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The Sunday Opera: Franz Schreker's forgotten work "Der Schatzgraber" ("The Treasure Hunter")

Franz Schreker was an important Austrian composer whose operas were only outproduced by Richard Strauss in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, and he was another artist whose career was virtually erased by the Nazi regime. However, on this week’s Sunday Opera (1/15 3:00 p.m.), we’re going to reintroduce his work to many of our listeners with what was his most successful opera, “Der Schatzgraber” (“The Treasure Hunter”).

From a catalogue that encompasses a variety of musical styles such as Romanticism, Expressionism, Symbolism, Impressionism, and Naturalism comes this work of fantasy, love, and heartbreak.

Elis (Josef Protschka) is a minstrel who has a magic lute that can find lost treasure. It is this power that The Fool (Peter Haage) hears of and recommends to The King (Harald Stamm) as The Queen’s jewels have been stolen. With the loss of her jewels, she has also lost her beauty and fertility. The King promises The Fool that he may marry any woman he wants for his help in finding the Jewels.

Elis sets out on his quest when he meets Els (Gabriele Schnaut), the daughter of a local Innkeeper (Carl Schultz). Els is immediately taken with Elis, but she is set to marry a Young Nobleman (Franz Ferdinand Nentwig) who is rich but abusive. Els sends the Nobleman off to find the jewels and convinces her servant Albi (Heinz Krause), who is also in love with her, to murder him in the woods.

Elis and Els consummate their love, and she gives the jewels to him while asking that he never inquire as to how she got them. Elis does, and he goes off to return them to the Queen.

In the meanwhile, The Nobleman’s body has been found and Albi has confessed, and Els has been named the instigator of the murder. She is about to be executed when The Fool reminds The King of his promise, he chooses Els to be his wife, and the two head off to their new life together.

In the bittersweet epilogue, a year has passed, and Els is dying. The Fool has sent for Elis who sings a song about a beautiful land where they will be welcomed as prince and princess which makes her very happy. She dies peacefully in Elis’ arms, leaving The Fool to mourn her.

Gerd Albrecht conducts the Hamburg State Opera Chorus and the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra on this recording.

If Franz Schreker is composer with whom you are not familiar, stay tuned after the opera for more of instrumental music including a wonderful Romantic Suite, a Phantastic Overture, the symphonic poem titled Ekkehard, and an instrumental interlude from another of his operas which has been featured on The Sunday Opera in the past, “Der Ferne Klang” or “The Distant Sound.”

Join us for a celebration of another “voice” that was silenced in the cultural wars in 1930’s Germany that will make for an enjoyable afternoon.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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