimondo and Anetta satisfy their urges –
And Eustichio: He gets rent-control!
The Dresden Chapel Soloists under Helmut Branny did their merry best and the cast of singers was overqualified throughout: Ilhun Jung, the eager, brazen baritone as Don Raimondo, the ever professional bass-baritone Allen Boxer as Callisto, the delightfully goofy, light baritone Matthias Henneberg with his clean, strong, dramatically anodyne voice in the main part of Eutichio, Anja Zügner’s bright and chirpy Annetta, Tehila Nini Goldstein’s Sinforosa, whose melted into her bits of music and was a real pleasure on the ears, and everyone else. The atmosphere was helped considerably by the surroundings of the Summer Palace in Dresden’s Großer Garten, easily the most charming of the many venues that the Dresden Festival uses.