d'Albert: Tiefland

Jan. 1, 2003 - OEHMS Classics



d'Albert: Tiefland

Tiefland - The Action


Pedro is living completely cut off in the mountains, looking after the animals belonging to the landowner Sebastiano. Only now and then does he encounter the shepherd Nando, to whom he who he speaks of his desire for a woman. Quite unexpectedly Sebastianio appears, accompanied by the village elder Tommaso and the beautiful Marta. Overwhelmed by her beauty, Sebastiano had earlier taken in Marta as a beggar-girl and made her his lover. He handed over responsibilty for the mill to her foster-father, after whose death Sebastiano intends to marry Marta to Pedro. Secretly he intends not to relinquish his customary rights over the girl. Pedro is overjoyed to acquire a beautiful wife and the mill in the lowlands (the “Tiefland” of the title).

Act 1

In the village, gossip is mounting over Marta‘s imminent wedding. Little Nuri reveals to the other girls the identity of the bridegroom. Marta places her trust only in the innocent Nuri and confesses to her the connnection with Sebastiano and her bitterness over the forced marriage.

In the meantime old Tommaso has learned Sebastiano‘s real motives from the scheming but very well-informed Morruccio: the former can only be relieved of major debt by marrying a rich wife and so is seeking to escape the tittle-tattle over his relationship with Marta. Tommaso, horrified, seeks to make Sebastiano justify himself, but receives only scorn and derision.

Marta, however, consents to the wedding, but shows her freshly-engaged fiancé the cold shoulder. Pedro gives her a Taler which he has received from Sebastiano after having risked his life by killing a wolf. When Marta realises that Pedro has no inkling of her past, she falls into deep despair. A light appears in Marta‘s room: Sebastiano takes it to mean that he is to possess her even on her wedding night.

Act 2

Pedro admits his confusion to Nuri. The strange behaviour of all the villagers has led him to sense that something is being hidden from him. Marta confesses to old Tommaso her guilt and her burgeoning love for Pedro. Tommaso convinces her to tell her husband the truth. Pedro, who loves her, forgives her and wants them to flee together into the mountains. Then Sebastiano appears, blocking their path. As lord and master he orders Marta to dance. Pedro, who launches himself at him, is thrown out by Sebastiano‘s servants. Only when he tells Tommaso that he might be able to put a stop to Sebastiano‘s plan to marry for money by telling the bride‘s father the truth about Sebastiano are the tables turned. Pedro hears Marta‘s cries for help and forces the lord to single combat. Just as he had killed the wolf with his bare hands, now he strangles Sebastiano. The couple‘s path into the mountains lies open.

Eugen d’Albert: Tiefland

Eugen d‘Albert‘s Tiefland represents the unique example of a verismo opera from Germany. The evolution of the verismo style (from the Italian “vero” – “true”) was established under the influence of naturalism in drama, literature and the fine arts in Italy from the middle of the 19th century and, in the land of its origin, brought with it musical consequences.

Artists wanted to portray reality as pitiless and extreme. Starting out from their models Ponchielli and Catalani, the members of the socalled “young school” (Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Giordano and Cilèa) created a thoroughly individual musico-dramatic tone which reached its high point in the frequently-performed operatic “twins” Cavalleria rusticana and I Pagliacci.

At that time, when even Puccini was turning to verismo means in at least some scenes of his operas, Eugen d‘Albert, brought up in the Wagner tradition, also made use of them.

Born on 10th April 1864 in Glasgow, d‘Albert nevertheless had Italian roots. The family was orignally called Alberti. His grandfather François Bénédicte d‘Albert was adjutant to Napoleon I (hence the French nomenclature), was very much on the German side in the then Frenchoccuped town of Altona and usually called himself Franz d‘Albert. His son Charles Louis Napoléon was musically talented and trained as a pianist by Friedrich Wilhelm Michael Kalkbrenner. He was later a ballet repetiteur and also wrote ballet music for the Covent Garden theatre in London. Eugen, the result of his marriage with the Englishwoman Annie Rowell, spoke English badly throughout his life and always felt himself to be a German. In Paris they called him “le petit allemand“.

