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ClassicsOnline Home » CORNELIUS, P.: Barber of Bagdad (The) (Schwarzkopf, Gedda, Leinsdorf) (1956) / WEBER, C.M.: Abu Hassan (Schwarzkopf, Witte, Ludwig) (1944)
When this recording of Peter Cornelius’s sparkling German comedy Der Barbier von Bagdad was released in 1957, The Gramophone reviewer remarked that “there is no mistaking the enjoyment which the cast find in the work – an enjoyment seemingly shared by the orchestra and the chorus… Outstanding in this company is Oskar Czerwenka, who very obviously relished the verbal humour in his part and gives a splendid comic performance… Nicolai Gedda is on his best form, and Schwarzkopf brings distinction to [her] part”.The 1944 recording of Weber’s delightful one-act Singspiel Abu Hassan, based on The Arabian Nights, features Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Erich Witte as “a very melodious pair of lovers, Michael Bohnen revels in his buffo part, and Leopold Ludwig keeps the little opera moving briskly” (The Gramophone, July 1961).
By David Denton
Once popular in German opera houses, Cornelius’s sparkling comedy, Der Barbier von Bagdad, is now rarely staged, this 1956 recording being its premiere appearance on disc.
Sadly the composer never lived to see the work successfully presented, the first performance ruined by a feud between the conductor and the theatre manager. Born in Mainz in 1824, Peter Cornelius’s early interest in literature eventually leading to his writing of a libretto for The Barber of Bagdad based on a story from Arabian Nights. WithNureddin dying of love for the Cadi’s daughter, Margiana, an in-between arranges for the two to meet in secret, and calls upon the barber, Abul Hassan, to make him presentable for the assignation. The self-opinionated Abul provides much of the ensuing comedy before the lovers are united, and the barber is locked away so that the Cadi can explore his many supposed skills. Having engaged a star-studded cast, EMI made the bizarre mistake of having no studio available that contained the newly available stereo equipment. Headed by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf using her pert voice for the pretty young Margiana, the performance revolves around the fruity bass voice of Oskar Czerwenka as Abul, a wonderful character singer and stalwart of the Vienna State Opera for over thirty-five years. The elegant Nicolai Gedda is a superb Nureddin, with Grace Hoffman, Hermann Prey, Gerard Unger and Eberhard Wachter the fabulous line-up for the lesser roles. After a rather scrappily played overture from the Philharmonia, the conductor, Erich Leinsdorf, produces a virile and urgent performance. Using Schwarzkopf as the linking factor, a 1944 Berlin recording of Weber’s Abu Hassan completes the second disc. Then singing as a soubrette, she is partnered by the lyric tenor, Erich Witte, and bass, Michael Bohnen, names long forgotten, but famous at the time. Previously available on different labels, it is here taken from an American LP released by Urania. A splendid piece of restoration work gives a most pleasing sound, some distortion only appearing from the inner groves of the LP. The Berlin Radio Symphony play well for Leopold Ludwig, and you can buy happily in the thought that both performances are unlikely to be surpassed.
Peter Cornelius (1824-1874): Der Barbier von Bagdad
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826): Abu Hassan
The Barber of Baghdad
(Der Barbier von Bagdad)
Abul Hassan, the Barber - Oskar Czerwenka (bass)
Baba Mustapha, the Cadi - Gerhard Unger (tenor)
Margiana, his daughter - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano)
Bostana, his maid-servant - Grace Hoffman (contralto)
Nureddin, in love with Margiana - Nicolai Gedda (tenor)
1st Muezzin - Eberhard Wächter (baritone)
2nd Muezzin - August Jaresch (tenor)
3rd Muezzin - Rudolf Christ (tenor)
The Caliph of Baghdad - Hermann Prey (baritone)
Fatime - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano)
Abu Hassan - Erich Witte (tenor)
Omar - Michael Bohnen (bass)
The composer Peter Cornelius was born in Mainz on 24 December 1824 into a theatrical family. His father died when the boy was quite young and he went to live with his uncle Peter von Cornelius. He began his career as an actor, and then studied composition with Siegfried Dehn in Berlin. In 1852 he became associated with the “The Music of the Future”, also known as the “New German School”, following his visit to Liszt in 1842, culminating in his keen championship of both Liszt and Wagner. In his early life Cornelius was particularly interested in literature, the seeds of which manifested themselves in his later prolific output of criticism. He wrote a large number of songs, the best known being the charming and delightful Weinachtslieder. Cornelius also wrote three operas, Der Barbier von Bagdad (1858), Der Cid (1865) and Gunold, the last completed in 1891 following his death in 1874.
