Magazine article The Spectator

Marital Bliss

Magazine article The Spectator

Marital Bliss

Article excerpt

Die Feen

Chatelet Paris

Ernest Bloch's Macbeth

Bloomsbury Theatre

Wagner wrote his first opera Die Feen (The Fairies) when he was 19 and 20. It was never staged or performed at all in his lifetime, and first performed in Munich in 1888, Richard Strauss having conducted the rehearsals. It was a big success, but has only been revived rarely, and the production which I saw at the Chatelet in Paris last week, of which there are five performances, was the first I have seen. It was rapturously received, and rightly so. Wagner thought little of it, gave the score to Ludwig II for Christmas in 1865 - the only score of it then in existence - and Cosima records the composer's deprecatory remarks about it in her diary.

Psychobiographers like to conjecture that Wagner's down on the work was the result of complications within the family, though Die Feen, unlike previous abandoned operas of his, and also unlike any of its successors, is a kind of paean to marriage, not an institution that on the whole Wagner put a high value on.

Wagner wrote the libretto himself, as he was always to do, but adapted it, and in most respects closely, from Gozzi's La donna serpente. Its main plot concerns the marriage of an immortal fairy, Ada, to a mortal king, Arindal, who first sees her as a doe when he is hunting. They marry on condition that he doesn't ask of her provenance for eight years - of course he does, dreadful trials are endured, Ada nearly turns to stone for a century, but thanks to the power of his lyre Arindal wins her back and he too becomes immortal. There are several surrounding sub-plots, one of them providing comic relief, or trying to. Yet despite a certain amount of clutter, the plot acquires and maintains momentum, in largest part thanks to the vigour of Wagner's musical idiom, with plenty of that swagger that is to be found in the early canonical operas, and some music of exquisite Weberian-cumMendelssohnian delicacy. It is composed on a large scale, and the performance lasted four hours with two 20-minutes intervals, but until the last act, where there is some let's-get-it-all-sorted-out music, and Arindal's 'redemptive' lyre-playing wasn't really in the Orpheus league, it convinced and engaged.

Marc Minkowski was excessively leisurely in Act I, but warmed up noticeably thereafter, and the singing was of a high standard.

The cast, though, was non-German except for the Ada of Christiane Libor, and the standard of diction was appalling. Without the surtitles I'd have been lost for long stretches. …

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