Musically, Eugen d‘Albert was self-taught, with a little teaching occasionally from his father. Yet at the age of ten he won a scholarship to the new National Training School (later the Royal College of Music) in London whose Director was England‘s most famous opera composer, Sir Arthur Sullivan. Anton Rubinstein, Hans Richter and others supported the “wunderkind”; Franz Liszt compared him with the legendary pianist Carl Tausig, who died prematurely, and gave him lessons.

D‘Albert‘s interpretations of the works of Beethoven and Bach (in his own bold arrangements) were regarded as outstanding at the time. Not only as a pianist but also as a composer did d‘Albert attract high regard. At least two of his operas, Tiefland and Die toten Augen long remained fixed points in the European operatic repertory. Both are to be regarded as a departure from the stylistic stamp of Richard Wagner then all-powerful in Germany, and from which d‘Albert distanced himself with his own subtle musical comedies, above all the opera buffa ‚Flauto solo‘ set in the era of Frederick the Great.

The light parlando style of this comedy also finds its way into d‘Albert‘s most-performed work, Tiefland, but only colours those genre scenes featuring the tittering and chattering girls. Despite this light element, the work is generally and clearly (despite occasional Wagnerisms) under the spell of Pietro Mascagni and his Cavalleria. The sharply outlined scenes of the plot are depicted by the music in the veristic manner with clear, easily-perceived sound pictures. Fine psychological outlines are not altogether the strongest component of d‘Albert‘s artistry. Where these are called for, for example in the artful scene between Morruccio and Tommaso in the first Act, the composer resorts to a relatively undifferentiated recitative style. Conversely, great moments arise in situations of inner contemplation – above all in Marta‘s monologues – and quite especially in the whipped-up narratives and dialogues. Here d‘Albert works in a virtuoso manner with pregnant individual motifs which he thrillingly concentrates by means of masterly repetition and variation. What Leos Janacek would later bring to perfection in his revolutionary pieces is already pre-figured here, even if still in an early stage. D‘Albert is a long way from Janacek‘s refined metamorphoses in which a motif can be turned into its opposite by complete transformation. With him it is rather the simple recognisability of the sounds which lend them their dramatic impact. Even the passionate string figure associated with Marta as well as Pedro‘s wolf motif, or the sharply angular chords of Sebastiano are so easily remembered and well made that they take on the correct association even at first hearing.

The technique of marking individual scenes with their own dominant basic motifs gives the music of Tiefland its structure and solidity, for all its spontaneous reaction to the dramatic proceedings. Again and again, for example n the great decisive confrontation between Marta and Sebastiano, the form is rounded off by clearly separated blocks of themes and unmissable use of repetition.

What explains the lasting success of the work is that d‘Albert has succeeded in containing the immediacy, all the naturalistic effects, within a broader framework, thus freeing his opera from any accusation of being too much of an improvisatory gesture.

Nonetheless, Tiefland did not find immediate favour. The premiere on 15th November 1903 in the German Theatre in Prague was indeed greeted with 42 curtain-calls and wild cheering, but did not at first enjoy continued success. At that point the plot was divided into three Acts. Convinced by his own publisher, who was about to print Tiefland, d‘Albert revised the opera and gave it the familiar shape it has today. There followed a further highly successful revival in Magdeburg, but the breakthrough came only at its first performance at the Komische Oper, Berlin. Hans Gregor, head of the youngest Berlin opera house had already committed himself vigorously to the then far from frequently performed operas of Mozart and to contemporary composers. In 1907, with Tiefland, he achieved a sensational success.

