University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Lehar: Friederike

04/26/2015 1:00 pm
04/26/2015 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host, Keith Brown, writes:

Now is the time when flowers bloom and little lambs frisk about. Springtime has always been beloved of poets. Franz Lehar's Friederike (1928), unlike so many ditsy, sentimental works in the genre, portrays on the lyric stage with some historical accuracy the single most famous love story in all of German literature: the "Sesenheim Idyll", that brief but passionate courtship Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Shakespeare of Germany, conducted with a seventeen year old Alsatian girl, Friederike Brion, in 1770. The young poet lost heart in less than a year's time. He went off to further his literary career; poor Friederike had to resign herself to his departure. Some elements in the libretto Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Lohner proffered to Lehar tweaked history, to be sure. Other elements they made up for theatrical purposes.

In Friederike, Lehar gave his own operetta-style treatment to several of Goethe's lyrics, especially Heidenroslein ("Hedge Rose"), the poem Schubert set in one of his immortal Lieder. In the operetta the poet is depicted communing with the lambs, and he sings to them. A couple of numbers from Friederike became popular circa 1928. Despite the beauties of its music, this Lehar operetta had to wait until 1980 for its first complete recording. It was made in the studios of Radio Bavaria, Munich. Heinz Wallberg conducted the Munich Radio Orchestra and Chorus of Bavarian Radio. Friederike is soprano Helen Donath. Goethe is tenor Adolf Dallapozza. First issued in 1981 on vinyl discs, Friederike reappeared in 2014 on two silver discs courtesy of Warner Classics.