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ClassicsOnline Home » WAGNER, S.: Kobold (Der)
Siegfried Wagner, the son of Richard Wagner and his second wife Cosima, composed seventeen operas in total, expertly written in a late romantic style derived from the influence of Humperdinck. His subjects are generally drawn from medieval German sources, often preoccupied with witchcraft and magic. Der Kobold (The Goblin), Siegfried Wagner’s third opera, was first staged in 1904. It demonstrates the composer’s preoccupation with the theme of infanticide, coupled with magic and evil conflicts, only resolved by the death of the heroine.
By David Denton
Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930)
Der Kobold (The Goblin), Op. 3 (1903)
Opera in Three Acts
Text and Music by Siegfried Wagner
Verena - Rebecca Broberg
Gertrud - Regina Mauel
Ekhart - Andreas Mitschke
Trutz / Satyros - Achim Hoffmann
Fink / Heliodoros - Johannes Föttinger
Kümmel / Faun - Philipp Meierhöfer
Friedrich / Eros - Volker Horn
Der Graf - Nicholas Isherwood
Die Gräfin / Eukaleia - Martina Borst
Jeannette - Ksenija Lukic
Jean - Marco Bappert
Knorz - Joachim Höchbauer
Käthe - Heike Kohler
Seelchen - Young Jae Park
Galgenmännchen - Franziska Ulrich
Ein Geck - Philipp Hoferichter
Mädchen - Evdoxia Fotiou, Susanne Heinzmann, Heike Kohler
Burschen - Johann Winzer, Marco Bappert, Joachim Höchbauer
Hofdamen - Evdoxia Fotiou, Regina Mauel
Höflinge - Philipp Hoferichter, Johann Winzer
Kobolde - Kinderchor des Heinrich-Schliemann-Gymnasiums Fürth
PPP Music Theatre Ensemble (Chorus-master: Elisabeth Müller)
Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra
Siegfried Wagner's Der Kobold, completed in 1903 and first performed in Hamburg in 1904, was later referred to by the composer himself as his favourite work. Yet in spite of the comic implications of the title, the opera is a very sombre work, in which Siegfried Wagner deals with the fate of the souls of aborted children or those killed right after birth. The recent birth of his own unwanted child was the trigger for the treatment of this theme. At the end of April 1901 the composer reported from Berlin : 'In the next opera there are tears. I am quite afraid of it'.
During the first year of composition Siegfried Wagner staged his father's Der fliegende Holländer in Bayreuth. This was his first Bayreuth production in which he realised his father's original plan to play the work as a ballad, without intervals. Der Kobold has a similarly ghostly atmosphere. Siegfried Wagner wrote the libretto himself, as he had for his first opera, Der Bärenhäuter, in 1898. Cosima Wagner, however, was critical of the text, remarks to which her son gave little attention.
Peter P. Pachl
Siegfried Wagner – Biographical Notes
Like his older sisters Isolde and Eva, Siegfried Wagner, the third child of Cosima von Bülow (née Liszt) and Richard Wagner, was born illegitimately on 6 June 1869 in Tribschen, near Lucerne. His mother asked her husband Hans von Bülow a few days later for a divorce on 15 June. The following year on 25 August 1870, Cosima and Richard married, after which their son was baptized with the name Siegfried Helferich Richard.
The family, including Siegfried's half-sisters Daniela and Blandine von Bülow, moved into Wahnfried in Bayreuth in 1874. After Richard Wagner's death on 13 February 1883, Cosima headed the third Bayreuth Festival (following those of 1876 and 1882) as had been intended. In 1884, Siegfried Wagner suffered a mysterious illness which prevented him from going to school. His interest in architecture became apparent quite early, as evidenced by the many sketches he made during the family trips in Italy.
King Ludwig II, Siegfried's godfather, died in June 1886, under unexplained circumstances in the Starnberg Lake. His grandfather, Franz Liszt, died a month later on 31 July during the festival. Siegfried designed a chapel in the style of the Italian early Renaissance for his mausoleum, but these plans were never realised.
Siegfried passed his school-leaving exam and university qualification in 1889 in Bayreuth, and began his musical studies with Engelbert Humperdinck. In Frankfurt he fell in love with Clement Harris, a student at the Hoch Conservatory there. In 1892 he undertook a trip with him to East Asia for six months. During this time he kept a detailed journal with drawings and watercolours, published privately by Winifred Wagner in 1937, and resolved to become a musician. His début as a conductor took place in 1893 in the Margrave Opera House in Bayreuth with excerpts from Der Freischütz and Rienzi. He continued his studies with Julius Kniese. In 1894 he finished his symphonic poem, Sehnsucht. Inspired by Friedrich Schiller, it contains several motifs which he uses again in later operas. He conducted its première on his 26th birthday in the Queen's Hall in London.
