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Emil Nikolaus von REZNIČEK (1860-1945)
Donna Diana - opera in three acts (1888)
Max Wittges (bass) ... Don Diego; Manuela Uhl (sop) ... Donna Diana; Heike Wittlieb (sop) ... Donna Laura; Roman Sadnik (ten) ... Don Cesar; Hans-Jurgen Schöpflin (ten) ... Don Louis; Matthias Klein (bass) ... Don Gaston; Simon Pauly (bar) ... Perin; Anne-Carolyn Schlütter (mezzo) ... Floretta
Kiel Opera Chorus and Philharmonic Orchestra/Ulrich Windfuhr
Rec. Kiel Opera House, Germany, Kiel, May 2003.
CPO 999 991-2 [38:41 + 73:03]

When I first heard that there was now a recording of the Donna Diana opera I was intrigued to know more about it. The title had been well known to me since the 1960s. Its sparkling overture was available on an HMV 78 record (Böhm’s performance on DB4560) and it was occasionally played by the BBC and heard in concert programmes. I wondered what musical delights were to be found within its pages.

Rezniček is a little known composer outside Austria where he was born into an upper class family residing in Vienna. With a grandfather as a bandmaster it is no surprise that he found himself heading for the Leipzig Conservatoire where Reinecke taught him. He first travelled around Europe as a theatre conductor before becoming attached to Warsaw Opera and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. This was a connection that led to Rezniček writing his First Symphony. It will have been during his tenure as a theatre conductor, however, that he acquired his knowledge of stagecraft. This would later be put to good use in his operas. In the late 1880s he was engaged to write one opera a year. Titles like Jungfrau von Orleans (1887) and Satanella (1888) came from this period. Donna Diana arrived in 1894. Sadly some of the operas are lost; only Donna Diana is now known, principally because of its overture. Kleiber (1932) was possibly one of the first to record it, and Marriner one of the most recent (1997).

Based on a Spanish comedy that retains its characters and setting, Donna Diana carries a theme of pride and love. Rezniček’s composition has leanings towards Puccini in certain characteristics of orchestration and style. Chirpy flutes and other outbursts of wind add the necessary bright and comic touches more than his choice of catchy rhythms. The composer has certainly been successful in conveying to the listener a clever Spanish feel to the piece. A vibrant opening to Act II reveals Rezniček’s skill in writing in this vein. The lines of the play are set as written with little in the way of detached lyric setting. Disappointing for me is the absence of arias, duets or trios and consequently few memorable tunes are to be found. One exception is Floretta’s song in Act III (CD2 tr.14) which is emotionally uplifting.

All singers are strong, have good voices and are well chosen for their roles. Of them, Roman Sadnik as Don Cesar is a particularly powerful tenor with elegant voice and light vibrato (try CD1 tr.3). Yet Simon Pauly as Perin, another fine singer, is sadly not placed forward enough on the sound-stage to get the full clarity of his diction.

The live recording is generally excellent although inevitable stage noise is evident. The orchestra is well captured in a warm ambience, while spectacular off-stage trumpets add a particular brilliance to the opening scene.

The notes contain full libretto (with omitted dialogue). This is preceded by a long and somewhat obtuse essay on Rezniček dealing with the psychology of composers tangential to the main focus of the material. It is written in German with English translation.

Raymond Walker

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