Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


PO Swedish Music Information Centre
Box 27327, SE-102 54 Stockholm, Sweden

Hilding ROSENBERG (1892-1985)
Lycksalighetens Ö (The Isle of Bliss) - opera in four acts (1943)

Libretto: Hilding Rosenberg after P.D.A. Atterbom's fairy play
Astolf - Patrick Forsman
Felicia - Agneta Eichenholz
Zephyr - Lisa Gustafsson
Anemotis/Nyx - Susanna Levonen
Tiden - Peter Kadiev
Den unge Florio/Östan/Mopsus - Håkan Starkenberg
Jägare/Nordan/Den gamle Florio - Lars Martinsson
Jägare/Sunnan/Prästen - Dietmar Keitz
Peribanou - Anna Bergendahl Sjöberg
Symphony Orchestra and Choirs of the Norrlands Opera/Kristjan Järvi
Rec. live 2, 8, 9, 12 Mar 2002. Norrlands Opera, Umeå, DDD
Musica Sveciae series
PHONO SUECIA PSCD 722 (1-2) [2CDs: 62.44+56.21]

Rosenberg's musical language in this dreamplay of reaching out for the unattainable is tugged between the poles of Sibelian cool and warm Gallic impressionism. As an opera this is not another Pelléas. It is far too mercurial and word-responsive for that. If anything it has subject connections with other operas: Korngold’s Die Kathrin (CPO) and Schreker’s Die Ferne Klang (Naxos and Capriccio). It occupies a surreal littoral between Puccinian verismo and modernistic objectivity; neither one nor the other. This is not intended as a criticism. Rosenberg shows himself a master of vocal and orchestral art. The blend of voices and instruments is beyond much criticism and here the composer's stage-craft, learnt at the Royal Opera and on Swedish Radio, comes through. Rosenberg first encountered the 1824 play by Atterbom in 1929-30.

The French ‘voice’, rest assured, is more related to the sensuous Ravel (Daphnis) than to the flinty-hearted Parisian brilliance of the 1920s. Rosenberg was not a Francophile in the filtered and desiccated form experienced through the likes of Uuno Klami (violin concerto and piano concertos) and Bohuslav Martinů (cello concertino and harpsichord concerto). Barry's Bluebird (with Norman O'Neill's music), Fournier's Grand Meaulnes and Debussy's Sirènes are closer analogues. Other works which look towards The Isle of Bliss without being style-models are Rutland Boughton's wispily insubstantial Immortal Hour and the apparitional Dali-like ‘melt’ of Martinů's Neveux-based Julietta.

The conversational intimacies of this work also link with Lennox Berkeley’s A Dinner Engagement and that wonderful proto-Sondheim one-acter by Samuel Barber A Hand of Bridge. The Isle of Bliss is an escapist fantasy of the sort also popular in the 1930s and 1940s; witness also the Max Reinhardt Hollywood production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (for which Korngold specially adapted Mendelssohn's music - recorded now on CPO). It is extraordinary to think of the horrors happening while this music was bring written. But then you might say as much of various Strauss operas produced throughout Germany and of Othmar Schoeck's Schloss Durande (1937-41) premiered at the Berlin Oper in 1943.

The plot: Astolf is the dreamer king of the Hyperborean arctic kingdom whose people wonder about Astolf's suitability. They expect warrior qualities from their king not those of a poet. His friend is the bard Florio (a little like the poet Jafar to the sultan Haroun al-Raschid in the Delius-Flecker play Hassan). Florio sings of warmer realms (the Scandinavian fixation on the Mediterranean again - Sibelius, Nielsen, Peterson-Berger). Having lost his way on a hunt Astolf meets Zephyr, the spirit of the west wind, who speaks beguilingly of the Isle of Bliss and its princess Felicia. Astolf is carried to the island by Zephyr. Meeting Felicia, the two fall in love, marry and drink from the Fountain of Eternal Youth. Astolf is reminded of his responsibilities in Hyperborea. Felicia calms his fears and he falls asleep. Felicia's queenly mother upbraids Felicia for conspiring in Astolf's abdication of duties to his home kingdom. Felicia is banished and she bids Astolf farewell. Astolf leaves for his homeland. He returns to Hyperborea to find that three hundred years have passed. He meets a descendant of the poet Florio. Astolf surveys his court and kingdom. Both are sunken into melancholy decadence. Zephyr reappears and is to take Astolf back to the mythic isle. Astolf stops to help an old man collapsed at the roadside but it is Time (Death). Once Astolf grasps the cold and bony hand Death takes the disconsolate Astolf. Astolf's winged horse Pegasus flies to the isle while the king's lifeless body is left alone on the stage. Zephyr and choir sing at the very end: ‘Dock evigt leva skall i saga och i sãng / drömmen om Lycksalighetens ö’ [‘Yet in saga and song shall we ever live / the dream of the isle of bliss’].

This opera is a bold fantasy boldly performed. Just listen to the Hyperborean testosterone of The Cave of the Winds (CD1 tr.3) and the Delian heroics at 7.40 CD1 tr.4. The singing carries strong characterisation. This is a live staged production with applause at the conclusion of each act. There are many affecting and magical moments including the tender cries of Felicia (CD2 tr.6 4.02) and the melismatic singing to be found on CD1 tr.4 6.10. Listen also to the voices volplaning like criss-crossing swallows (12.02 tr.3 CD1) and the dancing-toned soprano innocence at 10.40 CD2 tr.1; an effect further intensified by the children's choir at 10.03. There is a playful soubrette quality to the waltz song at tr.3, 08.36 CD1. The weaving of innocent song with intimations of birdsong reflects recollections of carefree childhood (CD2 tr.6 1.40). The singing of the female spirits on the Isle has a high ‘white’ faery quality close to the altitude of Stanford’s Bluebird. Here and there you come across the passing suggestion of a Mahlerian funeral tread. The use of a wind machine made me wonder about parallels with the stormy passions of Riders to the Sea but not a bit of it. The machine is used sparingly to paint in colour and texture with the utmost gentleness as in Daphnis. The joyful ululating bliss of the Zephyr finale recalls the ecstatically floated ‘alleluias’ of Rosenberg’s Fourth Symphony. At the very end there is enthusiastic applause and whoops of joy from the perhaps usually impassive Swedish audience.

Phono-Suecia have certainly whetted the appetite for other Swedish operatic delights. I doubt that Kurt Atterberg's Fanal will disappoint; similarly Gösta Nystroem's Herr Arne's Penningar.

This substantial Phono-Suecia set is superbly well documented through notes by Sofia Nyblom, colour photographs of the 2001 production (no clever-clever time displacements), full colour plates of the stage designs from the original 1940s production and profiles of all the artists. The two CDs are in a single-width case. I had some difficulty extricating disc 2.

The Isle of Bliss is a translucent dream of an opera laced with ice. It is cast with imagination and performed with a commitment that must have met the experience of this reputation-effaced music with joyous celebration. Most warmly recommended.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Goran Forsling

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