During the Festival in 1896 Siegfried conducted the dress rehearsal and the fourth cycle of The Ring of the Nibelung, performed for the first time in Bayreuth since 1876. He also collaborated on the stage direction. Der Bärenhäuter, his first opera, had its première in 1899 at the Royal National Theatre in Munich. The opera was thereafter performed in other theatres, national and international. 177 performances at approximately 35 theatres led it to become one of the most popular operas of the 1899/1900 season. Born on 9 June 1901, Walter Aign was the son of Marie Aign, the wife of the Bayreuth minister Karl Wilhelm Aign. He later claimed to be the son of Siegfried Wagner and was employed at the Festival.
Siegfried Wagner travelled a great deal in 1903, and finished composing Der Kobold in Florence. Cosima Wagner suffered a slight stroke at the end of the year and subsequently reduced her responsibilities of heading the festival. Siegfried Wagner took over from her in 1908, and became quite active as stage director, instituting the latest technical developments, receptive to modern stylistic elements, contemporary concepts and influences. On the occasion of his father's hundredth birthday, Bayreuth honoured Siegfried Wagner as a freeman on 22 May 1913. His sister Isolde filed suit against her mother in order to be recognised as the daughter of Richard Wagner. The unpleasant court proceedings of 1914 were to her disadvantage and everyone's shame. When the war began four weeks later the festival was called off and the tickets refunded, leading to a deficit of approximately 400,000 marks.
The wedding of Siegfried Wagner and Winifred Marjorie Williams, 28 years his junior, was celebrated on 22 September 1915, in the hall at Wahnfried. Following one another as quickly as Siegfried wrote his operas, were born their children: Wieland (1917), Friedelind (1918), Wolfgang (1919) and Verena (1920).
An American publisher induced Siegfried Wagner to write his memoirs, published in 1923. Adolf Hitler visited Bayreuth on 1 October of the same year, and Siegfried's initial cordiality eventually changed to aversion. The beginning of 1924 saw him with Winifred on a concert tour in the United States to raise money for the Bayreuth Festival. Although only $8,000 were raised, the festival opened, after a ten-year interruption, on 22 July, with a revival of the 1911 production of Meistersinger. Siegfried Wagner was appalled as the audience rose after Hans Sachs's final speech to sing the German anthem, and banned similar actions in the following year.
In 1926 Weimar witnessed a German Festival Week and a Siegfried Wagner Festival Week with performances of his works. In 1927 appeared the first volume of his grandmother Marie d'Agoult's memoirs, for which he wrote the preface. Once again occupying himself with the subject matter of a murdered child, he completed the libretto of his sixteenth opera, Wahnopfer, and half of the score. For his sixtieth birthday in 1929, he received from the Friends of Bayreuth a donation of 100,000 Reichsmark for his planned new staging of Tannhäuser, for which in spite of many protests, he succeeded in engaging Arturo Toscanini as conductor.
In February 1930, Siegfried and Winifred travelled to Bristol for a concert with an audience of 4,500, proceeding afterwards to Bournemouth. In Milan Siegfried was the musical and stage director of The Ring. Cosima died during their absence on 1 April, and after the funeral ceremonies Siegfried continued his concert activities. The Festival's rehearsals began on 15 June; two days later during the rehearsal of Act II of Götterdämmerung Siegfried Wagner suffered a heart attack and was taken to hospital. He died on 4 August and, amid a large crowd of mourners, was buried two days later in Bayreuth at the Stadtfriedhof.
S ource: International Siegfried Wagner Society
The goblin as Eros
Interpretative thoughts about the title hero
The first scene of Der Kobold is like an annunciation. It reminds me of Gianlorenzo Bernini's controversial marble sculpture, Estasi di Santa Teresa, in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, where the message-bringing archangel resembles Eros. Quite scandalously, Theresa's body lies prone with limbs splayed by fulfillment; her expression is that of all-encompassing enlightenment, her open mouth that of an orgasm moaning with spiritual ecstasy. Verena's message-bringing fallen angel is a cobold, a goblin, and her moaning that of defence and repulsion. Her sleeping body is defenceless. Her birthday is the day of her initiation into the atrocious history of her family, her defloration and her death. The annunciation of the goblin is therefore a perversion.
