Weber’s Euryanthe, London

And then, at least in the case of Euryanthe and
Oberon, there is the matter of the dreadful libretti he had to set —
presumably part of the reason why companies are unwilling to perform them.
(Oddly, dreadful music seems to be less of a problem, given the lashings
endured of Donizetti, Verdi, et al.) The best one can say for Helmina
von Chezy’s efforts in Euryanthe is that they are merely awful, as
opposed to the execrable text for Oberon.Lucky Weber, then,
to receive such a fine performance as this from the valiant forces of the
Chelsea Opera Group.

Conductor Cameron Burns and his excellent cast should receive equal credit
for what I have no hesitation in describing as the best COG performance I have
heard — by some distance. Burns’s reading ought to have been welcomed with
open arms in any opera house; indeed, it would have signalled a marked
improvement in most of what we hear. A refreshingly elegant, unexaggerated
style — no frenetic waving around of arms to no evident end — did not in
any sense preclude engagement with libretto, whatever its shortcomings, and
score alike. It was surely testimony to sound training that soloists and chorus
not only enunciated clearly, but for the most part seemed really to mean their
words — even when the chorus was compelled to comment, without a trace of
irony, that Euryanthe’s alleged betrayal of Adolar was the most grievous deed
the world had ever witnessed: ‘ O Unthat, gr‰sslichste von allen, Die jemals
auf der Welt erhˆrt!’ Burns’s handling of Weber’s score was perhaps all
the more revelatory, not least since it is about the music that, perforce, we
truly care. Line was maintained throughout. Not a single passage sounded unduly
hurried or remotely meandering.

The Overture was an interesting case in point. It offered quite a contrast
with, say, Karajan’s account, firmly melded into an almost granitic Wagnerian
whole as it is — and mightily, even wondrously, impressive. Here, however, we
heard a greater variety of moods, textures, and tempi, arguably more faithful
to the movement’s role as apotpourri introduction to Weber’s opera
(as opposed to Karajan’s concert overture) and to the composer’s
conception, without danger of lapsing into the merely sectional. Presentiments
— one has to remind oneself that they are not echoes! — of Mendelssohn
characterised the very opening, but a darker form of the supernatural made its
voice eerily heard in the ghost music. Weber’s musico-dramatic experiments
were communicated with apparent ease, boundaries blurred but not obliterated
between more old-fashioned set pieces and the ‘forward-looking’ — at
least to any self-respecting Wagnerian — treatment of recitative and arioso.
Above all, dramatic tension remained tight and proportions simply sounded
‘right’, a far more difficult task to accomplish than many might

The chorus sometimes lacked a little in youthful vitality, especially
earlier on, yet became more animated as the opera progressed, later sounding
impressive indeed in the great close to the second act. Not unfittingly, it was
at that point that the orchestra perhaps gained its greatest dramatic heights
too, though throughout there was a great deal of impressive solo playing,
especially from the woodwind. If only Weber’s clarinet writing were as
meaningful in his concertos as it is here; he clearly needed a dramatic impetus
to reach the heights of which he was capable. Moreover, the strings, if at
times a little reticent earlier on, subsequently showed themselves adept at
providing just the right sort of musical cushion for vocal recitatives. I could
not help but wish that we had heard Burns at the helm for the
COG Die Feen
earlier this year, not least since the amount the two
works have in common — not solely influence, though there is a good deal of
that — became increasingly clear, as indeed did the influences, perceptible
yet again not exaggerated, upon Tannh‰user and Lohengrin.
(If only, I thought, Weber had had a dramatist such as Wagner to shape the
relationship between Lysiart and Eglantine, we might have had a more telling
taste still of Ortrud and Telramund. Meyerbeer’s
Robert le Diable
, appallingly misunderstood by many critics at
Covent Garden last year, also came to mind more than once.)

Kirstin Sharpin’s star shone brightly in the tight role, words and music
honoured to equal extent and indeed in fine alchemy. Hers was a portrayal both
impassioned and noble, clearly longing to be properly ‘on stage’, yet
offering considerable dramatic compensation even in concert. Sharpin’s
cleanness of vocal line and dramatic commitment were shared by Camilla
Roberts’s Eglantine. Tricky coloratura apparently evoked no fears; more
importantly, such ambiguity as the libretto permitted was exploited to its
dramatic fullest. Stephen Gadd likewise offered a finely honed portrayal of her
accomplice, Lysiart, malevolent and sophisticated — again, insofar as the
libretto permitted, but considerably more so than one would have likely have
expected. Jonathan Stoughton revealed an often pleasing tenor as Adolar,
drawing upon lyric and heroic reserves as required. This is clearly a voice
which, if sensibly marshalled, will be in great demand for heroic roles;
however, more careful phrasing was sometimes called for on this occasion.
Richard Wiegold projected a benevolent voice of experience as the king, and
Melinda Hughes’s brief appearance as the country girl, Bertha proved full of
charm. All contributed to a performance that was very much more than the sum of
its parts. Now will one of our opera companies — ideally, the Royal Opera —
kindly take its cue and do its duty by Weber?

Mark Berry

Cast and production information:

King Louis VI: Richard Wiegold; Adolar: Jonathan Stoughton;
Euryanthe: Kirstin Sharpin; Lysiart: Stephen Gadd; Eglantine: Camilla Roberts;
Bertha: Melinda Hughes; Chorus of the Chelsea Opera Group (chorus master:
Deborah Miles-Johnson)/Orchestra of the Chelsea Opera Group/Cameron Burns
(conductor). Cadogan Hall, London, Saturday 23 November 2013.

Click here for more information on Euryanthe.

image_description=Carl Maria von Weber (1821) by Caroline Bardua
product_title=Weber’s Euryanthe, London
product_by=A review by Mark Berry
product_id=Above: Carl Maria von Weber (1821) by Caroline Bardua