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Max VON SCHILLINGS (1868 - 1933)
Mona Lisa (1915) [118.42] (1)
Mona Lisa (excerpts) (1915) [8.19] (2)
Mona Lisa (excerpts) (1915) [6.09] (3)
Mona Fiordalisa – Inge Borkh (soprano) (1)
Giovanni de Salviati – Hans Beirer (tenor) (1)
Francesco del Giocondo – Mathieu Ahlersmeyer (baritone) (1)
Messer Pietro Tumoni – Wilhelm Lang (1)
Messer Arrigo Oldofredi – Horst Wilhelm (1)
Messer Alesso Beneventi – Erich Zimmerman (1)
Messer Sandro da Luzzano – Otto Hüsch (1)
Messer Masolino Pedruzzi – Hanns Pick (1)
Mona Ginevra ad Alta Rocca – Ilse Hülper (1)
Dianora – Alice Zimmerman (1)
Piccarda – Emmi Hagemann (1)
Eine Frau – Inge Borkh (soprano) (1)
Ein Laienbruder – Hans Beirer (tenor) (1)
Ein Fremder – Mathieu Ahlersmeyer (baritone) (1)
Mona Fiordalisa – Barbara Kemp (soprano) (3)
Giovanni de Salviati – Josef Mann (tenor) (3)
Chor und Orchester der Städtischen Oper Berlin/Robert Heger (1)
Staatskapelle Berlin/Max von Schillings (2)
Max von Schillings (conductor) (3)
WALHALL WLCD 003 [71.38 + 61.31]


Max von Schillings started out his career as chorus master at Bayreuth, going on to become Intendant at Stuttgart and then at the Berlin State Opera. As a conductor he was responsible for premieres of operas by Pfitzner, Schreker, Busoni and Richard Strauss. Mona Lisa was his fourth opera and it received a triumphant premiere at the Stuttgart Hof Oper in 1915.

As a composer von Schillings was much influenced by Richard Strauss. though the plot of Mona Lisa, with its renaissance Florence setting and love-triangle, involving an older merchant, his young bride and her lover, is strongly reminiscent of Zemlinsky’s ‘Florentine Tragedy’ (premiered in 1917 and based on an Oscar Wilde story).

Von Schillings’ opera is rather less concise than Zemlinsky’s; he frames the action with a prelude and postlude set in the present day with tourists being shown Mona Lisa’s mansion and being told her story. The action then moves to the carnival celebrations in 1492. Mona Lisa (Inge Borkh) is married to Francesco del Giocondo (Mathieu Ahlersmeyer). He is older than her and she does not love him. He is a collector of pearls and the young Giovanni de Salviati (Hans Beirer) comes to acquire a pearl from Francesco. Giovanni falls in love with Mona Lisa, Francesco is suspicious. To avoid Francesco, Giovanni has to hide in the jewel closet, a hermetically sealed safe. Suspicious, Francesco locks the door and confiscates the key. Next morning Mona Lisa, hearing nothing from the closet, presumes that Giovanni is dead. Her maid has found the key where Francesco threw it into the river. Francesco appears and when he opens the closet, Lisa pushes him in and locks the door. Lisa collapses, crying for mercy.

Von Schillings clothes this rather novelettish plot with music in an opulently post-Wagnerian vein. After the opening carnival scene, there is a lovely love duet for the two lovers. This is Beirer’s one opportunity to shine as once in the closet he never returns. Act 1 closes with a terrific scene for the jealous Francesco, this is powerfully delivered by Ahlersmeyer. His voice sounds a little frayed at times, but he is entirely credible and not a little thrilling. Though she has plenty to do in Act 1, Borkh’s big moment comes at the opening of Act 2, when von Schillings beautifully evokes the Ash Wednesday dawn, and Mona Lisa as a big, gloomy solo. Mona Lisa sounds like a role which requires a decent amount of stamina; Borkh manages to provide this along with sounding suitably youthful, in all she makes a ravishing heroine. Alice Zimmerman as her maid Dianora, acquits herself well her lovely duet with Borkh in Act 2.

Though he was influenced by Strauss, the opening of the opera reminded me as much of Korngold But where Strauss’s influence can be detected is in the way the composer sets much of the text in attractive arioso supported by a highly lyrical and expressive orchestral accompaniment. This is the weakness of this recording. It dates from 1953 and is, presumably, from a radio broadcast (there is no audience noise). Though the singers are well caught the orchestral sound is adequate to poor and hardly does justice to the score.

The singers’ diction is exemplary, which is a good job as Walhall provide neither a libretto nor a plot summary so to follow the action in detail you have to follow what is being sung.

As a bonus, the second disc also includes three extracts of von Schillings himself conducting extracts from the opera in recordings dating from the 1920s.

There is one final non-musical point to be made about these discs. Von Schillings was apparently an enthusiastic Nazi and in the early 1930s received musical appointments from them. His death, though, in 1933 robbed him of the ability to either repent his judgement or to undergo de-Nazification after the war and goes a long way to explain why his music has lain in limbo. But this is a powerful score and deserves the occasional hearing.

Robert Hugill

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