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Schubert: Alfonso und Estrella
Schubert Alfonso und Estrella
Actors: Bar, Orgonasova, Muff, Hampson, Wottrich
Director: Large;Harnoncourt
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2009     2hr 19min

An all-star cast, world-famous choir and orchestra conducted by the renowned Nikolaus Harnoncourt came together in May 1997 to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Franz Schubert's birth with a new production of his rarely p...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Bar, Orgonasova, Muff, Hampson, Wottrich
Director: Large;Harnoncourt
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, DTS, Classical
Studio: NAXOS
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 02/24/2009
Original Release Date: 01/01/2009
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2009
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 2hr 19min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: German
Subtitles: German, English

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Movie Reviews

Schubert's Gorgeous Music
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 03/11/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"It understandable why Schubert's opera 'Alfonso und Estrella' has barely managed to keep a toehold on the world's operatic stages. In spite of its gorgeous music, its plot is static and uninvolving. There are two DVD versions of the opera, one from a provincial Italian company whose only well-known singer is Eva Mei, and this one. I have not seen the Italian DVD and cannot comment on its virtues. But you can read comments about it here: Schubert - Alfonso und Estrella / Mei, Trost, Schmeckenbecher, Muff, Werba, Korsten, Cagliari Opera. I gather it is a minimalist production. The present DVD, with its cast of well-known singers, is a traditional production from the 1997 Vienna Festival. And it has much to recommend it, not least the beautiful musical performance by such singers as Thomas Hampson, Luba Organosova, Olaf Bär and Alfred Muff. In addition, the part of Alfonso is sung by a tenor new to me, Endrik Wottrich, a tall handsome fellow, a good actor with a lyric voice that falls sweetly on the ear. In the pit is the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under the redoubtable Nikolaus Harnoncourt. The chorus is Vienna's Arnold Schoenberg Choir. Stage direction, very nicely done, is by Jürgen Flimm, currently the intendant of the Berlin Opera. And for television the director is the ubiquitous and skilled Brian Large.

The plot of 'Alfonso und Estrella' concerns a deposed King Froila, his son Alfonso, his rival Mauregato, and the rival's beauteous daughter Estrella with whom Alfonso falls in love. Through various trials and tribulations all works out for the couple. The main thing here is the absolutely marvelous music. I have known the music for more than thirty years from an LP version featuring Edith Mathis and Peter Schreier. I can say that Organosova and Wittrich give them a run for their money, and in addition there is the magnificent performance of Alonso's father, King Froila, by Thomas Hampson and by by Olaf Bär as King Mauregato.

So, my recommendation of this DVD is for those who yearn to see a good staged production of this work in a marvelous musical presentation.

Running time: 140mins; NTSC: 0 (all regions); Aspect ratio: 16:9; Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and DTS 5.0. Sound is good as is the videography.

Scott Morrison"
His "Time" Has Come?
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 07/26/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Amazingly, there are now two DVDs available of an opera that was never staged, or even given a full concert performance, in the lifetime of its composer! Nor in the century after his death! Plus several recordings of it on CDs. Was wird es doch des Wunders noch! Well, friends, it's not such a bad opera after all; critics have panned it for its unwieldy involuted narrative, but honestly the libretto by Franz von Schober is no more embarrassing than that of any Verdi opera before Simon Bocanegra. Why, there's even a moment of some 'universal' significance in it, when the humanist notion of tolerance between nations is celebrated. This staging (I haven't seen the competitor) is short of visual splendor but suitably fluid and stageworthy. The dramatic action, originally conceived as occurring in Medieval Spain, has been time-machined to early 20th C, but the anachronism is not at all jarring. Anything more of a pageant in armor would merely distract us from the only thing that really matters here; the Music.

And musically, it would be hard to do a better rendition. Thomas Hampson is magnificent in the role of the aged embittered deposed King Froila. Endrick Wootrich, as Alfonso the son of Froila, struggles in his first scene with a baritone tessitura that doesn't accomodate his best notes, but then he redeems his voice and his character with a youthful heroic bari-tenor. This is music in which baritones dominate, and Olaf Bär is perfect vocally and dramatically in the smaller role of the usurper Mauregato, now blind and conscience-stricken. Baritone Alfred Muff is convincingly odious as the traitor Adolfo, who aspires to seize the Princess Estrella through his coup d'etat, and he sings his roll with musically eloquent harshness. Estrella, sung by Luba Orgonasova, has the only important female role in the drama and in the music. Orgonasova sings quite well, but her stage presence is the only serious weakness of this production; she's noticeably too old for the role and she completely lacks the "affect" of a lovely princess. Instead she's an anxious biddy with a solid vocal technique. The 'Chamber Orchestra of Europe". conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, turns out to be a mixture of modern and historical instruments; the horns are 20th C, for instance, while the trumpets are 18th C. However, the performance is decidedly of the "historically informed" variety, in tempi and articulations, and the overtures and symphonic interludes are very satisfying.

