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“Der Kobold” is a three-act opera composed by Siegfried Wagner
(1869-1930), son of Richard Wagner. He wrote this work in 1903,
and the first performance was given the following year. Recently,
I watched a 2005 performance on DVD by the PPP Music Theatre
Ensemble and the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra, under the
baton of Frank Strobel. This same production was released on
CD under the Marco Polo label.

While watching this opera, it immediately became apparent
to me that Siegfried Wagner was a talented composer. His music
is in the German-Romantic idiom, reminiscent of the works of his
father, and with obvious references to his teacher, Engelbert
Humperdinck (1854-1921). There were also “nods” to other
German Romantic composers, such as Carl Maria von Weber
(1786-1826) and Heinrich August Marschner (1795-1861).
Regardless of Siegfried Wagner’s lack of innovation, his music
was nonetheless beautiful, with accomplished vocal writing
and skilled handling of the orchestra. When you consider how
infrequently his works are performed, this one is something
of a revelation.

Perhaps the answers to questions about the lack of popularity
of Siegfried Wagner’s 14 operas lie in concerns about staging
difficulties and his libretti. He was the sole author of these works,
and if “Der Kobold” (“The Goblin) is any indication, he definitely
needed to “tighten things up a bit!” The story behind this work
addresses infanticide, combines psycho-sexual-philosophical
elements with magic, and is burdened with unnecessary subplots.
Therefore, following the story is a Herculean task for a
viewer/listener. With my typical penchant for listening to an opera
while relegating the plot to secondary status, how did I hang? It was
simple. I didn’t. I treated this three-hour and 15 minute work as
though it were a concert with images, while reading the English
subtitles. I received this opera on loan, and it arrived minus
a libretto booklet with relevant essays. Therefore, prior to
watching the discs, I was forced to research the piece from other
sources, and did my best under the circumstances. Nevertheless,
I was impressed that the producers were able to secure funding
to mount “Der Kobold.” It was a fairly modern, economical production,
set in the early 19th Century. The singers were quite good, and
I felt that Maestro Strobel’s pacing was appropriate.

Although the opera had an English subtitle option, my biggest
disappointment was that the bonus feature “making of” documentary
lacked subtitles. If EVER there was a need to understand and
benefit from the insight of the personnel behind this convoluted
work…Well, you get my drift. If the music hadn’t been so
interesting, I probably wouldn’t have been so frustrated.
My advice? Do as much research as you can about “Der Kobold”
and Siegfried Wagner BEFORE you attempt to watch this opera.
If you’re fluent in German, you’ll definitely have an advantage
while watching the bonus feature film.

Despite these hurdles, I must reiterate that I’m glad that
I discovered this composer’s music. Obviously, he languished
in the shadow of his father; however, this work was intriguing,
and I look forward to watching and/or hearing more works by
Siegfried Wagner, but realize that a lot pre-opera “research”
will be necessary!