Music with Ease > 19th Century German Opera (except Wagner) > Oberon (Weber)
(or: The Elf King's Oath)
An Opera by Carl Maria von Weber
Opera in three acts, by Weber. Words by James Robinson Planché.
.. Mute Character
HUON DE BORDEAUX
SCHERASMIN, his esquire
HAROUN EL RASCHID
REZIA, his daughter
FATIMA, her slave
ROSCHANA, his wife
ABDALLAH, a pirate
In a tribute to Weber, the librettist of "Oberon" wrote a sketch of the action and also gave as the origin of the story the tale of "Huon de Bordeaux," from the old collection of romances known as "La Bibliothèque Bleue." Wielands poem "Oberon," is based upon the old romance and Sothebys translation furnished Planché with the groundwork for the text.
According to Planché's description of the action, Oberon, the Elfin King, having quarreled with his fairy partner, Titania, vows never to be reconciled to her till he shall find two lovers constant through peril and temptation. To seek such a pair his "tricksy spirit," Puck, has ranged in vain through the world. Puck, however, hears sentence passed on Sir Huon, of Bordeaux, a young knight, who, having been insulted by the son of Charlemagne, kills him in single combat, and is for this condemned by the monarch to proceed to Bagdad, slay him who sits on the Caliphs left hand, and claim the Caliphs daughter as his bride. Oberon instantly resolves to make this pair the instruments of his reunion with his queen, and for this purpose he brings up Houn and Scherasmin asleep before him, enamours the knight by showing him Rezia, daughter of the Caliph, in a vision, transports him at his waking to Bagdad, and having given him a magic horn, by the blasts of which he is always to summon the assistance of Oberon, and a cup that fills at pleasure, disappears. Sir Huon rescues a man from a lion, who proves afterwards to be Prince Babekan, who is betrothed to Rezia. One of the properties of the cup is to detect misconduct. He offers it to Babekan. On raising it to his lips the wine turns to flame, and thus proves him a villain. He attempts to assassinate Huon, but is put to flight. The knight then learns from an old woman that the princess is to be married next day, but that Rezia has been influenced, like her lover, by a vision, and is resolved to be his alone. She believes that fate will protect her from her nuptials with Babekan, which are to be solemnized on the next day. Huon enters, fights with and vanquishes Babekan, and having spellbound the rest by a blast of the magic horn, he and Scherasmin carry off Rezia and Fatima. They are soon shipwrecked. Rezia is captured by pirates on a desert island and brought to Tunis, where she is sold to the Emir and exposed to every temptation, but she remains constant. Sir Huon, by the order of Oberon, is also conveyed thither. He undergoes similar trials from Roschana, the jealous wife of the Emir, but proving invulnerable she accuses him to her husband, and he is condemned to be burned on the same pyre with Rezia. They are rescued by Scherasmin, who has the magic horn, and sets all those who would harm Sir Huon and Rezia dancing. Oberon appears with his queen, whom he has regained by the constancy of the lovers, and the opera concludes with Charlemagnes pardon of Huon.
The chief musical numbers are, in the first act, Huons grand scene, beginning with a description of the glories to be won in battle: in the second act, an attractive quartette, "Over the dark blue waters," Pucks invocation of the spirits and their response, the great scene for Rezia, "Ocean, thou mighty monster, that liest like a green serpent coiled around the world," and the charming mermaids song; and, in the third act, the finale.
As is the case with "Euryanthe," the puerilities of the libretto to "Oberon" appear to have been too much even for Webers beautiful music. Either that, or else Weber is suffering the fate of all obvious forerunners: which is that their genius finds its full and lasting fruition in those whose greater genius it has caused to germinate and ripen. Thus the full fruition of Webers genius is found in the Wagner operas and music-dramas. Even the fine overtures, "Freischütz," "Euryanthe," and "Oberon," in former years so often found in the classical concert repertoire, are played less and less frequently. The "Tannhäuser" overture has supplanted them. The "Oberon" overture, like that to "Freischuütz" and "Euryanthe," is composed of material from the opera -- the horn solo from Sir Huons scena, portions of the fairies, chorus and the third-act finale, the climax of Rezias scene in the second act, and Pucks invocation.
In his youth Weber composed, to words by Heimer, an amusing little musical comedy entitled "Abu Hassan." It was produced in Dresden under the composers direction. The text is derived from a well-known tale in the Arabian Nights. Another youthful opera by Weber, "Silvana," was produced at Frankfort-on-Main in 1810. The text, based upon an old Rhine legend of a feud between two brothers, has been rearranged by Ernst Pasqué, the score by Ferdinand Lange, who, in the ballet in the second act, has introduced Webers "Invitation à la Valse" and his "Polonaise," besides utilizing other music by the composer. The fragment of another work, a comic opera, "The Three Pintos," text by Theodor Hell, was taken in hand and completed, the music by Gustav Mahler, the libretto by Webers grandson, Carl von Weber.