But I'm hard pressed to decide whether I'm satisfied with "Alfonso und Estrella" in toto. Schubert composed it in 1821-22, exactly at the time of the premiere of Weber's opera "Der Freischütz". It was promptly rejected in Vienna, and later efforts to get it staged in Berlin or Dresden were equally unsuccessful. I have a sneaking suspicion that "we" have reason to be glad that Schubert's career as an opera composer was thwarted, since all of his greatest music was composed after he'd 'failed' with "Alfonso und Estrella". I'm inclined to think the moment wasn't ripe for the sort of opera he attempted to write. Remember, please, that Spohr, Schumann, and Mendelssohn all made the same attempt -- to compose an opera in the musical language of Romanticism, in the German language of poetic drama learned from Schiller and Goethe, a 'through-composed' opera eschewing both recitativo and spoken words -- and all 'failed' to capture an audience. Dare I say that Beethoven hadn't done much better? "Fidelio" has its merits and has held a place in the repertoire, but no one in his right mind would call it one of Beethoven's greatest works, or one of the very greatest operas.

The Nineteenth Century was hardly a great era of dramaturgy anyway. The poetic dramas of Schiller and Goethe, superb as they are for reading, certainly didn't inspire a 'language of the theater' that carried other dramatists toward genius. It was the century of stilted melodrama and exaggerated acting. In English, it was the century of the novel, not the stage. The operas based on Schiller and Goethe, by and large, bowdlerized their sources into the broadest sort of spread-armed melodrama. Not until Ibsen on the spoken stage and Hofmannstal on the musical stage did any dramatist/librettist succeed in producing language worthy of the music it was set to. Franz von Schober's libretto for "Alfonso und Estrella" is no more fustian than most, but it's not truly worthy of its music.

I wonder also if there was really any hope for the attempt to set strophic poetry to the symphonic language of "through-composition". In "Alfonso und Estrella", Schubert essentially tried to incorporate the musical idiom of his Lieder into a symphonic and stagey Mega-Lied. He aimed at a kind of 'verismo' before his forms could accommodate it. The operas of Mozart, Paisiello, Cherubini, and Rossini made no such awkward mistake. Berlioz strove mightily to formulate a revolutionary Romantic genre of opera, but even he, in "Les Troyens" resorted to presenting his finest formal arias through the gimmick of having minor characters sing 'ballads' outside the dramatic action. Opera was originated and theorized as a convergence of words, music, and scenery into a supremely affective Unity of art. Schubert's "Alfonso und Estrella" frankly doesn't achieve that ideal. His cycles of Lieder, in fact, seem to me more emotionally affective -- more dramatic -- than his opera.

I've also viewed/heard the DVD of Schubert's opera "Fierrabras", composed a year later. That production is far more 'innovative' and post-modernist than this one. Take a look at my review of it, if you're interested. It may be, after all, that Schubert's "time" has come on the opera stage."
The Dawn of a New Age
M. Frank Ruppert | McLean VA USA | 02/19/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Schubert's opera, "Alfonso und Estrella", is an archetypal celebration of the dawning of a new age. A world, once united, has split apart. Out of the black night of separation and alienation emerges the noonday sun of love's triumph. Alfonso is a messianic hero. Estrella is the divine light buried deep in the conflicts of a fallen world. Their love is the key to the resolution of those conflicts and to the dawning of a new age.

Estrella is the forgotten divine feminine whose restoration is the key to the healing of a sick society. The theme owes much both to the Cabalistic vision of a messianic empowering of the Shekhinah and to the Christian vision of a wedding of the divine and the human. This opera is nothing less than a powerful, enchanting, and highly controversial symbiosis of core mysteries in both Judaism and Christianity.

The music, as everyone recognizes, is thrilling from beginning to end, making an experience of the opera a sheer joy. But with Schubert there is never a paramount interest in tonal beauty. He uses this beauty as a garment for the sublime mystery it conceals/reveals. And it is to the libretto one must go to find an indication of what the mystery is. Far from being a throw-away, the libretto of Franz Schober is a finger pointing directly to a mystical understanding of this masterwork.

Amazingly both Schober and Schubert were aware of the danger ominously advancing upon Europe, the obliteration of the spiritual. Their work was a valient attempt, made just as the sun was setting upon spirituality for so many, to steer society back towards a healthy counterbalance of scientific power and reverential awe in the face of divine invitation. So late was their effort in society's march towards utter materialism that the opera could not be staged then. Tragically it is not staged today, at least in the form in which it was conceived.

I cannot recommend too highly this profound and beautiful work. Its message is no less meaningful today than when it was composed.I say this even while lamenting that its production buys into Franz Liszt's disastrously abbreviated version of the opera rather than the original.

Frank Ruppert"