In Dark Eros, The Imagination of Sadism (Spring Publications, Woodstock, Connecticut 1994), Thomas Moore writes: "Eros is allied with dark, negative powers: chaos, night, and Tartaros - the vast emptiness at the bottom of the world. A gloomy place through which souls pass on their way to Hades, Erebos is where Eros is born. Erotic experience originates in this gloomy place of the soul." (Moore, p. 23).
In the proximity of Chaos
The goblin approaches Verena when she is asleep and dreaming. When she is in this defenceless state he is able to influence her psyche. "Stupid dream! Just do not tell my mother!" We know of her anxiety, and we know that there is something she wants, or has to hide. We do not know, however, what happened in the cellar. Moore informs us that "Eros is ever near his source in chaos and so threatens order and structure." (Moore, p. 22). Old Ekhart is also present while Verena is dreaming. Who is the messenger or projection? He may well be a key figure, but her father he is not. Just as Mignon calls Wilhelm Meister father, and at the same time loves him passionately with all her child-woman being, Verena calls Ekhart "Father". Verena does not know who her father is, and her mother is gruff and unloving. Finding no love at home, she is overly grateful for the gifts and attention that Friedrich and Ekhart give her.
Is Ekhart the goblin's messenger?
Since Ekhart is a magician, he certainly knows of the power of the will and the control of projection (Ian P. Culianu: Eros and Magic in the Age of the Renaissance. Chicago 1987). The goblin is perhaps his messenger. Ekhart gives Verena a stone that works like a drug on her. "Its beauty seduces me so softly! An invisible hand draws me to the finery. I reach for it, I grab it, and if it brought me suffering, I would not go back!" The stone brings her the sun, and this light brings her happiness, pulls her out of the sinister cellar of daily abuse. Ekhart gives her the stone, and it is Ekhart that leads Verena to the castle garden, the place of catharsis, and abandons her there. He leaves her alone and in danger: "How did I ever get here? Where did I leave him, Ekhart, the faithful one?" asks the sacrificed Verena. Here in the garden is the encounter of two soul-mates: the poor Verena and the rich count. The Count also has a skeleton in the closet, and he also has been visited by Ekhart. "Day coming, night going, dismal image mixed of deception and dream. From Ekhart I heard as a child how he approaches children as a warning voice: the good ones he protects on their path, the bad ones he threatens with sorrowful complaints. What does he want from me? What could be the meaning of his warning?"
Freedom of consciousness
Even as an adult the Count still does not understand what Ekhart did to him. Thomas Moore explains, "As repugnant as Sade's humour around the abuse of children is, it suggests a liberation into consciousness of those terrible loves and horrendous attractions: the genuine, undeniable human desire to dominate children and to fulfil some erotic demand with them. Here is an exceedingly dark truth, a centre-of-the-earth reality that clearly we would rather avoid facing. It deeply offends a powerful affection for the child. Yet, as Sade might say, these bad things happen in the world and therefore, in some way, they partake of a shockingly dark reality." ( Moore, p.108)
This dark reality, too painful to be directly confronted, pervades Siegfried Wagner's music. Verena pleads with the Count hysterically: "Only my purity, do not rob me of it! Cruel one! If you do not honour chastity, then honour your name! Do you want to sully with shame the state that honour calls its own valuable possession? If you are noble, honour what is noble!" But Verena's purity cannot be robbed, for it does not exist. In the music of this passage one hears how impure the two characters are, melodically, harmonically and rhythmically. One can almost smell the perfidious lust of the count and Verena's fear as the threatening rhythms and chromaticism creep under the skin. During this scene I think of Don Giovanni and Zerlina. When one looks behind the stage one sees that no one here is noble, no one is "innocently guilty". Today childhood myths become forcefully unveiled. The Count hates himself: "Oh, disgust with them" (the proud and the noble) "and disgust with me? With me? Am I wrong, or is it wrong that I am alive?"
