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Briefly Noted: Weingartner's 'Die Dorfschule'

available at Amazon
Felix Weingartner, Die Dorfschule, C. Bieber, F. McCarthy, Deutsche Oper Berlin, J. Lacombe

(released on March 11, 2016)
cpo 777813-2 | 43'03"
Last week I wrote about Carl Orff's early opera Gisei, an adaptation of the Japanese play Terakoya (The Temple School). That live recording from the Deutsche Oper Berlin was made at concert where the Orff one-act was featured on a double-bill with this one-act opera by Austrian composer Felix Weingartner (1863-1942) on the same Japanese source work, created in 1920. Weingartner studied composition with Liszt in Weimar, and he had a successful career as a conductor, succeeding Mahler as director of the Vienna State Opera. The CPO label has been resuscitating his works on disc, including the symphonies and chamber music, and on the basis of this world premiere recording of Die Dorfschule, his operas will be worth the same effort.

Tenor Clemens Bieber brings gravitas and authority to the role of Matsuo, the servant of the murdered chancellor who sacrifices his own son to save the son of his lord. Weingartner writes beautiful, tense music to accompany Matsuo's examination of the box containing his own child's severed head, as he solemnly identifies it as the head of his murdered lord's son. American bass-baritone Stephen Bronk is slightly covered but still effective as Genzo, the schoolteacher, surprassed by the excellent mezzo-soprano Elena Zhidkova as Tonami, the schoolmaster's wife. Soprano Fionnuala McCarthy is equally strong as Schio, the mother who willingly offers her son to take the place of the chancellor's son, and baritone Simon Pauly is incisive and blustering as Gemba, the evil representative of the court.

Weingartner's libretto hews more closely to the Japanese source than Orff's, which uses a clumsy prelude to set the action, including keeping one of the students with a stutter. Weingartner's use of planing harmonic structures gives the score some exotic flavor, but the harmonic style will be easy to take by anyone who enjoys the operas of Wagner and Strauss. The orchestration has none of the eccentricities of Orff's score, but the more experienced Weingartner evokes a range of sounds with greater expertise. Jacques Lacombe leads another fine performance from the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

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