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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Weinberger: Schwanda the Bagpiper

07/07/2013 1:00 pm
07/07/2013 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Schwanda Dudelsackpfeifer is the one and only lyric stage work Jaromir Weinberger (1896-1967) is known for, although he composed many other things, including film scores, in later life. Weinberger died in obscurity in a rest home in Florida of an overdose of sedatives, presumably a suicide.

He was thirty one years old when Schwanda premiered at Prague, his hometown, the capital city of his native Bohemia. It was a tremendous success and its libretto was translated from the original Czech into seventeen other languages, but the opera is known to the world at large in its German language version. As recorded in German in 1981 for CBS Masterworks and titled simply Schwanda, it is a world premiere on disc.

Even in German Schwanda remains a Czech national folk opera at heart. Its story is based on an old Bohemian legend with elements of the grotesque and burlesque, magic and fairy tale. Wouldn't you know that in this very musically inclined 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 home 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.

That world premiere recording was derived from a concert hall broadcast from Radio Bavaria in Munich. The distinguished German baritone Hermann Prey is Schwanda. His wife Dorotka is soprano Lucia Popp, who is herself of Bohemian origin. The robber Babinsky is tenor Siegfried Jerusalem and bass Siegmund Nimsgern is heard as the Devil. What topnotch vocal casting!Heinz Wallberg conducts the Munich Radio Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Chorus. I can't believe my programming records show me that I have not rebroadcast this wonderful recording since it was aired on Sunday, August 11, 1985! Back then I worked from the set of three LP's that's in our station's classical music record collection. Now after more than a quarter of a century I present Schwanda today in its CBS Masterworks reissue on two compact discs. It comes out of my own collection of opera recordings.