Perversion as alchemical purification of the soul
When the Count grants Verena no mercy, when she is forced to give the Count what is "his due", she grabs for the dagger. Thomas Moore explains that perversion is used by the soul as part of its development: "Perversion can be an alchemical ripening of the soul. The process of perversion, Sade's consistent advocacy of evil, serves the poly-centricity of the psyche by weakening its rigid, single-minded explanations and values. Perverted images soak the shell of moral defence in the putrid waters of an underworld baptism. At turning points in consciousness, dreams often take the dreamer into foul, wet places where the psyche can mature in rotting fertiliser. A perverted image can be seen as one of the "symbols of transformation."" (Moore, p. 108)
Verena's birthday is a day of ripening. There is a baptism of water, of fire, and of the knife. The old dreams, the illusions and lies of the cellar and of society, and even the stone become transformed as she sacrifices herself as the last member of the family line, for an ideal bordering on the sacrilegious. The adventures she experiences on this day free her soul from the chains of her home and transfigure definitively her surroundings. Nevertheless, I believe that it will not be the end of spirits who continue to "crash about and giggle, yammer and cry", for the soul is in a constant state of development.
Guilt and Abuse
The criminal aspects of Der Kobold
According to a well known comment concerning Siegfried Wagner's Der Kobold, its plot puts Il trovatore in the shadows when it comes to making sense. Indeed, the underlying structure of Der Kobold has caused many a headache, because Siegfried has taken two of his father's favourite themes and handled them biographically and psychoanalytically: the paradox of the "innocent becoming guilty" and the exoneration of one's own and another's guilt through voluntary self-sacrifice as atonement. That is a dominating obsession in almost all of the operas and music dramas of Richard Wagner from The Flying Dutchman to Parsifal. This subject matter accompanies Siegfried throughout his life, with Flüchlein, das jeder mitbekam even unto the brink of the grave.
Crime as origin
With regard to the origin of the guilt, the son certainly diverges from his father, since while the latter falls back on the myth, the original guilt in Kobold is rooted in a crime against a child, which, in the course of the plot, is at the head of a further series of crimes. It has to do with that which Siegfried turned into an archetypal crime: infanticide. The gruesome detail of the newborn's breast pierced by two knives might be superficially explained as a result of an experience on Siegfried's tour in Asia which traumatized him. He witnessed the murderess of a child suffer the punishment of being hacked into pieces. The knife is the ruling requisite of the entire opera. The Count is mortally wounded with the knife by Verena, and Verena herself is murdered with it as she protects Friedrich with her body and life. If one looks more deeply - as in the present staging - into the deeper structure of the symbolization of the (sexual) crimes committed by adults against children, the foreground of the story and its juristic consequences subsume to a phantasmagoric array of child abuse, which drives the victim to suicide.
Prison instead of the death penalty
At the time the opera takes place, that is at the beginning of the nineteenth century, infanticide was punished by imprisonment, according to Paul Johann Anselm von Feuerbach's Bavarian Book of Criminal Law (in Goethe's time, whose Faust I was inspired by child murderess Margaretha Brandt's execution, punishment was the death penalty). According to Bavarian law, Verena's trespassing could be punished by a prison sentence of two weeks to three months. The Count however, demands the "sweet punishment" of sexual intercourse. This would have been considered a miscarriage of justice during the time of patrimonial law, but during the Napoleonic period (after the monopoly of a governmental judicial system had been installed) it would have been a necessary evil. Verena did indeed disturb the peace, thus breaking the law and worthy of punishment, but the Count's method of punishment is at the same time reprehensible and deserving of punishment. There is no connection between the threat's content (punishment) and its intent (sexual intercourse). Of course, the deed remains arrested during the attempt because Verena resists the threatening behaviour. The Count's attempted rape of Verena, by the way, was punishable in Feuerbach's times with a labour sentence of four to eight years, in addition to yearly bodily punishment and solitary confinement in prison.
Legally complex material
While the Count's attempted adultery according to the laws of the time was not punishable (As today. The same as for the Countess' attempt to seduce Friedrich), the Count once again comes into conflict with the law after he is mortally wounded. He commits slander when he accuses Trutz of perpetrating armed robbery. (Incidentally analagous to the Countess' behaviour when Friedrich rejects her. Siegfried Wagner's leitmotif of the "fallen nobility" includes both her and the Count.) The further development becomes so legally complex, that many an advanced law student would fail to solve the case. Because Knorz with three other servants of the Count attempts to capture the supposed robber Trutz and thus ventures the right of provisional arrest, the Count becomes the practical perpetrator of their actions. They are the Count's tools ("innocent agents") used by him. Their actions become excessive when, out of cowardice, they go on to commit arson (with the intent to commit murder). The success of these crimes would have been punished by death. The last refinement of the criminal law is to be found with Knorz's attempted stabbing of Friedrich, received by Verena as she jumps between them. Legal experts call this an aberratio ictus and it is usually depicted as attempted murder of the intended victim in connection with a negligent murder of the actual victim. Because Knorz strikes yet again at Verena (claiming it to be just reward for "perjury", which it is not, for only a judge can deem perjury), he is also punishable for an additional murder.
