Thursday 12 March 2020

Mozart & more: in 'Arias for Josepha', Sarah Traubel explores the arias written for Mozart's Queen of the Night, Josepha Hofer

Arias for Josepha - Mozart, Jacob Haidel, Vincenzo Righini, Franz Xaver Süßmayr, Peter von Winter, and Benedikt Schack / Franz Xaver Gerl; Sarah Traubel, PFK - Prague Philharmonia, Jochen Rieder; SONY CLASSICAL
Arias for Josepha - Mozart, Jacob Haidel, Vincenzo Righini, Franz Xaver Süßmayr, Peter von Winter, and Benedikt Schack / Franz Xaver Gerl; Sarah Traubel, PKF - Prague Philharmonia, Jochen Rieder; SONY CLASSICAL
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 March 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An enterprising debut recital which explores the music written for Mozart's first Queen of the Night, much of it sung as part of Schikaneder's company

Josepha Hofer née Weber (1758-1819) must have been quite a singer, Mozart wrote the role of the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflote for her, and she seems to have specialised in the high lying roles but her performances also included the Countess on Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro and Konstanze in Die Entfuhring aus dem Serail. On this new disc from Sony Classical, Arias for Josepha: Mozart's first Queen of the Night, soprano Sarah Traubel is accompanied by PKF - Prague Philharmonia, conductor Jochen Rieder, in arias by Mozart, Jacob Haidel, Vincenzo Righini, Franz Xaver Süßmayr, Peter von Winter, Benedikt Schack and Franz Xaver Gerl, all either written for or performed by Josepha Hofer.

In 1778, the young Mozart met the Weber family in Mannheim. Father was a cousin of composer Carl Maria von Weber and was himself a prompter, music scribe and singer, and he had four daughters. Mozart was clearly taken with them, and at first fell in love with Aloysia Weber but eventually married Constanze Weber. Josepha Weber was also a singer, her career would take her to Munich, Graz and Vienna and in 1788 she married a violinist friend of Mozart's, Franz de Paula Hofer. She became a member of Emanuel Schikaneder's troupe, performing at his Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden in the Vienna suburbs, and it was here that almost all the works on the disc were performed.

The disc, which is Traubel's debut recording, gives us a chance not only to explore a particular singer's voice through her repertoire, but also adds another glimpse into the world of the German singspiel which was performed by Schikaneder's troupe.

Jacob Haibel joined the troupe as a singer, actor and composer, and married Josepha's sister Marie Sophie! His speciality was musical comedies and in 1796, Der Tyroler Wastl premiered and we hear from Frau von Tiefsinn ('Lady Deepthought'), in the aria 'Alles will ich brechen, beugen'. The music has a definite Mozartian cast, and clearly was written to celebrate Josepha's talents.

Vincenzo Righini was an Italian who lived as a successful composer and vocal teacher in Vienna. His cantata La sorpresa amorosa, or Il natale d‘Apollo was written for the Vienna Tonkünstler Societät and the premiere was conducted by Antonio Salieri. The role of Erifile was sung by Josepha, and we hear two of her arias on the disc. Both long, and both with some extravagant ornamentation high in the voice. The score, which was newly edited for the current recording, shows pencilled notations in Salieri‘s own hand, adding coloratura for Josepha Hofer.

Josepha created the role of the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute in 1791. The character of the Queen provides little room for individual development on stage, and contemporary sources suggest that this was due to Josepha‘s somewhat limited acting skills. Still, her breath-takingly high notes made her one of the most popular singers of her time. She sang the role of the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro in 1792, at the Freihaus Theatre, singing in German (though Traubel sings it in Italian here). Clearly the role did not prevent her from continuing singing the high roles, she would sing the Queen of the Night until 1801. Another Mozart role she sang was Konstanze from Die Entfuhrung, again at the Freihaus Theatre in 1794. The first music that he wrote for Josepha was the concert aria Schon lacht der holde Frühling K 580, designed as an inset aria for the German version of Giovanni Paisiello's highly successful opera Il barbiere di Siviglia.

Franz Xaver Süssmayr studied with Salieri, though his fame rests on his writing the recitatives for Mozart's opera La Clemenza di Tito, and being involved in the completion of the Requiem. His singspiel Der Spiegel von Arkadien premiered at the Freihaus Theatre in 1794 with Josepha Hofer as goddess Juno protecting the young hero‘s path, 'Juno wird stets um dich schweben'. By this time we are beginning to detect stylistic similarities between the composers, the fact that they were writing for the same singer and often the same troupe perhaps counting for something. Süssmayr's attractive aria makes you curious about the rest of the opera.

