Julius Röntgen: Agnete (1914)
‘De muziek – ze was een verrassing! Niet dat we van Röntgen niet heel veel goeds gewend zijn; maar als operacomponist kende men hem niet, en juist ook op dat terrein blijkt hij groote verdiensten te hebben. We zeiden ‘t al; de muziek vulde dramatische leemten aan. Er was leven en actie in; melodische schoonheid en lyriek, die door haar ongewonen zangerigheid tot de menschen sprak. De orkestrale schildering was meer malen prachtig – (hoe indrukwekkend mysterieus al dadelijk in den aanvang) – en ook de muzikaal-realistische teekening was scherp en karakteristiek. Het was een werk van een talent – dat wel eens een enkele maal de gedachten naar Wagner deed teruggaan, maar door veel eigens z’n persoonlijke cachet behield.’ (recensie Agnete, Haagsche Courant, 25 januari 1914.)
‘Wat heeft een kwart eeuw Nederlandse opera dan precies opgeleverd? Allereerst Wagenaars De Doge van Venetië, gevolgd door Leiden Ontzet van Cornelis van der Linden, De herbergprinses en De bruid der zee van Jan Blockx en tenslotte, hoewel geen meesterwerk, ook Röntgens Agnete.’ (Recensent Haganus in een polemiek met Cornelis van der Lindens failliete opera over de vraag wat een kwart eeuw Nederlandse opera’s precies had opgeleverd in Een Nederlandsche Opera. Pro: C. van der Linden. Contra: Haganus, Baarn, 1914.)
‘Daar dweep ik niet mee. De opgegeven text, een prijsvraag [van de Nederlandsche Opera-vereeniging], was niet naar mijn smaak...wat al te romantisch.’ (Julius Röntgen over Agnete in een interview uit 1925.)
Julius Röntgen: Agnete
Libretto: Gonne van Uildriks
World premiere: 20 January 1914, Tuesday, 8 PM *
Amsterdam, Stadsschouwburg. Theresa (Jeanne Blijenburg), Agnete, Theresa’s grand daughter (Mathilde Dennery), Hanna, Theresa’s grand daughter (Agnes Wibbels)
Rupert, Agnete’s fiancé (Josef Tijssen), Olaf (Hendrik C. van Oordt), Martha, young servant (Christine Vroons), Old man (Jan Hemsing), The three holy Kings (Anne v.d. Bruggen, Nelly Engelen, Lenie Hoek), Children (Children’s choir conducted by mrs. Middelrath), monks (Mannenkoor ‘Apollo’ o.l.v. Roeske), Residentie Orkest conducted by Julius Röntgen. Stage direction: Alexander Saalborn. Decors en kostuums naar tekeningen van de heer A.C. Sommer door respectievelijk de Firma’s Sommer en André Helsloot.
* Health prevented the librettist from attending the performances.
22 january 1914, ‘s-Gravenhage, Gebouw voor Kunsten en Wetenschappen (in het bijzijn van Hare Majesteit de Koningin)
29 january 1914, Rotterdam, Grooten Schouwburg
29 May 2016, 401Concerts 3, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
‘Dreigt ook gevaar’ (Ruperts lied)
Denzil Delaere (Rupert), Pieter Dhoore (piano)
Download via: 401Concerts 3 download
Tekst: René Seghers
Partners: Nederlands Muziek Instituut, Kröller-Müller Museum
A Norwegian mountain village in winter time. In a farmhouse Martha sings a devote Christmas song from behind the spinning wheel, ‘Heer Jesus lach in’t cribbelijn’ (Lord Jesus in his crib). The maid Theresa interrupts her. A snow storm started and she wants to close the windows, she is afraid of something strange since her grandfather was found dead in a mountain ravine and her father was found dead while hunting. His brothers were subsequently killed in a snow slide during which one of their brides disappeared without a trace. Deep in the woods allegedly a half man half something unspeakable was bred that was hostile to her kin. Theresa herself married happily but her sister Hulda was taken by a ghost on Christmas eve and she was missing ever since.Rupert arrives, he sings a song, ‘Dreigt ook het duister’ (And if darkness threatens). Marthe is afraid when she sees he is wearing his marriage ring before the ceremony has taken place, since that is a bad omen. Rupert laughs at her worries. The Three Kings arrive, singing their Christmas song, ‘Drie Koningen uit het morgenland’ (Three Kings in from Morning Land). Hanna helped them when she found them lost in the wood. It was Agnete who showed them the right path, her red cloak riding high in the storm, her face pale against her raven black hair. The snowstorm was very intense, yet not a snow flake touched