Abuse of Power
When one ignores the underlying structures of the opera, Der Kobold becomes a gangster story, also due to the old-fashioned linguistic structure which pervades the entire work. The central motives of the father Richard and the son Siegfried Wagner are remarkably similar, only their appearances have changed: from myth to detective novel. As soon as one "deconstructs" the superficial elements, which is what the anything but conservative musical structure demands, one is confronted by the alarming criminological manifestations of child abuse by the "good uncle", who (as Ekhart in apparent mercy) scares the child with ghost stories and seduces it with shiny jewelry (the magic stone) or who (like the Count) forces the child to compliance by threatening punishment for mere nothings. When one turns Der Kobold thus upside down, Siegfried Wagner's third opera suddenly reveals without its trivial dress the naked grotesqueness of adult abuse of power on helpless children as the secret and terrible "primeval slime" of generations.
Names as the key to interpretation
Siegfried Wagner chose the names for the figures in his operas while observing two things: novelty in the operatic literature and the associative chains which would be inspired. These in turn lead to interpretative conclusions and aid in understanding the characters themselves. This is the way it is in Der Kobold.
Verena, the honest one
The Duden encyclopedia of names states that the origins and meaning of the name Verena are unknown. Siegfried Wagner encountered this name very early, it being especially common in Switzerland. Richard Wagner met Verena Weitmann, an employee of the Schweizerhof Hotel in Lucerne, in 1859, and hired her into his service in Munich. After she married Jakob Stocker, he employed the married couple in Tribschen. The association of the hotel employee with the daughter of the inn is a very superficial one. It is rather that the composer recognised in this name its relation to Vera (from the Russian word meaning "belief"; see also Wera in Der Heidenkönig, and to the Latin word meaning "true"). The young, sorely afflicted heroine Verena proves herself in the story to be honest and in search of the truth.
The name of her mother Gertrud consists of the old German Ger (spear) and Trud (power, strength). The inn-keeper is indeed a strong, self-sufficient woman, and tough through and through. The composer combined with this name terms standing for a murder weapon and for obsession. Gertrud killed her child, and this deed burdens Verena in her nightmares.
Seelchen and Galgenmännchen
Seelchen is the name of the infant Gertrud murdered with two knives, Verena's nameless child. The image of two knives reminds us of an instrument used in abortion; it remains open whether Gertrud aborted the unwanted child of her daughter, still a minor, or killed the baby in the cellar of the inn. Interest in the soul's personification on the opera stage goes back to the origins of musical theatre. Emilio Cavalieri's Rappresentazione di Anima e di Corpo ( Rome, 1600) is an example, or Sigmund Teophil Staden's Seelewig ( Nuremberg, 1644).
Galgenmännchen is the name of a goblin conceived in the union of a hanged man's sperm with the grass. The other goblins taunt him, "your father the gallows, your mother the grass". Folk-lore attributes his origins to the root of the mandrake. Mandrake is the name of one of the goblins, as well as the personification of a stifling nightmare, Mar (see Siegfried Wagner's Das Flüchlein, das Jeder mitbekam, in which the good woman slips into the rôle of the Mar for the head robber Wolf). Another name used for one of the goblins is Trud (see the hideous Trude in Siegfried Wagner's An Allem ist Hütchen Schuld! ), which is not coincidentally a part of Verena's mother's name. Along with Federchen, Blinker, Stiefelchen, and Flinker is Hütchen, recognisable by his red hat which makes him invisible. This goblin is the title rôle in Siegfried Wagner's Opus 11 and is the source of the story's catalysis, as a metaphor for rationality and the unconscious.
Friedrich, Keeper of the Peace
Verena's friend was still called Heinrich in the sketches for the opera. Siegfried Wagner used this name for the protagonist of Bruder Lustig. This name consists of Fried, which is part of the composer's first name and means protection from weapons, and peace, and rich. Friedrich is not at all materially wealthy as a travelling actor, but endowed with the affection of women at every age and social level. Nevertheless he remains unattached, a bachelor, just like the composer at the time of writing Der Kobold. Especially the nickname used by Friedrich's friends, Fridi, sounds very much like Fidi, as the composer was called by his friends and family.
