Opera Scotland

Wildschütz Der Wildschütz; The Poacher

Music

Albert Lortzing (born Berlin, 23 October 1801; died Berlin, 21 January 1851)

Text

The composer

Source

Comedy Der Rehbock, oder Die schuldlosen Schuldbewussten (1815) by August von Kotzebue (1761-1819).

 

Premières

First performance: Leipzig (Altes Theater), 31 December 1842.

First UK performance: London (Drury Lane), 3 July 1895.

First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King's Theatre), 1 September 1958.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

Lortzing managed to earn a living from music for most of his life, as a singer, actor, cellist or choirmaster, and as a composer he had a substantial number of operas performed. But he never became well-known or particularly respected in his lifetime, and died in acute poverty. Der Wildschütz, oder Die Stimme der Natur (The Poacher, or The Voice of Nature) was a hugely popular work in Germany in the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth. It is full of charming and memorable melody, of no great seriousness. It seems surprising that it has failed to catch on in other countries. On those rare occasions when it has been performed in Britain, such as 1958 in Edinburgh, or 2009 in Buxton, it has been widely admired. The humour is gentle, revolving round the figure of the middle-aged schoolmaster Baculus, who also turns his hand to a spot of poaching. The romantic elements are also effective.

 

Characters

Count von Eberbach (baritone)

Countess von Eberbach, his wife (mezzo-soprano)

Baron Kronthal, a young widower, the Countess’s brother (tenor)

Baroness Freimann, a young widow, the Count’s sister (soprano)

Nanette, her maid (mezzo-soprano)

Baculus, a schoolmaster (bass)

Gretchen, a village girl, engaged to Baculus (soprano)

Pancratius, the Count’s steward (bass)

 

Plot Summary

The central romantic plot involves the efforts of Count and Countess to arrange a marriage between their younger widowed siblings. They have not seen them since childhood, a fact that permits the Baron and Baroness to disguise themselves, thus adding to the fun. As the opera starts, Baculus and the villagers are celebrating his engagement to Gretchen, who is much younger than he is. A letter arrives announcing that Baculus is dismissed from the Count’s service – he had been caught poaching the night before. Gretchen decides to plead with the Count, but Baculus is unhappy, and distrustful of the Count. At this point the young Baroness and her maid arrive. She has decided to observe her intended husband in secret, and is disguised as a student. She volunteers to pretend to be Gretchen and intercede with the Count (knowing that her brother has not seen her since she was a child). The aristocratic hunting party now arrives, with Kronthal disguised as the Count’s equerry. The Countess, unaware that he is her brother, finds him quite attractive. However when the Baroness appears, dressed in Gretchen’s clothes, Count and Baron both find her hugely attractive. Later, at the castle, Baculus is able to win the Countess to his cause by pandering to her fashionable love of Greek verse. The Count and the Baron are appalled to learn that the supposed Gretchen is engaged to Baculus, and when they are left alone, the Baron even proposes to her. The confusions continue to develop overnight, and the next day everything is worked out with clockwork precision. It even transpires that the supposed poacher is innocent, having shot his own mule by mistake.

The Cast

Baculus
 the village schoolmaster
Baron Kronthal
 a young widower, the Countess's brother
Baroness Freimann
 a young widow, the Count's sister
Count von Eberbach
 
Countess von Eberbach
 
Gretchen
 a village girl, engaged to Baculus
Nanette
 maid to the Baroness
Pancratius
 major domo to the Count

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