The libretto for Der Barbier von Bagdad was written by the composer, who in turn based it on a story from The Arabian Nights. Originally the composer planned his new work to encompass a single act, with the extended finale comprising almost a third of the entire composition. Subsequently he was advised to divide the opera into two acts of roughly equal length. The comedy is set in Baghdad and concerns Nureddin (tenor), who is very much in love with Margiana (soprano), the daughter of the Caliph Mustapha (tenor). The other two main characters are the ‘fixer’ Bostana (mezzo-soprano) and the hero, the mischievous Abul Hassan Ali Ebn Bekar. The various twist and turns provide us with a delightfully sparkling German comedy.
The opera had its was première in Weimar on 15 December 1858, the conductor being Franz Liszt, the theatre’s music director. The occasion was a complete fiasco, caused by the feud between the conductor and the manager of the theatre, Dingelstedt. The members of the audience who supported each of the parties made mayhem. Additionally, the public took against the concept of the “New German School”. The work was not heard again in the composer’s own lifetime, and its revival in Hanover in 1877, when the German conductor Felix Mottl revised and re-orchestrated the opera, was another failure. Following the first performance Liszt suggested to Cornelius that he write a new overture to replace the brief prelude but as the composer died before he was able to make an orchestration, this was undertaken posthumously by Liszt. This new overture uses music heard later in the opera and was for a production directed by the conductor Hermann Levi in Karlsruhe in 1885, when the occasion proved a success. Further productions ensued worldwide. It is the original version which is used for this recording.
When this recording was released in November 1957 the reviewer in The Gramophone remarked that “there is no mistaking the enjoyment which the present cast find in the work – an enjoyment seemingly shared by the orchestra and the chorus”. He continued: “Outstanding in this company is Oscar Czerwenka, who very obviously relished the verbal humour in his part and gives a splendid comic performance”. He also made mentioned that “Nicolai Gedda is on his best form, and Schwarzkopf brings distinction to [her] part”. Grace Hoffmann was praised for “fine voice which … has an easy flexibility too”.
The choice of conductor Erich Leinsdorf was an interesting one in that it was the one occasion that producer Walter Legge used his services. The Viennese-born naturalised American musician was at this time under contract to EMI’s American arm Capitol Records. In the case of Schwarzkopf she learnt her part especially for this recording. As Alan Sanders in his excellent Elizabeth Schwarzkopf – A Career on Record (Duckworth, 1995) has written: “The score as a whole was new to her, and at the time of the recording she was not in good health and had to husband her resources as best she could. The music presented her with problems too, since she found it was awkwardly written for the voice”.
The reason for this recording not being made in stereo was due to the non-availability of such technical equipment. At this time EMI possessed two sets of stereo recording gear, one in situ in their Abbey Road Studios, the other at Kingsway Hall, these two locations being the prime venues for large classical projects. Furthermore, Beecham was using the latter venue for his recording of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Thus the use of Watford Town Hall meant that as EMI then did not possess mobile stereo equipment the recording had to be made in mono only.
