University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Weinberger: Schwanda the Bagpiper

12/16/2018 1:00 pm
12/16/2018 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

This is the one and only lyric stagework that Jaromir Weinberger (1896-1967) is known for. He composed many other things, including film scores in later life. Weinberger died in a rest home in Florida of an overdose of sedatives: presumably a suicide. Weinberger's talents peaked too early in his career. He was only thirty one when Schwanda premiered in Prague, the Czech national capital, in 1927. It was a tremendous success; its libretto was translated into seventeen other languages. Czech was the original language, but the opera is known to the world at large in its German language version as Schwanda Dudelsackpfeiffer.

Schwanda is emphatically a Czech folk opera. The story is based on an old Bohemian legend, with elements of the grotesque and burlesque, magic and fairy tale romance. And wouldn't you know that in that very musically inclined Central European national culture a musician would be the hero of the piece! Schwanda is a Bohemian peasant and a damned good bagpipe player. The legendary highwayman Babinsky tempts the hero to leave his native village and his wife Dorotka. Schwanda has a series of adventures in foreign parts. In the end he must bargain with the Devil for possession of his soul. Schwanda cheats the Devil at cards and is released from Hell to return to his beloved Dorotka.

Schwanda in its German version was recorded for the German CBS Masterworks label in 1979. The recording originated as a radio broadcast from the studios of Bavarian Radio Munich. The world premiere recording of Schwanda was first issued on LPs in 1981. I presented the LP release way back on Sunday, August 11, 1985. This Sunday you get to hear the folk opera again in compact disc reissue. Heinz Wallberg directs the Munich Radio Orchestra. The distinguished baritone Hermann Prey is heard as Schwanda. His wife Dorotka is soprano Lucia Popp. The robber Babinsky is tenor Siegfried Jerusalem and bass Siegmund Nimsgern takes the role of the Devil. Also heard in singing capacity is the Bavarian Radio Chorus.