"Genoveva ... has what it takes to become a classic."
Robert Schumann composed only one opera, "Genoveva." Written in Dresden in 1847/48, the work takes its cue from the German-language operas of Weber and, above all, those of Wagner, who had by then written his influential "Der fliegende Holländer" and "Tannhäuser." In spite of its Lied-like passages, effective choruses, sinuous ensembles and dazzling orchestral colors, the work never established itself on the music stage.
Set in the medieval era, the story is that of St. Genevieve, or Genoveva, whose husband Siegfried leaves her to go on a Crusade. He asks his friend Golo to watch over her, which Golo does with such application that he soon forces himself on the young woman and is spurned by her. Humiliated, Golo finds Siegfried and tells him that Genoveva was unfaithful, after which Siegfried condemns her to death. Upon his return, however, he learns that she was faithful after all, and the opera ends happily.
For Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Schumann's work is nothing less than a "re-invention of the opera." An ardent defender of the work, the venerable conductor recorded it in 1997 and, with director Martin Kušej, presented his first stage production of the piece at the Zurich Opera in February 2008. With the committed Zurich ensemble fulfilling his every wish, he shows how radical and unconventional Schumann's operatic vision was.
Kušej's minimalist production focuses on the inner life of the protagonists, fully in keeping with Schumann's psychologically intricate modeling of the vocal parts. Juliane Banse gives her Genoveva "a space-filling dimension, optically and acoustically" (Die Presse). Alongside Banse are the "impeccable tenor" (Opéra) Shawn Matthey as Golo, Martin Ganter with his "expertly sung Siegfried" (International Herald Tribune) and the great Cornelia Kallisch as the nurse and witch Margaretha.