Carl Maria von Weber also based his delightful one-act Singspiel on The Arabian Nights to a libretto by Franz Karl Heimer, which they called Abu Hassan. The work was given its première in Munich on 4th June 1811, the score being published the following year. The story concerns itself with problems of the two lovers, Abu Hassan and his wife Fatime, paying off their debts. After a series of aborted attempts to claim money by false pretences, all is forgiven and resolved by the end. “Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Erich Witte are a very melodious pair of lovers, Michael Bohnen revels in his buffo part, and Leopold Ludwig keeps the little opera moving briskly”, wrote The Gramophone reviewer in July 1961.
The German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (1915-2006) studied at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik and later with the soprano Maris Ivogün, making her début as one of the Flowermaidens in Parsifal with the Städtische Oper, Berlin in 1938. Originally a lyrical soprano she undertook rôles such as Adele in Die Fledermaus, Musetta in La Bohème and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos when she joined the Vienna State Opera under Karl Bohm in 1943. Her first overseas appearance was with this company on their visit to London in 1947, when she sang Donna Elvira, and Marzelline in Fidelio. She then joined the fledgling Covent Garden Company, where for five seasons she sang a variety of rôles, mostly in English. Alongside these appearances, Schwarzkopf sang at the Salzburg Festival (1946-1964), La Scala, Milan (1948-1963), San Francisco (1955-1964) and, finally, the Metropolitan in New York in 1964. She was greatly admired in the rôles of the Marschallin, Fiordiligi, the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro and Donna Elvira. She also had a distinguished parallel career as a Lieder singer in the concert hall. She was the wife of producer Walter Legge, whom she married in 1953.
Nicolai Gedda (b.1925) is one of the most respected lyric tenors of the twentieth century and unquestionably the most versatile. Born in Stockholm, his father was a Russian who sang in the Don Cossack Choir; after a brief interval in Leipzig, where the family went when his father was appointed cantor with the Orthodox Church, they returned to Stockholm in 1934. There it was that young Nicolai discovered his voice and began his studies with a distinguished teacher, Carl Martin Ohmann, at the Swedish Royal Academy of Music. He made his début in 1951 at the Royal Opera in Stockholm in the première of Sutermeister’s Der rote Stiefe, followed by the altitudinous tenor rôle of Chapelou in Adam’s Le Postillon de Longjumeau in April 1952. After taking part in the first Western recording of Boris Godunov under Dobrowen (Naxos 8.110242-44), Gedda made his La Scala début in 1953 as Don Ottavio and as the Groom in the première of Orff’s Il trionfo di Afrodite. The following years saw him appear at the Paris Opéra (Huon in Oberon), the Aix-en-Provence Festival, Covent Garden (the Duke in Rigoletto), Salzburg Festival (Belmonte in Die Entführung) and the Metropolitan in New York as Gounod’s Faust. In 1958 he created the rôle of Anatol in Barber’s Vanessa, which he also gave in Salzburg. He first sang Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini at the Holland Festival in 1961, which he later repeated at Covent Garden in 1966, 1969 and 1976. He also appeared in Russia in 1980-81 to great acclaim. His London concert hall début took place in 1986. He sang at the Met for 22 seasons in 27 rôles in 289 performances. He was still recording as recently as 2002. Gedda has proved the most versatile lyric tenor of his time with a vast discography covering every conceivable aspect of the repertory. His career over fifty years took him to pretty well all the leading opera houses throughout Europe and America, and he sang a vast repertory in pretty well every language, in operas such as Oberon, Don Giovanni, Boris Godunov, La sonnambula, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, I vespri siciliani, L’elisir d’amore, Mireille, La traviata, I Puritani, Faust, among many others. Even in the 21st century, at Covent Garden, he was still singing and in for him a new rôle, the Archbishop in Pfitzner’s Palestrina.
