- Alfonso und Estrella, opera, D. 732
That Franz Schubert's operatic works have received as many recordings as they have is a testament to the composer's place in the hearts of musicians. Since only three of his 14 stage works were ever performed during his lifetime, all unsuccessfully, they could just as easily be left on the scrap heap of history. This is especially true since even Schubert's most ardent champions cannot overlook the structural and dramatic problems that hobble his operas, despite their wealth of melodic invention. "Alfonso und Estrella," perhaps the grandest of Schubert's true operas, is no exception. Franz von Schober's libretto is littered with tedious exposition and execrable choruses, and never rises above (or even to) the fashions of the early 1800s. Nevertheless, Schubert responded with appealing and highly varied music that can be extremely entertaining. The Act One trio between Estrella, her father Mauregato, and the villainous Adolfo shows a talent for condensing multifaceted expression into concise musical forms that are both cohesive and delineative of character. Many of the arias are vocally appealing and robust, and the finale of Act Three is an infectious celebration that puts the chorus to good use (finally!). All of these moments are skillfully and lovingly realized on this Dynamic recording by conductor Gérard Korsten and an accomplished cast headlined by Eva Mei and Rainer Trost. The two sing with youthful commitment as the young lovers, and take every opportunity to capitalize on Schubert's lyrical writing. Markus Werba's turn as Alfonso's father, Froila, is both dramatically forceful and sympathetic. And Alfred Muff brings near-plausibility to Adolfo, the king torn between duty and care for his daughter. In the end, this performance is not as musically convincing as the previous complete recording starring Peter Schreier, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Edith Mathis, and Theo Adam on Berlin Classics. This makes the work's shortcomings harder to ignore than they might be. But it is an appealing effort that supports its own stated thesis -- that had Schubert enjoyed more success on the stage, and benefited from more experience, his native talents for melody and expression may have grown into a true dramatic talent.