Fierrabras (opera)

Fierrabras (opera)

"Fierrabras" is a three-act opera written by the composer Franz Schubert in 1823, to a libretto by Josef Kupelwieser, the general manager of the Theater am Kärntnertor (Vienna's Court Opera Theatre). Along with the earlier "Alfonso und Estrella", composed in 1822, it marks Schubert's attempt to compose grand Romantic opera in German, departing from the Singspiel tradition.

Composition history and background

The commission

The Kärntnertor Theater in 1822 commissioned operas from Schubert and Carl Maria von Weber in a drive to increase the number of German operas in repertoire. Schubert fulfilled his commission with "Fierrabras", von Weber his with "Euryanthe". The Italian theatre director Domenico Barbaja, who had taken over the theatre in 1821, at the same time brought Rossini to Vienna to oversee production of several of his operas at the Kärntnertor Theater. Rossini's operas were so popular that "Euryanthe" unsuccessfully premiered in October 1823, resulting in the shelving of plans to stage "Fierrabras", and the resignation of Josef Kupelwieser as director of the theater, complaining of "arrogance" on the part of Barbaja.McKay liner notes] As a result, Schubert never saw the opera staged, or even received payment for his work.

The libretto

The libretto by Kupelwieser is about the adventures of the Moorish knight Fierrabras, and his eventual conversion to Christianity. It is based on stories surrounding Charlemagne, including tales of how Fierrabas' sister falls in love with one of Charlemagne's knights, and the love interest between Charlemagne's daughter Emma and another of his knights, Eginhard. Kupelwieser had likely drawn his inspiration from German publications of the tales of Charlemagne, including an 1806 translation "La Puente de Mantible" by Calderón. [Neef, p. 14] Notable deviations from the sources include the name of the Moorish prince (Baligant in the sources, Boland in the libretto), the spelling of Fierrabras (usually "Fierabras"), and the love interest of Fierrabras' sister (Kupelwieser used Roland as her lover, where the legends have Gui de Bourgogne.)

Kupelwieser, who did not have great experience at libretto-writing, submitted the completed libretto to the censors on July 21, 1823, and it was approved on August 19 with minor changes, well after Schubert had started work on the music.McKay, p. 248] Since Kupelwieser, as director of the Kärntnertor Theater, had experience dealing with Prince Metternich's censors, he appears to have engaged in self-censhorship to avoid difficulties with the libretto. For example, instead of referring to the partisans in the drama as French and Spanish, he labels them as Franks and Moors. He also referred to a "supreme faith" rather than Christianity. [McKay, p. 249]

The music

Schubert frequently marked his manuscripts with dates indicating when he worked on them. The manuscripts for this work show the following dates:

*Act 1: 25-30 May 1823
*Act 2: 31 May-5 June 1823
*Act 3: 7 June-26 September 1823
*Overture: 2 October 1823

As the libretto was not approved by the censors until August 1823, Schubert was required to make some small changes to already-composed material.

Performance history

On May 7, 1835 (seven years after Schubert's death), at the Theater in der Josefstadt, Vienna, a concert-version of some numbers was given. The general consensus is that the work most suffers from the extreme weakness of the libretto.cite journal | last=Dean | first=Winton |quotes=no |title="Radio" (review of broadcast performance of "Fierrabras") | journal=The Musical Times |volume=112 |issue=1540 |pages=p. 588 |date=1971 ] Its first full performance was not until 1897, despite "much magnificent music in Schubert’s score", [cite web | last=McKay | first=Elizabeth Norman | title="Fierrabras" |work=Grove Music Online (L. Macy, ed.) | url= |accessdate=2007-11-02 ] when it was given at the Hoftheater Karlsruhe under the direction of Felix Mottl. [cite book |title=The Cambridge Companion to Schubert |last=Gibbs |first=Christopher,ed. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1997 |publisher=Cambridge University Press |location=Cambridge, England |isbn=0-521-48424-3 |pages=p. 318 |url= ] The 1897 performance was edited by Mottl for the tastes of the day, resulting in scenes being cut, and ballet interludes injected into the performance. [Neef, p. 11]

In the 20th century, the opera received a radio broadcast from Brussels on January 14, 1926. A London concert of November 6, 1938 featured excerpts from the work. [cite journal | last=Brown | first = Maurice J.E. | title=Schubert's "Fierrabras" |date=April 1971 |journal=The Musical Times
volume=112 |issue=1538 |pages=pp. 338-339
] An abridged version of the opera was given in a 1959 radio broadcast from Bern, and later issued on record.cite journal | url= | last=Lee |first=M. Owen | title="Fierrabras". Franz Schubert | journal=The Opera Quarterly | volume=8 | issue=2 | pages=179–181 | date=1991 | accessdate=2007-09-17 | doi=10.1093/oq/8.2.179] The first British performance was a Radio 3 broadcast on April 10, 1971. Concert versions of the opera were presented in 1978 in Perugia, and in 1980 in Aachen, and staged revivals (presumably of the Mottl version) took place in the early 1980s in Philadelphia, Augsburg, and Hermance.Neef, p. 12] In 1988, Claudio Abbado directed performances of a complete staging of the opera (likely the first performances that used all of Schubert's music) at the Theater an der Wien, which formed the basis of the first complete recording of the work.cite journal | url= | last=Jellinek |first=George | title="Fierrabras". Franz Schubert | journal=The Opera Quarterly | volume=8 | issue=4 | pages=137–138 | date=1991 | accessdate=2007-09-17 | doi=10.1093/oq/8.4.137]



