Carl Maria von Weber

Oberon

„Oberon“
Oper von Carl Maria von Weber
Libretto von James Planché
Oberon: Philip Langridge
Hüon: Paul Frey
Rezia: Elizabeth Connell
Fatima: La Verne Williams
Seherasmin: Benjamin Luxon
Puck: James Robertson
The Edinburg Festival Chorus
Die Junge Deutsche Philarmonie
Dirigent: Seiji Ozawa

James Robinson Planche, who concocted the dreamlike, romantic semi-drama which forms the libretto of Oberon, was an antiquary of some distinction, a successful playwright, and an important innovator in the London theater. He was the first man in the history of the English stage to costume a historical play in something like the clothes the characters might actually have worn. (The play was Shakespeare's King Johnthe producer Charles Kemble.) He also developed a form of theatrical entertainment, part music, part dancing, part acting, all romantic, which is now known as "the pantomime," a peculiarly British institution to which English mamas in huge numbers still take their children in still larger numbers every Christmas.
 

Oberon is very much like a pantomime: most of its characters sing, but others don't; there is opportunity for spectacle and ballet; there is magic; there is a joyful ending. Yet its nature is not so different from that of Der Freischutz as to have caused Weber any feeling of oddness when he received the book. Kemble, who had been much impressed by that opera, traveled to Germany to persuade Weber to compose an opera especially for Covent Garden, and the subject of Oberon was one of the two he suggested, the other being Faust Weber chose Oberon, and Kemble chose Planche to write the book.
 

Both librettist and composer were highly conscientious men. When Рlanche had written it in English (he was an Englishman, despite his name), he translated it into French especially for Weber and sent it to him. But Weber had, in the meantime, gone to the trouble of learning English, and wrote his collaborator the following charming acknowledgment: "I thank you obligingly for your goodness of having translated the verses in French; but it was not so necessary, because I am, though yet a weak, however, a diligent student of the English language."
 

It was this very conscientiousness of Weber's which puts a sad ending to our story. Not yet forty, he was a very sick man when he undertook Kemble's commission. Nevertheless, he wrote the music in six weeks, went to London to supervise every one of the fifteen rehearsals, conducted a round dozen performances of it as well as several concerts, and then quietly died. He knew perfectly well that he stood little chance of surviving, but he forced himself to the effort. The $5355 he earned from his three months in London were a godsend to his impoverished wife and children.
 

The spectacular nature of the opera and the severe demands it makes on the leading soprano and tenor have given pause to many an imaginative impresario who has thought of reviving it, and many revivals of the past have severely modified the work in one way or another. Even then they have failed as often as not. But in the mid 1950's the Paris Орerа mounted it as a spectacle so grand that the wonderful score was, apparently, the smallest attraction for the huge crowds that went to see it. Maybe there really is no way to rescue the music from the rest of the show, excepting to play the overture and to sing the one great soprano aria at concerts. That is practically all that most of us ever hear of it.

Roles

OBERON
 

Opera in three acts by Carl Maria von Weber

with libretto in English by James Robinson Рlanche 
based on a medieval French tale entitled Huon de Bordeaux

 

 

SIR HUON OF BORDEAUX

SHERASMIN, his squire
OBERON, King of the Fairies

PUCK
REIZA
, daughter of Haroun el Rashid

FATIMAher attendant

CHARLEMAGNE, Emperor of the Franks
HAROUN EL RASHID, Caliph of Bagdad
BABEKAN, a Saracen prince, fiance of Rezia
ALMANZOR, Emir of Tunis

ROSHANA, wife of Almanzor
TITANIA, Oberon's wife
NAMOUNA, Fatima's grandmother

Time: 9th century, if any

Places: Fairyland, Bagdad, Tunis, the court of Charlemagne
First performance at London, April 12, 1826

 

Characters

Sir Huon of Bordeaux:
 

Tenor. Knight of Bordeaux. Kills the son of Charlemagne, Emperor of the Franks, and is exiled to Baghdad. There he must kill whoever sits on the Caliph's right hand and then marry the Caliph's daughter. He succeeds, but all except Huon are captured by pirates and he has to rescue the daughter. Oberon uses their evident show of faithfulness to allow himself to be reconciled with his own love, Titania. Created ( 1826 ) by John Braham.

