Carl Maria von Weber is one of those composers who is better known to historians of music than to actual listeners of it, which always seems to me a pity. His work represents a crucial step in the development of German opera between the Classical era of Mozart and Beethoven and the full-blown Romanticism of Richard Wagner. Weber’s final work was an opera called Oberon, for which he worked himself sick (maybe even hastening his own death) to learn English so he could most effectively set the libretto, which was in that language. Oberon has never become an operatic standard the way Weber’s earlier masterpiece, Der Freischutz, did, although several excerpts from Oberon have become commonplace in the concert hall. According to David Dubal’s The Essential Canon of Classical Music, Oberon‘s fate is due to serious deficiencies in its libretto. I honestly have no idea if that’s the case or not, but I do know that plenty of operas see rare stagings because of libretto concerns: either the stories and plots are ridiculous, or the demands on the singers are too bizarre, or the staging demands are so outlandish as to be unfeasible. Quite a few operas exist in this weird nether-state, with wonderful scores written by great composers that sadly languish in obscurity because the non-musical aspects of the operas aren’t up to snuff. One wonders if the current trend to concert performances of operas might help to give some of these works a fresh hearing.
In the meantime, here is the wonderful overture to Oberon. Note its dreamy opening, with that slow horn-call melody, which gradually becomes a vigorous and adventurous piece. If I heard that at the beginning of an opera, I’d certainly be intrigued to hear more!