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The Sunday Opera: Richard Wagner's "Das Liebesverbot" ("The Ban on Love")

You'll recognize a recurring theme found in Richard Wagner’s operas in this week’s Sunday Opera (5/28 3:00 p.m.) even if the musical style is unfamiliar. Wagner’s second opera (and first to be performed) “Das Liebesverbot” (“Ban on Love”) is not only based on the non-Germanic myth of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” but it’s also musically patterned after Italian and French operas of the time with the resulting score being lyrical and lovely. The theme of repressed sexuality leading to complications, however, is one that can be found in several of Wagner’s works.

Wagner wrote his libretto for this work, and he did base it closely on the original. It’s labelled as a comic opera (one of two for Wagner, the other is “Meistersinger.”) although it’s only comic in that no one dies.

Friedrich (Hermann Prey) (Angelo in Shakespeare) has been left in charge of Sicily by an unnamed king. Friedrich, whose name has been changed to obviously point a finger at his Protestant repression, is appalled by the morals of the people of Sicily, especially its capital, Palermo. Because of this, he bans Carnevale, demolishes all of the “houses of amusement,” and takes many people into custody. This “measure” has been taken to raise the morals of the people.

The people are upset, and riot, mocking Friedrich. A young nobleman named Luzio (Wolfgang Fassler) aims to make himself the people’s leader especially after he sees his friend Claudio (Robert Schunk) being led off to prison and sentenced to death for having made his fiancé pregnant.

Luzio hopes by going to the convent and asking Claudio’s sister Isabella, a novice, (Sabine Haas) to intercede for Claudio with the puritanical Friedrich will change Friedrich’s ruling. It doesn’t, and Friedrich suggests that Claudio might go free if Isabella allows Friedrich to have his way with her. This horrifies her, and she is even further horrified when she tells Claudio about it, and he tries to guilt her into sleeping with Friedrich to save his life.

Isabella has a plan, however: in the convent, she is friends with another novice named Marianna (Pamela Coburn) who was impregnated and abandoned by none other than Friedrich, and she devises a measure that will save her brother, help the people of Sicily, and expose Friedrich for the duplicitous monster he is.

You’ll have to tune in for the happy ending.

Other members of the cast include Keith Engen, Friedrich Lenz, Alfred Kuhn, and Marianne Seibel. Wolfgang Sawallisch conducts this recording, and he leads the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

Stay tuned for more Wagner after the opera when we’ll turn to Richard Wagner’s only completed symphony, the Symphony in C major. After that, we’ll hear from his son, Siegfried, and his lushly moving tribute to his lover entitled Sehnsucht (Yearning).

Please join us for some unfamiliar and uncharacteristic but lovely music this Sunday.

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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