Monday, March 5, 2018

Malte Roesner gets devilish in rarely performed Schwanda the Bagpiper

Malte Roesner
On March 18th, bass-barihunk Malte Roesner will appear as the Devil in Jaromír Weinberger's rarely performed Schwanda the Bagpiper (Švanda dudák) at the Stadttheater Gießen. The opera, which has been translated into 17 languages, will be performed in its more common German translation as Scwhanda, der Dudelsackpfeiffer. Tickets and additional cast information is available online.

The two act opera was written in 1926 to a Czech libretto by Miloš Kareš and is based on the drama Strakonický dudák aneb Hody divých žen (The Bagpiper of Strakonice) by Josef Kajetán Tyl, who was a leading figure in the Czech National Revival movement. Schwanda the Bagpiper became highly successful after its premiere, with over 2,000 performances, including at the Metropolitan Opera in 1931 with a cast that included the legendary Friedrich Schorr in the title role and the great Wagnerian contralto Karin Branzell as Queen Iceheart.

The opera fell from the repertory when the composer's music was banned by the Nazi regimes of Austria and Germany during the late 1930s

Michael Eder and Christoph Pohl in Dresden's Schwanda

Jaromír Weinberger (1896-1967) was a Czech born composer, who was naturalized as an American citizen in 1948. He was born into an Austria-Hungarian family of Jewish origin. In 1922, he moved to the United States where he taught at Cornell University and was professor of composition at was is now Ithaca College. During the 1950s, Weinberger moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. In later life, he developed cancer of the brain. This, together with money worries and the neglect of his music, prompted him to take a lethal sedative overdose in August 1967.

The opera tells the fantastical story of a simple farmer who is a notoriously gifted bagpiper.  He and his wife are visited by a thief, Babinski, who is on the run.  His tales of adventure lure Schwanda to agree to play his pipes for a mysterious Queen vexed with melancholy.  Happy again, her spell broken, she proposes to Schwanda, who agrees and gives her a kiss. The original wife arrives and is understandably unhappy, and Schwanda swears that if he kissed the Queen, he would go directly to hell.  Hell obliges, of course, and there Schwanda is tricked into giving the Devil his soul.  The thief Babinski then arrives to save the day, bringing Schwanda his pipes, beating the Devil at cards, and trading his winnings for Schwanda’s soul and triumphant release.

The "Polka and Fugue"from the opera are often heard on symphony concert programs.

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