24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Eric D. Anderson
- Published on Amazon.com
Schreker's "Das Spielwerk und der Prinzessin" is a remarkable little opera. Typical of Schreker's operas, it's a wildly imagined fairy tale with lots of weird pseudo-Freudian subtext.
Schreker wrote in an ulta-rich, ambitious, romantic-expressionist idiom--complex both harmonically and orchestrally. Schreker pursued unusual orchestral timbres with great imagination. His music is garish and irridescent.
Schreker seems to glory in his ability to conjure up strangely imagined worlds of magic, romance, sexual depravity, and in the case of "Spielwerk", purification. His characters are often strange blends of earnestness and corruption--in some cases these blends border on being so far from real human experience that they're unsympathetic or dramatically unconvincing. But in "Spielwerk", I think he does a better job than in some other operas, and the language of his librettos (which he always wrote himself) is always beautiful.
The story of "Spielwerk" is downright weird, and can't be explained simply!
In the backstory of "Spielwerk", the old craftsman Master Florian had spent a his lifetime crafting a musicbox that produces music of unearthly beauty, but only came alive when his son played his violin. The Princess who ruled from a nearby castle began holding wild orgiastic parties where she would strip off her robes and "yield" to her male guests. Master Florian's wife, his assistant "Wolf", and his son were all eventually seduced by the parties, where his son, now the Princess's lover, would play the musicbox, driving the revellers to even wilder excesses. So Master Florian renounced his wife, and drove his son from his house out into the world. The music box fell silent.
In the beginning of the opera, Master Florian's son has died, and is brought to his cabin's door, where his now penitent wife urges him to take the boy's body inside. He refuses. A mysterious travelling flute player happens by, and is invited by Florian to stay with him. When the guest plays his noble music, the musicbox suddenly, to Master Florian's surprise, comes to life!
The Princess, now despondent at having lost her lover and the music of the "Spielwerk", plans one final party, and asks "Wolf" to burn her and her guests to death upon it's completion. The flute player meets the Princess by chance on the road, and they feel drawn to one another. He thinks she's just a common woman, and when she urges him to run away with her to start a new life, he's tempted. But he tells her that he has come to heal and redeem the Princess, and that until he does so, he cannot leave. She tells him of the Princess's terrible corruption, and that she cannot be healed. But he is immovable.
The party begins, but is interrupted by a mob led by Master Florian's former wife. They threaten to tear the Princess to pieces. But at the last moment, the flute player intervenes, playing his flute. At that moment the musicbox responds. Florian's son's corpse sits up and begins to play his violin along with the Spielwerk's wonderous tones, and all the listeners are entranced. The flute player and the Princess dance together, singing ecstatically, and wend their way slowly towards the distant castle. "Wolf" and his cohorts burn Master Florian's cabin to the ground, finally silencing the musicbox.
During the second decade of the 20th century, Schreker became the second most successful living opera composer in the German speaking world, second only Strauss. "Spielwerk" was his one dud in a string of successes--following "Der ferne Klang", and preceeding "Die Gezeichneten" and "Der Schatzgraber", each which was more successful than the last. He revised "Spielwerk", cutting it's already brief length (100 minutes). But the revision was also a flop. This recording, from the enterprising Kiel Opera, is a reconstruction of the original version.
I can't help but recommend this strange little operatic hallucination!