"It must be said that the Zurich "Fierrabras" is one of the best musical stage productions in recent years."
(Neue Zürcher Zeitung)
If even the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, one of the most serious of European dailies, can rouse itself to exclaim: "Fierrabras is one of the best musical stage productions in recent years," then we know we're in for an exceptional experience. It's a voyage of discovery with enchantment at every turn. First, the discovery of "new" Schubert music, filled with all the sweetness, lyricism, harmonic turns, forceful rhythms and woodwind-rich orchestra we know from other Schubert works. Written in 1823, it was not given its first complete performance until 1988 under Claudio Abbado in Vienna. Expecting a medieval epic from the time of Charlemagne, with crusaders and Sarazins and damsels swooning over the wrong men, we come across the next surprise: the stage is an elegant Biedermeier room in which we find Schubert himself. He seems like a child dwarfed by oversized furnishings – Schubert exorcising the devils of his unhappy childhood? As creator and impresario, he lovingly introduces his characters, guides them, comforts them, hands them the just-finished music that propels the story onwards.
With this brilliant dramaturgical idea, director Claus Guth evokes a Schubertiade, a gathering of Schubert and his friends in early 19th-century Vienna, much like the one depicted in the famous drawing by Moritz von Schwind. Guth places the work in a biographical context, focusing on Schubert, his intense longing for friendship and his tortured relationship with his father. It is a world of authoritative father figures, strong women and weak heroes. Fierrabras himself, the title hero, even renounces the woman he loves for the sake of friendship.
Conductor Franz Welser-Möst supplies the musical underpinnings of this inner journey with an iridescent orchestra in which the prominent wind instruments are suavely embedded into the string texture. The homogeneous cast is headed by Jonas Kaufmann and Christoph Strehl as the Muslim Fierrabras and his Christian friend Eginhard, Juliane Banse as the woman who loves Eginhard, and László Polgár as her father, the king. "Fierrabras" is Schubert at his finest, and this production a milestone in its (re)discovery.