Baritone Hermann Prey (1929–1998) was born in Berlin, studying at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin and in 1952 he was a prizewinner of Hessischer Rundfunk in Frankfurt. Later that year he made his début as the Second Prisoner in Fidelio in Wiesbaden, followed by Monuccio in d’Albert’s Tiefland. Prey soon joined the Hamburg State Opera (1953-1960) and in 1957 sang in Vienna, followed two years later by appearances in Munich. Between 1960 and 1970 in six seasons Prey appeared at the Metropolitan in New York, making his début as Wolfram. In 1965 he first sang at Bayreuth, again as Wolfram, returning as a perceptive Beckmesser in 1981. In 1973 Prey sang Rossini’s Barbiere at Covent Garden and subsequently reappeared as Guglielmo, Papageno and Eisenstein. Although he had sung Verdi parts in his early years, he later concentrated on Mozart and Strauss, singing Olivier (Hamburg 1957), Harlequin (Munich 1960), and Robert Storch (Munich 1960). In 1997 he returned to the Salzburg Festival as Der Sprecher in Die Zauberflöte. In 1988 he directed a production of Le nozze di Figaro at Salzburg. He was also one of the founders of a Schubert Festival in Austria. Prey died in Munich in November 1998.
The American mezzo-soprano Grace Hoffman was born in Cleveland Ohio in 1925 and was educated at Western Reserve University in her native city. Then she studied voice with Friedrich Schorr in New York and Mario Basiola in Milan. After her stage début in the United States as Lola in Cavalleria rusticana, she sang in Florence (1951) and Zürich (1953-55) before becoming a member of the Württemberg State Theatre in Stuttgart in 1955. In March 1958 she made her Metropolitan Opera début in New York as Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde. She also appeared at La Scala in Milan, Covent Garden in London (regularly between 1959 and 1971), Bayreuth (1957-70), and the Vienna State Opera. In 1978 Grace Hoffman became professor of voice at the Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart. She was noted for her performances of the music of Wagner and Verdi, particularly for her rôles of Brangäne, Kundry, and Eboli. She also sang extensively in the concert hall.
Linz-born bass Oskar Czerwenka (1924-2000) initially wanted to become a painter, but then undertook singing lessons with Otto Iro in Vienna. In 1947 he made his début as the Hermit in Weber’s Der Freischütz at the Stadttheater in Graz. Four years later he became a member of the Vienna State Opera, where he remained for 35 years until retiring in 1986. Czerwenka also appeared regularly at the Vienna Volksoper. He was particularly admired in buffo bass rôles such as Ochs, Kecal, Osmin or van Bett, but his repertory comprised more than 75 opera rôles. From 1953 onwards he sang at the Salzburg Festival where he appeared as the Notary in Der Rosenkavalier, Truffaldino in Ariadne auf Naxos, and Bartolo in Le nozze di Figaro, with the world premières of Einem’s Kafka opera Der Prozess and Egk’s Irische Legende. Czerwenka also appeared throughout Germany and in Lisbon, Prague, Budapest, Zurich, Brussels and the festivals of Glyndebourne and Edinburgh. His American début was as Rocco in Fidelio at the Metropolitan in 1960. His book Lebenszeiten - Ungebetene Briefe was published in Vienna in 1987.
Gerhard Unger was born in 1916 in Bad Salzungen. He studied in Berlin and began singing in the concert hall and in oratorio in 1945. His début as an opera singer in 1947 took place in Weimar in the German Democratic Republic. From 1949 to 1961 Unger sang with the Berlin State Opera but moved to Stuttgart after that time. He also sang at the Hamburg State Opera from 1962 to 1973. From 1951 onwards he sang regularly at the Bayreuth Festival where his interpretation of David from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was hugely admired: he recorded the rôle with Herbert von Karajan (1951), Rudolf Kempe (1951), and Rafael Kubelík (1968). Unger appeared at the Salzburg Festival between 1962 and 1978 in addition to singing in Paris, Brussels, London, Turin and Marseilles. His other rôles included Tamino, Alfredo and Pinkerton as well as Pedrillo, Jacquino and Mime.