Act 1

Emma, the daughter of King Karl (Charlemagne, from the German name for Charlemagne, Karl der Große), is in love with Eginhard. Their love must be kept secret since Karl does not approve. Karl's knights, led by Roland, have defeated the Moors and captured Fierrabras, the son of the Moorish prince Boland. Karl does not imprison Fierrabras. When they are brought to Karl's castle, Fierrabras spies Emma, and recognizes her as someone he fell in love with in Rome. Eginhard and Emma meet in the garden at night, but are interrupted by Fierrabras. The lovers plead with Fierrabras to protect Eginhard from Karl. Fierrabras agrees, and Eginhard makes his escape. The king approaches, and, thinking Fierrabras is trying to kidnap Emma, has him thrown in chains. As the act ends, Eginhard and the knights are preparing to leave.

Act 2

Eginhard (without clarify the matter concerning Emma and Fierrabras) has been sent to Boland with Roland and Karl's other knights for peace talks. The Moors surprise Eginhard, capture him, and bring him to the Moorish castle, where Boland and his daughter Florinda are concerned over Fierrabras' fate. Eginhard informs them of Fierrabras' imprisonment. The rest of Karl's knights arrive for the peace talks. Boland, upset over Fierrabras' imprisonment, takes them prisoner and condemns them to death. His daughter Florinda recogizes Roland (who she fell in love with while in Rome) among the knights, and decides to try to help them. She manages to free Eginhard, and, after a brief interlude with Roland, frees the knights from the castle prison. The knights, after battle in which Roland is captured, are returned to the prison, where Boland is upset over Florinda's behavior.

Act 3

Emma, who is waiting for Eginhard's return, confesses to her father that Fierrabras is innocent, and that she and Eginhard are in love. Karl frees Fierrabras, and they leave with Eginhard to go to the Moorish castle to free the imprisoned knights. The knights are being led to the execution pyre. Florinda pleads with Boland to spare Roland. In anger, Boland says that if she loves Roland, she can die with him. Karl, Eginhard, and Fierrabras arrive just in time to stop the executions, and convince Boland to release the knights. Karl and Boland make peace, allow Roland and Florinda to join, as well as Eginhard and Emma. Fierrabras joins Karl's knights.


* Myto MCD 89001: Otto von Rohr, Sieglinde Kahmann, Raymond Wolansky, Hans Ulrich Mielsch, Fritz Wunderlich, Rudo Timper, Hetty Plümacher, Melanie Geissler, Manfred Röhrl; Südfunk Chorus; Radio Bern Chamber Chorus; Bern State Orchestra; Hans Müller-Kray, conductor (highly abridged, from 1959 radio broadcast)
* Deutsche Grammophon 427 341-2 (2CD set): Robert Holl, Karita Mattila, Thomas Hampson, Robert Gambill, Josef Protschka, László Polgár, Cheryl Studer, Brigitte Balleys, Hartmut Welker; Arnold Schönberg Chorus; Chamber Orchestra of Europe; Claudio Abbado, conductor (first essentially complete recording)
* EMI Classics 00969 (DVD): Jonas Kaufmann, Juliane Banse, Christoph Strehl, László Polgár, Guido Gotzen, Franz Welser-Möst, conductor, Claus Guth, director, Chorus and Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House



*it icon cite web |url= |title=Amadeus Almanac for Feb 9, 1897 |accessdate=2008-09-01
*cite book |title=The Penguin Opera Guide |last=Holden |first=Amanda (ed.) |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1995 |publisher=Penguin |location= |isbn=0-14-025131-6 |pages= |url=
*de icon cite web |url= |title=Synopsis |accessdate=2008-09-03 |work=Fierrabras |publisher=Opera Guide |date=
*de icon cite web |url=,+Josef/Libretto/Fierrabras |title=Libretto |accessdate=2008-09-03 |work=Fierrabras |publisher= - Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH |date=
*cite book |title=The Life of Franz Schubert |last=Austin |first=George Lowell |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1873 |publisher=Shepard and Gill |location= |isbn= |pages=pp. 76-78 |url=
*cite book |last=McKay |first=Elizabeth Norman |title=Franz Schubert's Music for the Theater |publisher=Hans Schneider |year=1991 |city=Tutzing |ref=McKayBook
*cite album-notes |title="Fierrabras" |albumlink= |bandname=Claudio Abbado/Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Arnold Schönberg Choir |year=1990 |notestitle="Fierrabras": An Introduction |url= |last=McKay |first=Elizabeth Norman |authorlink= |coauthors= |pages= |format=booklet |publisher=Deutsche Grammophon |publisherid=DG 427 341-2 |location=Hamburg |mbid= |ref=McKayLinerNotes
*de icon cite album-notes |title="Fierrabras" |albumlink= |bandname=Claudio Abbado/Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Arnold Schönberg Choir |year=1990 |notestitle=Franz Schuberts Heroisch-romantische Oper "Fierrabras" |url= |first=Sigrid |last=Neef |authorlink= |coauthors= |pages= |format=booklet |publisher=Deutsche Grammophon |publisherid=DG 427 341-2 |location=Hamburg |mbid= |ref=Neef

External links

* [ Libretto at 'Opera Guide' (Opernführer)]

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