Magazine article The Spectator

Frustrated by Weber

Magazine article The Spectator

Frustrated by Weber

Article excerpt

The Edinburgh International Festival has been musically rather subdued so far this year. It's been dominated, though that doesn't seem quite the right word, by Weber: an orchestral programme of six pieces, and then consecutive evenings in the Usher Hall, sweltering despite the downpour outside, of his three major operas, done, as most operas now are at the Festival, in concert performances. A different Scottish orchestra, and a different chorus, all of them excellent, and different conductors and singers. With odd exceptions, not at all important, the standards of execution have been high.

What I was hoping for was that this concentrated conspectus might give me both a firmer sense and a highly favourable opinion of Weber's operatic output, even though it is bound to remain the most frustratingly promising and unfulfilled among those of opera composers who matter. But the question remains unanswered: would Weber, had he lived, have developed a powerful enough musico-dramatic sense to guide or bludgeon his librettists - or even to write his own texts - so that a sequence of sometimes beautiful, sometimes intense, often atmospheric numbers would have acquired cohesiveness and momentum, the whole adding up, as it must do in a great opera, to more than the sum of its parts?

On the evidence of these three evenings there's no reason to think that the answer is yes; though a very persuasive staged production of at least one of them might lead to a different conclusion. The one is, of course, Der Freischütz, which is in any case the most effective. Fine as it is, though, in almost all its parts, it still fails to have a cumulative impact. I'm always surprised that the Wolfs Glen scene, magnificent climax as it is, comes only slightly more than halfway through the score, instead of propelling the work to its conclusion. Freischütz is so adorable a score for those who aren't put off by the odd stretch of hearty peasant merrymaking that my love for its individual parts isn't greatly affected by their discreteness. It received a strong performance, with Charles Mackerras and the tenor Jonas Kaufmann as the heroes of the occasion. Mackerras made sure that the impetus within each item of the score was sufficiently potent to give the impression that it carried through the whole. Sometimes, especially in the closing scene, I could have done with more weight and breadth, but it was an account to make converts. Kaufmann, as Max, shot on to the stage as if he was one of Kaspar's magic bullets, and continued to semi-act to great effect. …

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