Opernausgrabung: world premier of “Andreas Hofer” in Annaberg-Buchholz.

The Eduard-von-Winterstein-Theater Annaberg-Buchholz had last month an interesting surprise to offer for Lortzing fans: the world premier of “Andreas Hofer”. This work, written as one of four “Liederspiele” in 1832 during Lortzing’s “Lehrjahre” in Detmold (the other plays were “Der Pole und sein Kind”, “Szenen aus Mozarts Leben” and “Der Weihnachtsabend”), has never before been performed, because of censorship in the Biedermeier period.

The historical Andreas Hofer was the leader of the Tyrolean Rebellion against the French and Bavarian occupation in 1809. It is difficult for us to imagine why this play – that is set in the Passeiertal (Passeier Valley), after the Treaty of Schönbrunn of 14th October 1809 (also known as: Treaty of Vienna) but before the decisive third Battle of Bergisel (1 November 1809) – was forbidden, as it is difficult to imagine what the meaning of this piece (as well as of “Der Weihnachtsabend”, that was double-billed with “Andreas Hofer”) can be to us, as a 21st-century audience. Because the story is not that interesting and the music is mostly compiled from existing music of other composers, especially Mozart.

In the program booklet Annelen Hasselwander writes that borrowing existing music was an important feature for Lortzings contemporary audience, to have a kind of “Wunschkonzert”, a “music by request”. This may be true, but I think that rewriting existing music was also an important method of learning how to compose, which is why I call Lortzing’s Detmold period his “Lehrjahre”.

When the Erzgebirgische Theater writes on its website

Beide Werke mischen einen spannenden historischen oder politischen Stoff mit den Ingredenzien des biedermeierlichen Familienlebens, zwischen denen der Dichterkomponist arbeitete und die auch noch später in all seinen großen Erfolgsstücken nachzuschmecken sein werden.

I agree with the second part of this statement, that Lortzing developed here his later style that would make him famous.

A performance of “Andreas Hofer”, along with “Der Weihnachtsabend”, is thus important for us only from a historical point of view, which is why the website of the Erzgebirgische Theater-und Orchester GmbH proudly announced it as an “Ausgrabung”, a “digging up”.

Not only was this the world premier of “Andreas Hofer”, it is also very unlikely that this work will ever be performed again. So, when I heard about these performances I had to attend them, even though the voyage from The Netherlands, where I live, to Annaberg-Buchholz was much more expensive than the tickets! (In fact: I combined my visit to the theatre with a short holiday in the “Erzgebirge”, the Ore Mountains.)

Your reporter in the Winterstein theatre, before the beginning of the performance. 🙂

So, having expressed my acknowledgement to Ingolf Huhn and his team for digging up these two works and acknowledge that – alas! – in the Netherlands it is unimaginable that compatible works from our Dutch cultural heritage are being restored, I think there also must be some room for criticism.

Musically the performance had some shortcomings. Especially there were too many places where the singers and the orchestra didn’t perform in the same tempo. Some singers, especially the female singers, were quite good when singing solo, but during the ensemble-singing the differences in quality and color between the voices became distinct. This reached rock-bottom at the end of “Andreas Hofer”, when the tenor who had to start with the “Gott erhalte Franz, den Kaiser” sang out way too loud, which gave the performance a bit of an amateurish character.

Both works were staged in the Biedermeier setting in which they were written in 1832. As far as I could see no personal “interpretation” was added to the plays to transpose the stories to our 21st-century values. For me, being a musicologist with an interest in Lortzings works, this is fine of course, but I wonder if the plays were entertaining enough for the rest of the audience, people of flesh and blood like me, but not necessarily Lortzing aficionado’s.

Regarding the conception of Ingolf Huhn in the “Weihnachtsabend” I can only point to the tryst between Suschen, Gottlieb and later cousin Michel, that was staged as a “Kasperliade”-like puppet show (without making clear, at least to me, who was pulling the strings), and the door handles, that were too high placed. The meaning of this escaped me, but at least I do have something to ponder on.

The dialogues in “Der Weihnachtsabend” were rather long; I don’t think Huhn used his red pencil when working on the play. And again: you can see this as a plus from the historical point of view, but knowing that Lortzing knew how to keep his audience’s attention (the study by Hellmuth Laue, “Die operndichtung Lortzings: Quellen und umwelt. Verhältnis zur romantik und zu Wagner” makes clear that Lortzing had no problems with cutting away redundant dialogues and even entire roles from the plays that served him as a model for his operas), you may wonder if Lortzing himself, if he were still around with us, would have the play performed now as he wrote it in 1832.

“Andreas Hofer” was a more interesting play, the dialogues were shorter and the story made more sense to me. Interesting was the scene decoration, that was meant to represent the Tyrolean mountains: just two-dimensional mountain-shaped boards on which little houses and some vegetation were painted. Very effective. The background of the set was economically the same as the room where “Der Weihnachtsabend” was played before the coffee break. To me this seemed a bit penny-pinching, but on the other hand, it is probably exactly what makes a performance like this possible.

©Foto: Dirk Rueckschloss/Eduard-von-Winterstein Theater, via
Alpenglühen im Biedermeier-Wohnzimmer.

On this picture you can see the stage setting of “Andreas Hofer”, but there is also another interesting feature, of which I am not sure if it is only my interpretation: Andreas Hofer is, of course, sitting in the center, but the character most on the left seems, as a cameo appearance, to be disguised as Robert Blum, Lortzings friend and the one who, according to the Lortzing-literature, is represented by Richard in “Regina” (personally, I do nót agree with this statement, but on that discussion I will write another essay later!).

Supposed it was intentional, Ingolf Huhn points with this to the “political” Lortzing and creates a connection between “Andreas Hofer” and “Regina”, both Lortzing’s most politically engaged operas, as is also shown by the often quoted lyric “dann bricht der Freiheit Morgen an”, that appears in both works.

It is no coincidence that, with the fading of Lortzings popularity as a composer of “comic” operas, and the rise of the popularity of Lortzings “Regina”, Lortzings “serious” opera, “Andreas Hofer”, as a precursor of Regina has been digged up. Probably a little bit wiping off the dust could preserve the piece from vanishing back into the museum.

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