Richard Strauss operas do tend to have somewhat weird plots but perhaps none more so than his early and seldom performed piece Feuersnot. We are in mediaeval Munich on St. John’s Eve when apparently large bonfires and, one suspects, other things, are traditional. The children are gathering firewood and the magician Kunrad is stalking the mayor’s daughter Diemut. To her, apparent at least, disgust and the scandal of the townspeople, he kisses her. She gets her revenge by pretending she’s going to winch him up to her room but leaves him stranded halfway where he is mocked by the other girls. He calls on the spirit of his mentor, an even greater magician, to help him extinguish all the lights and fires in the town. This bit is very Wagnerian because who was mistreated by the people of Munich? And who is his equally mistreated heir? You’ve got it in one right? Anyway, the townspeople rather whimsically persuade Diemut that it’s her maidenly duty to get the lights turned back on. After all, people have sacrificed a lot more than a quick shag to the needs of the energy industry. All it’s missing is a wordly crustacean really.
The music is recognizably Straussian and if the Wagner influence is very apparent there are passages that look forward to the more exotic tonalities of Salome if not, perhaps Elektra. It’s not surprising it was a hit when first performed in Dresden in 1902 even though the Kaiserin banned it from the Berlin stage on account of its naughtiness. It’s actually a bit surprising it doesn’t get done more often and that the video recording made in Palermo in 2014 is the only one in the catalogue.
For the production recorded at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, director Emma Dante transplants the piece to that city at a date that could be any time judging by the weird mix of costumes. She also packs the stage with dancers, jugglers, acrobats and so on. She also makes Kunrad’s connection with music explicit in a number of ways but that’s about it as far as interpretation goes. She also adds an eleven minute silent prelude before the orchestra even enters the pit.
The performances are decent. The star is probably the children’s chorus who completely blow away the notion that this part is too hard to be performed. The cast is headed up by Dietrich Henschel as Kunrad. He’s a bit dry voiced but a decent actor and baically convincing.Nicola Carbone is an attractive and sweet sounding Diemut and the rest of the cast is mainly Italian with rather variable command of German. The orchestra is quite respectable and Gabriele Ferro sounds like a decent Straussian but he’s not Andrew Davies. All in all it’s a decent workmanlike effort such as one might expect from a provincial house.
Technically the DVD is fine. It’s an HD recording with modern quality sound (LPCM stereo and Dolby 5.1) and picture. There’s also a Blu-ray version. The video direction by Tiziano Mancini is pretty good. We do mostly see the rather spectacular tableaux that the director relies on. There’s a short “Making of” feature but it’s one of the most boring of its type that I have ever seen. There are also some trailers for other Arthaus releases. Subtitle options are English, German and Korean which seems a really odd combo. The booklet has a track listing an an informative essay/synopsis.
This isn’t the slickest DVD in the catalogue but it’s worth a look for anybody with an interest in Strauss.