Our second festival premiere: „Oberon“
On 21 July, we were celebrating our second festival premiere at the Prinzregententheater with Carl Maria von Weber's romantic fairy opera Oberon. Viennese director and puppeteer Nikolaus Habjan is responsible for the production. Habjan's fellowship has included work at the Schubert Theatre in Vienna, the Mainz State Theatre and the Viennese Burgtheater. British Baroque specialist Ivor Bolton, who conducted Les Indes galantes at the last Munich Opera Festival, takes on the role of musical director. Performing the main roles are Julian Prégardien as Oberon, Annette Dasch as Rezia and Brenden Gunnell as Huon of Bordeaux.
Oberon, first performed in London in 1862, was Weber's last opera. The romantic opera was commissioned by the then director of the Covent Garden Theatre, who offered the composer a choice between two stories: Faust or Oberon. Weber chose the latter and decided to use Christoph Martin Wieland's Oberon as his model. A romantic epic in fourteen songs which brings together the plot of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Huon de Bordeaux knight's tale. At the time, thanks to the Freischütz, Weber had already earned a reputation in Great Britain as a romantic composer. Weber adapted the material somewhat to suit the customs of the British theatre. As a result, there was far more spoken dialogue in James Planché's libretto than Weber was accustomed to from German-speaking regions. Weber did not long survive the first successful performance: he died in London that same year.
The plot of Carl Maria von Weber's romantic elfin opera is quite startling. When Oberon, King of the Fairies quarrels with his queen Titania, it is the humans, of all creatures, who are called upon to solve the problem. Titania will only consider reconciliation, on the condition that a human couple affirm their love within a life or death scenario. Oberon's servant Puck already has somebody in mind – the crusader Hüon of Bordeaux, who is in love with Rezia, daughter of the Calif. Their love, a European-Arabian union, is however threatened by perils of a cultural nature. Rezia twice faces being forced into marriage, as well as being kidnapped by pirates and sold in a slave market. Even courageous Hüon cannot confront these dangers in his own strength. In their direst need, Oberon's magic horn comes to the two lovers' aid, even tearing them from the clutches of death. Titania seems unbothered by this intervention. She appears at the end of the opera happily reconciled at the side of her king Oberon – two dei ex machina who demonstrate that the world of fantasy is tightly intertwined with the real world - regardless of any cultural barriers.
Director Nikolaus Habjan uses self-made puppets in the production of this magical story. “Puppetry is actually very musical,” says Habjan in an interview with MAX JOSEPH. “People think this kind of theatre is only for children. But there's a strong tradition of puppet theatre for adults.” Habjan interprets the argument and resulting bet between Oberon and Titania in terms of human experimentation. As such, he's set the opera in a kind of human laboratory in the 1950s. “We're working with Rorschach tests and images from psychiatry from the time,” Habjan explains.
Oberon in the media
The premiere on 21 July was broadcast live by BR-Klassik and is now available on demand for seven days.
The performance on 30 July will be streamed live on STAATSOPER.TV