SCHUBERT: Incidental Music to Rosamunde, D 797 – Serena Malfi, alto/ Schweizer Chamber Chorus/ Musikkollegium Winterthur/ Douglas Boyd – MDG 901 1633-6, 58:15 [Distr. by E1] *****:
Schubert devoted no little part of his life to the creation of stage works. Of about seventeen he created, only three—Die Zwillingsbruder, Die Zauberharfe, and Rosamunde saw the light of day. The premiere production, at the Theater an der Wien, took place in 1823, the same year as the commission, and was a dismal failure, as all of Schubert’s stage works were. The overture to this piece, always problematical, was taken originally from his opera Alfonso und Estrella, though by the 1867 edition the overture to Die Zauberharfe had taken its place. There is really no telling what Schubert would have eventually done, but Die Zauberharfe seems to work well, no doubt because of what has now become “received” tradition.
Schubert’s stage conceptions will probably never be well-received for the same reasons they weren’t then—lack of overt dramatic conception, and too much emphasis on more subtle psychological themes that are fiendishly difficult to translate to the stage, whether through opera or ballet. In the case of Rosamunde one might think the story fairly straightforward—Princess Rosamunde is put into the care of a poor widow by her father until her seventeenth birthday and is presented to the people of Cypress as their new ruler. She gets involved in a very complicated plot of love and intrigue, which according to Karl Schumann, "In the play there appear a cursed princess, who had been brought up by sailors, a pursuer, who travels around with poisoned letters – whoever reads them, dies – and a prince, who has to live among shepherds; there is a mysterious shipwreck and, further, ghosts, hunters, and shepherds are to found in a colorful, fairy-tale scenario." Actually it sound like quite an afternoon at the theater to me and it does end well for the Princess, but I guess the Germans at the time thought it too crazy and convoluted! Whatever the reasons, it closed after two performances.
But the music is luscious, pure lyrical Schubert, and concert performances remain popular. This recording is just superb in every way, the choir, Serena Malfi, the Winterthur Orchestra, and Douglas Boyd’s concise and flexible direction providing all the Schubertian warmth and sensibility that one could ask for in this music, and the surround spread is vital and enhancing. My favorite to this point is the Abbado/DG recording with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and I see no need to keep more than one copy of this work in my library—it just got replaced.
— Steven Ritter