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Weinberger's Schwanda the Bagpiper in Dresden

(September 2012)

Weinberger's operas are enjoying a revival, with a major Dresden staging of Schwanda the Bagpiper, and Wallenstein at the Konzerthaus in Vienna.

Schwanda lives again” wrote the Frankfurter Rundschau of the major revival in March of Jaromir Weinberger’s stagework at the Dresden Semperoper, described as “a reawakening of a sumptuous, immensely accomplished opera”. This “hellishly good premiere” (Das Bild) was the latest step in the rehabilitation of one of the hits of the 1920s, following a production at the Wexford Opera Festival in 2003 which was also released on CD by Naxos, and recent stagings in smaller German houses including Augsburg and Görlitz. The new Dresden Schwanda by Axel Köhler put the opera back on a major stage, winning new friends to its unique blend of folk tradition and modern theatrical verve.

“One of the craziest scores in operatic history: brimming with melodies, scrambled with anarchic counterpoint, raucous and blissfully operetta-like, virtuoso and naïvely showy. Jaromír Weinberger’s Schwanda the Bagpiper was a sensational success in the late 1920s, making the rounds through theatres all over the world. Was it possible back then to gauge the uniqueness of this musical language which lifted the genre of popular opera to almost absurd heights? Czech folklore, both raised and at the same time repressed, as an illusion and as a ‘broadband’ vision; the dance and folksong characters kaleidoscopically rolled together and peppered with modern nervosity, and at the same time always in the mysterious undertow of a lyrical, catchy theme tune (in 3/4 time) – as in a classic movie score.” Frankfurter Rundschau

The Weinberger reappraisal has also embraced his operatic version of Schiller’s Wallenstein trilogy, including its first modern staging in Altenberg-Gera in 2009 and a concert performance this June at the Konzerthaus in Vienna, with plans for a recording to be released next year. The opera was premiered in 1937 in Vienna, but further performances were thwarted by the Nazi rise to power and Weinberger and his wife fled to Florida. ConcertoNet, reviewing the Vienna performance, noted how “this Czech composer seemed all his life to have been at the wrong place at the wrong time”.

“Written 10 years after Schwanda, Wallenstein offers considerably richer musical content. The score is densely crafted… There are but few references to Weinberger’s Bohemian heritage, and more to the late works of Richard Strauss and Alexander Zemlinsky. Strictly tonal, Weinberger uses a rich harmonic language, with original chord progressions… A revival long overdue.”

> Further information on Work: Schwanda the Bagpiper

Photo: Dresden Semperoper/Matthias Creutziger

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