This is an outstanding opera release, part of a series of German operas on Capriccio, some (as in this instance) radio broadcasts, others transcriptions of live performances. Nice to have a clear, well-performed version: opera buffs seem willing to put up with all kinds of ghastly issues of opera performances and my last version- a 1980 transcription of an RAI performance, with insecure (though stereo) sound and a wandering focus- is simply outclassed..
A major gripe- a frequent one amongst bargain discs (but then, you get what you pay for) is the lack of a full libretto and translation. This becomes key when the opera is no longer a staple of repertoire. Fortunately the internet can be a wonderful thing, and I have found not only a full vocal score but several versions of the libretto in German and an execrable English translation. Hours of fun editing those……
Though the presentation is good, the sleeve notes commit the cardinal sin of damning the opera with faint praise: Bonsor’s First Law of Sleeve Note Writing is make sure you fully emphasise the strengths of the piece you are writing about- after all, if you are releasing something on CD you must have had sufficient faith in its merits that you expect to sell plenty of copies to make the production worthwhile?
Der Vampyr was an operatic hit, and it’s not hard to see why: it is packed full of memorable tunes, its instrumentation is both resourceful and imaginative and the storyline is clear-cut and dynamic. The music, to these ears, is surprisingly Italian, and if it wasn’t sung in German (a bit of a giveaway) you might take it for Donizetti. One wonders if Mahler ever conducted Der Vampyr, given that he would seem to have re-used Marschner’s second act Romanze pretty much note for note in ‘Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit Macht’ the first of the ‘Lieder eines fahrenden gesellen’. More obviously, W.S,Gilbert uses Lord Ruthven’s name as the first name of his Ruthven Murgatroyd in Ruddigore, and Sullivan draws on the same musical language as this opera.
So celebrate the fact, Capriccio, and highlight that this is a little-known gem which deserves to be given more than the occasional outing.
Of course what you get here is all the music, but minus the few moments of concerted dialogue (in one instance the ‘melodrama’ from act One we get just the music but not the spoken words). This isn’t quite a Singspiel, so the missing dialogue isn’t extensive, but if you were trying to follow the plot, Marschner isn’t brave enough to give music to all the significant mechanics of the story. (This isn’t as important if you have an astute director who can animate the stage action, but some re-writing would probably be inevitable: the extant dialogue is a little clunky to say the least). Marschner’s music concentrates on the romantic, comic, and gothic elements of the plot and to great effect, so we’re not short-changed.
There are no weak links amongst the cast: Particular honours must go to Franz Hawlata, as a suitably seductive and menacing Lord Ruthven (The Vampyr), and Anke Hoffmann doubling as both Janhthe and Emmy. The orchestral playing of the WDR Radio Symphony Orchestra Koln is incisive and impressive, as is the clarity of diction and concerted sound of the WDR Radio Choir, and the conductor Helmut Froschauer has a firm grasp of his material, bringing out the requisite dramatics without sending the piece over the top.