One of the twentieth century's child prodigies, Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) remains famous for his epic film scores of the 1930s and 40s. The music he composed for such swashbuckling productions as Captain Blood (1935), The Prince and the Pauper (1937), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Sea Hawk (1940) are, even up to this day, among the most sought after soundtracks among collectors.
But this is only one side of the coin. Indeed, Korngold's most important output is in the operatic and symphonic genres, of which he was an unrivalled master. Violanta, the composer's second opera, was premiered at Munich's Hofftheater on 28 March 1916 when he was just eighteen, and success was immediate.
Listen — Korngold: Vorspiel (Violanta)
(track 1, 0:00-0:57) © 2020 Dynamic Srl :
It is a short one-act piece, but in it there are already strong hints of what was to come, particularly in his next stage-work and his most popular opera, Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City), written between 1917 and 1920. Amazingly, this latter work was Puccini's favourite opera.
The story is most implausible, but Korngold's music is so compelling that he succeeds in almost making it believable. The protagonists are Violanta, of course, her husband Simone, a rigorous and unloving man, and Alfonso, a seducer but soft-hearted fellow who never knew the joys of love. Alfonso was the cause of Nerina, Violanta's sister, committing suicide, and now she wants to avenge herself by luring him to Simone's palace and inducing her husband to kill him. Unfortunately her plan misfires when she learns of Alfonso's loveless life, as she too has never known love. She immediately identifies herself with Alfonso and falls hopelessly in love with him. As Simone is about to stab Alfonso to death, Violanta hurls herself between them to save her beloved. As she dies in Simone's arms, she declares her fidelity to him against the merrymaking of the Venice Carnival outside.
Listen — Korngold: Still ... mich tragen Wogen silberrein! (Violanta)
(track 26, 1:40-2:23) © 2020 Dynamic Srl :
This is a powder-keg of uncontrolled passions and emotions that inspired the teenage Korngold to write some exceptionally luscious music, brimming with dazzling orchestration and ingenious harmonies. Indeed, the opera is a unique tour-de-force in drama, love duets and heart pain, with some individual solos of rare beauty permeating the entire score.
Listen — Korngold: Der Sommer will sich neigen ... (Violanta)
(track 17, 0:59-1:57) © 2020 Dynamic Srl :
All this is convincingly captured in this exhilarating Italian live premiere of the piece from Teatro Regio Torino, and Pinchas Steinberg's insightful reading draws some hot-blooded singing and playing. Top notch sound and booklet complete one of my issues of the year.
Copyright © 11 July 2020