A few years before his death in 1949, Richard Strauss somehow got roped into writing an operetta or singspiel for his grandson's school. It is based on Wieland's famous story of The Donkey's Shadow. DIE ESELS SCHATTEN was left incomplete by the composer. Eventually the score was completed by Karl Haussner and premiered only in 1964. There is only about thirty-five minutes worth of music, and the publisher lists the duration of the work at ninety minutes. This is not a very good ratio of music to dialogue. The balance is scarcely better in the current recording which replaces the spoken dialogue with a narration in English by Sir Peter Ustinov and lasts around seventy-five minutes. Time and again I have found myself skipping over the narrative passages and just listening to the composer's fine tunes. Ustinov simply seems to enjoy the sound of his own speaking voice too much ! (Something I have felt about his work throughout his career.)
Haussner's orchestration is problematic. One senses that given the nature of the melodies, the politically tinged libretto, and the fact that he was composing for amateurs, that Strauss, ever the practical man of the theater, would have probably done an instrumentation more in line with Orff or Weill. Haussner's orchestration sounds like the full blown post-romantic Strauss of ARIADNE AUF NAXOS or DAPHNE.
The tunes themselves are worth it, but I suspect that many listeners will question the orchestration and skip over the narration just as I do.
Although there are no standout performances, the singing is just fine.
Conductor Karl Anton Rickenbacher who has made a specialty of ferreting out German musical rarities, gets beautiful playing from the orchestra.
The sound recording is excellent.