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Wagner: Die Feen (Edward Downes recording)

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BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra and BBC Northern Singers

Arindal - John Mitchinson
Ada - April Cantelo
Lora - Lorna Haywood
Morald - Tom McDonnell
Gunther - Richard Greager
Gernot - Paul Hudson
Drolla - Teresa Cahill
Zemina - Elizabeth Gale
Farzana - Della Jones
Harald - Don Garrard
Groma - Don Garrard
Fairy king - Don Garrard
Messenger - Jolyon Dodgson

Recording from the DG Wagner: Complete Operas box.

If you've wondered what a traditional number opera with solos, duos, trios, choruses and such would be like composed by Wagner, this is it. For being an early Wagner work that is rarely recorded or performed, I expected this to be boring, but it was not. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it kept my attention.

Musically, Die Feen is a lot like Rienzi. Except for a couple parts in Act III, this does not sound much like later Wagner. Overall, it is very pompous with several choruses and ensembles. Wagner didn't have his musical voice quite expressed at this point in time, and that's apparent here. There are some very beautiful parts. The overture is fun, and the opening chorus is cute. Act II has a long and passionate aria for the character Ada. Act III has a beautiful prayer for quintet and chorus; a long, interesting aria for Arindal; a somewhat more Wagnerian-sounding scene where Arindal hears the voices of Ada and Groma; and a glorious aria for Arindal with harp accompaniment (to me, this also sounded a bit more like Wagner).

Thematically, this is somewhat like Lohengrin. The premise is that King Arindal stumbles across the fairy Ada and marries her, but is not allowed to ask who she is for eight years. But Arindal asks anyway. There the opera begins. Arindal must go through another test lest he be separated from Ada forever, meanwhile defend his kingdom against invaders. There's also some redemption through love thrown in, and Gernot's brief mentioning of a witch named Dilnovaz who uses a magic ring to make herself look beautiful seems almost like a foreshadowing of Der Ring. The story overall is like a type of fairytale one would read in a children's book. Thus, I'm trying to avoid overthinking certain aspects of the plot that seem odd to me.

It's hard for me to comment on the performance itself much since there are few recordings of the work (this is the most complete), and I haven't listened to any others. But to my pleasant surprise, these performers, though not all of them well-known, do a pretty good job. No one really sounded bad to me. It kept my attention and never dragged. So that should count for something.

If you want the musical brilliance of later Wagner, you won't find it here. This is obviously more of a curiosity. But nevertheless, it is definitely worth checking out.
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Updated Jul-22-2020 at 12:25 by adriesba

Classical Music , Opera