Cover of an “unknown Wagner” on the 2022 season of Pocket Opera


Leslie Sandefur (Isabella) and Patrick Hagen (Luzio) in Wagner’s No love allowed | Credit: Véronique Kherian

As if it wasn’t enough to keep an opera company on the go, the the late Donald Pippin always experienced with little-known works presented by his Pocket Opera over the decades.

About thirty years ago, Pippin presented an unknown opera by Richard Wagner, the 1836 Das Liebesverbot (The interdict to love), written when the composer was 23 years old. Pocket Opera has scheduled a revival of the work for 2020, but it has become part of the season wiped out by the pandemic. Now this is the second opera of the 2022 season, after The Merry Widow, in May.

A Liebesverbot vocal score with illustration by Franz Stassen

Following the incomplete Die Hochzeit (Marriage, 1832) and Die Feen (Les fées, 1834), completed at the age of 21 but unpublished during his lifetime, Wagner completed Liebesverbot while he was musical director of the small Magdeburg opera house. After a performance, the company went bankrupt, leaving Wagner almost destitute.

Music director Jonathan Khuner and director Nicolas A. Garcia lead the Pocket Opera project to present Wagner’s musical interpretation of Shakespeare Measure for Measure.

“People imagine Richard Wagner as the originator of the modern, super serious, ultra-deep ‘magnum opus’,” said Khuner. SF Classic Voice. “His first comic operas Das Liebesverbot, with the magic of Donald Pippin’s artful translation, is all the more astonishing as it combines the charm of idealistic youth, the depth of Shakespeare, the suffusion of the Italian idiom bel canto and an already complete mastery of the vocal writing and orchestration.

“The only unsurprising element is Wagner’s penchant for length, but the Pocket Opera version will have a lot of cuts and promises to be as delicious now as when Pippin first produced it in 1990.” A opera recording, also cut, lasts two and a half hours.

Khuner finds an “astonishing level of sheer skill” in the work of young Wagner, but Liebesverbot remained virtually unknown during the composer’s lifetime “because he himself suppressed it after his first support yielded negative public results and his subsequent maturation earned him a unique public profile.”

Donald Pippin bows out with a Pocket Opera cast | Courtesy of Pocket Opera

Das Liebesverbot was received as a fun juvenilia, immature trash or a seed of future depth, ”says Khuner. “I think all of these reactions can be valid as partial responses, but it would be far better to approach the work on its own terms. From his words and actions, it’s clear that Wagner was just trying to write a good comedy-romantic show. The question should be “how successful has he been in acting?” “

“The answer is surprisingly good! First, he brilliantly adapted Shakespeare, removing the elements he had no use for (mainly the serious monarch who disguises himself as the supposed absence and manipulates the whole storyline) and rearranging the remaining yet complicated elements (mainly the heroine saving herself from rape and her brother from execution) with dramatic consistency and almost perfect character development.

“Every change of location, name, love object and twist is calculated to make the best sense and entertain. Second, it intelligently designs the musical and vocal elements for clarity and ease of elaboration. Third, , all levels of score construction including harmonic relations / varieties, instrumentation, momentum, placement of highlights, etc., demonstrate totally professional workmanship and extraordinary care.

“The Italian style of phrase and vocal approach is a talented and faithful imitation of what was common in 1835. What more could a young novice set out to join a guild of designers in a mature genre? and two centuries old? For my part, I am not going to demand total mastery, revolutionary aesthetics or deep wisdom.

“The only thing I could have asked Wagner is a shorter length – verbosity turns out to be a trend he displayed superlatively from the start. Fortunately, a lot of the trims can be applied in 2021 without anything. losing some of the brilliant qualities of Wagner’s original score.The Pocket Opera version lasts about three-quarters of the original and moves quickly, with all the exuberant charm that the child (genius-in-training) was inspired to instill.

The casting for No love allowed (Title translation by Pippin) includes Leslie Sandefur as Isabella, Patrick Hagen as Luzio, Justin Brunette as Claudio and Spencer Dodd as Friedrich.

Caroline Flett, Ellen Leslie (Valencienne), Natalie Buck-Bauer and Jennifer Mitchell as the Grisettes in Pocket Opera happy widow | Credit: Véronique Kherian

The Complete Pocket Season:

  • Lehar, The Merry Widow – March 27, Hillside Club; April 3, mountain view; April 10, Legion of Honor
  • Wagner, No love allowed – May 15, Hillside Club; May 22, Legion of Honor; May 29, mountain view
  • Offenbach, The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein – June 12, Hillside Club; June 19, mountain view; June 26, Legion of Honor
  • Verdi, La traviata – July 10, Mountain View; July 17, Hillside Club; July 24, Legion of Honor
2022 Greenburg artist Sara Couden, as Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, pins a medal on her favorite soldier, Fritz (Chad Somers) | Credit: Véronique Kherian

The loss of Pippin continues to be mourned by the company. Longtime Pocket Opera singer Wayne Wong said, “Donald was like the mastermind of a great jewelry heist. He brought the team together, calling on every specialist to do their part. On the day of the show we walked in and passed, and you always felt Donald leading the way at the piano.

Some 150 people participated the memorial for Pépin, broadcast live for his family and fans around the world, at the American Bites restaurant, which was once the old spaghetti factory, where Pocket Opera started. “It was a wonderful celebration of an amazing man,” said Garcia, who now heads the company. “He changed my life.”

Pocket Opera Board President Mel Bachmeier and Yen Bachmeier, co-executors of Pippin’s estate, both spoke at the memorial. Mel said, “Donald was an inspiration. As serious as he was about music, he also conveyed the sense of fun and pleasure that was part of the art form. He made the experience stimulating and entertaining. As Pocket Opera moves forward without Donald, we intend to try new things, but we will always continue to present work from his incredible repertoire of operatic translations with his desire to please audiences in mind.

About Madeline J. Carter

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