have made something of a speciality of hyper-romantic operas.
I thought it was time we looked at some of these, many of which
have been 'sleepers' in the catalogue for years.
was born in Scotland but had little time for the place. He studied
in London and then at Weimar with Liszt. Although there are a
brace each of symphonies and piano concertos (the latter on Hyperion)
and a cello concerto (on Koch International) his 'fame' rests
on his operas. More accurately that refers to Tiefland,
a worldwide success in 1903 and, to a slightly lesser extent,
to the present opera.
wrote twenty operas (listed below) though none fulfilled the composer's
fervent hope of equalling or exceeding Tiefland. Die Toten
Augen was premiered at the Dresden Court Opera on 5 March
1916 conducted by no less than Fritz Reiner. It seems that critical
reaction was discouraging but the public lapped up this lavishly
orchestrated and luxuriantly themed music. It held its place in
the opera seasons for some twenty years until the arrival of Nazis
resulted in the work, with its Jewish setting, being proscribed.
After 1945 it made a return appearing in Vienna (1950), Klagenfurt
(1954), Antwerp (1955), Nuremberg (1964) and Bern (1980).
plot is ornate. The setting: Jerusalem. The blind Myrtocle is
the wife of Arcesius, the deformed Roman ambassador. She imagines
Arcesius handsome and irresistible. When given her sight by Jesus
she mistakes Galba for her husband and they make love. Arcesius,
hiding because he realises Myrtocle will soon know his ugliness,
sees it all. Arcesius kills Galba. Myrtocle cursed by her sight
yearns for her blindness and turning to the sun gazes at it unblinkingly
and blinded again. Arcesius and Myrtocle are seen happily re-entering
their house - reconciled in her restored blindness.
the commentary refers to the influence of Wagner I hear little
of that. There is far more of Strauss, Puccini and Korngold and
pretty wonderful it is too although the flame sometimes flickers
after the first twenty minutes. This confection is laced with
the impressionism of Debussy's Faune and La Mer as
well as Ravel's Daphnis. The crashingly crowned climax
of the Prelude is superbly done as is the plunging climactic writing
of Myrtocle's Geliebter aria (CD2 tr.4, 1.32). The largely
self-taught d'Albert also uses an extremely beguiling and sinuous
flute theme. Delius must presumably have heard this and later
used something similar in the music for the Fountain in his score
for Flecker's Hassan in 1925. The vocal line usually has
a Puccinian magnificence perhaps diluted by an easier lyrical
flow from operetta (typically Lehár). There is also some
macabrely humorous writing depicting the false healer Ktesiphar.
While the orchestral prelude is superbly judged other moments
creak. For instance the high calorie orchestral introduction to
Myrtocle's aria 'Ein Spiegel' in which she can at last admire
her own beauty now that the Prophet has restored her sight is
not out of the top drawer. The cast is uniformly strong with a
specially vibrant contribution from Schellenburger. She is extremely
affecting in the tender yet masochist self-sacrifice of the blinding
(CD2 tr.8) when the Korngold opulence of the writing rises to
another towering and tortured peak.
admirable booklet is in German, English and French. The libretto
is given in German and English side by side.
hope that this will not be the last time that Weikert and CPO
will record D'Albert. There are plenty of other operas in the
is certainly for you if you are a devotee of glorious verismo
soused in Hollywood radiance. It may have a few less than wonderful
moments but for the most part you will want to luxuriate in this
fine score. Do make sure you hear it if you already enjoy Korngold's
Violanta, Die Kathrin or Tote Stadt or Zemlinsky's
Die Gezeichneten and Schrecker's Die Ferne Klang.
- A REFERENCE
Eugen (Eugène Francis Charles) [Glasgow 10.4.1864 - Riga,
Son of dance composer Charles d'Albert [25.2.1809-26.5.1886].
Though born in Glasgow (9, Newton Tce.) soon taken by parents
to live in Newcastle-on-Tyne. A precocious child he began studies
with his father then at the National School of Music, London (later
became RCM) studying w. Ernst Pauer (piano), Stainer, Prout and
Sullivan (theory). Later following Mendelssohn Scholarship w.
Hans Richter, Vienna and Franz Liszt, Weimar. His virtuoso pianism
provoked comparison with Mozart and Mendelssohn. His keyboard
style was instinct with a sense of both poetry and structure and
was much admired by Hans von Bülow. Liszt dubbed him "the
young Tausig". His abilities as an executant remained largely
undimmed despite his later conversion as an almost exclusively
operatic composer. Premiered Richard Strauss's Burleske for piano
and orchestra on 21.6.1890 at Eisenach with the composer conducting.
Briefly court conductor at Weimar, 1895. Succeeded Joseph Joachim
as Director Hochschule fur Musik, Berlin, 1907. During Great War
renounced his British citizenship and took German nationality
and a German name openly declaring his Teutonic convictions and
condemning English culture and his British teachers. His strident
criticism won him a degree of revulsion and enmity which played
its part in the almost total eclipse of his music. The only real
survivor is the opera Tiefland which is occasionally revived
and has been recorded. Married six times, including to pianist
Teresa Carreno, 1892-5, singer Hermine Finck, 1895-1910, and Ida
Theumann, 1910-12. Lived in Lucerne. He made some recordings including
one notable electric recording of the first movement of Beethoven's
Emperor Concerto, one for the Polydor company of Arnold Bax's
Mediterranean, and another in which he conducted extracts
from his own Tiefland with the tenor Gotthelf Pistor.
Overtures: Esther and Hyperion ; Symphony in F major; 2 Piano
Concertos: B minor Op. 2 [d'Albert and Richter, 24.10.1881] and
E major Op. 12; Cello Concerto in C Op. 20 (* 1879 Frankfurt 1880,
Hugo Becker, cello, Prom 1904); Aschenputtel Suite in 5 movements
(1924, Proms 1925).
The Ruby [Carlsruhe, 12.10.1893]; Ghismond [Dresden, 28.11.1895];
Gernot [Mannheim, 11.4.1897]; The Departure, or Die Abreise [one
act comedy Frankfurt-am-Main, 20.10.1898]; Cain [Berlin, 17.2.1900];
The Improviser [Berlin, 20.2.1902]; Tiefland [most popular work,
Prague, 15.11.1903]; Flauto Solo [musical comedy Prague, 12.11.1905];
Tragaldabas [Hamburg, 3.12.1907]; Izeyl [Hamburg, 6.11.1909];
The Proffered Wife [Vienna, 6.2.1912]; Love's Chains [Dresden,
12.11.1912]; Dead Eyes [Dresden 5.3.1916]; The Bull of Oliveira
[Leipzig, 10.3.1918]; The Wedding during the Revolution [Leipzig,
26.10.1919]; Scirocco [Darmstadt, 18.5.1921]; Mareike von Nymwegen
[Hamburg, 31.10.1923]; Der Golem [Frankfurt, 14.11.1926]; Die
Schwarze Orchidee [Leipzig, 1.12.1928]; Die Witwe von Ephesus;
Mister Wu [completed by Leo Blech, Dresden, 29.9.1932].
2 String Quartets: A minor Op. 8 and E flat major Op. 11
Der Mensch und das Leben, Op. 14, chorus in 6 parts and orch;
for piano: Suite Op. 1, 5 movements; Pieces Opp. 5 and 16 (Waltz,
Scherzo, Intermezzo and Ballade); Sonata F sharp minor Op. 10;
cadenza Beethoven G major Piano Concerto, edited other music.