- Philippe Jordan
A pleasure to see and hear
A harum-scarum springboard
Eduard TUBIN (1905-1982) Barbara von Tisenhusen – opera
in three acts and nine scenes ETW 112 (1967-68) Helvi
Raamat, Väino Puura, Ants Kollo,
Hans Miilberg, Uno Kreen, Mare Jõgeva, Tarmo Sild, Ivo Kuusk Estonian National Opera Orchestra “Estonia”/Peeter Lilje
rec. Estonia, 1992. DDD ONDINE ODE776-2D [62:01
Where Tubin's name is recognised
at all it is because of his work as a symphonist. After all
there are two recorded cycles of the eleven symphonies: Järvi
(BIS) and Volmer (Alba). Those recordings have done and continue
to do stalwart service in putting Estonia and Tubin ‘on the
map’. That said, we must not forget that in the Soviet 1950s
and 1960s Järvi also recorded symphonies 2 and 6 and they
have been reissued in all their rawness on a single Forte
label CD (nla).
One of a pair of operas – the
other being The
Parson of Reigi (Reigi õpetaja)
also recorded by Ondine and reissued by ArkivMusic - Barbara
von Tisenhusen was written in the years between
the Ninth and Tenth symphonies. It was staged in Tartu in
1969. The libretto
is by Jaan Kross after a story by the Finnish author
Aino Kallas (1878-1956). Kallas had a number of her novels
set for the operatic stage and early on in the 1940s several
were the subject of operas by the grievously overlooked Finnish
composer Tauno Pylkkänen – dubbed the Finnish Puccini. The
Tubin operas are much later but both are based on Kallas’s
writings. Having fled to Sweden in the 1940s Tubin benefited
from the gradual political thaw and returned to Estonia for
occasional visits during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1967 Arne
Mikk, a producer of the National Opera Theatre "Estonia",
invited Tubin to write an opera on Barbara von Tisenhusen.
It was written quickly and was first performed at the National
Opera Theatre in 1969 with the composer and his wife in attendance.
It was a great success and was then performed more than fifty
times in Estonia.
Barbara recounts the tragic story of the young
Barbara von Tisenhusen, born in the Castle of Rannu, in Livland
1533. She is the daughter of “the highly honoured and greatly
feared nobleman Reinhold von Tisenhusen and his most virtuous
wife Anna von Sawhere”.
This is vivacious music. Crudely
speaking it is in the style of a Baltic Puccini out of Prokofiev
which frankly is not how I would characterise his sombre
and often strife-torn symphonies. The sense of movement here
and of character vivacity is striking and makes an immediately
engaging impression. The first scene of the first act (tr.
1) at times sounds like the attic scene-play from Bohème although
that crashing ‘ratatat’ ending does recall the symphonies.
After an unpromisingly glum fugal-academic entry the women's
choral voices ring out bell-like, sounding like a sort of Carmina
Kullervo. The second scene ends inventively with a discord
pregnant with tension. Along the way we get an ecstatically
exciting love duet between Tisenhusen and Jurgen. The Second
Act conveys the impression of poison and rumour in music
constantly in flight - irritable and tetchy and the impression
grows of a Baltic Tosca, Cavaradossi and Scarpia. Along the
way we are ushered into sepulchral depths with the deep resonance
of a tolling bell (tr. 5). A psychological overlay is always
there - never mere illustration. The second disc begins with
music that is gripping, pecked, jabbed and thumped out. The
music takes on a flying motion with singing over the top
redolent a little of the choral-orchestral Sibelius. Tubin's
orchestral scoring in this opera is never drab and the microphone
placement for this recording ensures that details are assertively
captured. It ends in a well sustained glisteningly tense
skein of sound with skeletal noises and macabre little trudging
figures. It suggests to me an evocation of magical northern
night skies. Inventive burnished tonal textures abound and
glow with strange and tragic colours. A very satisfying opera.
No wonder it is rated as Estonia’s best opera.
It's a shame that Ondine have
had to delete this and the other Tubin opera The Parson
of Reigi. However, it has been picked up by ArkivCD and
is now available from them in their usual custom transfer
now with booklet and original artwork.
I am pleased to report that
this recording is available with, I believe, full notes and
libretto with translation. I was working with a version lacking
these details hence the absence of plot outline in this review.
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