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Franz LACHNER (1803-1890)
Catharina Cornaro
Kristiane Kaiser (soprano) – Catharina Cornaro, Daniel Kirch (tenor) – Marco Venero, Mauro Peter (tenor) – Jakob II. von Lusignan, König von Zypern, Simon Pauly (baritone) – Andrea Cornaro, Christian Tschelebiew (bass-baritone) – Onofrio
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Ralf Weikert
rec. Prinzregententheater Munich, 2012
CPO 777 812-2 [2 CDs: 151:58]

After the 1841 première of Catharina Cornaro in Munich, the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung declared that “the German school has been enriched with a dramatic work that has to be counted as one of the most genial and magnificent of the works belonging to it”. Although the name Franz Lachner might ring a bell with some people, most of his oeuvre will be unfamiliar, especially his sole opera.

Lachner was born in Rain am Lech in the north of Munich into a musical family. His three brothers all became musicians themselves. After his music studies, he conducted at the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna before becoming Kapellmeister in Mannheim in 1834. One year later, he submitted his 5th Symphony, the Sinfonia Passionata, at a competition in Vienna and won the first price (hence it is also known as Preis-Symphonie). Subsequently, he became royal Kapellmeister in Munich. He conducted at the royal opera house and became Munich’s general music director in 1862. Two years later, Hans von Bülow took the baton from him, as the newly crowned Ludwig II was very fond of Wagner’s music, and had Lachner retire. In his day (and especially before 1864), Lachner was a well-known and prolific composer and friend of Schubert (the orchestral preludes to act 3 and 4 are reminiscent of Schubert), though his style also indebted to Beethoven and Mendelssohn.
Catharina Cornaro (1841), which preceded Donizetti’s opera of the same title by three years, was one of Lachner’s most successful works. Rather than turning to smaller dimensions as the Singspiel – as many German composers at the time did, apart from Meyerbeer and Lindpaintner for instance – Lachner set out to compose his opera in the grand historical opera tradition. It is based on the life of the patrician Catharina Cornaro (1454-1510), who was married to Jacob II, the king of Cyprus. After his death in 1474, she became Queen of Cyprus but was forced to abdicate fifteen years later.

Ever after Henri Saint-Georges wrote the libretto for Halévy’s La Reine de Chypre (1841), it seems to have found favour with four other composers: Apart from Lachner’s opera in the same year, there were Donizetti’s Catharina Cornaro in 1844, William Balfe’s The Daughter of St. Mark in 1844 and Giovanni Pacini’s La Regina di Cipra in 1846. In Lachner’s version, Catharina is taken from her beloved Marco (called Gérard in Saint-Georges’ original libretto) on their wedding day and forced to marry Jacob for political reasons. Jacob only becomes aware of this intrigue later, and when he falls ill with a mysteries disease, he offers Catharina to leave him, but she remains faithful. After the Cypriots defeat the Venetians, Jacob dies and Catharina becomes queen of Cyprus.

Lachner’s opera was a success, especially in Munich, and by the early 20th century, his Catharina Cornaro was as intrinsically linked with the city as “the two towers of the Cathedral of Our Lady”. What good a choice then to have this work performed and recorded in Munich with both the Chor des Bayerischen Runfunks as well as the Münchner Runfunkorchester. The choir was established as early as 1946 as musical ensemble for the Bavarian broadcasting service. Since 1952, when the orchestra was founded, there has been a close collaboration between the two ensembles. They are very versatile and have long since established themselves in Munich’s musical landscape as well as internationally. The Rundfunkorchester has previously also worked with the Palazzetto Bru Zane in rediscovering the forgotten works of French composers, before it played its part in this 2012 recording and rediscovered Catharina Cornaro. Despite their experience, both the choir and the orchestra’s rendering are a bit uninspired, though. When it comes to the quality of the soloists, the soprano Kristiane Kaiser (Catharina Cornaro) who deputized for Michaela Kaune, must be praised for her magnificent singing voice and adding so much colour to the title role. Daniel Kirch (Marco) with his Wagnerian Heldentenor, and Mauro Peter (Jakob II) with his lyric voice and previous Lied experience are both very convincing; they add to the enjoyment of listening to this recording, as does the baritone Simon Pauly as Andrea Cornaro. The bass-baritone Christian Tschelebiew (Onofrio), however, falls a bit short of expectations and disappoints with his far too tremolous voice. Ralf Weikert, who is especially experienced in conducting Mozart and Rossini’s operas, deputized for Ulf Schirmer and did a very decent job, though the question remains whether Schirmer would have created a more spirited recording, especially regarding the ensembles. How many more performances there are to be given of Catharina Cornaro in Munich and beyond will yet have to be seen: it is very unlikely to make its way back into the canon at some point, though a fully staged performance would surely be a treat.

All in all, a very enjoyable issue with very detailed booklet notes in both English and German, including the entire libretto. Not only is it great to see and hear that Lachner’s once so cherished Catharina Cornaro has been brought back to life, but it also made its re-appearance in Munich, where it first premièred and with which place it is inextricably linked.

Max Burgdörfer



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