Even in the
sixties, his operas were played all over the German-speaking countries, while
nowadays one has to look carefully to find a performance. The reasons are
twofold. “Das Regie-Theater” has little attraction for
Lortzing’s well-crafted, very romantic “Spielopern”—
too civilized, too polite, too simple, not enough blood and adultery so that
one can shock spectators. Nowadays, as directors dictate what a general
manager may or may not put on the boards, there is no place for him.
Secondly, a cynical age such as ours, with cynical people all over the place,
no longer has room for the gentle characters of Lortzing or for operas that
are deeply drenched in the days of late feudal customs and small German

For most of his life, Lortzing lived in abject poverty—while
everywhere his operas were enthusiastically performed in those days without
author’s rights—he had to stoop to his audiences and to perform
what they liked or thought decent. This Undine is a fine example.
It’s almost the same story as Dvoř·k’s better-known
Rusalka, which is largely based on the Undine story. But
Rusalka premiËred in 1901, 56 years after Lortzing’s opera, in
an age when artistic freedom had already some real meaning and author’s
rights were a source of income. So, Dvoř·k could keep the legend intact
and have his prince kiss the water nymph whereupon he dies. Lortzing, too,
preferred such a finale for his opera; but his audiences wanted a happy
ending. Therefore, the composer acquiesced to their wishes and
Undine ends with a rather sugary end: the prince kisses the nymph
and accompanies his love for eternity into her water world.

The performance under review was recorded for a radio performance on the
classical German music channel and appeared not long after on the Capriccio
label in full price version. This less expensive reissue, however, has no
libretto, just a short summary. This recording has only one rival, recorded
exactly forty-years ago; but what a competitor it is. The cast of the EMI
recording speaks for itself: Gedda, Rothenberg, Prey, Schreier, Frick. To be
somewhat blunt, almost none of the singers on this issue are on the same
level as their elders. This is especially true in the soprano department.
Both ladies here sing well, but without much charm or individuality. Both are
a little bit shrill and one has constantly to look at the sleeve notes to
know who is exactly singing. P¸tz and Rothenberger have better and more
distinct voices on the EMI-recording.

The gentlemen fare somewhat better. Protschka has a good lyric voice,
seeminlgy destined to become the great German lyric tenor that somehow has
never materialized. But, he almost matches Nicolai Gedda’s Ritter Hugo
on EMI. His voice is not on the same level. Yet, there is the feeling for
this kind of music he probably knew well from his youth that is somewhat
lacking in the Swede’s interpretation, who probably recorded while looking
for the first time at his score. Incidentally, there is a story that Gedda
was flown in at the last moment as a substitute for Fritz Wunderlich who had
recorded a magnificent Der Wildsch¸tz by the same composer. Only his
tragic death prevented him from recording Undine. This is not true.
The EMI-recording was finished on the 6th of September 1966, while Wunderlich
died exactly 11 days later. On the Capriccio recording, baritone John Janssen
sings a noble and convincing water ghost K¸hleborn, and he yields nothing to
EMI’s Hermann Prey—high praise indeed. Undine has one
common trait with Giordano’s La Cena delle Beffe—the
best known aria, a wonderful melodious tenor piece, belongs to the second
tenor. On record no one equals Wunderlich’s interpretation in a solo
album; but neither Peter Schreier (EMI) nor Heinz Kruse (Capriccio) is
mellifluous enough. Andreas Schmidt and G¸nter Wewel do well, but who can
nowadays compete with Gotlob Frick?

This performance has one big advantage: its completeness. It contains some
extra choruses lacking on the EMI, it gives us, finally, the fine ballet and
it provides some additional dialogue as well. Conductor Kurt Eichhorn is one
of the last maestri who can honour this kind of romantic piece and he
succeeds in giving us a fine interpretation, never pushing his singers but
not indulging in sentimentality either.

If you want to leave Verdi and Puccini for a while and discover a
wonderful melodious score, you would do well to purchase this issue. Maybe
Lortzing is old fashioned in the theatre, but on records he still holds his
own. In the meantime, you will discover that Engelbert Humperdinck and
Siegfried Wagner found a lot of inspiration from him. Should you be able to
read German, I can only advise to buy Lortzing—Gaukler
und Musiker
by J¸rgen Lodemann (Steidl Verlag, Gˆttingen). It is one
of the best researched biographies of a composer I have ever read. It tells
us a lot about the horrible artistic conditions Lortzing had to live with and
it illustrates in great detail how miserable, poor, honest and caring for his
wife and his eleven children Lortzing was—he buried 5 of them. He
himself died only at 50-years of age, a composer, who until the seventies,
was the most performed operatic genius in Germany after Verdi and Mozart.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Albert Lortzing: Undine
product_title=Albert Lortzing: Undine
Romantische Zauberoper in vier Aufz¸gen
product_by=Monika Krause (Undine), Josef Protschka (Ritter Hugo), Heinz Kruse (Veit), John Janssen (K¸hleborn), Christiane Hampe (Bertalda), Andreas Schmidt (Hans), Ingeborg Most (Marthe), Klaus H‰ger (Tobias), G¸nter Wewel (Pater Heilmann), Dirk Schortemeier (Ein Bote). WDR Rundfunkchor Kˆln and WDR Rundfunkorchester Kˆln conducted by Kurt Eichhorn
Recorded Kˆln Funkhaus, NovemberóDecember 1990
product_id=Capriccio 51195 [2CDs]