Huon of Bordeaux is the title character of a 13th-century French epic (chanson de geste) with romance elements. Huon is a knight who, after unwittingly killing Charlot, the son of Emperor Charlemagne, is given a reprieve from death on condition that he fulfill a number of seemingly impossible tasks: he must travel to the court of the Amir in Babylon and return with a handful of the amir's hair and teeth, kill the Amir's mightiest knight, and three times kiss the Amir's daughter, Esclarmonde. All these Huon eventually achieves with the assistance of the fairy king Oberon.

Manuel Orazi - An illustration of the epic
Huon de Bordeaux

Sherasmin:

 

Tenor. Squire of Sir Huon of Bordeaux, who accompanies Huon when he goes to find and marry Reiza. Sherasmin falls in love with her maid. Created (1826) by John Fawcett.

Oberon:

 

Tenor. Has quarrelled with Titania and will only be reconciled if they have proof that lovers can be constant and true to each other through all trials and tribulations. He uses the rescue of Reiza by the knight Huon (with the aid of Puck) as proof that this is possible. Created (1826) by Charles Bland.

„Oberon“  -  Carl Maria von Weber
Oberon: Philip Langridge
Hüon: Paul Frey
Rezia: Elizabeth Connell
Fatima: La Verne Williams
Seherasmin: Benjamin Luxon
Puck: James Robertson
The Edinburg Festival Chorus
Die Junge Deutsche Philarmonie
Dirigent: Seiji Ozawa

Joseph Noel Paton. Oberon and the Mermaid, 1883.

Puck:

 

Mezzo-soprano. Travesti role. Is used by Oberon to find a couple true to each other despite all trials and temptations, as Oberon has sworn not to be reconciled with Titania until such a couple is found. Created (1826) by Harriet Cawse.

William Blake
Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing
c.1786

Reiza:

 

Soprano. Daughter of Haroun al Raschid, the Caliph of Baghdad. Is carried away by Huon, then captured by pirates. Huon rescues her. Created (1826) by Mary Anne Paton.

Fatima:
 

Soprano. Maid of Reiza. Sherasmin falls in love with her. Created ( 1826 ) by Lucia Elizabeth Vestris.

Charlemagne:

Charlemagne (2 April 742 – 28 January 814), numbered Charles I, was King of the Franks from 768, King of the Lombards from 774 and Holy Roman Emperor from 800. He united much of western and central Europe during the early Middle Ages. He was the first recognised emperor to rule from western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier. The expanded Frankish state that Charlemagne founded is called the Carolingian Empire. He was later canonized by the pope.

 

Charlemagne was the eldest son of Pepin the Short and Bertrada of Laon, having been born before their canonical marriage. He became king in 768 following his father's death, initially as co-ruler with his brother Carloman I. Carloman's sudden death in December 771 under unexplained circumstances left Charlemagne as the sole, undisputed ruler of the Frankish Kingdom. He continued his father's policy towards the papacy and became its protector, removing the Lombards from power in northern Italy and leading an incursion into Muslim Spain. He campaigned against the Saxonsto his east, Christianising them upon penalty of death and leading to events such as the Massacre of Verden. Charlemagne reached the height of his power in 800 when he was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day at Rome's Old St. Peter's Basilica.
 

Charlemagne has been called the "Father of Europe" (Pater Europae), as he united most of Western Europe for the first time since the classical era of the Roman Empire and united parts of Europe that had never been under Frankish rule. His rule spurred the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of energetic cultural and intellectual activity within the Western Church. All Holy Roman Emperors considered their kingdoms to be descendants of Charlemagne's empire, up to the last Emperor Francis II and the French and German monarchies. However, the Eastern Orthodox Church views Charlemagne more controversially, labeling as heterodox his support of the filioque and recognition by the Bishop of Rome as legitimate Roman Emperor, rather than recognising Irene of Athens of the Eastern Roman Empire. These and other machinations led to the eventual split of Rome and Constantinople in the Great Schism of 1054.
 

