Leo Hussain conducts Lorzing: “Der Waffenschmied”

Any opera with a character called “Irmentraut” is OK by me

Leo Hussain conducts Lorzing: “Der Waffenschmied”

Albert Lortzing’s 1846 comic opera ("Komische Oper")  Der Waffenschmied - The Armourer of Worms - is a lighthearted piece of stagecraft that bridges Mozart’s and early Wagner with more than a hint of Weber along the way. The cast in the present recording includes the respected Günther Groissböck, on fine form. But he is by no means the only reason to obtain this set.

This recording hails from the actual place of Der Waffenschmied's premiere: Vienna's Theater an Der Wien. The plot is pure doggerel, with Marie, the main female role, in love with tow men (who happen to be the same man). If you want, the full synopsis is here. The libretto is by the composer, after Friedrich Wilhelm von Ziegler's Liebhaber und Nebenbuhler in einer Person (Lover and Rival in One Person) - the title of which which kind of tells you the plot from the get-go.

On Classical Explorer, we met Leo Hussain in Puccini's Tosca at ENO (see post); my review of his performance of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at Covent Garden in 2019 is available here. He clearly has a wide operatic repertoire; what we have here is a live performance on October 10, 2021; Hussain's next engagement, some three weeks later, was Berg's Wozzeck in Toulouse, France.

Hussain brings real life to the Lortzing Overture, the Austrian Radio Orchestra in light-footed form:

It's followed by what maybe we should call “the other Anvil Chorus,” to distinguish it from Verdi's from Il trovatore: “Sprühe, Flamme! Glühe Eisen!” (Spray, flame! Glow, iron!). The chorus, the famous Arnold Schoenberg Chor, is one of the finest in the world, and how it shows. There performance is lusty, for sure, but also exquisite in its quieter moments. Discipline is miraculous (testament, I am sure, to teh Arnold Schoenberg Chor's Chorus Master, Erwin Ortner):

The star of the cast is certainly Güther Groissböck’s Hans Stadinger (which character is described as “armorer and vetenarian”). I wonder if I'm the only one who hears a bit of the other Hans, Hans Sachs, in Stadinger’s “Bringt eilig Hut und Mantel mir” (Hurry, bring me hat and coat). Groissböck is terrific, commanding of voice and of dramatic situation:

The role of Georg (the Count's Knave) is taken by American tenor Andrew Morstein, a name new to me. His aria, “Man word ja einmal nur geboren” (One is only born once) has something of Weber about it in both melodic shapes and in the orchestral scoring. Morstein is a fine singer: his activities embrace Salzburg Festival (Don Curzio Figaro), St Petersburg (Lindoro, L'Italiana in Algeri), plus many roles for MusikTheater an der Wien:

Any opera with a character called “Irmentraut” is OK by me. Here, she is actually the governess of Marie, Hans' daughter; Irmentraut's contrastive ariette to Georg's aria is simply lovely and I would really like to hear more from the mezzo that takes this role, Juliette Mars, who since this recording seems to have moved one from MusikTheater Wien to the Wiener Staatsoper, and taken a raft of minor roles there:

Mars' voice is also the perfect foil to that of Marie, Hans' daughter, taken by soprano Miriam Kutrowatz. With a voice as light as candy floss but one which is far from insubstantial, and joined by the strong baritone of the Count (Ritter Graf von Liebenau, sung by Timothy Connor in fine voice), the act I finale is replete with both event and vocal beauty. What a varied act finale this is!:

Interestingly, act 1 ends with a lovely aria for Marie, “Er schläft!” (He is sleeping), and Kutrowatz is absolutely charming. The music oscillates between pure operetta and that Weber-tinge I referenced earlier. It is a lovely idea to close the first act in this way, rather than a rousing ensemble finale, and tenderness is the order of the day here, both from Kutrowata and from Hussain - the very closing bars are beautifully shaped by the orchestra:

Act 2 begins with a beautiful Entr'acte, skilfully scuttled by Hussain before a charming duet between Marie (Kutrowatz) and the Count (Connor). Kutrowatz's voice is superbly agile here:

Lortzing contrasts that extended duet with a Sextet, lightly and beautifully scored. In a hearkening back to LP days, act 2 is spread across two discs. But the second disc begins with the most charming duet for two male voices: Groissböck and his knave, Georg (Andrew Morstein). The writing is delicious, and Morstein has a good go at the high notes (it all goes spectacularly well until the very last one, which is admittedly a screamer, which does sound strained). On the disc it is worthwhile sticking around for the superb playing Hussain gets from the ORF orchestra for the Verwandlung, as the scene morphs to a vineyard where Stadinger's neoghbours are partying (and what a great chorus that is!).

Morstein's moment in the sun is his Lied mit Chor (Song with Chorus), ”“War einst ein junger Springinsfeld” (There was once a young greenhorn). The melody itself trips along beautifully:

The act ends with a staged kidnapping. Perhaps here the voltage could have been just a touch more, yet when Lorzing goes all Mozartian towards the very end often act, Hussain pitches it just right.

The third act is the shortest and begins with a lovely aria for Marie, its subject men in general (and how she wishes she was not a woman). Both Kutrowatz and Hussain are as light as the music requires. There is a slight edge to Kurowatz's voice up top at mid- to high dynamics that is not unappealing:

Of course this is hardly the first recording of Waffenschmied, and so why not have a small comparison? Here's Gundula Janowitz in just that aria, rounder of voice, just as characterful. The Berlin RSO is conducted by Christoph Strepp, and the transfer is taken from the DG Janowitz set, “The Golden Voice”:

The last major aria is for Stadinger, but when it comes to the finale, Lortzing lets us see his lyric side like nowhere else in the operetta before sprinting to the finish line in a passage that seems to owe something to the end of Beethoven's Fidelio. But here's that aria, “Auch ich war ein Jüngling mit lockigem Haar” (I too was a curly-hared youth):

Again, a little comparison might be nice, as this is once more one of the more famous numbers. If you want to hear a very different vision, here's Kim Borg with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra under Ferdinand Leitner. The tempo is very different, but not half as marked as the liberties we hear in the orchestra: it is fair to say there's some portamento there. But Borg has such a lovely, velvety voice:

Back to the Capriccio Vienna box: It is certainly good to have full libretto with English translation, but I remain unsure why “Auftritt” (scene) has been translated as “appearance” (so the finale of act 1 is the “Ninth Appearance,” for example).

Lortzing's Der Waffenschmied is a lovely piece though, and this new recording comes heartily recommended.

You can buy the box from Amazon at this link; Spotify link below.