Erich Leinsdorf was born Erich Landauer in Vienna in 1912, and by the age of five was enrolled in a local music school. He studied music at Vienna University and the Vienna Conservatory, making his conducting début at the Musikvereinsaal upon graduation. He became assistant conductor of the Workers’ Chorus in Vienna in 1933, and a year later was appointed Toscanini’s assistant at the Salzburg Festival. His American début took place at the Metropolitan Opera conducting Die Walküre on 21 January 1938, and the following year he became head of the company’s German repertoire. After becoming a naturalised American citizen in 1942, Leinsdorf was appointed music director of the Cleveland Orchestra but was soon enlisted into the United States Army. Discharged in 1944, he returned to the Metropolitan, before becoming music director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in 1947, a post he held until 1955. Seven years later he became music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, resigning in 1969. Leinsdorf then conducted opera and concert performances in the United States and Europe for the ensuing two decades. In 1978, he became principal conductor of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 1980. In 1976, he published a controversial book Cadenza: A Musical Career, a candid memoir of himself and his fellow musicians. He died in Zurich in 1993.
The German tenor Erich Witte was born in Bremen in 1911. Following his début in 1932 in his native city he sang in Wiesbaden and Breslau, and between 1938 and 1939 he was heard in New York as Froh and Mime at the Metropolitan Opera House. He sang David at Bayreuth during the war and in the 1950s appeared as Loge, a rôle he sang subsequently at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. In 1957 he produced Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Covent Garden and sang Walther as a last minute replacement. Witte worked at the Berlin Staatsoper until 1960 and later became a producer there from 1964. Other rôles included Otello, Florestan, and Peter Grimes. In 1970 he created the part of Harry McRae in Alan Bush’s opera Joe Hill.
The German bass-baritone Michael Bohnen (1887-1965) was born in Berlin, studying with Fritz Steinbach and Schulz-Dornburg. After making his début as Caspar in Weber’s Der Freischütz in Düsseldorf in 1910, he sang at the Royal Opera in Berlin the following year (where he sang regularly until 1919) before joining the opera at Wiesbaden for the 1912-13 season. His first British appearance was in 1914 at the Theatre Drury Lane season under Beecham, singing Ochs and Sarastro. He also appeared at the Bayreuth Festival later that year. Bohnen’s successful American début was at the Metropolitan Opera in March 1923, an occasion which led to him singing in that house for the ensuing ten seasons. Thereafter he sang at the Städtische Oper Berlin from 1933 until 1945, when he became its administrator for two years. His rôles included King Mark, Rocco, Hagen, Wotan, Daland, Hunding, Scarpia and Gurnemanz. He also acted Ochs in the silent film version of Der Rosenkavalier, made in 1925.
Conductor Leopold Ludwig (1908-1979) was born in Witkowitz in Moravia. At the age of ten he was a church organist, and
studied piano at the Vienna Academy of Music with Emil Paur between 1927 and 1930. He made his conducting début in Opava in 1931, before moving on to Brno and obtaining his first major appointment in 1936 for three seasons as chief conductor of the Oldenburg Opera in northern Germany. Ludwig conducted in Vienna between 1939 and 1943 prior to moving to Berlin to take up a similar position with the Städtische Oper Berlin where he was based from 1943 until 1950. It was, however, the twenty years he spent as chief conductor of the Hamburg State Opera (1950-1971) that is particularly remembered. The company visited the Edinburgh Festival in 1972, giving their British première of Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler. Ludwig conducted at the San Francisco Opera in 1958, and appeared at the Glyndebourne Festival in the following year and again in 1966. He made his Metropolitan Opera début in 1970 with Wagner’s Parsifal and also appeared at the Vienna State Opera from 1963 onwards. He served as musical adviser to the Basle Symphony Orchestra for the 1969–1970 season. Ludwig was much admired as a fine example of the German Kapellmeister tradition. He also recorded in a variety of capacities for Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Everest and Urania.