Charlemagne died in 814, having ruled as emperor for thirteen years. He was laid to rest in his imperial capital city of Aachen. He married at least four times and had three legitimate sons, but only his son Louis the Pious survived to succeed him.
 

Charlemagne receiving the submission of Widukind at Paderborn in 785, by Ary Scheffer, Palace of Versailles

Harun al-Rashid:

Harun al-Rashid (Hārūn Ar-Rašīd; "Harun the Orthodox" or "Harun the Rightly-Guided," 17 March 763 or February 766 — 24 March 809 (148–193 Hijri) was the fifth Abbasid Caliph. His birth date is debated, with various sources giving dates from 763 to 766. His epithet "al-Rashid" translates to "the Orthodox," "the Just," "the Upright," or "the Rightly-Guided." Al-Rashid ruled from 786 to 809, during the peak of the Islamic Golden Age. His time was marked by scientific, cultural, and religious prosperity. Islamic art and music also flourished significantly during his reign. He established the legendary library Bayt al-Hikma ("House of Wisdom") in Baghdad in present-day Iraq, and during his rule Baghdad began to flourish as a center of knowledge, culture and trade. During his rule, the family of Barmakids, which played a deciding role in establishing the Abbasid Caliphate, declined gradually. In 796, he moved his court and government to Raqqa in present-day Syria.

 

A Frankish mission came to offer Harun friendship in 799. Harun sent various presents with the emissaries on their return to Charlemagne's court, including a clock that Charlemagne and his retinue deemed to be a conjuration because of the sounds it emanated and the tricks it displayed every time an hour ticked. The fictional The Book of One Thousand and One Nights is set in Harun's magnificent court and some of its stories involve Harun himself. Harun's life and court have been the subject of many other tales, both factual and fictitious.
 

Harun al-Rashid receiving a delegation sent by Charlemagne at his court in Baghdad.
Painting by Julius Köckert, 1864

Titania:
 

Spoken. Wife of Oberon, with whom she has quarrelled over the faithfulness of lovers. Created ( 1826 ) by Miss Smith.

Titania is a character in William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream. In the play, she is the queen of the fairies. Due to Shakespeare's influence, later fiction has often used the name "Titania" for fairy queen characters.
 

In traditional folklore, the fairy queen has no name. Shakespeare took the name "Titania" from Ovid's Metamorphoses, where it is an appellation given to the daughters of Titans.
 

Shakespeare's Titania is a very proud creature and as much of a force to contend with as her husband Oberon. She and Oberon are engaged in a marital quarrel over which of them should have the keeping of an Indian changeling boy. This quarrel is the engine that drives the mix ups and confusion of the other characters in the play. Due to an enchantment cast by Oberon's servant Puck, Titania magically falls in love with a "rude mechanical" (a labourer), Nick Bottom the weaver, has been given the head of a donkey by Puck, who feels it is better suited to his character. It has been argued that this incident is an inversion of the Circe story.

 

In this case the tables are turned on the character, and rather than the sorceress turning her lovers into animals, she is made to love a donkey after Bottom has been transformed.
 

The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, by Joseph Noel Paton, c. 1849

Sinopsys

                                        Synopsis

 

Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania,”painted by Joseph Noel Paton, 1847

OVERTURE
 

Experienced concert-goers are so accustomed to the Оberon Overture as standard fare that they seldom think of the music as made up out of specific dramatic ingredients. Yet, on looking into the score of the opera itself or bearing it performed in its entirety, one finds that each of the thrice-familiar themes is associated with some dramatically significant part of the tale. Thus, the soft opening horn call is the tune played by the hero's own magical horn; the quickly descending chords in the woodwinds are used to paint the background of the fairy kingdom; the excited upclimbing violins that open the allegro are used to accompany the lovers' flight to the ship; the beautiful, prayer-like melody played first by a solo clarinet and then the strings turns out indeed to be the hero's prayer; while the triumphant theme with a kind of gulpy effect, played quietly at first and then with a joyous fortissimo, reappears as the climax of the great soprano aria Осеan, thou mighty monster.

