Mendelssohnís Son and Stranger
|Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde, Op. 89
(The Homecoming from Abroad)
(1809 - 1847)
Libretto by Karl Klingemann
Mendelssohn composed Son and Stranger during his first visit to England, in 1829, to celebrate his parents' silver wedding anniversary, bringing it home with him, completed, in his suitcase. An operetta or Liederspiel in one act, it is dramatically not very sophisticated although its music, which shows some traces of influence by Weber, has many beautiful sections and is well constructed. It is truly amusing and full of clever tricks and comedy. It was performed privately in the Mendelssohn home on December 26, 1829, to an audience of 120 people and had its first public performance on April 10, 1851. The composer’s brother Paul played the cello for the performance, while his sisters Fanny and Rebekka acted the parts of the mother and Lisbeth.
Mendelssohn’s mother suggested that he publish the work, but he decided not to because he felt it had too much of a private character; he rather felt that it should be reserved for private occasions. After Mendelssohn’s death, his widow, his brother, and his friend Julius Rietz had the score published.
The work itself is unpretentious in form, the ensembles uncomplicated and the seven solo numbers (except for the mother’s Romanze) are all designated as Lieds (Songs). Each of the solos is basically in strophic form, although each is subtly varied, with many details that help to round out the personalities of the characters. The finale is short and straightforward.
The plot tells the story of mistaken identity, of the attempt of an unscrupulous but charming charlatan, actually an ordinary traveling salesman, Kauz (baritone), to impersonate Hermann (tenor), the son of a local judge, Schulz (bass).
The mayor, Schultz, is preparing to celebrate his 50th year in office, but is sad because his son Hermann is not there. Until now, Hermann had been in the army. The mayor’s ward, Lisbeth, (soprano) is engaged to Hermann but she, too, has not seen him for a very long time, in fact since she was a child, but she has remained faithful to him. His mother also anticipates his arrival with eagerness, and sets the stage with the first number, a sad folk-like Romance which tells about a queen who dresses her son as a girl to outfox the military, and sends him off too to a remote island. He is discovered and becomes a hero.
In the second number, a duet, Lisbeth prepares for the coming celebration, not revealing her true feelings while the mother longs for her son. In the appealingly simple No. 3, Lisbeth sings a lament for those who search far and wide for that which could be found right in front of their noses. Here she reveals her longing for Hermann.
Kauz, an unscrupulous but pleasant enough man, disguised as the nightwatchman, sings boastingly and spiritedly that he has been everywhere (No. 4). He believes that he is known all across Europe, from Poland to Scotland, and he aims to woo Lisbeth. After this, Hermann arrives, unexpectedly, and no one but Lisbeth recognizes him as he appears to be a wandering musician. His song (No. 5) lauds the soldiers whose presence secures peace for everyone. Lisbeth’s suspicions are confirmed because this song is one Hermann used to sing. When she, playing along with his disguise, asks him if he knows Herman, he says that he does and gives her a letter. In the masterful trio in a lively scherzo style (No. 6), Lisbeth can hardly control her happiness that Hermann has returned. Kauz tries to prevent Hermann from serenading Lisbeth and plans to disguise himself as Hermann. In another trio (No. 7), he tells Lisbeth’s parents that she is being wooed by a bohemian wanderer. Then Hermann serenades Lisbeth (No. 8) with very delicate orchestral accompaniment, but Kauz, pretending to be a nightwatchman interrupts him (No. 9), dissonantly singing out the nightwatchman’s call. Later, also pretending to be a nightwatchman, Hermann stops Kauz and makes him leave (No. 10). The mayor is awakened by the commotion and orders Kauz to be released. The Intermezzo, an entr'acte (No. 11), beautifully signifies the time elapsing from night to day.
Early in the morning, Lisbeth sings among the flowers (No. 12). This song appeared in a song collection by the librettist of this work, Klingemann, who composed in a Mendelssohnian manner. At a celebration the next day, for the magistrate's 50th year in office, the villagers arrive for the celebration singing a charming and delicate chorus. Kauz impersonates his son, but is taken aback when the real Hermann appears. After this incident everything quickly arrives at a happy ending as all is resolved.
© Susan Halpern, 2009
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