Weber: Silvana

Michaela Kaune Mechthilde, Ines Krapp Clärchen, Ferdinand von Bothmer Graf Rudolf, Jörg Schärner Albert von Cleeburg, Detlef Roth Graf Adelhart, Andreas Burkhart Fust von Grimmbach, Simon Pauly Krips, Tareq Nazmi Kurt, Marko Cilic (spoken) herald/Ulrich, Rut Nothelfer cello, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Ulf Schirmer
141:34 (2 CDs)
cpo 777 727-2

An opera in which the heroine doesn’t sing? Well, I suppose many of us will have experienced performances that inspired the feeling that it might be an improvement, but this is the only example I know of where the part was written in such a way. The first of Weber’s operas to achieve some success, Silvana has its roots in the composer’s first operatic venture, Das Waldmädchen of 1800. The immature teenage work was discarded, but Weber incorporated fragments of it when he returned to a re-worked version of what is an archetypal Romantic story. A naïve mute girl is discovered living in a wild forest by Rudolf, a hunting nobleman. He of course falls in love with her and after many twists and turns eventually discovers she is the noble sister of the woman to whom he is unwillingly engaged. Fortunately she too wants to marry someone else, so all ends well, especially as Silvana has only been playing mute. Silvana created little impression when first given in Frankfurt in 1810, but achieved greater success when it was staged in Berlin two years later.

Both as literature and drama Silvana is fatally crippled by a quite abominable libretto. Characters appear and disappear, only to play no further part in the proceedings, while a line like ‘shall I ruffle my hair in my rage?’ is sadly not unique. Musically, too, the opera is hardly distinguished, though the forest setting of the first and third acts inspires the evocation of nature in all its sublime awesomeness that would reach full maturity in Der Freischütz a decade later. There are also many felicitous touches of orchestration, the touching scene in which Rudolph attempts to question the silent Silvana enhanced by an expressive cello solo.

The present performance of the original 1810 version is taken live from a production in Munich in 2010. The singing is variable, the demanding role of Rudolph in particular needing an heroic tenor in the Jonas Kaufmann mould, qualities regrettably not in evidence in the strained, over-parted singing of Ferdinand von Bothmer. The main female singing role is that Silvana’s sister Mechthilde, Michaela Kaune progressing from an unsteady start in the scene with her blustering father Adelhart to give a dramatically compelling and more tonally secure account of her big act 2 recitative and aria. The only other major role is that of the squire Krips, a Papageno-like character, well if not memorably sung by Simon Pauly, while the singing of the smaller roles does nothing to add or detract from the overall competency. The experienced Ulf Schirmer directs with sensitivity and due regard for Weber’s fresh, bright orchestral palette, while drawing fine playing from his Munich Radio forces, though period winds (in particular) would doubtless have provided greater piquancy. The booklet includes a translation of the sung parts, but does not print the spoken dialogue in German or English, a synopsis being provided in another part of the text.

Brian Robins