John Anster Fitzgerald -The Marriage of Oberon and Titania

Carl Maria von Weber: Oberon, overture

conductor: Bernard Haitink

Royal Opera House   -  Covent Garden 01-12-1999

ACT I
 

Scene 1  In thе bower of King Oberon of the Fairies, the monarch lies sleeping while a group of his supernatural attendants sings for him. That handy fairy-of-all-work, Puck, tells us that Oberon and his Queen Titania have quarreled, and the King has sworn never to be reconciled till he has found a pair of mortal lovers who will be faithful unto death or the next thing to it.
 

When Oberon awakens, repentant over this arrangement, Puck tells him about a young knight of legend named Huon of Bordeaux. This hero has, in fair fight, killed a son of Charlemagne's, and that great monarch has sentenced Huon to go to Bagdad, kill whoever is sitting on the Caliph's right-band side, and marry the Caliph's daughter. Oberon sees this as a opportunity for fulfilling his vow and, with his supernatural powers, magically produces Huon and his squire Sherasmin, both of them sound asleep. In their sleep, Oberon shows them a vision of the Caliph's daughter, Rezia by name, who calls for help. When the vision has disappeared, Huon is awakened, told to rescue the girl, and given a magical horn to help him when there is need. The scene closes as Huon, musically assisted by the chorus, joyfully accepts the assignment. Oberon wafts him off to Bagdad.
 

Scene 2  In a purely dramatic episode—that is, the lines are spoken and there is no accompanying music—Sir Huon rescues an unknown dark gentleman from a lion. When the danger is over, the stranger turns out to be a Saracen prince named Babekan, who is engaged to marry the lovely Rezia. Babekan, a nasty fellow, attacks Huon, calling on his followers for assistance, but our doughty hero and his squire defeat the unthankful villain.
 

Scene 3  Huon meets an old crone named Namouna, who is the grandmother of Rezia's pretty attendant, Fatima. Thus Namouna is in a position to know all the court gossip, and she tells him that Rezia and Babekan are to be married the very next day. However, it appears that the bride has seen Huon in a vision and has sworn to belong to no one but him. The scene, like the previous one, has been carried on in spoken dialogue up to this point; but when Huon is left alone, he has a long aria, and a very difficult one, in which he strengthens his resolution to win the girl.
 

Scene 4  In her chamber in the palace of Haroun el Rashid, Rezia tells her handmaiden Fatima that she will never marry anyone but Sir Huon, and that she will die before being wed to Ваbekan. Fatima tells her that help is at hand; thе two girls sing a duet; a march, sung off-stage, is heard; and Rezia sings joyfully over it.

Henry Fuseli Titania and Bottom

Oberon - Oper von Carl Maria von Weber - Teil 1
Milano, Teatro alla Scala, 05.02.1989
Dirigent: Seiji Ozawa
Oberon: Philip Langridge
Puck: Markus Bauer
Rezia: Elizabeth Connell
Fatima: Trudelise Schmidt
Hüon: Michael Pabst
Seerasmin: Michael Ebbecke
Due Ondine /Zwei Meermädchen: Alessandra Rossi

ACT II
 

Scene 1 In the throne room of Haroun el Rashid a chorus is sung in praise pf the fabled Caliph. Babekan asks that there be no more delay in his marriage to Rezia, and the fair bride, preceded by dancing girls, comes sorrowfully in. But outside one hears die sound of tbe rescuers. They fight their way in; Huon finds Babekan sitting at the Caliph's right-hand side rs him; be blows on his magical thus temporarily paralyzing everyone else; and then he and Sherasmin run off with Rezia and Fatima.
 

