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Nicolae BRETAN (1887-1968)
Golem, Opera in one act (1924)
Alexandru Apache (baritone) - Golem, The Man of Clay; Tamás Daróczy (tenor) - Rabbi Löw, Golem’s Creator; Sandra Sandru (soprano) - Anna, Löw’s Grand-daughter; Dan Zancu (bass) - Baruch, Löw’s Disciple;
Arald, Opera in one act (1939)
Dan Zancu (bass) - The Poet; Alexandru Agache (baritone) - The Seer; Jonel Voineag (tenor) - Arald, King of the Avars; Sandra Sandru (soprano) - Maria, Empress, Arald’s Beloved;
Philharmonic Orchestra Moldova, Iasi/Cristian Mandeal
rec. September 1987
Full texts in Romanian and translations into English, German and French enclosed
NIMBUS NI 5424 [73:28]

Experience Classicsonline

Reviewing what is arguably Bretan’s masterpiece, the full-length opera Horia, I was deeply impressed by the power of the dramatic writing while at the same time he retained his very personal melodic language - truthful, tonal and expressive - just as in his songs. I still regard Horia as a landmark work in the history of opera for its humanity and struggle for freedom. Unfortunately it is let down by a fair amount of less than attractive singing - though the commitment is never in question - and the recording - live from stage performance with intrusive noises and in monaural sound only. The present disc, juxtaposing two one-act operas, is a great improvement. It is in good stereo, albeit analogue, made under studio conditions and the singing is in a different class.

The operas in themselves are as fascinating as Horia, but from different points of view. The theme of humanity is however omnipresent. In Golem, Rabbi Löw has created Golem out of clay. When the opera begins he is worried about Anna, his grand-daughter, who is dying. It is only Golem who knows what is wrong with her. Golem is in love with Anna, he has touched her and kissed her and it is sure death for a human to have any contact with a man of clay. Golem tells Löw this and wants Anna as his bride and so demands from Löw, his creator, the power to procreate. To save Anna, Löw has to kill Golem.

What is fascinating about the opera, which is based on a drama by Illés Kacér, is that Golem, who was created by Löw in defiance of God, is the most human of the characters. It is his feelings, his sufferings that permeate the score and there is a warmth and a melodic beauty in the long solos he has to sing. Alexandru Agache in the title role is superb, singing with great feeling and impeccable legato. His is a glorious voice, powerful, beautiful and youthful. Tamás Daróczy is an acceptable Rabbi Löw but Sandra Sandru has her shrill moments. Dan Zancu, whose black bass was one of the assets of the Horia recording, has little to sing but does it well. The final trio, after Golem has died, recalls the finale of Gounod’s Faust - whether intentionally or not.

Arald also deals with life and death, but here we are already in the underworld and the characters have already passed away. The Poet tells of Arald who is searching for the Seer, who has the power to work miracles. Arald comes and lays the body of his beloved Maria at the feet of the Seer, begging him to bring Maria back to life. The Seer offers Arald a drink, which transforms him into a ghost and Maria is restored to life. They sing an ecstatic love duet together but as day breaks they are swallowed by the earth. The Seer, by death forgot, laments his own eternity.

This is a variant on the Orpheus myth. As in Golem Nicolae Bretan wrote his own libretto, this time based on Mihai Eminescu’s poem "The Ghost". There is little drama in the shape of dialogue; instead the short opera is a sequence of ’arias’ - all of great beauty - and the above mentioned duet. The music has an otherworldly serenity which doesn’t exclude passion and dramatic intensity and most of the singing is on an exalted level. Dan Zancu’s Poet is noble, Jonel Voineag as Arald is a splendid lirico spinto tenor, singing with glow and Alexandru Agache as the Seer is again superb as the Seer with a flow of noble melodious solo singing. Several of the themes stuck at first hearing and I went round humming them for hours. Sandra Sandru is more at ease as Maria than she was as Anna in Golem and the orchestra play well under the inspired baton of Cristian Mandeal.

Readers who felt dispirited by my review of Horia - on basis of singing and recording - need feel no qualms this time. I do urge everyone with an iota of curiosity about melodious opera off the beaten track to try this pair of short operas. You will be richly rewarded.

Göran Forsling

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