The Barber of Baghdad was transferred from German LP pressings. Abu Hassan was originally recorded by German radio on a Magnetophon tape recorder, and like many early tapes, it suffers from harshness and distortion in louder passages which cannot be completely remedied. The Overture was apparently recorded at a different session than the rest of the opera, which is presented complete except for the spoken dialogue. An American LP pressing was the source for this transfer, and each track was carefully re-pitched to correct inaccuracies in earlier editions.
Great Opera Recordings
Peter CORNELIUS (1824 - 1874)
The Barber of Baghdad
 Sanfter Schlummer (Servants, Nureddin)
 So leb’ ich noch! So hat noch nicht (Nureddin)
 Sei Allahs Frieden über dir, mein Sohn (Bostana, Nureddin)
 Wenn zum Gebet (Bostana, Nureddin)
 Ach, das Leid hab’ ich getragen (Nureddin)
 Mein Sohn, sei Allahs Frieden hier (Abul, Nureddin)
 Bin Akademiker (Abul, Nureddin)
 He! Ali, Sadi, Abbas, Achmet (Nureddin, Servants, Abul)
 Lass dir zu Füssen wonnesam mich liegen,o Margiana!” (Abul, Nureddin)
 Mein teurer Abul, deiner Stimme Klang (Nureddin, Abul)
 So schwärmet Jugend, achtet nicht Gefahr (Abul)
 So hat der Satan dich noch immer hier? (Nureddin, Abul, Servants)
 Introduction (Orchestra)
 Er kommt! Er kommt! Er kommt! O Wonne meiner Brust! (Margiana, Bostana, Cadi)
 Allah ist gross, und Mahomet sein Prophet (First, Second and Third Muezzin, Margiana, Bostana, Cadi)
 O holdes Bild in Engelschöne (Nureddin, Margiana)
 O Nureddin! Geniesse froh dein Glück (Abul, Bostana, Nureddin, Margiana, a Slave, Voices)
 Unsel’ger Freund! Und musstest so du enden! (Abul, Cadi, Servants, Cadi’s Friends, Mourning Women, People of Baghdad, Four Officers)
Act 2 (conclusion)
 Sprich, Kadi, du bist Herr in deinem Hause (Caliph, Cadi, Abul, All, Margiana)
 He, Mustapha! Freund Mustapha, wach auf! (Cadi, Caliph, Abul, Margiana, Bostana, Chorus, Nureddin)
 Heil diesem Hause, den du trat’st ein, Salam aleikum! (Abul, All)
 Alternate Overture in D major (orch. Liszt) (Orchestra)
Philharmonia Chorus (Chorus Master: Walter Jellinek), Philharmonia Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf
Recorded 11-12 and 14-15 May 1956, in the Town Hall, Watford and in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
First issued on Columbia 33CX 1400 and 1401
Reissue Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Special thanks to Maynard F. Bertolet for providing source material
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786 - 1826)
 Overture (Orchestra)
 Liebes Weibchen, reiche Wein (Abu, Fatime)
 Was nun zu machen* (Abu)
 Geld! Geld! Geld! (Chorus, Abu, Omar)
 Tränen sollst du nicht vergiessen (Fatime, Abu)
 Wird Philomena trauern* (Fatime)
 Siehst du diese grosse Menge (Fatime, Omar)
 Ich such’ und such’ in allen Blicken (Fatime, Abu, Omar)
 Hier liegt, welch’ martervolles Los (Fatime)
 Angstlich klopft es mir im Herzen (Fatime, Abu, Omar, Chorus)
 Heil ist dem Haus beschieden (Chorus)
*The performing libretto differs from the original text in these numbers
Berlin Radio Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Leopold Ludwig
Recorded 19 December 1944, in Berlin
First issued on Urania 7029
Reissue Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
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CORNELIUS, P.: Barber of Bagdad (The) (Schwarzkopf...