Scene 2 Outside the palace the guards try to hinder the four fugitives, but Huongs horn solves this problem for them too—though, in the confusidn, he manages somehow to lose that valuable musical instrument. Fatima and Sherasmin find that they are falling in love, like their master and mistress, and sing a love duet, and there is also a quartet for all four of the lovers. They then board a ship.
 

Scene 3  To make sure that his chosen sample of lovers-unto-death is the genuine article, Oberon has prepared another severe test. Puck and his fairy band raise a huge storm, causing the ship on which the lovers are fleeing to sink. Huon, however, manages to drag an exhausted Rezia to shore, where she recovers after a touching prayer sung by her lover. He then goes off in search of Sherasmin and Fatima, and Rezia is left alone to sing the most famous aria in the opera (Ocean, thou mighty monster), a long, varied, and very dramatic address to the ocean. At its close (which is like the close of the even more famous overture), she sights a ship. This, alas, turns out to be a pirate ship. The pirates land and are bundling up Rezia for an abduction when Huon rashes back and attacks. However, he is outnumbered; and as he has lost his trusty horn, he also loses the battle and is left on the shore for dead as the pirates embark with their captive.
 

But the act closes on a softer note. Puck returns, bringing the fairies and Oberon with him. The two principals sing a duet; the fairies sing a chorus; everyone on the stage is satisfied with the way the machinations are going; and everyone in the audience is enchanted with the fairylike atmosphere projected by the music.

Henry Fuseli. Titania Awakening 

Oberon - Oper von Carl Maria von Weber - Teil 2
Milano, Teatro alla Scala, 05.02.1989

Dirigent: Seiji Ozawa
Oberon: Philip Langridge
Puck: Markus Bauer
Rezia: Elizabeth Connell
Fatima: Trudelise Schmidt
Hüon: Michael Pabst
Seerasmin: Michael Ebbecke
Due Ondine /Zwei Meermädchen: Alessandra Rossi

ACT III
 

Scene 1 The pirates have sold Rezia into slavery in Tunis, where Fatima and Sherasiiiin have undergone the same fate. The two junior lovers are, fortunately, working for a good-natured North African named Ibrahim (who never appears on the stage), and their duet indicates that they are not too unhappy in their captivity.
 

Puck, according to plan, brings Huon in to them. He learns that Rezia is said to be somewhere in the same town, and so they plan to get him into Ibrahim's service so that he may look around. (The whole situation here, as well as some of what follows, is strikingly similar to the happenings in Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio.)
 

Scene 2 Rezia's new master turns out to be the Emir of Tunis himself,whose name is Almanzor. At his palace Rezia is sorrowfully bemoaning her fate, when Almanzor comes in to tell her that, though he loves her, he wfll not force his attentions on her.
 

Scene 3 In a brief scene,back at Ibrahim’s,Huon receives a message couched in the flower-language of the East, which Fatima has to interpret for him. It is from Rezia, who summons him to come to her. Ecstatically he goes.
 

Scene 4 But at the Emir's palace he is met not by Rezia but by Roshana,the Emir’s justly jealous wife. Roshana offers him herself and her throne if he will kill Almanzor, but not even the seductive dancing of the Emiress and her female attendants can mislead our faithful hero. He starts to rush from the room, but just then the Emir comes in with his guard and Huon is made captive. When Roshana tries, hereupon, to stab her husband, things look very black. She is led away, and Huon is condemned to be burned alive. Rezia tries desperately to plead for him, but Almanzor, who has now turned stem, only condemns her to the same horrid death.
 

But somehow and somewhere Sherasmin has found the good old horn still in working order. He arrives on the scene at the critical moment, bringing Fatima with him; be sounds the horn; all the Africans are paralyzed; and the four lovers decide it is time to call upon Oberon for help. (After all, he is to blame far all their discomforts.)

Oberon graciously appears, like the god out of the machine at the end of a Greek tragedy, and immediately transports them to the court of Charlemagne. Huon reports his mission accomplished; he is duly forgiven; and the opera closes with a grand chorus of rejoicing.

 

Arthur Rackham - Meeting of Oberon and Titania

Carl Maria von Weber
(1786-1826)

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