Symbolism of the actors' troupe
Trutz is the leader of the travelling actor's troupe that for a short time become performers of historical and mythological material at the castle. His name means 'defence' and 'resistance'. In Act II, Trutz does indeed show himself to be an uncompromising and determined, although unsuccessful, resistance fighter.
The name of his colleague Fink, on the other hand, betrays an unencumbered, cheerful personality. His name being that of a bird makes his commentary on Verena's audition with the Vogellied humorous: "If you sing like that, the audience will run away from us!"
Kümmel, the fourth one in the group, bears a name which has been used to describe spice-dealers. Siegfried Wagner chose a name for the bass in the troupe which is a spice rooted in the soil, but which also rhymes with 'Lümmel'. This word is used in slang for a boy's penis, but can also signify a man's erection (see Mozart's letters to Constanze). It is from this use that the word came to describe a young man, as in Angelo, Marquis von Mazzini, or the amorous child, freely translated from the French by the author of The Adventures of Herr von Luemmel. Published in Leipzig in 1899, the hero of the fragmentary novel is initiated by a flirtatious baroness into the secrets of love, between her and a Parisian prostitute, and then launches into more novel, even more voluptuous adventures. ( Bilderlexicon der Erotik : Wien 1928-1932, Volume 2, p.58).
Käthe, between purity and man-eater
The name of Trutz's wife and the mother of his children, Kaethe, is an abbreviated form of Katharina, that comes from the Greek word for the pure one. But Kaethe is not as pure as the name is, for she also has her ' Tete', or own way of looking at things, and an unwanted child (presumably from another man) that she aborted or killed after birth. It is possible that the choice of this name bears a connection to Luther's 'Käthe', his wife, Katharina von Bora. Just as impossible as a marriage between a monk and a nun is the marriage between Trutz and Käthe, who see each other once a year. Another possible connection to this choice of name may be that of the man-eating Tsarina Catherine; the actors' song in Act III compares Trutz's potency with that of the Sultan Saladin.
Ekhart, the warning voice
Siegfried Wagner's original spelling of Ekhart prevents a literal translation of the name, "he with the hard point". The legendary character of the faithful Eckhart is described by the classicists as one who warns and helps. He shows up repeatedly in Bechstein's German Book of Sagas, in The Faithful Eckhart and Frau Holle and the Faithful Eckhart and in the eponymous novel by Ludwig Tieck. Friedrich Rückert also makes use of the name in his poem, The Four Names, based on the poet Ernst Moritz Arndt, whose text, Fahnenschwur, was used by Siegfried Wagner for a choral work. Clemens von Brentano used the name in his poem Görres, and Richard Dehmel in Erlösungen. Ekhart appears in Der Kobold as a constant primal image serving as Verena's fatherly friend, and perhaps natural father. At the end of Act II, Siegfried Wagner connects the relationship with the 'faithful Eckhart' when Verena addresses her strange friend as 'Treu-Ekhart '. In Act III Ekhart describes himself as an 'Interpreter of suffering'. Ekhart appears again in Siegfried Wagner's Die heilige Linde; in this opera Ekhart bears similarities to the late medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart.
Count and Countess
The names at court have been frenchified. The Count and Countess, as well as the dandy and the other nobility, have intentionally no names. In the case of Jeannette the handmaid, we see how Verena's childhood friend, 'Nanni' (short for Johanna), has been transformed to the cunning Jeannette: experienced in 'Les amoureux '. The name was popular in the 1800s through Schiller's Johanna von Orleans. In contrast to this dramatic character the actors classify Jeanette as a Spirifankerl, or devil's chicken. Jeannette's masculine counterpart is Jean, her friend at court, who is jealous not without reason.
The name of the courtly servant Knorz comes from the middle high German 'Knorzen ', meaning bellows. The eventual arsenist and assassin has a name bearing a significance for Verena's death at the end of the opera.
An opera within the opera
Finally we will consider the name of the opera within the opera: Eukaleia, the abducted nymph, or the power of Song. Siegfried Wagner is looking back here to the countless dramas based on mythology that were written for courtly celebrations. Eukaleia, the name of the nymph, is apparently an invention combining the Greek prefix 'eu', meaning good, and 'Kaleia', meaning beauty. The Countess portrays Eukaleia, embodying in the rôle that of the good beauty, but she is actually capable of being only the latter. As Eukaleia she is desired by many men (as in real life), tied up and loved. The natural demon, Satyros, an ancient creature half man and half goat, is a drastically vulgar figure among the followers of Dionysus, who lusts after women. He is also similar to the late Roman God of fertility, later portrayed as the Greek Pan, a lusty character with goat's feet.
