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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Schubert:Die Freunde von Salamanca; Sondheim:The Frogs

04/27/2014 1:00 pm
04/27/2014 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

One of the best kept secrets in classical music is that Franz Schubert, the immortal songwriter, wrote opera. An awful lot of opera. Unfortunately, he was just not a very successful opera composer. Whenever I have run across those rare recordings of Schubert's operas I have broadcast them. Schubert's Singspiel Die Freunde von Salamanca ("The Friends from Salamanca," 1815) was never performed in his lifetime. Essentially, it's a romantic comedy set in Spain. The German language spoken-word passages for this Singspiel have not survived, but the outlines of the plot are clear enough, and it's Schubert's melodious sung passages that matter in lyric theater broadcast. (So many recordings of Viennese operetta omit dialog, anyway.)

This particular Schubert rarity was recorded live at the 1978 Hohenems Schubertiade. Theodor Guschlbauer directs the chorus and orchestra of Radio Austria. The singing cast assembled for that festival production was absolutely stellar for that time period in Central Europe. Soprano Edith Mathis and baritone Hermann Prey took part. Deutsche Grammophon originally released Die Freunde von Salamanca in 1981. It has been reissued on a single compact disc through the Dutch label Brilliant Classics.

We continue in the comic vein with the 2001 world premiere release for the Nonesuch label of The Frogs, musically adapted from the ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes. America's greatest living songwriter, Stephen Sondheim, wrote both music and lyrics for the spectacular 1974 Yale Repertory Theater production. Actors in the cast included drama students Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver. Dancers in the company performed a water ballet in an Olympic-sized pool. Sondheim's songs for The Frogs have been sung and recorded separately, but never in their entirety as numbers in the incidental music for the play.

Sondheim himself supervised the recording made at the Hit Factory in New York City. Nathan Lane is heard in the role of Dionysos in the recording session. He starred in the concert revival of The Frogs given in May, 2000 by the Music Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Piggybacked on the Nonesuch CD are Sondheim's songs for Evening Primrose (1967).