Personalities | Franz Schubert | Early Romantic | Opera
Celebrated for his instrumental works and over 600 songs, Franz Schubert knew that musical fame and fortune in Vienna lay above all in the opera house. In his teens he completed several one-act comedies and the ‘magic opera’, Des Teufels Lustschloss (‘The Devil’s Pleasure Palace’, 1814). Thanks to his friend, the baritone Johann Michael Vogl, his operetta Die Zwillingsbrüder (‘The Twin Brothers’, 1818–19) was professionally staged in Vienna in June 1820. Though only a moderate success, it was followed by the melodrama Die Zauberharfe (‘The Magic Harp’, 1820). Though its often-delightful music did not go unnoticed, Die Zauberharfe’s preposterous plot doomed it to failure, setting the pattern for most of Schubert’s stage works over the next few years. In any case, German opera had little chance in a Vienna intoxicated by Rossini. Schubert’s grandest, most ambitious operas, Alfonso und Estrella (1821–22) and Fierrabras (1823) were rejected by the Court Theatre, and remained unperformed in his lifetime.
Both Alfonso and Fierrabras contain much beautiful and characteristic music, especially in nature descriptions such as the exquisite duet ‘Weit über Glanz und Erdenschimmer’ (‘Far Above the Shimmering Earth’) from Fierrabras. Yet both suffer from creaky, diffuse plots and unsure dramatic timing. Probably Schubert’s most successful opera in the theatre is the ebullient one-act comedy Die Verschworenen (‘The Conspirators’, 1823), a nineteenth-century take on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.
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