OPERA NEWS, June 1999
LOEWE: Die Drei Wünsche
Klepper, Weber, May; Kaufmann, F. Prey, Worner, Hawlata; Stuttgarter Choristen; Rundfunkorchester des Südwestfunk, Falk. German libretto only. Capriccio 50-074 (2)  
Best known for his copious catalogue of ballads and lieder, Carl Loewe (1796-1869) demonstrated his consummate skill as an orchestrator and impressive understanding of the voice in his 1834 opera Die Drei Wünsche (The Three Wishes). Its woodwind-saturated lyricism pays homage to opera while adhering to the more simplistic conventions of singspiel. Recitative and spoken dialogue are abandoned in favor of Schubertian cavatinas and reassuring choruses, and rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter are frequently used. Strophic constructions prevail as well, but in the context of the narrative forms in which Loewe's vocal music thrived, they are more subtle than dogmatic. Although Die Drei Wünsche is occasionally reminiscent of Fidelio -- the opening duets, for example, evoke the colloquy between Marzelline and Jaquino -- it's hardly a slavish imitation, but rather an honest aesthetic expression of its time.
The plot -- an oriental fairy tale of two opposing merchant families, one rich, one poor, at the mercy of an itinerant Dervish who can't make up his mind -- is another matter. The invention of one Ernst Raupach, a friend of Loewe's whose principal occupation was that of an Imperial Russian Privy Councillor, the story of Die Drei Wünsche is so vapid that it makes Cenerentola look like Wozzeck.

Peter Falk's urbane, persuasive conducting supports a fine cast of young singers that includes an effective, studious performance of the Dervish Bathmendi by Franz Hawlata, a bass-baritone whose musicianship makes up for a somewhat strained breathiness in his lower register. Florian Prey (son of the great Hermann) and fellow baritone Frank Worner offer sturdy, focused readings of the merchants Muley and Zadig, though Worner's wide vibrato occasionally compromises simple declamation. Regina Klepper's bright, birdlike soprano is ideally suited to Suleima, but she tends toward stridency when compelled to sing on long breaths. Mezzo Hermine May and soprano Astrid Weber deliver solidly as rivals Aischra and Fatme.

There's gold in this recording in the magnificent lyric tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who sounds eerily like Fritz Wunderlich and has the musical instincts and brains to match. Like Wunderlich, Kaufmann is a compellingly intense singer who pays attention to inflection and motivic articulation in the context of a cumulative, goal-oriented rhythm. He navigates the elaborate fioriture of his Act III cavatina ("Philosophie oder liebe") with uncommon ease, impeccable legato and a clarion yet full-bodied sonority richly supported in every register. I look forward to hearing much more from this singer, whose contribution here makes having this set all the more worthwhile.

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