With its hardy knights, hapless heroine, and a touch of grave robbing thrown in, Weber’s hyper-romantic Euryanthe, which premiered in Vienna in 1823, looks like the classic gothic opera. Scratch the surface, however, and what emerges is a surprisingly Freudian drama with plenty of modern resonance. In fact, Christof Loy’s thoughtful, penetrating 2018 production for Theater an den Wien makes you seriously question why the work – which has a reputation for being flawed, or simply “not working” – isn’t a mainstream repertoire piece. Yes, it’s long, and something of a slow burn, and yes it’s questionable that the title character simply comes back to life, but in Loy’s clever – and I don’t mean pretentiously arty-farty – staging you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s imagined anyway.
The plot concerns the attempt by the envious knight Lysiart and the lovestruck maiden Eglantine to frame the virtuous Euryanthe as unfaithful while her husband Adolar is abroad at war. Loy stages it like Ibsen updated to sometime around the 1950s, Johannes Leiacker’s claustrophobic white single room set with its piano, bed and tree only missing the Chekhovian gun. The protagonists prowl around the walls, watching (or perhaps imagining) what the others are up to, each a slave to either his or her libido and sexual obsession, or alternatively prey to simple paranoia. Paul Landsmann’s video direction is beautifully subtle, especially it a lengthy nude scene (that peseumably is taking place in the singer’s head) and manages to preserve the performer’s modesty while capturing the nightmarish nature of the scene.
American soprano Jacquelyn Wagner is a real find as Euryanthe, a calm, dignified presence who projects both dramatic virtue and stoical resolution, with a bold, lyrical instrument that copes with Weber’s long, demanding lines and compliments them with thrilling top notes and cut-glass diction. Her long solos in the third act are deeply, deeply moving and worth the price of the DVD alone. Her fellow countryman, tenor Norman Reinhardt is nearly as impressive as her husband Adolar, managing the high-lying heroics with great style and capturing the hesitancy of a soldier who has experienced PTSD. Mezzo Theresa Kronthaler makes a fabulously edgy Eglantine, vocally hugely appealing, and at times reminding one dramatically of a sort of unstable Kate Bush, if that makes sense. Bass baritone and fine actor Andrew Foster-Williams does what he can with the snarling Lysiart, a tricky dyed-in-the-wool villain who Weber provides with no redeeming features, while resonant bass Stefan Cerny is a warm, likeable presence as King Ludwig.
Best of all is the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and Arnold Schoenberg Chor under Constantin Trinks, a conductor who really gets the depth in Weber’s richly expressive score. Euryanthe relies on subtle shadings to bring out its colour, as well as punch and musical flare to prevent it seeming overlong, and Trinks is quite brilliant on all counts. The chorus, too, are very impressive, singing with focus and passion. First class all round.
Performers: Jacquelyn Wagner s, Theresa Kronthaler ms, Norman Reinhardt t, Andrew Foster-Williams b-bar, Stefan Cerny b, Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Arnold Schoenberg Chor/Constantin Trinks
Label: Naxos 2110656 (DVD), NBD0107V (Blu-ray)