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Franz Schreker: Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin
Jorg Sabrowski, Thomas J. Mayer, Franz Schreker
Franz Schreker: Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin
Genre: Classical


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A wonderful little hallucination from Schreker...
Eric D. Anderson | South Bend, IN United States | 02/15/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Schreker's "Das Spielwerk und der Prinzessin" is a remarkable little opera. Typical of Schreker's operas, it's a wildly imagined fairy tale with lots of weird pseudo-Freudian subtext.Schreker wrote in an ulta-rich, ambitious, romantic-expressionist idiom--complex both harmonically and orchestrally. Schreker pursued unusual orchestral timbres with great imagination. His music is garish and irridescent.Schreker seems to glory in his ability to conjure up strangely imagined worlds of magic, romance, sexual depravity, and in the case of "Spielwerk", purification. His characters are often strange blends of earnestness and corruption--in some cases these blends border on being so far from real human experience that they're unsympathetic or dramatically unconvincing. But in "Spielwerk", I think he does a better job than in some other operas, and the language of his librettos (which he always wrote himself) is always beautiful.The story of "Spielwerk" is downright weird, and can't be explained simply!In the backstory of "Spielwerk", the old craftsman Master Florian had spent a his lifetime crafting a musicbox that produces music of unearthly beauty, but only came alive when his son played his violin. The Princess who ruled from a nearby castle began holding wild orgiastic parties where she would strip off her robes and "yield" to her male guests. Master Florian's wife, his assistant "Wolf", and his son were all eventually seduced by the parties, where his son, now the Princess's lover, would play the musicbox, driving the revellers to even wilder excesses. So Master Florian renounced his wife, and drove his son from his house out into the world. The music box fell silent.In the beginning of the opera, Master Florian's son has died, and is brought to his cabin's door, where his now penitent wife urges him to take the boy's body inside. He refuses. A mysterious travelling flute player happens by, and is invited by Florian to stay with him. When the guest plays his noble music, the musicbox suddenly, to Master Florian's surprise, comes to life!The Princess, now despondent at having lost her lover and the music of the "Spielwerk", plans one final party, and asks "Wolf" to burn her and her guests to death upon it's completion. The flute player meets the Princess by chance on the road, and they feel drawn to one another. He thinks she's just a common woman, and when she urges him to run away with her to start a new life, he's tempted. But he tells her that he has come to heal and redeem the Princess, and that until he does so, he cannot leave. She tells him of the Princess's terrible corruption, and that she cannot be healed. But he is immovable.The party begins, but is interrupted by a mob led by Master Florian's former wife. They threaten to tear the Princess to pieces. But at the last moment, the flute player intervenes, playing his flute. At that moment the musicbox responds. Florian's son's corpse sits up and begins to play his violin along with the Spielwerk's wonderous tones, and all the listeners are entranced. The flute player and the Princess dance together, singing ecstatically, and wend their way slowly towards the distant castle. "Wolf" and his cohorts burn Master Florian's cabin to the ground, finally silencing the musicbox.During the second decade of the 20th century, Schreker became the second most successful living opera composer in the German speaking world, second only Strauss. "Spielwerk" was his one dud in a string of successes--following "Der ferne Klang", and preceeding "Die Gezeichneten" and "Der Schatzgraber", each which was more successful than the last. He revised "Spielwerk", cutting it's already brief length (100 minutes). But the revision was also a flop. This recording, from the enterprising Kiel Opera, is a reconstruction of the original version.I can't help but recommend this strange little operatic hallucination!"
A treat
G.D. | Norway | 06/07/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Another excellent CPO release of a virtually unknown late-romantic opera, and this time they have found their way to a true masterpiece. It is one of Schreker's least performed operas (and Schreker is a composer who is severely under-performed overall), and while not as stirring and gorgeous as Irrelohe or Die Gezeichneten, it is still a must for anyone even remotely interested in this kind of repertoire.

Not well received at its premiere, the opera does indeed suffer from a rather dated libretto (suffused with a kind of psychoanalytic nonsense disconcertingly prescient of the fraudulent inanities of later "philosophers" like Lacan and Derrida). The mixture of symbolism, dreamlike sequences and fairty-tale is however appealing on the face of it, and is an excellent starting point for an evocative sound-world, if one doesn't pay too much attention to the text per se. And the music is indeed utterly fantastic, right from the colorful and dynamically turbulent prelude. Parsifal looms in the background, but Schreker's language is always sufficiently individual to avoid accusations of plagiarism or even eclecticism. True, the sequences of ever wilder and more ecstacic climaxes might be a bit taxing on the ear, and maybe this is in the end one of those operas I cannot actually recommend listening straight through, but there is no doubt that the end result is eminently satisfiable, conjuring up a fantastically enchanting and sumptuous sound-world all of Schreker's own.

Of course, it wouldn't get off the ground were it not for the impressive and committed performances it receives here. Perhaps the brilliantly energetic, lively and colorful orchestral contributions from the Kiel Philharmonic Orchestra (and the Kiel Opera Chorus) under Ulrich Windfuhr constitute the highlight, but the soloists are really impressive as well. Thomas Mayer and Julia Henning manages the complex vocal parts with aplomb - they are both (the vocal parts, that is) brilliantly and idiomatically sung, showing only the faintest traces of strain at the upper edges. But there isn't really any weak link in this performance; the opera is unlikely to be recorded again anytime soon, but even if it were this would be a serious challenger (no matter what cast a hypothetical competitor would come up with).

The recording is lush but spacious, and overall pretty well balanced. And even though it is a live performance, neither stage noise nor unintended contributions from the audience present any problematic distractions whatsoever. With full text and translation and an at least mildly interesting essay included, this is a thoroughly recommended release."
A beautiful opera
Martin Pitchon | La Prairie, Quebec Canada | 03/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Here you have a Schreker master piece. Not as good as the Gezeichneten (this would be impossible), but quite good.

Martin Pitchon"