Eros, the son of the god of war, Ares, and the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, is the god of love. He is most often depicted as a naked little child or a young boy, hurrying through the world with bow and arrows to wound gods and man and enflame them with love. Friedrich plays on the stage the rôle he plays in real life, making women love him, and never growing up.
Heliodorus is a mythical figure invented by Siegfried Wagner, the name formed by the Greek word 'Helios', i.e. sun, and 'Doreion', i.e. gift. He is the personified gift of the sun, representing the sun god Helios. According to the rules of court he should be enacted by the Count, but the Count keeps his distance from the stage action, much preferring 'actus in concreto'. The choice of the name, however, is connected with the Greek story-teller of the third century, whose Aethiopica was the most widely read novel in antiquity. Owing to his moral integrity, Heliodorus was recommended reading for the Byzantines. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century his fantastic yarns and digressive art had a great influence on the development of the baroque novel.
[CD 1 / Track 1] Introduction. [1/ 2] In the garden outside her mother's tavern, goblins whizz around the sleeping Verena. Seelchen, who was murdered by Verena's mother with two knives as a small child, urges her to help him, to end his misery.
[1/3] Ekhart awakens Verena from her bad dreams. He has come in honour of her birthday and brought her a magic stone for a present. He warns her not to lose it and not to show it to anyone. It will bind her lover to her, but only if she always keeps it with her and never shows it to anyone.
[1/4] Verena's mother, Gertrud, scolds her daughter for wearing a nightgown outside and for not having cleaned up inside. Verena lies, insisting that she already has. After checking to see if her daughter is lying again, Gertrud confirms, to Verena's astonishment, that the house has indeed been cleaned.
[1/5] Ekhart informs Gertrud that Verena spent the entire night outside and was talking in her sleep. Gertrud anxiously asks if Ekhart understood anything, but he does not answer and disappears.
[1/6] Friedrich's love-song rings from the valley. He gives Verena a little chain for her birthday, and she attaches the stone to it. Verena makes Friedrich jealous, by boasting of her relations with the Count and with Trutz. Friedrich braids her hair, but is not rewarded with the promised kiss. Verena escapes into the house. He leans a ladder against the house to climb to her window.
[1/7] Friedrich's artistic colleagues, Fink, Trutz and Kümmel, make fun of Friedrich on "Life's Ladder". Gertrud rolls up a barrel of beer from the cellar and expresses her low opinion of the actors. Trutz praises his wife Käthe, whom he sees once a year. Each time he returns to her he is greeted by the cries of a new baby. People stream towards the tavern to form an audience for the announced play, and Trutz informs the curious observers that they may be joined by the Count and Countess today. The Count however, is not really of noble descent. He is the son of the "False Count", who received a title in exchange for his financial support of Napoleon. The actors busy themselves preparing the stage. Verena would love to go on the road with the actors. She auditions for them with a sad song of a blind bird, its breast torn by longing. Fink states that the audience would run away if they heard her sing like that. Trutz mocks Friedrich for having a sweetheart in every town. This makes Friedrich angry. To prove his sincerity he asks Gertrud for Verena's hand. Gertrud laughs at him.
[1/8] The Count and Countess arrive with their entourage. Jeannette, whom Verena grew up with and was earlier called Nanni, sings the praises of courtly life and insults Verena and her poverty. Verena boasts of her stone. When Jeannette sees it she decides that the Countess must have it as a talisman. Verena refuses to part with the stone, but Gertrud tears it from her neck when she hears the Countess offer to buy it.
[1/9] Trutz announces to the eagerly waiting audience that there will be no performance today because the Count has invited the troupe to perform at the castle. The actors dismantle the stage and load it onto the carriage. Friedrich exhorts Verena to go with them, but she remains transfixed in thought. Verena turns to Ekhart for consolation.
[2/1] Introduction. [2/ 2] Jeannette and Jean are preparing everything for the upcoming party in the castle garden. Trutz, Kümmel and Fink are already in costume and complain that they did not sleep very well. Their hopes to be paid in gold for their performance are dashed by Jeannette, who says that the honour is payment enough. Trutz torments Jeannette by calling her a Spirifankerl, describing exactly what kind of a little devil she is in a ballad. Jeannette whispers to Friedrich that the Countess will be waiting for him that evening.
