Bard Music Festival blog Das Wunder der Heliane Eric Wolfgang korngold Featured Music Naxos Opera Review

Opera Review: A Sumptuous New Recording of Korngold’s “The Miracle of Heliane,” Centerpiece of This Summer’s Bard Music Festival

By Ralph P. Locke

Once much-performed, then banished from the stage by the Nazis, The Miracle of Heliane, now obtainable in a high quality new recording, is probably the most effective opera by the man who would grow to be one of Hollywood’s leading composers.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Das Wunder der Heliane Annemarie Kremer (Heliane), Katerina Hebelková (The Messenger), Ian Storey (The Stranger), Aris Argiris (The Ruler), Frank van Hove (The Gatekeeper), Nutthaporn Thammathi (The Sword Decide) Freiburg Philharmonic, Freiburg Theater Choruses and Freiburg Bach Choir, carried out by Fabrice Bollon. Naxos eight.660410-12 [3 CDs] 162 minutes

Lovers of opera, decadence, and basic extra, rejoice! This coming summer time, the Bard Music Festival will stage, as its centerpiece, Das Wunder der Heliane (The Miracle of Heliane), which is probably the only most necessary work by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957).

Some Korngold lovers will battle about that claim of course. “What about the Violin Concerto? or Die tote Stadt?” But Heliane, I’d say, has equal claims to greatness.

In the course of the early twentieth century, Heliane and other operas by the young Korngold shortly made the rounds of German-speaking opera houses. In 1934, when he was 37, Korngold came to America to compose scores for main Hollywood movies. And, with the Nazis increasingly in control in Germany, he stayed here. As for his operas, they vanished from theaters in German-speaking lands—theaters where that they had once made their glad, passionate residence. Korngold was not alone: the identical occurred to most other works by composers who have been Jewish (e.g., Mendelssohn and Mahler), left-leaning, or artistically modernist.

In current many years, singers, conductors and scholars have helped convey Korngold’s works back, allowing us to listen to what all of the fuss was about. A number of main orchestral works have re-entered the repertory, including the exceptional Sinfonietta, Op. 5, written when he was just 15.

The most effective-known Korngold opera right now is the aforementioned Die tote Stadt, written six years later, when he was all of 23! Some seven recordings or movies have been obtainable at totally different occasions, with singers as positive as Katarina Dalayman and Hermann Prey underneath such famend conductors as Erich Leinsdorf, Leif Segerstam, and Sebastian Weigle.

The plot of Heliane, an astounding mishmash of mythology and symbolism, derives from a play by Hans Kaltneker, a author who died at age 24. The characters aside from Heliane haven’t any names—simply descriptive labels indicating their societal position. The plot and characters jogged my memory at occasions of Richard Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Lady and not using a Shadow) but in addition of different myth-laden operas, reminiscent of Massenet’s Le roi de Lahore (The King of Lahore) and Puccini’s Turandot.

Briefly, Heliane (soprano), the young spouse of The Ruler (baritone), is completely unattracted to her husband. The Stranger (tenor; Der Fremde may be higher translated The Foreigner) has brought peace to the land and gained the affection of its individuals. The Ruler, jealous of The Stranger’s capacity to elicit love, imprisons him. The Stranger is visited in his cell by Heliane, who, smitten, disrobes before him. The Ruler (at the urging of a lady he had previously liked, The Messenger—a mezzo position) condemns Heliane to dying. The Stranger commits suicide.

The residents of the dominion, devoted to The Stranger, now rise up in protest, and this leads The Ruler to insist that Heliane carry out a miracle and convey the lifeless man again to life. Heliane, as an alternative, admits that she liked The Stranger but makes clear that she by no means touched him. This is disturbing to the gang, which threatens to kill Heliane. The Stranger, miraculously, now arises from the lifeless. The Ruler stabs Heliane to demise. The Stranger banishes The Ruler and blesses the individuals with freedom. Heliane and The Stranger (each now clearly having entered a really totally different New Life) ascend to Heaven.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Photograph: Madame d’Ora.

The music is completely fascinating: a heady blend of Puccini and Strauss and (in some of the orchestral passages) Mahler and, if I’m not mistaken, echoes of Debussy’s Le martyre de saint Sébastien (The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian). Heliane incorporates violence and lyricism, delicacy and magic aplenty. But the orchestral material is usually fairly full (as in Wagner and Strauss), which I think might tempt the singers into forcing. Performers in early productions typically found the vocal requirements overly demanding.

