The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview

51. Farewell to Bertha Ehnn

May 3, 1885

Because of the absence of Herr Sommer, suddenly moved to offer an exhibition of injured vanity, the management saw fit to summon Herr Dr. Krückl1 from Hamburg in order to make possible the second performance of Nero. Why all the to-do? Why this conscientiousness in so unworthy a cause? Why engage a singer from Hamburg when one could simply have eliminated the role of Vindex from the score? Or would one find such a procedure too daring? What? With this Nero? Or have we not already seen the Hermit in Der Freischütz ignominiously deprived of his achievement in having brought the opera to a satisfactory conclusion? And, if I mistake not, right here in our own Court Opera!

Now it seems to me that the sudden appearance of the Hermit is no less decisive for the fate of the young hunter and his fiancée than the comportment of Vindex in the last act for the fall of Nero. There is one distinction, to be sure, in that for the absence of the Hermit we are offered no compensatory conflagrations, triumphal marches, ghostly apparitions, etc., and that we identify the more heartily with the fate of the engaged couple because what unfolds before our eyes is a picture of purely human events, something that cannot, unfortunately, be said either of the libretto or of the music of Nero. We tremble for the destiny of the engaged couple in Der Freischütz. Will the powers of darkness prevail? Will innocence fall victim to diabolical knavery? Should a crime committed in desperation, and in a weak moment not find clemency, even forgiveness? Not according to the law, or prejudice. But now the devout Hermit has his say. His gentle and admonitory words succeed in reconciling the prince -- we again breathe more easily.

Do we ever warm to any person or scene in Nero? What is Vindex to us? What is Nero? Or the twenty-odd other supernumeraries with resounding Roman names? They are mere letters from which we strive in vain to produce a coherent word. Everyone seems eager to press forward when it comes to submitting important works to major surgery. Why let the choice opportunity pass when the time came to make a virtue of necessity? Well, conductors and directors are an unregenerate lot. And so Herr Dr. Krückl sang Vindex. If I offer the opinion that the singer, whatever the circumstances, made more of the role than the authors, it signifies neither praise nor blame, if for no other reason than that I did not hear him.

-140-

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