Opera Profile: Robert Schumann’s Lone Opera ‘Genoveva’

By David Salazar

Among the great works of Robert Schumann are his art songs, which are a staple of the vocal repertoire.

But few know that the composer also created an opera of his own. “Genoveva,” which premiered on June 25, 1850, and has never had a fortunate fate on the operatic stage, was his lone effort. Though it has garnered some reconsideration in recent years.

Brief Plot Summary

 The work is based on Genevieve of Brabant and kicks off with Siegfried, Count of Brabante, being summoned off to war. He entrusts his wife to his servant Golo who desires her. She rejects his advances, so he concocts a plan to make her appear guilty of adultery. Siegfried hears of it and commands Golo to put his wife to death. Eventually, a deaf, mute boy saves his wife and her honor is restored.

The Music

 The opera’s music is very much inspired by the style of Wagner. In fact, Schumann met the famed composer, who was actually quite disparaging toward his libretto.

Listening to Schumann’s score the first thing that strikes the listener is the through-written nature of the piece. The music is quite melodic and it has no apparent recitative passages.

That said, the overture of the opera does get performed quite often by a number of the most famous conductors in history.

Watch and Listen

Given the rather rare nature of the piece, it is no surprise that it has no major interpreters. But as noted earlier, there has been a general reevaluation of the work by major figures and the opera has been recorded a number of times.

Here are just a few different recordings of the opera including one led by Kurt Masur and another featuring Helga Dernesch as the title character from 1976 in Italian.


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