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Ein Feldlager in Schlesien (A Camp in Silesia) is a Singspiel in three acts by Giacomo Meyerbeer with a German-language libretto by Ludwig Rellstab and Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer  after Eugène Scribe's Le champ de Silésie. It was first performed at the Hofoper, Berlin on 7 December 1844 and given in a revised version in Viennamarker in 1847 under the title of Vielka. Much material from the opera was later reused for Meyerbeer's opéra comique L'étoile du nord (1854).


Background

Shortly after Meyerbeer arrived in Berlin in 1842 the opera house was destroyed by a fire. Meyerbeer was invited to compose a brand new work for the festive occasion of the reopening of the opera house. The reigning Prussian king at the time was Frederick William IV, of the house of Hohenzollern. What better theme for this opera than a work celebrating the king's famous ancestor, Frederick the Great? But there was one problem, members of the ruling Hohenzollern family could not be depicted on stage. This was not really all that much of a problem, Frederick could still be the subject of the opera, and simply not appear on stage. He is, however, heard playing the flute in the background.

Politics even got involved in the selection of the librettist. Meyerbeer, of course, wanted his good friend Eugène Scribe, the only librettist whom he trusted, but the idea of a Frenchman writing the libretto for what was to be the Prussian national opera was unacceptable. The king wanted Ludwig Rellstab, a critic who was Meyerbeer's enemy, in the hopes that this would reconcile the two men. Meyerbeer, an astute diplomat, found a solution: Scribe was to provide the text, in secret, agreeing never to claim ownership, and Rellstab would translate it. Thus, the libretto was credited to the latter, and it was only recently discovered that it was actually by Eugène Scribe.

Casting

There was to be one other problem. The leading soprano role, that of Vielka, was composed for the big soprano "icon" of the period: Jenny Lind, who was already on the threshold of becoming world famous. Meyerbeer had heard her in Paris, been very favorably impressed, and decided to engage her for Berlin. But she was in Stockholmmarker during some of the rehearsals, and Leopoldine Tuczek, the company's regular coloratura, and Lind's understudy as Vielka, had been singing the part. The latter felt entitled to the role, Meyerbeer was overruled by the Intendant of the opera house, a certain Karl Theodor von Küstner and it was given to Tuczek. Lind accepted the situation gracefully, and, eight days later, on Dec. 15, made a triumphant Berlin debut. In the meantime, Feldlager was not as successful as it should have been, part of the blame was placed at Tuczek's feet, and the opera was withdrawn after five performances. In all fairness, the latter was not a bad second choice, she had been the leading coloratura in Berlin ever since 1841, had sung in the local premieres of many operas, and was to continue to reign in that city until 1861.

But Lind's success as Norma was such that she was signed to a new contract, and finally sang Vielka in early January. According to Schultz's biography of Lind, the success was so great that "when it was announced that Jenny would appear a second time in Feldlager, there was such a demand for tickets that the manager raised the price of admission. The opera was repeated over and over. There was never a night that the theater could not have been filled two or three times, and four clerks were kept busy answering letters and filling the request for tickets."

Following the opening at the Berlin Hofoper on 7 December 1844, Ein Feldlager in Schlesien was given in that city fairly regularly until 1891, but it apparently was never considered for export to other cities in its original version. This is probably due to its nature as a work glorifying the Prussian royal family, which made it highly suitable for Berlin audiences, especially on state occasions, but much less so for other European capitals, even those elsewhere in Germany.

Plot synopsis

The opera is set during the Third Silesian War, a part of the larger Seven Years' War.

Reception

Feldlager came half-way between the first and the last two of Meyerbeer's four big five act grand operas. It was his first attempt in some 30 years to compose a less serious work, or "Singspiel". In it, especially in the first and third acts, it is possible to see the influence of lighter composers, particularly Auber and Flotow. But much of the second act, especially the finale, is pure Meyerbeer of the grand operas. It has even been suggested that the triple march is reminiscent of the gathering of the cantons in William Tell. Meyerbeer had come up with a similar idea years before, when first the Egyptians and then the Crusaders march onto the scene in the finale of Act I of Il crociato in Egitto.

The big hits of the opera were Jenny Lind's air with two flutes in the third act, and the finale of the second act which featured the famous triple march. The work was to be given in Berlin a total of 67 times, the last performance taking place in 1891. After Jenny Lind left, Tuczek reassumed the role, with many other important prima donnas, including Pauline Lucca, following in her footsteps.

Roles

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, December 15, 1844
(Conductor: - )
Vielka soprano Leopoldine Tuczek
Therese soprano Pauline Marx
Conrad tenor Eduard Mantius
Saaldorf baritone Louis Bötticher
Tronk baritone Heinrich Blume
Grenadier Unteroffizier bass August Zschiesche
Artillerie Unteroffizier bass Julius Krause
Ungarischer Reiter tenor Herr Heinrich
Zietenscher Husar tenor Julius Pfister
Schwarzer Husar bass August Mickler
Brauner Husar unknown Herr Bethge
Steffen tenor Carl Adam Bader


Selected recordings

  • Vielka , the revised version given in Viennamarker in 1847, was revived in Berlin in the 1980s, a recording of which revival is available from the Meyerbeer Fan Club. [283774]


References

  1. Le Tellier, p. 165.


Sources

  • Ein Feldlager in Schlesien by Stephen Huebner, in 'The New Grove Dictionary of Opera', ed. Stanley Sadie (London, 1992) ISBN 0-333-73432-7
  • Le Tellier, Robert Ignatius. The operas of Giacomo Meyerbeer.



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