Andreas Spering

Joseph Haydn: Die Feuerbrunst (Marionetten-Singspiel)

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Die Feuersbrunst, oder das abgebrannte Haus (The Conflagration, or the Burned-Down House) is a marionette opera (or more properly marionette-singspiel, for the dialogue is spoken) composed by Joseph Haydn in the late 1770s. He wrote several of these for the Empress Maria Theresa's marionette theater at Esterháza castle, and other big names such as Salieri and Piccinni composed these comic works as well. Some of the repertory has been lost to general neglect and World War II-era bombs, and even for what is left, recordings and performances have been very rare. It's rather mysterious that lavish productions of the likes of Cavalli and Rameau get mounted from time to time, but a work like this one, which would be within the capabilities of a local group that could round up enough marionette-makers, has languished. So, kudos to CPO for this live recording of a 2006 performance of the work from Potsdam. The music at times seems intended to work in tandem with the gestures of marionettes , and the cover photo is enough in itself to make you wish for an enclosed DVD. But even without the visual aspect the music is enough to stir the interest of Haydn fans in this unique corner of his huge output. The plot, involving the adventures of a buffoon named Hanswurst who speaks in a light Viennese dialect, is truly absurd enough to defy summary, but it's fast-moving and full of amorous intrigue between masters and servants. Both the arias and the spoken interludes are brief, and Haydn rose to the occasion with a mixture of jolly tunes and exaggerated pathos that must have been great fun for all involved. The singers (there are four vocal parts) enter into the situation-comedy spirit of the action, and the live action is ably captured by CPO's engineers. Notes (which include an entire summary of Haydn's theatrical career at Esterháza), performer biographies, a plot summary, and the libretto all appear in the booklet in German and English. Recommended not only for Haydn collections, but for any student of theatrical history.

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