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Reviewed by:
  • Hans Heiling, and: Tristan und Isolde
  • Eftychia Papanikolaou
Heinrich Marschner. Hans Heiling. DVD. Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari / Renato Palumbo. With Markus Werba, Anna Caterina Antonacci, Herbert Lippert, Gabriele Fontana. Directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi. Genova, Italy: Dynamic, 2005. 33467. $43.98.
Richard Wagner. Tristan und Isolde. DVD. Chorus and Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu / Bertrand de Billy. With John Treleaven, Deborah Polaski, Erik Halfvarson, Falk Struckmann, Lioba Braun, Wolfgang Rauch. Directed by Alfred Kirchner. Waldron, Heathfield, East Sussex, U.K.: Opus Arte, 2005. OA 0935 D. $49.99.

This semiannual column presents reviews of significant video releases of interest to the field of music and to music libraries, as well as briefly noting other interesting titles. All genres of music in all video formats will be covered, with a preference given to those in DVD. All Web sites accessed 22 November 2006.

Heinrich Marschner's operatic oeuvre presents us with a constant reminder of the great German operatic tradition that preceded him and the glorious one that followed him. It is commonplace to regard Marschner (1795–1861) as the most important composer of German romantic opera between Weber and Wagner—a not-soenviable position, especially considering the debates on romantic opera that flared up in the nineteenth century. E. T. A. Hoffmann regarded romantic opera as the "only true one, for only in the realm of romanticism is music at home." Hoffmann's aesthetics of opera were allegorically presented in his 1813 essay Der Dichter und der Komponist ("The Poet and the Composer"), later included in his Serapionsbrüder. (For a translation and commentary see E. T. A. Hoffmann's Musical Writings: Kreisleriana, The Poet and the Composer, Music Criticism, ed. David Charlton, trans. Martyn Clarke. [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989], 169ff.) In that essay, Hoffmann advocated for a truly romantic opera that could "bring before our eyes the wonderful apparitions of the spirit-realm, the supernatural and the real bound up one with the other." Music would prove to be the perfect medium for realizing the connection between the two worlds—music itself is part of the "marvelous," since it is very hard to grasp. The latter idea, in Schopenhauer's formulation of the insatiable Will, would have immense implications for romantic music aesthetics, and opera in particular.

It is impossible not to see and hear Mozartian inflections in Marschner's Hans Heiling, especially in the character of the Queen of the Earth Spirits—a latter-day incarnation of the Queen of the Night, both dramatically and musically—and in the emulation of singspiel characteristics. Connections with Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz (1821) are also unavoidable, especially in both composers' fascination with magic and the supernatural—let us not forget that Mendelssohn, for whom Eduard Devrient intended the libretto, turned it down for fear that its content was too similar to that of Der Freischütz. Ultimately, Wagner would reap the benefits of the synthesis of those traditions, since Hans Heiling and Der Vampyr (Marschner's other successful opera) served as models for several of his later works.

In Hans Heiling the worlds of magic and the supernatural that Hoffmann glorified [End Page 668] in his writings, pop up brilliantly on the screen. Recorded live in Cagliari, Italy, this production fuses the old and the new, the traditional and the radical, both visually and dramatically, much like Marschner's score does. The supernatural world (Hans Heiling, the Queen, and the spirits) is visually separated from the world of the humans by its red-color touches: the Queen is dressed in a long, sparkling red dress; Hans exhibits touches of red in his various outfits, while the scenic backdrop is clothed in red hues whenever the action takes place in the spirit world. The inhabitants of that world fluidly cross the line between fairy tale appearance and contemporary middle-class look. Hans, for example, is a cross between a fairy tale prince and a fashionable bourgeois youth. Played and sung superbly by baritone Markus Werba, the eponymous hero of this opera must give up love in order to continue to rule...


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