Kienzl, Wilhelm


Kienzl, Wilhelm

Der Evangelimann, Op. 45 (with German libretto)

SKU: 2054 Category:



Wilhelm Kienzl

Der Evangelimann Op. 45

(b. Waizenkirchen / Upper Austria, 17. January 1857 – d. Vienna, 3. October 19419)

Preface (by Prof. David Francis Urrows, Hong Kong, 2016)

Wilhelm Kienzl’s third, and certainly the most popular of his nine operas, Der Evangelimann, was first performed in Berlin on 4 May 1895. Karl Muck, to whom the score is dedicated, conducted, and the principal roles were sung by Bertha Pierson (Martha), Eloi Sylva (Matthias), and Paul Bulß (Johannes). It was an immediate success. Produced in 1896 at the Wiener Hofoper (11 January 1896) further performances in many languages around the world followed in the two decades prior to the First World War. Covent Garden heard it in 1897, with Ernest van Dyck as Matthias. Some of the more remarkable early production locations included pre-Revolution Russia (as Matthias Freudhofer, the Russian Orthodox church refusing to allow the original title), and even crumbling Ottoman Turkey, where a separate performance for 500 women of the harem was arranged with the entire audience dressed in the full burqa (it was apparently the first time a German opera had been performed there.)

Except for a serendipitous accident this opera might never have been composed. Kienzl planned to write his third opera as a comedy, using the Baron Munchausen tales. But one day in Munich in July 1893 he passed by a bookshop and his eye was caught by new paperbacks in the window. For 20 pfennigs he picked up From the Files of a Police Inspector (Aus den Papieren eines Polizeikommissärs) by Dr. Leopold Florian Meißner, because as he put it he thought it might be “racy” and because his wife liked “light reading.” It was what we today would call a ‘beach book’. And one rainy summer night his wife looked up from the book and said “You’ve got to read this! Read it, Wilhelm, there’s something very dramatic buried in here!” By January 1894 the opera was finished in short score, and early in that year Kienzl played it for Muck and the Intendant of the Royal Opera in Berlin, Count Hochberg. They accepted the work immediately, and Kienzl proceeded with the orchestration. Hochberg and Muck also secured Bote und Bock as the publisher (now part of Boosey and Hawkes.)

Though based closely on the actual case, the drama of Evangelimann rises close to a Shakespearian height. If there is a structural weakness to the story (of a good and an evil brother both in love with the same girl) as opera, it is that the leading soprano is killed off during the intermission. Magdalene, the comprimario role, has very little (perhaps too little) to sing in Act One, and only comes into focus in the first scene of Act Two as a kind of replacement for Martha. Despite the verismo elements this is still a title-role opera and Matthias dominates most of the scenes. The magistrate, Engel, remains a confusing mixture of blockhead and co-conspirator. Is he the one who sets the tragedy in motion through his pomposity and rigid thinking, or is he just the usual operatic guardian turning down the less-well placed of two suitors, and not responsible for what follows? Is he, or is he not partly culpable for Johannes setting fire to the Tenne (a barn used for threshing grain) and then framing his younger brother for the crime? Kienzl’s music does not aid in finding an answer to this question. Then there is the enigmatic, harrowing figure of Johannes. A classically nefarious baritone, he shares with Matthias the most Wagnerian music in the score and as one online commentator has put it, he starts out as Alberich and ends up as Amfortas. Matthias has his moment of happiness in Act One with Martha, a village Tristan and Isolde, but his agony has no end in this opera. The words he utters from the Bible – Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake – are words he only half-believes, which is why the children’s chorus has to sing the great Act Two ‘hit’, “Selig sind, die Verfolgung leiden”, twice more after he teaches them the song…

Read full preface / Komplettes Vorwort lesen > HERE

Score Data


Opera Explorer




210 x 297 mm





Go to Top