A memorable appoggiatura-drenched motive recurs at essential moments. Korngold might himself have borrowed it unconsciously from Puccini (La fanciulla del West—The Woman of the Golden West), and Andrew Lloyd Webber, many years later, would borrow it (in all probability fairly consciously) from Puccini, Korngold, or both, and construct it prominently into “The Music of the Night,” in Les Misérables.

A good but not good studio recording was launched in 1993. It is carried out by John Mauceri, with usually superb singers—together with Anna Tomowa-Sintow, who meets the work’s intense vocal necessities impressively but typically seems emotionally distant.

The new recording was made in July 2017 at the Freiburg Konzerthaus, partly in two unstaged performances. It provides a view of the work that’s a lot the same as the one in the 25-year-old Mauceri recording. Fabrice Bollon, conducting the very superb Freiburg orchestra, properly differentiates the dramatic mood of the varied scenes, helping to make an extended opera feel continuously fascinating.

The singers all appear to know what they’re singing about, despite being from many various nations (together with England, the Netherlands, Greece, and Thailand). Alas, the wobbles that bothered a number of roles in 1993 afflict some members of this forged as nicely. (Mauceri’s important tenor, John de Haan, was firmer than Ian Storey right here, if nonetheless not the Parsifal/Otello voice one may dream of.) Luckily, Annemarie Kremer, who has sung the position in Vienna, sounds better and better as the opera moves along. And one singer is clearly stronger than her equal from 1993: Czech-born Katerina Hebelková (The Messenger), steady as a rock and with excessive notes that gleam. I sit up for listening to her in different repertory. The chorus, which has a lot to do, sings marvelously.

I urge any opera lover to get to know Heliane. There are various marvelous moments in it, together with the superb duets for Heliane and The Stranger in Act 1 (in jail) and Act three (the opera’s visionary conclusion). Heliane’s aria “Ich ging zu ihm” (“I went to him,” in Act 2) is the best-known excerpt, having been recorded by singers as distinguished as Lotte Lehmann and Renée Fleming. Its ultimate part uses, heart-tuggingly, that appoggiatura-laden passage I discussed earlier.

Maybe for copyright reasons, the Naxos launch provides no libretto, not even on-line. (Worse, the synopsis omits reference to several monitor numbers.) The current CD re-release of the Mauceri recording is, likewise, libretto-less. But its unique CD release included a libretto and a nice translation; copies of that 1993 launch could be present in giant libraries or bought from used-record dealers. (Anyone buying one of the presently obtainable recordings or listening to it on Spotify or some other streaming website can be nicely advised to seek out a replica of the 1993 launch of the Mauceri and photocopy its libretto.) The Naxos booklet, by the best way, has some embarrassing typos, e.g., “bilde” as an alternative of “blinde” (the German phrase for “blind”), and the translation of the in any other case informative essay is inadequate.

Soprano Aušrine Stundyte will sing the role of Heliane in the 2019 Bard Music Festival production of “Heliane.” Photograph: Schneider Images

And so again to the well timed announcement with which I opened: Heliane is the central work to be carried out on the 2019 Bard Music Festival, and, as Don O’Connor has put it when sharing the good news, “decadence doesn’t get better than that” (American Report Information, November/December 2018, p. 19). The production features Lithuanian soprano Aušrine Stundyte, tenor Daniel Brenna, and baritone Alfred Walker. And presumably, in Bard’s fantastic Sosnoff Theater, which has 900 seats (compared to 4000 on the Met!), the singers gained’t feel the necessity to pressure their tone.

There might be, I’m assured, supertitles that will help you catch every nuance of the sung phrases.

Cease the press!: Naxos has announced that it’ll release in Might 2019 a DVD of a much-hailed production of the opera, in kind of trendy gown, from the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, starring Sara Jakubiak. (In other words, the forged and conductor might be totally totally different than on the Naxos CD recording that I’ve just reviewed.) It’s beginning to look that we’re seeing not just a tenor hero however an opera rising from the lifeless. The trailer for the forthcoming DVD seems to be completely gripping!


Ralph P. Locke is emeritus professor of musicology at the College of Rochester’s Eastman Faculty of Music. Six of his articles have gained the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing about music. His most recent two books are Musical Exoticism: Pictures and Reflections and Music and the Unique from the Renaissance to Mozart (each Cambridge University Press). Each at the moment are out there in paperback, and the second can also be out there as an e-book. The present assessment is a flippantly revised model of one which first appeared in American Document Guide and is used here by sort permission. Ralph Locke additionally contributes to the web arts-magazines NewYorkArts.internet, OperaToday.com, and The Boston Musical Intelligencer.