O welch ein Schmerz!

This is more apples to kumquats than apples and apples, as far as comparisons go, but I thought I would try it just to see if it worked. (Please note that I do not have a position on apples versus kumquats. They are both very lovely fruits.)

So, this is “O welch ein Schmerz!” / “Oh, leave me be!” from Act III. The first version is Stratas singing it in English at the Met in 1978 and the second is Röschmann singing it in German in Graz in 2011.



This was quite tricky for me. The difference in language made it hard for me to track what corresponded to what, although the translators seem to have been quite sensitive to emphasis in both cases – the reason that sometimes the words mean similar but not necessarily identical things seems to be so that you get a similar pattern of emphasis in what the singer is singing, e.g. at around 3.55 where in the English version you have “its brightness is all gone now” and in German, at 4.20 or so “beweinen mein armes Herz” (“weep for my poor heart”). They’ve kept the basic sequence of emphases for the syllables, and also some of the vowels, e.g. the “ai” in “brightness” and “beweinen” and the initial “ah” in “all gone now” and “armes Herz.” Libretto translation is, I think, one of those tasks where no one notices what you’ve accomplished unless you mess it up.

But there is a difference here that is distinct from syllable collation. The emotional pitch of these is similar – I mean, same aria, right, so it has to be on some level — but there are some little differences. Stratas’s Marie is in a kind of “this really, really sucks and I am mad and hurt and disappointed and am probably going to go and sit looking glum after I finish with this” mood, which is an entirely reasonable thing for the character to be feeling. Röschmann’s Marie is more “I thought I had something that was so beautiful, and now it’s gone” – the feeling of wrenching disappointment is somehow less personal and more personal at the same time. Where the English version at “how I yearn for Jenik to deny all this as lies” comes off as wounded and unhappy but not crushed (it begins at around 1.18), the German “wie er so kalt and grausam mich, seine Maid, verlassen kann” / “how he can leave me, his girl, so coldly and cruelly” (beginning at about 0.55) gives you the sense that Marie is so hurt that it is almost beyond words to express. Later, Röschmann’s last “wie war so schön der Liebestraum” just aches with sadness (I could have done without that little “it goes up before it goes down” moment with the pitch at 6.25 in this phrase, but whatever.)

This is one of those places where the set in the Styriarte version sort of works for me. Given the type of object it is, it can look bright and sweet, and it can also look, depending on mood and lighting, like the most desolate thing ever – which it does at this point in the opera.

15 thoughts on “O welch ein Schmerz!

    1. American apples can tend towards large, bright, over-sweet and somewhat flavorless (lest the foregoing be read as a coded critique of the Metropolitan Opera, I am actually talking about fruit – or rather, I am 95 percent talking about fruit) so if I really had to pick I think I’d also go for kumquats 🙂


        1. Yep (actually talking non-codedly about opera now) I will admit liking this opera better in German than I did in English. I don’t know what it is. The Met’s version sounds nice, and is generally of very solid quality all around, but something about the way it’s staged and the fact that the English translation is a little clunky in places takes away from the musical/interpretive punch of the thing somehow.


  1. I saw this headline in my email and thought, “Oh, what a pain!” – Just proving that knowing a little German can be a dangerous thing! 🙂
    (P.S. I loved how the rehearsal video translated Harnoncourt’s “Scheisse” as “rubbish”! lol)


    1. The translators were probably thinking: “he’s a famous conductor, so let us be . . .decorous.”

      A little of any language can be a dangerous thing – I cringe when I recall some of the things I have accidentally said while overseas.


  2. before listening to clips, may i mention we vietnamese have a very good recipe with kumquat? i finished a whole jar within 1 day after my sister made for me what was supposedly a 1-yr supply :-D. (can provide translation upon request too!)
    now onto clips…


    1. back. i definitely like Röschmann’s version better, though i wonder how much of it is biased by my preference for her warmer voice over Stratas’. I decided to skip both translations and just listened to the music, and there one gets the feeling Stratas is singing somehow to an audience (outer) whereas Röschmann’s is more a self reflection (inner). that english bit (via hearing, though purposely ignoring) is definitely distracting though! (ps- i once sat through 1/2 of “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” in english, ack!!!)


      1. My Mac did a wonderfully imaginative instant translation of that recipe!
        More proof that languages should be left alone.


      2. Most of Röschmann’s performances seem to have that interiorized feeling – I really like it. And it’s true, there’s a difference in simple sound in addition to interpretation and language. Stratas is one of those singers who I usually like hearing (I have this interminable box set of DVDs of older Met productions, and she’s in many of them) but although I enjoy her voice I have yet to have that ‘nailed to the wall’ experience.

        “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” in English? This seems universe-disturbingly wrong somehow (I can understand why you stopped after only half of it!)

        Can you provide a translation of the recipe? It looks really tasty.


    2. back to say i’ve consulted with sister and she said next time when she makes it, she’ll measure things so a recipe can be written down. You know those who just “estimate” things as they go based on the quality of their ingredients (how sour or sweet the kumquats are and things like that) and top it off with “add a little to taste”, just make it deterministically confusing for people like me who can’t cook! She also doesn’t want our (vietnamese) recipe to cause wreckage without proper care, hence we’ll all have to wait. this recipe is best during the cold season anyhow 🙂


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