Agnete, who was staring at something that Hanna herself could not see. When Rupert asks his fiancé what she was looking at, Agnete answers him that she doesn’t know. Since her childhood she had the feeling that something was about to happen and she was drawn to the woods. The monk Olaf asks for shelter from the storm. Outside all is suddenly silent. Rupert resumes his song and takes the children home. Alone, Olaf proves to be driven by an invisible force that urges him to kill his brides. He was the lover of Agnete’s mother, who was then killed by Agnete’s father in the woods. Now he desires her daughter. Agnete comes down from the stairs, recalling a vision in which her mother is fleeing from her father. Olaf says that she has found what she has always has been looking for. Agnete recognizes his voice from her visions and they engage in a passionate duet, O wreede, zoete stem’ (O cruel, sweet voice’). Olaf tells her to surrender to him. Like the snow he will smother her in his cloak flock by flock. He lays his white cloak around Agnete and gives her the kiss of death. Marthe then opens the door to Hanna and an old man. Lighting has struck the oak under which Rupert stood, he is dead. Then Hanna sees that Agnete is sunken into the dream from which no one returns. From afar Olaf’s voice resounds, mourning his fate. From behind the stage a chorus of monks sings the closing chorus.
Oddly, the dramatic legend Agnete is Julius Röntgen’s best known opera, even though he himself much preferred his The laughing cavalier. Admittedly, the libretto of Agnete seems largely anachronistic by 1912 in its combination of the supernatural powers unleashed upon the opera world in Weber and Marschner, although the Wilhelm Ratcliff subject that has strong reminiscences with the Agnete plot was much in vogue in the fin de siècle. Agnete combined these haunting and romantic supernatural elements with the compact dramatics of Cavalleria rusticana. While Mrs. Van Uildriks may not have succeeded in creating true characters, she did manage to produce a melting pot of established operatic highlights that developed with great speed. Jurjen Vis writes that the opera did little to nothing; he seems to point to the limited number of three performances in January 19, consecutively in Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam (where the hall was half empty). However, the critics raved about the work that also attracted a lot of press. This was in part caused by the fact that since the bankruptcy of the Dutch Opera there had been but few new Dutch operas created since the turn of the century. The Dutch Opera Foundation had remained dormant though, and by 1910 they had issued the contest, first for the libretto, then for the composition. Röntgen’s score was unanimously awarded the composition prize from among out of seven operas (the other composers are unknown, but this means that there must be six more Dutch Agnete operas either hidden or lost, perhaps some even by other than established composers!).
Since the premiere of Agnete in January 1914 not a note of the opera had been heard until the performance of Rupert’s ‘Dreigt ook gevaar’ on May 29 may 2016 during 401Concerts 3 in the Kröller-Müller Museum. The recording of this concert is downloadable through the 401Concerts 3 download, which also contains arias and duets from operas by Dutch composers Cornelis Dopper, Daniël de Lange, Gerard von Brucken Fock, Jan van Gilse and Richard Hageman. From Röntgen the concert also brought the finale of his later opera De lachende Cavalier.
Download 401Concerts 3 met Agnete en De Lachende Cavalier
The recording of our third 401DutchOperas concert in the Kröller-Müller Museum is downloadable via 401Concerts 3. Apart from highlights of Cornelis Dopper's De blinde van Casteel Cuillé it also includes highlights from Willem Landré's De roos van Dekama, Daniël de Lange's Lioba, Gerard von Brucken Fock's Jozal, Julius Röntgen's Agnete and De lachende Cavalier, Jan van Gilse's Helga von Stavern, Jan Brandts Buys’ De kleermakers van Marken (Die Schneider von Schönau) and Richard Hageman's Caponsacchi.
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