From this point on the main roles in Tiefland became the favourite parts or several important singers. Annie Krull, Richard Strauss.s first Elektra, sang Marta, Richard Tauber loved Pedro, Emmy Destinn sang the first American Marta at the New York Metropolitan Opera where Erik Schmedes was the Pedro. Schmedes had already sung Pedro at the first Viennese performance alongside Marie Gutheil-Schoder and Leopold Demuth. For decades Tiefland held its place in the seasons of the great opera houses, mostly with prominent casts, so that chance led to great singers often having their first stage experience in performaces of Tiefland. Later to become the Wagner heroine, Kirsten Flagstad celebrated her debut in Oslo as Nuri! And for Maria Callas, appearing immediately after her start as Tosca in Athens, Marta was the second role of her life.

Wilhelm Sinkovicz
Translation: John Kehoe


Marta: Lisa Gasteen

Pedro: Johan Botha

Sebastiano: Falk Struckman

Tommaso: Kwangchul Youn

Nando: Raymond Very

Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Singakademie

Choreinstudierung: Heinz Ferlesch

Musical Director: Bertrand De Billy



  1. Prelude: Scene 1: Ohe! Ohe! Ohe! (Nando, Pedro, Sebastiano Stimme)
  2. Prelude: Scene 2: Ist Pedro nicht hier? (Sebastiano, Nando, Marta, Pedro)
  3. Prelude: Scene 3: Na, mein Pedro, sag' mir mal (Sebastiano, Pedro, Tommaso)
  4. Prelude: Scene 4: Hast du's gehort? ich krieg' ein Weib (Pedro, Nando)
  5. Act I Scene 1: Sag' uns doch, ist es wahr? (Pepa, Antonia, Rosalia, Moruccio)
  6. Act I Scene 2: Da bin ich! Alle Huhner hab' ich in (Nuri, Antonia, Pepa, Women, Moruccio)
  7. Act I Scene 3: Oh, sie ist fort! (Nuri, Pepa, Rosalia, Antonia, Women, Marta)
  8. Act I Scene 4: Sein bin ich, sein! Sein Eigentum! (Marta)
  9. Act I Scene 5: Er kommt! Er kommt! (Farmer, Nuri, Pepa, Antonia, Rosalia, Moruccio, Tommaso)
  10. Act I Scene 6: Da ist er, seht nur! (Pepa, Rosalia, Antonia, Farmer, Pedro, Tommaso, Moruccio)
  11. Act I Scene 7: Ist Pedro noch nicht da? (Sebastiano, Pepa, Pedro, Tommaso, Marta, Nuri, Rosalia, Antonia, Manner, Women)
  12. Act I Scene 8: Marta! (Sebastiano, Marta)
  13. Act I Scene 9: Er will kein Stutzer sein (Manner, Women, Pedro, Sebastiano, Marta, Nuri, Tommaso)


  1. Act I Scene 10: Was suchst du noch, Moruccio? (Sebastiano, Moruccio, Tomasso)
  2. Act I Scene 11: Das Fest ist vorbei (Pedro, Marta)
  3. Act II Scene 1: Die Sterne gingen zur Ruh (Nuri, Pedro)
  4. Act II Scene 2: Da ist Marta. Nun will ich gehen (Nuri, Pedro, Marta)
  5. Act II Scene 3: Wo willst du hin? (Tommaso, Marta)
  6. Act II Scene 4: Da ist Tommaso. Er muss reden (Pepa, Antonia, Rosalia, Tommaso, Nuri)
  7. Act II Scene 5: Ei, so murrish, so verdriesslich! (Pepa, Rosalia, Antonia, Pedro, Women, Nuri)
  8. Act II Scene 6: Das Essen ist da (Marta, Pedro)

  9. Act II Scene 7: Recht guten Tag! Was gibt es Neues? (Sebastiano, Pedro, Farmer, Marta)

  10. Act II Scene 8: Was wollt lhr, he? (Sebastiano, Tommaso, Marta)
  11. Act II Scene 9: Da bin ich, und ich entreiss sie dir! (Pedro, Marta, Sebastiano)
  12. Act II Scene 10: He, Burschen, her! lhr Frauen, kommt! (Pedro, Farmer, Pepa, Rosalia, Tommaso, Marta)