OPERA NEWS, February 2002

Marschner: Der Vampyr
Klepper, Hoffman; Kaufmann, Hawlata, Marquardt; Orchestra and Chorus of the WDR Rundfunk, Köln, Froschauer. Text. Capriccio 60083 (2)
Heinrich Marschner's 1828 Der Vampyr is little performed today, but the singspiel was a hit in its day, and this recording makes the reasons clear. Not the least of its fascination is its plot: in order to live among humans for another year, the vampire Ruthven must claim three brides as victims before the stroke of midnight. It could serve as the scenario for a Hammer Films shocker.

Marschner depicts the horrific using a musical vocabulary that will be familiar to any moviegoer. The overture's first phrases use descending minor scales that not only echo the Stone Guest music in Don Giovanni, but anticipate the horror-movie scores of a hundred years later. With its mixture of supernatural and folk elements, Vampyr most recalls Der Freischütz, composed seven years earlier. It never achieves the phantasmagoric intensity of Weber's Wolf Glen scene, staying more securely tethered to singspiel convention, but it remains tuneful and well crafted from the first note to the last.

 Franz Hawlata takes the title role. He's billed as a baritone here, but he has sung Ochs at the Met, and his voice is notably darker than that of Markus Marquardt, the recording's nominal bass. Hawlata is at his best when the music calls for demonic vehemence; when he has to convey oily, Don Giovanni-esque seductiveness, the vocal line often lies uncomfortably high, and the singing isn't ideally even.

Regina Klepper, as Ruthven's intended bride Malwine, has a penetrating soprano that probably carries well in the theater; as recorded, though, the voice is impossibly edgy. Soprano Anke Hoffman, in the dual role of Ruthven's victims Janthe and Emmy, has a lighter voice, only marginally less strident. The vocal honors of the set belong to Jonas Kaufmann as the vampire's foil, Aubry. His compact, well-knit tenor provides consistent pleasure. Helmuth Froschauer leads a trim, fleet performance that emphasizes the opera's classical foundations over its premonitions of Wagner.

The recording suffers from a lack of theatricality. It includes none of the singspiel dialogue and no sound effects, so that an Act I melodrama becomes purely an orchestral interlude. Marschner called for a comic quintet in Act II to end with a gunshot, plunging the action back into the realm of the horrific, but here there's no sound, just a pause before the next number. The libretto is in German, and it includes only the musical numbers.

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