Mannheim born and trained Peter de Winter, wrote a sequel to Mozart‘s The Magic Flute based on a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder: The new opera The Labyrinth, or The Battle with the Elements (The Magic Flute‘s Second Part) premiered on 12 June 1798 at Schikaneder‘s Freihaus Theatre with Schikaneder returning as Papageno, and Josepha as the Queen of the Night. Her dramatic opening aria 'Ha! Wohl mir! Höre es, Natur!' includes some ridiculous coloratura including the Queen's trademark top F, but also gives us a sense of de Winter's interesting creative personality.

Still at the Freihaus Theatre, Josepha sang in the musical comedy Die zween Antone oder Der Name thut nichts zur Sache with music by Benedikt Schack and Franz Xaver Gerl; interestingly this is very much not a showpiece, but a simpler song.

Josepha‘s breakthrough as a singer in Vienna came in 1789 when she appeared in the title role of Paul Wranitzky's singspiel after Christoph Martin Wieland's play Oberon, König der Elfen. Wranitzky, music director at Count Esterházy‘s estate and orchestra director of the Vienna Court Opera at the Kärntnertor Theatre, wrote the music for Schikaneder's Theater im Freihaus, where it premiered on 7 November 1789. It is assumed that Mozart attended the première and the great success of the piece caused Schikaneder to write the libretto for The Magic Flute

Carl Maria von Weber may well have been influenced by his knowledge of de Winter's piece when Weber accepted the subject of Oberon for what would be his last opera, in London.

Josepha's second husband was the singer Friedrich Sebastian Mayer, almost 15 years her junior he would sing the role of Pizzaro in the premiere of Beethoven's Fidelio. In 1801 Josepha and her husband sang in concert performances of Mozart's La clemenza di Tito in German. Josepha did not sing Servilia but Annio (generally regarded as a mezzo-soprano part). In tribute to this, Traubel includes the duet 'Ah perdona al primo affetto', but singing the soprano role of Servilia with Deniz Uzon as Annio.

Traubel has an attractive and characterful voice, bringing definite personality and colour to the upper register, along with a dextrous facility. Her tone is nicely even all the way up, so she makes all the mad coloratura a delight to listen to. She is attractively creditable in the more traditionally lyric numbers. The result is a fascinating and delightful recital. Clearly a lot of research has gone into it (Christian Moritz-Bauer is credited with music edition and concept, he edited the Haibel, Righini, Süßmayr, von Winter, Schack, Wranitzky specially for the recording) and Traubel jumps into the unfamiliar repertoire with complete aplomb and plenty of bravura. She is finely supported by Jochen Rieder and the orchestra.

All in all a fine debut recital, and a must-listen for anyone interested in Mozart and the music around him.

Jacob Haibel(1762-1826) - Alles will ich brechen, beugen (Der TyrolerWastl) (1796)
Vincenzo Righini (1756-1812) - Bella fiamma (La sorpresa amorosa, ossia Il natale d’Apollo) (1789)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart(1756-1791) - Der Hölle Rache (Die Zauberflöte) (1791)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Porgi amor (Le Nozze di Figaro) (1786)
Franz Xaver Süßmayr (1766-1803) - Juno wird stets um dich schweben (Der Spiegel von Arkadien) (1794)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Martern aller Arten (Die Entführung aus dem Serail) (1786)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - O zittre nicht (Die Zauberflöte) (1791)
Peter von Winter (1754-1825) - Ha!Wohl mir! Höre es Natur! (Das Labyrinth, oder Der Kampf mit den Elementen. Der Zauberflöte Zweyter Theil) (1798)
Benedikt Schack (1758-1826) & Franz Xaver Gerl (1764-1827) - Auch im Schlummer seh‘ ich dich (Die beiden Antone, oder Der Name thut nichts zur Sache) (1789)
Paul Wranitzky (1756-1808) - Dies ist des edlen Hüons‘ Sprache (Oberon, König der Elfen) (1789)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - E Susanna non vien! ... Dove sono (Le Nozze di Figaro)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Schon lacht der holde Frühling (Concert aria "für Madame Hoffer" K 580) (1789)
Vincenzo Righini - Ove son? Qual aure io spiro? (La sorpresa amorosa, ossia Il natale d’Apollo) (1789)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Ah perdona al primo affetto (La Clemenza di Tito) (1791)
Sarah Traubel (soprano)
Deniz Uzun (mezzo-soprano)
PKF - Prague Philharmonia
Jochen Rieder (conductor)
Recorded August 2019, Church of St Anna, Prague Crossroads

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