German Opera Choruses
German opera came into its own in the nineteenth century,notably with the first great romantic German opera of Weber, Der Freischutz.
In the previous century there had, in German-speakingcountries, been a preference for opera in Italian. The Emperor Joseph II in Viennamade attempts to establish comparable German opera, distinct from the earlierless elevated traditions of popular operatic comedy in the vernacular. Anotable product of this was Mozart's German opera, a Singspiel including spokendialogue rather than the sung recitative of the Italian genre, Die Entfuhrung
aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). Written in 1782, thistreated a fashionable
Turkish subject, in which the noble Pasha Selim proves amodel of paternal benevolence, forgiving his Christian prisoner Constanze andher lover Belmonte, who has tried to engineer her escape from captivity. Thesubject allowed Mozart to explore the possibilities of so-called Turkish music,principally with piccolo, additional percussion and static harmonies. The Pashais greeted in the final chorus by Janissaries, the crack soldiers of theSultan, who sing his praise.
The last of Mozart's operas to be staged and thepenultimate in order of composition was Die Zauberflote (The MagicFlute), which was running at a suburban Vienna theatre at the time of thecomposer's death in the winter of 1791. With a libretto by the actor-managerEmanuel Schikaneder, the German opera, strongly in fluenced by masonic ideas,deals with the ordeals to be endured by the hero Tamino before he is admittedinto the company of the enlightened, under their priest Sarastro, and unitedwith his beloved Pamina, in spite of the machinations of her mother, the wickedQueen of the Night. The chorus of priests O, Isis und Osiris, welche Wonne
(O, Isis and Osiris, what delight) marks the sacred rites of the enlightenedwhile the final chorus hymns the triumph of good over evil.
Beethoven, in 1805, took the Singspiel into newterritory. In 1791 Mozart had
explored the current genre of magic opera in Die Zauberflote
(The Magic Flute), where he made use of earlier Viennese comic traditions. In Fidelio,his only opera, Beethoven attempted a subject that was in essence political andrevolutionary, with a debt to French examples of the form. The opera is set in aprison, from which Leonora sets out to rescue her husband, a political prisoner,disguising herself as a boy and entering the service of the gaoler, Rocco, agood enough hearted man, who nevertheless obeys orders, however unjust thesemay be. One of the most moving scenes in the opera is the moment in the firstact when the prisoners are allowed, at Leonora's request, to leave for a momenttheir dungeons and see again the light of day.
Der Freischutz (The Marksman), first staged in Berlinin 1821, has all the characteristics of developing romanticism. The story, setin the German forest, concerns the marksman of the title, Max, induced to seekthe help of the Devil, whose magic bullets will help him win a shooting contestand the hand of his beloved Agathe. Weber's score provides a suitable evocationof mystery and ghosts, huntsmen and hermit. The Huntsmen's Chorus
celebrates the joys of a huntsman's life, before the climax of the opera, whenMax shoots a white dove, in fact Agathe, who is saved by the timelyintervention of a hermit. The earlier
Bridesmaids' Chorus prepares Agathe for hermarriage to the winner of the shooting contest, but ominously the marriagegarland presented to her is, in fact, a funeral wreath, portending disaster.
With Albert Lortzing the tradition of Weber is continued.
The most popular of his operas now in international repertoire is Zar undZimmermann (Tsar and Carpenter), first staged in Leipzig in 1837. The storyconcerns Peter the Great, working, in disguise, in a Dutch shipyard, under thename of Peter Michaelov, and a fellow Russian, the carpenter Peter Ivanov. Thelatter is in love with the daughter of the Burgomaster, who treats him withexaggerated respect, imagining that he is the Tsar. The plot mingles theromance of Ivanov and Marie with diplomatic intrigue. The second act opens witha drinking scene that is to serve as a cover for diplomatic intrigue, as rivalpowers seek to identify the Tsar and learn his plans.
Otto Nicolai died two months after the first staging ofhis opera Die lustigen Weibervon Windsor (The Merry Wives of Windsor) in Berlin in March 1849. The work is based on Shakespeare's comedy in which SirJohn Falstaff endeavours, without success, to woo the wives of worthy citizensof Windsor, only to be finally mocked when he undertakes an assignation atmidnight in Windsor Forest, there tormented by bogus fairies and terrified bythe appearance of Heme the Hunter, Oberon and Titania, his Windsoracquaintances in disguise. The chorus O suβerMond (O sweet moon) opens the final scene.
The achievement of Richard Wagner in music-drama ismonumental. Uniting all the arts under his own genius, he developed newtechniques of dramatic music in works that celebrated German art, German legendand German history. His opera The Flying Dutchman completed and firststaged in Dresden in 1843, deals with the dramatic story of the Dutchman andhis ghostly crew and ship, condemned to sail the seas for ever, until he can beredeemed by the pure love of a woman. Every seven years he is allowed to land,in pursuit of his quest, and Wagner's opera, following a version of the storyby Heine, finds the Dutchman and his ship moored in a Norwegian fjord, where heis welcomed by the Norwegian captain Daland and his daughter senta, a girl whohas long been fascinated by the legendary Dutchman. She gives him her love, butwhen he overhears her former lover, the huntsman Eril, protesting to her, hesets sail again and senta, breaking free of those who try to restrain her,leaps into the sea after him. The ghostly ship sinks in the waves, where Sentaand the Dutchman are seen, now united, the curse broken. The Sailors' Chorus Steuersmann,lass die Wacht (Helmsman, leave your watch) opens the third act, as theNorwegian sailors, celebrating their homecoming, invite the crew of themysterious ship alongside to join them. The earlier spinning chorus Summ undBrumm (Hum and sing) opens the second act, in Daland's house, where thewomen spin and senta muses on the portrait and legend of the Dutchman.
Wagner's opera Tannhauser, first mounted in Dresdenin 1845, deals with supposed episodes in the life of the medieval knight andminstrel of the title, divided in his heart between the sensual delights of Venuson the Venusberg and the demands of religion and true love. The chorus Freudigbegruβen wir (Joyfully we greet) is sung by knights and noblewomen inthe great Minstrels' Hall, where the song contest is to take place, at whichTannhauser is to cause scandal by his praise of sensual love. Elisabeth,daughter of the ruling Land grave who presides over the contest, persuades herfather to allow Tannhauser to expiate his sin, and he is conde