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The opera was conceived in the countryside not far from Vienna. The librettist, Franz von Schober, was a slightly older friend of Schubert's who went on to become Liszt's secretary for a while. With no experience in the opera house, he devised a rather confused story that might more completely have distinguished the names of hero and villain than by calling the one Alfonso, the other Adolfo. The latter desires to abduct Estrella, the former to deliver her; Alfonso prevails after a series of duets that promotes the cause of music rather than drama. At issue also is the name of the rightful king; Alfonso is son to one claimant, Estrella daughter to the other. Schober was distantly related to the bishop of St Pölten, and it was his hospitality that allowed the friends concentrated work on their new venture. As soon as a libretto Act was ready, Schubert set it. Schober describes that autumn of 1821; 'In the evenings we always compared notes on what we had done during the day, then sent for beer, smoked our pipes and read, or else Sophie and Nettel came across and there was singing'. Balls and concerts varied the fare, but the opera progressed with remarkable speed. It was not performed in Schubert's lifetime or indeed for the next half-century.

To say that Andreas Tarkmann has chosen some of the best tunes for the CD is meaningless; there are no poor ones. This is not a disc of lollipops, because the opera's every number is a lollipop. What he has sought to do is to select so that the storyline is to some extent preserved. The overture starts portentously, with matters of regal succession at stake, but then bowls along with splendid vigour [listen -- track 1, 0:00-1:05]. The Act 1 finale ends in Schubertian jubilation, though war and emotional disaster threaten because of Adolfo's machinations [listen -- track 6, 3:25-4:37]. Adolfo still seems in the ascendant at the core of Act 2, when he appears in the midst of his conspirators to seize the crown and wreak universal vengeance [listen -- track 10, 0:00-1:02]. At the beginning of Act 3 there is still doubt of a happy outcome, and it was there above all that I looked over my shoulder for a London statue as enamoured of D minor as Mozart's Commendatore [listen -- track 13, 0:00-1:05]. The playing is wonderfully accomplished throughout. Schubert-Tarkmann is first-rate Harmoniemusik, but it is not quite Alfonso und Estrella.

Copyright © 10 July 2002 Robert Anderson, London, UK


Franz Schubert: Alfonso und Estrella - Harmoniemusik

999 807-2 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE 56'32" 2002 CPO


Schubert: Alfonso und Estrella, opera in 3 acts D723 (1822), 'Harmoniemusik' arr Andreas N Tarkmann (1996)



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