[2/3] The Count reflects upon a warning that Ekhart once gave him. He looks back on his life, his insincere friends and the onus of his inheritance. The Countess approaches in the costume of the nymph Eukaleia. The Count queries her about a love letter he happened to find.
[2/4] The guests take their seats for the play as the Count announces it. Eros attempts to free Eukaleia, abducted by Satyr and Faun, with his song, but Heliodoros vies with him vocally for the nymph's affections. Friedrich, as Eros, forgets his text and stutters when he sees something move in the bushes. The Count interrupts the play and invites the guests to dance. Verena grabs Jean's attention and pleads with him to tell Friedrich that she is there. Friedrich lets her know he doesn't want to see her, but Verena runs to him. Jeannette insults Verena and tries to chase her out as the court retreats to the castle.
[2/5] Verena tries to understand Friedrich's coldness.
[2/6] The amorous Count returns. He tells her she can forget Friedrich and begins his seduction. He sticks money in her pocket. When she resists his advances the Count threatens to punish her for trespassing on the castle grounds. Verena escapes his grasp and the Count pursues her into the woods.
[2/7] Trutz has left the party, drawn by Verena's cries for help. Verena has mortally wounded the Count, stabbing him twice with his own dagger. Trutz takes the dagger and leads her to the castle gate.
[2/8] The Countess believes the talisman's powers will win Friedrich's love for her. Friedrich, enflamed with desire anyway, tries to convince her to run off with him. She, however, desires both the lavish comfort of married life with the Count and amorous adventure. Friedrich impetuously tears off one of her chains. It is the chain he gave Verena for her birthday. Friedrich takes the stone to return it to Verena. The Countess cries for help.
[2/9] The Countess accuses Friedrich of robbery and the castle gates are locked. The mortally wounded Count is found. Trutz, still holding the bloody dagger, is accused of murder by the Count. In a crazed fever, the Count sees Ekhart and urges him to punish his dead father, who is guilty, whereas he is innocent. The actors escape over the walls. Trutz hurls the stone into the castle lake, and its waters begin to glow green. The Countess has her lackeys hunt for the stone in the depths of the water. The beech tree is struck and split by lightning. Everyone flees into the castle. Seelchen dives into the lake and captures the stone. Galgenmännchen (born of semen ejaculated on the grass while a man is executed by hanging) creeps out of the forked beech tree and fights with Seelchen for the stone. The other goblins rush to help Seelchen, and Galgenmännchen is forced to escape.
[3/1] Introduction. [3/ 2] Ekhart leads Verena through the woods. Her prayers for a miracle are in vain. She is cheered up by a grasshopper for a moment. She never wants to see her mother again. Ekhart tells her about the legend of the goblins, and that the last living member of a family clan must atone for the sorrows of the murdered ancestors. The last descendant takes all suffering with him in the grave. Verena will thus find in death the happiness that eluded her in life.
[3/3] The Count's assassin Knorz and his henchmen are looking for the actors. Stumbling upon Ekhart and Verena, they ask for directions to the meadow mill. They are going to set it on fire and kill the actors. After Ekhart has shown them the way, Verena makes a vain attempt to lead them astray. Knorz recognizes Verena and makes her swear not to tell a living soul of their plans. Verena asks Ekhart to tell her mother that she will atone for the family's guilt and that she wants to be buried near her brother's grave under the weeping willow.
[3/4] Fink, Kümmel and Friedrich are hiding at Trutz's home. Trutz's wife, Käthe, has set a place at the dinner table for her goblin, her illegitimate child killed at birth. Fink disregards her warning not to eat its food. Trutz and Friedrich fight over Verena. Verena rushes in and warns them of the planned attack by praying loudly to the Virgin Mary's statue. Just in the nick of time, they escape as the barn bursts into flames. The moonlit countryside becomes visible behind the collapsing ruins. Verena throws herself in front of Friedrich and saves him from Knorz's knife. On the verge of death, Verena urges Friedrich to be happy and to place a lock of his hair on her wounded heart. She hears the voices of the goblins and that of her redeemed goblin Seelchen. A drop of dew falls on her forehead and shimmers like the magic stone.
English versions by Rebecca Broberg
The German libretto can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/225329.htm
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