Laci BOLDEMANN (1921-1969)
Svart är vitt – sa kejsaren / Black is White –
said the Emperor (1963-64)
A Fairy tale opera in a prelude and two acts
Emperor – Sven Nilsson (bass)
The boy – Gunilla Slättegård (soprano)
The Princess – Laila Andersson (soprano)
The Prince – Tord Slättegård (tenor)
The Doctor – Conny Söderström (tenor)
The Fool – Paul Höglund (baritone)
The Runner – Sven Erik Vikström (tenor)
Security guard – Sven-Erik Jacobsson (bass)
Printer – Gunnar Drago (tenor)
Hovkapellet, Operakören, Operabaletten/Per Åke Andersson
Josef Grünfarb (violin solo), Karl-Erik Welin (organ), Tape with electronic music realized by Karl-Otto Valentin
rec. live at the première 1 January 1965, Royal Opera, Stockholm
Sung in Swedish. Complete libretto with English and German translations enclosed
STERLING CDO1111/2-2 [47:40 + 43:38]
Laci Boldemann was born in Helsinki in Finland. His grandfather on his mother’s side was the writer Arvid Järnefelt, whose brother Armas was Court Conductor at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. Their sister Aino was married to Jean Sibelius and Laci met them all. His grandfather on his father’s side was a friend of Sibelius and the song Den första kyssen (The First Kiss) was dedicated to him.
He became a German citizen and went to school in Berlin. He was then sent to London to study with Sir Henry Wood, but when the war began he was deported to Germany and was enlisted in the Nazi army. He managed to desert and got to the Allies, spending the last months in the US. After the war he settled in Sweden, where his grandparents lived. He died in 1969 aged 48, but by then he was already established as a composer, not only in Sweden. Today he is best known as a composer of songs, many of which are widely performed, and recorded, by Swedish choirs. Some song cycles with orchestra have also been performed and recorded. He wrote two operas. The first of them was Svart är vitt, premiered on New Year’s Day 1965, and was one of the greatest successes at the Royal Opera, running for a period of three years. The present recording was made live at the premiere and is the first complete recording on CD, but there was once an LP with excerpts and I suppose it is the same recording. I haven’t got the LP any longer and can’t check. I liked it a lot when I bought the LP, and coming back to it now in a complete version made it even more attractive.
The music is easily accessible, tonal and with catchy tunes, often with a simple folksong flavour. It was written for an orchestra of 31 players and the score is colourful, rhythmical and the chorus have a lot to do. The scene with the Emperor and the Court, opening the first act, immediately after the prelude, could just as well have been culled from a Broadway musical (CD 1 tr. 3). Solo arias are mostly short and beautiful. The boy, who is the hero of the tale, has several solos, (CD 1 tr. 6 and even better CD 1 tr. 14). The Princess has a couple of lovely solos as well, the first act ends with a beautiful quintet. In act 2, which is more coherent, there is an oriental dance (CD 2 tr. 14) and in the finale the Prince and the Princess sing a love duet. Boldemann utilises leitmotifs very effectively and there is even some electronic music.
The story takes place somewhere in the orient at the beginning of the Christian era. A mighty Emperor wants to lay down what the people in the Empire have to think. He even decides that black is white and white is black, and no one dares to contradict him. His daughter, the Princess, wants to marry a Prince from another country but the Emperor opposes this and has the Prince imprisoned. A boy without parents has managed to pass by the guards and sneaked into the Emperor’s palace. Eventually he is able to persuade the Emperor to accept the people’s freedom and human rights. He admits that black is black and white is white and the Prince and Princess get each other. The moral of the story is highly topical today with all these alternative facts that are in circulation.
The cast in this recording is a mix of veterans and upcoming youngsters. For Gunilla Slättegård, the boy, this was actually her debut, and the Princess and Prince, Laila Andersson and Tord Slättegård, had been engaged at the Stockholm Opera only for the last couple of years. Sven Nilsson, who sang the Emperor, had behind him a long and important international career. Between 1930 and 1944 he was a member of the ensemble at the Dresden Opera, but he also appeared as guest at other German houses and in Barcelona, London, Florence and Venice. After the war he became a pillar of strength at the Stockholm Opera and was active until his death in 1970. Other smaller but important roles are taken by other veterans and two singers in the midst of long and successful careers in Stockholm.
Sven Nilsson is a monumental Emperor, his bass voice still in fine shape though the tone is drier than it was in his heydays. Gunilla Slättegård’s glittering soprano is ideal for the innocent but clever boy, and Laila Andersson’s youthful lyric voice suits the role as Princess to perfection. Here she is not yet 25. In the 1970s and 80s she took on more dramatic roles. I heard her as a sensational Lulu in Alban Berg’s opera in 1977 and later also as Marie in Wozzeck and in the mid-1990s, though then retired, as a great Floria Tosca. Tord Slättegård was the possessor of a smooth lyrical tenor that made him a fine Mozart singer among many other things and here he is a true bel canto Prince. The chorus and the Royal Orchestra are in fine shape under Per Åke Andersson’s inspirational direction.
This is a valuable addition to the catalogue of Swedish opera on CD and it is a wonderful memento of a highly individual composer who left us far too early.