Hugo Wolf's Corregidor: a study of the Opera and its Origins by Peter Cook

From 8 Upper Wimpole Street, London WI


Why is it that some music speaks to some people so personally and urgently that they are thenceforth vowed to its service, like so many Samuels (1,3)? It could hardly be said of Der Corregidor that “both the ears of everyone that heareth it shall tingle”. Yet this work, first heard over 20 years ago, made so immediate an impact and so lasting an impression on Peter Cook that it eventually insisted on being written about, whether anyone else’s ears tingled or not. Hence this 171-page privately ­printed paperback monograph.

    It begins with the origins of Alarcon’s story of the three-cornered hat. The next two chapters describe how this was fashioned into Rosa Mayreder’s libretto and thence into Wolf’s opera; in this interest the many scattered references in his correspondence are collated in chronological order. Rehearsal and performance are similarly treated; critical views are compiled and compared; and finally the opera itself is presented in a line-by-line singing-version translation, together with a detailed account of the action, illustrated by 29 musical examples. Appendixes list all known productions (total number by professionals in England: nil), with a small but exhaustive bibliography.

    Thus there is little space for original criticism or musicology; the work is essentially a devotional breviary of relevant texts (partly from Spanish, mainly from German) promulgated in the modest hope of making converts among English readers. It follows that the whole burden of the book is borne by the strength of its translations. But languages play no part in Mr Cook's normal theatre of oper­ations, eminent though he is in his own specialist field. His translations from the Spanish, very sensibly commissioned from professionals, read well. His German translations however are often inadequate and sometimes inept.

    In the letter excerpts, for example, the soft-pedalling (or even unacknowledged omission) of some passages has muffled or mottled Wolf’s typical sharpness of voice. Tests and contests should be carefully checked with the accredited sources before further use in serious study. As to the opera translations, here are three sample lines from the best-known numbers. “In dem Schatten meiner Locken”: “Carefully combing of my curling tresses daily in the morning,/Yet for naught is all my trouble, for the wind it soon retumbles/ In lock-shadows, winds a sighing, sleeping lull my dearest one”.

    Such tests seem to me touch more likely to generate schism than conversion. All this is a great pity; because the degree of affection, affinity and application here displayed is otherwise deserving of respect and even acclaim.        


The Musical Times, Apr. 1976 (p. 318) © the estate of eric sams