Puzzling Genoveva from Zürich

Schumann’s Genoveva is a rarity. It premiered in 1850 and quickly slipped into obscurity.  Recently it has been championed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt who has gone so far as to call it “the most significant opera of the second half of the 19th century”; a slightly eye popping claim.  So what’s it about?  On the face of it it’s a pretty typical German opera of the period, set during the wars against the Moors in Spain.  Siegfried (Graf in the libretto but mysteriously translated as Duke in the disk subtitles) is recently married but must lead his men off to the war leaving behind his young, beautiful, pious and virtuous bride Genoveva. He leaves Golo; a knight but a bastard so apparently not OK for active service, to guard his lands and wife.  Golo has the hots for Genoveva but when she rejects his advances he concocts, with the aid of a witch, a plot to make it appear that she’s having an affair with an elderly retainer.  She’s locked up by the servants and word is sent to Siegfried; returned from Spain but recovering from wounds in Strasbourg, of what has transpired.  He gives Golo his sword and ring and tells Golo to kill Genoveva.  Instead Golo tries to get her to run away with him but she refuses and he disappears.  The servants too are happy enough to humiliate Genoveva but pretty slow about killing her.  This gives time for Siegfried to arrive, having learnt of his wife’s innocence, and save the day.  All sing a hymn of praise to God.  Along the way there’s a magic mirror, a ghost, a magic potion and a whole lot of cloying sentimentality and piousness.

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