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Nicolae BRETAN (1887–1968)
Luceafărul (The Evening Star) - Opera in One Act, Prologue and Epilogue (1921)
Ionel Voineag (tenor) – The Evening Star; Bálint Szabó (bass) – Michael the Archangel; Elena Casian (mezzo) – The Lady-in-Waiting; Adriana Croitoru (soprano) – The King’s Daughter; Marius Budoiu (tenor) – The Mariner; Ioan Pojar (tenor) – The Page; Chorus,
Philharmonic Orchestra Transilvania, Cluj/Béla Hary
rec. September 1994, Cluj
Texts and translations into English, German and French
NIMBUS NI 5463 [60:57]

Experience Classicsonline

My traversal of the recorded operas of Nicolae Bretan ends rather incongruously with his earliest work in the genre, Luceafărul (The Evening Star). With a playing time of around one hour it is a substantial work. By 1921, when the opera was premiered, Bretan was already a mature composer in his mid-30s. The opera is based on a poem by Mihai Eminescu although Bretan wrote the libretto himself. It is a kind of parable, dealing with love, desire, fulfilment and loss.

In this opera the Evening Star has fallen in love with the King’s Daughter and is prepared to renounce his immortality for love. The Archangel Michael and the Chorus of Stars try to stop him but he plunges to earth, into the ocean. In the meantime the King’s Daughter has fallen in love with the Evening Star, having heard her Lady-in-Waiting telling a story about this. When the Evening Star appears before her in human form she feels he is alien and can’t accept his love. Instead she falls in love with the Page who comes to ask for her hand and they sing a duet ‘in which they praise death as the final destination in life and declare their ultimate place of rest to be by the sea.’ In the Epilogue the Evening Star has returned to his place in the heavens, sees the two lovers and realizes that his dream was unrealistic. He accepts his fate of immortality.

Bretan’s choice of this poem became a symbol for his own youthful love to Maria Scridon – never expressed – and he felt he was the Evening Star. Without knowing this one could almost guess that there was a personal inspiration behind this music: it is so filled with beauty, warmth, passion and longing. Long stretches are pastoral, even sacred in tone. The prelude seems to have emanated from Die Zauberflöte – the priests – and the Chorus of Stars is also heavenly. The postlude of the Prologue is a marvellous composition with first an English horn, then a French horn and then a trumpet. The ballet pantomime opening the Act is in a vein reminiscent of Lars-Erik Larsson’s pastoral music from the late 1930s. The Lady-in-Waiting’s tale of the Evening Star and the King’s Daughter, accompanied by harp, is a fine piece. The scene between the King’s Daughter and the Evening Star (in ‘real life’) has drama as well as lyricism and when the voices intertwine the music rises to ecstatic heights. Even this is surpassed by the agitated ecstasy of the encounter between the King’s Daughter and the Page. In the Epilogue we are back in the pastoral mood in which the opera began but wrapped in melancholy. The Evening Star sings his final words: You live there in your narrow world / A plaything in its hold / While in my boundless world I reign / Both deathless and dead-cold to a movingly beautiful melody, followed by the Chorus of Stars repeating the words.

The music is deeply felt and the singers on this recording have obviously taken it to their hearts. Béla Hary draws impassioned playing from The Philharmonic Orchestra Transilvania and the anonymous chorus sings beautifully. Of the soloists Adriana Croitoru as the King’s Daughter stands out with dramatically convincing singing, slightly edgy at the top but with ravishing piano singing. The mezzo-soprano Elena Casian has a classy voice and narrates her tale with expression. Balint Szabó in the Archangel’s solo sports a good bass voice, slightly uncomfortable at the top, and Ionel Voineag is a convincing Evening Star, though not without strain. The Page is sung with youthfulness and enthusiasm and a great deal of lyric Schmalz by Ioan Pojar. The opera unfolds mainly in monologues – arias if you like – and it is only in the confrontation between The King’s Daughter and her two suitors that there is true dialogue. But everything is laid out in Bretan’s highly personal late-romantic language seasoned with a tinge of folk song. I have been deeply fascinated by his other operas as well as his songs (see review of his operas Golem and Arald for links to the other recordings) but Luceafărul has a special magic that makes it irresistible.

The recording is excellent and the booklet has a biographical article on the composer, a penetrating analysis of the opera and texts and translations. I urge readers – as I have done in previous reviews – to investigate Nicolae Bretan’s very special musical world. It is not difficult, nor is it bland, but I believe it has something for everyone with an open mind and Luceafărul is as good a place as any to start.

Göran Forsling





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