Richard Strauss’ 1901 “Feuersnot” is described by the composer and librettist as a “Singgedicht,” a poem (more specifically a ballad) to be sung, rather than as an opera. It tells the tale of a sorcerer who extinguishes all the fires in Munich (during the Middle Ages) until the girl he loves yields to him. Since it is St. John’s Night when bonfires are required, she gives in to the populace’s pressure. (The title translates as “Fire-need.”)
ArtHaus Musik has released a DVD of a 2014 production of this interesting work from the Teatro Massimo, Palermo, conducted by Gabriele Ferro and directed by Emma Dante. Dietrich Henschel is the sorcerer Kunrad and Nicola Deller Carbone is the virgin Diemut. The cast of soloists, chorus, children’s chorus, and dancers is enormous; and Dante keeps things moving throughout. The singing of the leads and secondary characters is impressive.
Unhappily, the dancing all too often distracts from what is being sung to what is being danced; and while this is less of a problem for the video viewer, it is a basic mistake for a “live” audience.
Those not used to post-Wagnerian operas should be warned that memorable melodies are not the staple of the genre. There are very powerful moments in this work that look forward to Strauss’ “Salome” and “Elektra,” and “Feuersnot” must be taken on its own musical terms.
As with too many recent productions, the director deliberately uses staging that contradicts what is being sung. When reference is made to pieces of Kunrad’s house being used for a bonfire, we see musical manuscripts. What is called a basket is obviously a chair. The scene is the street in front of a half-closed down tenement building, the time seems to be the middle 1990s. Half of the population consists of a manic circus troupe that cannot be still for a moment, and a few dozen chairs are hanging in the sky.
It is the usual “figure out for yourself what all or any of this means” attitude so many directors take today toward their audiences. But once you get the plot in mind from the program notes (don’t even bother with the “making of” nonsense given as a video bonus), you can enjoy this early work by a composer that would give the world “Die Rosenkavalier” a few decades later.
The running time is 113 minutes and the subtitles are in German, English and Korean.