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Peter HEISE (1830-1879)
Drot og Marsk Tragic opera in four acts (1878)
King Erik – Peter Lodahl (tenor); Stig Andersen – Johan Reuter (baritone); Lady Ingeborg – Sine Bungaard (soprano); Rane Johnsen – Gert Henning-Jensen (tenor); Aase – Sofie Ekljaer Jensen (soprano); Count Jakob – Morten Staugaard (bass); Archdeacon Jens Grand – Simon Duus (bass baritone); Arved Bengtsen – Mathias Monrad Møller (tenor); Herald – Teit Kanstrup (baritone)
The Royal Danish Opera Chorus
of the Royal Danish Orchestra/Michel Schønwandt
rec. live 12 April; 22,25 May 2019, The Holmen Opera House, Copenhagen, Denmark
Notes and Libretto in Danish and English
DACAPO 6.200006 SACD [3 discs: 152:53]

Peter Heise is one of those numerous composers whose name has become forgotten over time. Awareness of his talents is beginning to resurface in his native Denmark, and with this recording of the work he is most noted for, the rest of the world once again has an opportunity to become familiar with him. A quick search through the MusicWeb database reveals this set to be the first release fully devoted to his compositions (albeit one lengthy one) reviewed here. It should be noted that other recordings of this opera do exist.
 
Drot og Marsk which translates to King and Marshall relates events from Danish Medieval history when King Erik Klipping was found stabbed 56 times in a barn near Finderup in 1286. At the time, the culprits were determined to be the King’s Marshall and right hand man, Stig Andersen, and eight other men, all of whom fled into exile in Norway. During the 19c there was a renewed interest in what might have driven all of those men to murder the King, and several books and works of art were produced about this story, which formed the basis of inspiration for Heise and his librettist Christian Richardt.

Heise’s music is a fairly typical example of late 19C romantic opera. He was influenced by the works of Richard Wagner and at times the orchestration shows some Wagner-like passages. For the most part I find his music to be rather similar to the serious works of Arthur Sullivan: Ivanhoe and The Golden Legend coming most immediately to mind. Heise’s music for this opera, like Sullivan’s, is very well crafted but emotionally uninvolving. The libretto certainly gives him plenty to work with in dramatic terms, and Heise responded to it with particularly well-developed music for an intense Third Act. The conspirators’ scene from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots was clearly a model for Heise and Richardt. Meyebeer’s scene is perhaps ultimately more effective because of the religious zeal that is involved, whereas in Heise’s opera the motivation is purely for revenge.

The performing honours on this live recording go to Michel Schønwandt and the forces of the Royal Danish Orchestra. I am ever impressed with Mr Schønwandt’s ability to command his musicians in readings of intense concentration combined with orchestral timbres of radiant beauty. He provides a highly gripping account of the dramatic Third Act.

The vocal performances are not without some blemishes among the cast. The best singing overall comes from the very experienced Gert Henning-Jensen as the quartermaster, Rane. He was singing splendidly in the 1990s when I first heard him, and here in 2019 the years have barely touched his remarkably clear and lithe sounding tenor. He excels in creating a portrait of a resentful man who must wear the mask of helpful subservience to his king while plotting his downfall. King Erik is remarkably well-portrayed by Peter Lodahl. His vocal acting presents an unstable man with voracious appetites that simply charge through one’s sound system. Frequently his voice veers into unsteadiness on sustained notes in the upper range; although it’s not an attractive sound, it is in keeping with the character. Johan Reuter, as the deeply wronged Marshal, contributes a powerfully drawn portrait of wounded pride and lost illusions. Vocally, he is happiest in the mid to lower ranges because he also runs into difficulties above the staff, where he becomes unsteady. This does improve as the opera proceeds, and his singing in the powerful Third Act leaves nothing else wanting.

The two sopranos are well-cast for their roles and their voices are sufficiently different in tone to keep them well contrasted. Sofie Ekljaer Jensen has a very bright and buoyant soprano as the seduced peasant girl Aase. She has some rough patches in the First Act but after that she recovers to give a fine and moving performance of the woman who still loves the king, despite being abandoned. Her prayer scene in Act Four is very beautifully sung. Sine Bungaard as the victimized Lady Ingeborg has a vocal tone that is all creamy custard, and she has reserves of power for her crucial scenes in Acts Two and Three.

I am unable to comment on the surround sound features of the SACD but the two-channel stereo is superb. The Danish radio engineers have excelled at recording a live event with a spacious yet immediate sound that does not suffer from comparison with studio-based efforts. The audience is fairly quiet with the exception of some well-deserved applause at the end of the acts. The three SACD’s are packaged in individual envelopes within a small box with complete notes and libretto in Danish and English.

Mike Parr



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