At last we have the
premier world recording of what was
probably the most successful of Ottorino
Respighi's operas. It has been well
worth waiting for.
Respighi fell in love
with the character of Rautendelein,
the water nymph of Hauptmann's poem.
He shows her frivolity, love, egocentricity,
lack of care for others, cunning, magic
powers and, finally, her magnanimity.
Respighi's own nature was compounded
of fantasy, realism and morality, which
certainly accounts for his fascination
with her, as he matches her and her
fairy world against the solid reality
of Enrico's loving wife and children.
This is a recording
of the 2003 Montpellier festival performance,
with all the immediacy that brings.
Its 140 minutes are blessed by two fine
sopranos and an excellent orchestra
which makes the most of the brilliant
scoring. Rautendelein is sung by Laura
Aikin in an inspired portrayal, her
fine voice perfectly conveying the fabulous
and mercurial temperament of the water
The story begins with
Enrico, the bell caster, being injured,
when elves cause the bell he is bringing
to a new chapel to fall to the bottom
of the lake. Despite warnings not to
meddle with humans, Rautendelein tends
him, using her magic powers to persuade
him to leave his family and to make
a fabulous bell for a pantheistic temple.
Though anathematised by the pastor,
he agrees to this, provided the sunken
bell does not ring. Deserted by him,
Enrico's wife throws herself into the
lake, causing the bell to sound. Finally,
having lost his family, he searches
for Rautendelein and she forgives his
abandonment of her.
to convey the supernatural both musically
and visually extended to detailed stage
directions, with all but one act having
the scenery and lighting of a world
of fantasy. There are passages of great
drama, while Enrico is torn between
the charm of the supernatural world
and the reality of his wife and children.
Most poignant of all is the music accompanying
the ghostly appearance of his children,
holding the bowl containing the bitter
tears of his wife. The sunken bell had
pealed tragically from the lake's depths
as, in suicide, her body grazed it.
The premiere world
recording of what was probably the most
successful of Respighi's operas in an
[This Review first appeared in the FRMS
review by Ian Lace