SCHREKER: Der Ferne Klang (Opera in Three Acts)
Der Ferne Klang ("The Distant Sound") was Schreker's first major opera, written at the turn of the century just after the successful premiere of his one-act opera Flammen. Friends criticized the erotic nature of the opera, discouraging the composer from its completion. In 1905, after the premiere of Strauss's Salome with its overt sexuality, Schrecker again took up Der Ferne Klang. Nachtstück, an orchestral interlude from Act III was premiered as a concert piece in 1909 to considerable acclaim; to this day this is occasionally performed as a concert piece. The opera had its premiere August 1912 in Frankfurt to some success. Later Schreker composed the operas Die Gezeichneten and Der Schatzgrńber both of which were well received -- but none of Schreker's operas has achieved more than occasional performance.
Der Ferne Klang is scored for a huge orchestra, sensitively used, with small orchestras or ensembles on stage. In Act II there is an ensemble of flute, clarinet, three mandolins, two guitars and strings as well as a gypsy band including cembalom. In Act III there is an off-stage theatre orchestra. A major aria for Fritz in Act III is accompanied by solo celesta with ascending notes, with glittering effect.
Der Ferne Klang is about the tragic love of the young girl Grete and Fritz, a writer who hears distant sound that he must pursue. After he leaves, Grete is distraught and becomes a prostitute (apparently this is what upset Schreker's friends). A decade passes, Fritz returns looking for the girl he loved and is horrified to find what she has become. Five years after that, Fritz returns regretting his rejection of Grete. Grete is brought to him in the final scenes of the opera for a reunion with her first lover. He finally hears the music he has been searching for and dies in his beloved's arms.
There are no big show-stopping arias in this opera, although the Count's "Burning Crown" aria in Act II comes close, and the final duet of Grete (whose name as a prostitute is "Tini") and Fritz is Schreker at his best. None of this is easy music to sing. Casting on this CD is uniformly strong. Grigorescu negotiates Grete/Tini's music with security if not always with tonal beauty, and Thomas Harper's Fritz is up to the role's heldentenor demands. He recently sang Wagner with the Seattle Opera and appears to have a bright future. The Hagen orchestra and chorus are superb under conductor Michael Halász's firm direction. Sound quality is first-rate, with voices perhaps a touch overly-prominent.
The CD jewel box indicates "English Text/Texte en franšais/Texto en español," which applies to the somewhat detailed synopsis of the plot with cues to tracks on the CDs. However the libretto, unfortunately, is only in German. This performance was recorded in 1989, previously issued on the Marco Polo label. It is the only recording of the complete opera, and welcome, particularly at its reduced price (slightly more than Naxos' usual price, doubtless because of the libretto).
R.E.B. (June 2000)