S. WAGNER: Rainulf und Adelasia.
Hana Minutillo (Albriria); Roman Trekel (Osmund); Frank van Aken (Rainulf);
Elisabeth M. Wachutka (Adelasia); Die Stuttgarter Choristen; Staatsphilharmonie
Rheinland-Pfalz/Werner Andreas Albert.
CPO 777 017-2 (F) (3 CDs) (DDD) TT: 204:11
BUY NOW FROM AMAZON
Being the son of a genius is rough enough, but the son of an icon of Western
Civilization has it even rougher. Given the weight dumped on Siegfried
Wagner's shoulders by simply the fact of his father, he bore it remarkably
well. An active (as opposed to repressed) homosexual, he married mainly
to avoid scandal and sired four kids, including the directors Wieland,
Friedelind, and Wolfgang. Unfortunately, he married Winnifred. Sexual orientation
wasn't their only point of disagreement. Winnifred became involved with
the Nazis and a particular friend of Hitler. Indeed, for many years they
were romantically linked. Siegfried, who died in 1930, kept the Nazis out
of Bayreuth as long as he could. Friedelind, who idolized her father, fled
Nazi Germany and became a dedicated anti-Fascist, although out of her concern
for her family, she kept quiet during the war. She wrote a fine autobiography,
Heritage of Fire.
Siegfried has a claim on history if only because he inspired his
father to write one of his few mature non-operatic works, the ecstatic Siegfried-Idyl.
He directed the Bayreuth Festival from 1908 to his death. He also went
into the family business and composed operas. In fact, he wrote more
operas than his father -- 18 in all, of which at least 8 have made
it to CD --
but not one of them has entered the repertory. Friedelind always maintained that her father's titles were so ridiculous
that they sank the operas. It seems a bit far-fetched. However, we now
have the chance to sample Rainulf und Adelasia of 1922.
Like his daddy, Siegfried wrote his own libretti, and for the most part,
Rainulf und Adelasia's, though based on the history of the Normans in
Sicily, pretty much qualifies as a mess. It has more characters and plot
than a Keystone Kops comedy. I would have welcomed a little humor, but
Siegfried is too caught up in noble thoughts and deeds. The son is really
no dramatist. As unintentionally hilarious as Papa Wagner can sometimes
get, at least he has a strong sense of theater and of libretti that work.
At his best, he has an appreciation of the roundedness of a character.
Even something as tragic as Tristan has amusing moments. Die
Walküre sustains an epic drama with essentially five characters, three of which
have an act to themselves. The father creates conflict and tension with
an economy the son lacks.
Throughout his life, however, Siegfried never got a truly fair shake
from the critics, most of whom couldn't judge his work without reference
Richard, just as I've done above. Very few opera composers come up to
Richard Wagner's level, but that doesn't necessarily make their work
even ignorable. Siegfried is a personality in his own right and deserves
that kind of regard.
Despite the son's persistence with opera, he's not really a dramatic
composer at all, but a lyric one. The story, in its essentials and stripped
few subplots, concerns a woman who proves the man for whom she harbors
an unrequited love innocent of theft and murder. You can see the lack
of dramatic focus in the very title. Adelasia is the heroine, but Rainulf
is not the object of her affection. Rather, he is the villain whom she
pretends to love so that she can get him to confess. Oy. Talk about indirection.
Nevertheless, these are the two strongest characters in the opera, or
least the two who get most of the stage time. Rainulf, by far, counts
as the most interesting: a villainous mama's boy of enormous wit, political
skill, and as neurotic as a hamster on crack. Concentrating on Rainulf
might have made for a drama as emphatic as Macbeth, but Wagner's attention
seriously wanders by building up Adelasia to no good purpose. If he had
portrayed Adelasia with anything near the psychology he gives to Rainulf
(not to mention the crazy mother), he might have had a minor Tosca or
Meanwhile, the other characters add up to little more than plot devices.
In many ways, Rainulf and Adelasia seem to carry on different aspects
of an interior monologue the composer holds with himself. I myself read
as a psychological drama of Siegfried Wagner's life: a pathological concern
for succession, a fear of illegitimacy, a stifling of true love, and
a dark, Freudian portrait of the relation between two sons -- one good,
bad -- and their crazy mother.
The music shows Richard Wagner's influence -- hardly a surprise, since
Wagner affected many composers of Siegfried's generation. What does surprise,
however, is that it's early Wagner, somewhere around Der fliegende
The liner notes refer to the influence of Meyerbeer grand opera, which
I think legitimate, since Richard at that point takes the essential structure
of Meyerbeer but disguises the separateness of the numbers with extended
transitions. By the time we get to the Ring, this scheme has
given way to a through-composed procedure, yielding a dramatic musical
of enormous suppleness. Siegfried uses musical tags for characters and
ideas but within the older approach. The thing is, it's 1922, for heaven's
sake. Strauss's Elektra's about fifteen years past, Die
Frau ohne Schatten (to name two relatively conservative operas)
four. And yet both sound part of the new century. At this point, did
anybody really need another Flying Dutchman?
Furthermore, it doesn't pack Dutchman's dramatic punch. The villainy
operates at the Friml-operetta level, as does the heroism. Characters
explaining themselves, at great length, rather than revealing themselves
through action. At one point, the villain gloats that "he who talks
the biggest, gets away with the most," but, really, this is Siegfried
Wagner's quasi-dramatic method. He loves to set Big Talk. The most convincing
moments are the purely lyrical parts of the score -- Rainulf's cynical
lightness early in the first act and his apostrophe to Greece at the end
of the second. Even so, some of the music comes across as second-hand:
the moments praising nature from Siegfried's "Forest Murmurs," and
the praise of Hellas from Das Rheingold's Rhinemaidens.
This live performance tells you how good the opera is without convincing
you that you've been missing another Don Giovanni all these years. It
gives Siegfried Wagner a fair hearing. There are a few ensemble and intonation
problems at the beginning, but these iron themselves out fairly quickly.
S.G.S. (August 2007)