Issue 6, Summer 1954
The production of Obéron which M. Lehmann has just produced at the Opera must really be considered a first performance. Commissioned by the management of Covent Garden after the great success of Euryanthe in Vienna in 1823, Obéron was tailored to the requirements, conventions, and machinery of the English opera house, and was undoubtedly far from the real opera that von Weber had in mind. But the composer was ailing—and did the best he could with the imposed limitations and the fragmentary libretto lifted piece-meal from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the old French romance Huon de Bordeaux, and Wieland’s poem of Obéron. Rezia’s “Océan” aria, the overture, the barcarolle of the Ondines: these are heard in concert occasionally, but the rest of the opera falls newly on the ear, and M. Lehmann’s version is seen to be vastly different from what London saw and heard in 1826.
The interminable and hellishly dull spoken text has been pared to the vanishing point and only a few words retained for the exigencies of plot. Wûlner’s recitatives, deservedly, have been retained but the orchestral accompaniment to them lightened up a bit. Lastly, M. Henri Busser, in preparing the score for its Paris presentation, has tactfully and tastefully inserted various selections from von Weber to do service as act-preludes, scene-changes, ballets, processions. In a work already episodic and strong on spectacle, the added Concertstucke, Polonaise Brilliante, Variations Brilliantes and two Sonates pass almost unnoticed.