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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897 - 1957)
Violanta (1914) Opera in 1 Act
Violanta - Annemarie Kremer
Simone Trovai - Michael Kupfer-Radecky
Alfonso - Norman Reinhardt
Giovanni Bracca - Peter Sonn
Bice - Soula Parassidis
Barbara - Anna Maria Chiuri
Matteo - Joan Folqué
First Soldier - Cristiano Olivieri
Second Soldier - Gabriel Alexander Wernick
First Maid - Eugenia Braynova
Second Maid - Claudia de Pian
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio Torino/Pinchas Steinberg
Director, Costume and Set Designer, Pier Luigi Pizzi
Light Designer, Andrea Anfossi
Chorus Master, Andrea Secchi
rec. live, January 2020, Teatro Regio Torino, Italy
DYNAMIC DVD 37876 [88 mins]

By 1914, the seventeen year old Korngold had composed his first opera Der Ring des Polykrates. This is a light domestic comedy, and Korngold’s father, Julius, realised that it was too short to fill a bill by itself, and so he began casting around to find a second libretto, suitable for a one act opera with which his immensely gifted son could work to create a contrasting companion piece.

The result was a libretto by Hans Müller, with which Korngold was able to tinker and produce an opera so different from Der Ring des Polykrates, that people at the time could only marvel at the young composer’s range of abilities. Still only 17, he had produced a score so voluptuous, so intensely chromatic, so mature in conception and production, that he was hailed, not for the first time, as a a 20th century wunderkind. Indeed, anyone familiar with Korngold’s later music will instantly recognise the composer’s fingerprints - a lush, late romantic idiom in which his characteristic melodic abilities shine through. The whole piece is permeated by the voluptuous and memorable Violanta motif, and the main aria for the anti-hero has the composer’s typical stratospheric leaps.

The action takes place in 15th Century Venice at the time of Carnival in the house of Captain Simone Trovai who is married to the beautiful Violanta. Various guests and soldiers at the house are starting to watch the torchlit processions of Carnival when Simone bursts in, angrily saying that he will not permit the singing of the Carnival song in his house. He then asks if anyone knows the whereabouts of his wife; no one has, so they are all leaving the house when the painter Giovanni Braccia arrives and tries to persuade the Captain to accompany him to the Carnival celebrations. Only when he discovers that Alfonso, the notorious womaniser and illegitimate son of the King of Naples is present at the celebrations, does he consent to attend. This is because he knows that his wife, Violanta, believes that Alfonso was the cause of her sister’s suicide, and as such, hates him. He is also distressed because he feels that his wife’s behaviour towards him has cooled significantly since her sister’s death. He is at the door, about to leave, when Violanta arrives, clearly somewhat flustered and agitated.

She asks him to remain with her, so Giovanni leaves the two alone together. Then, Violanta reveals that she has seen the hated Alfonso at the Carnival and has asked him to visit her at her house. Simone is flabbergasted at this, and his astonishment turns to incredulity when Violanta tells him that she has done so because she wants him to kill Alfonso, in revenge for his treatment of her sister. At Simone’s protestations that Alfonso is the son of a king, Violanta falls at his feet, saying that she cannot be happy whilst Alfonso lives, and that she too has felt the force of his seductive personality, even though they met but briefly. She wonders how it is that she felt almost enslaved by him, and ponders that the hate in her heart might turn to love. At this, Simone hastily agrees to perform the deed, and will act when he hears Violanta sing the Carnival song.

Alfonso then arrives and the heart of the opera is enacted. He compliments her on her beauty but Violanta replies that she is undoubtedly not the only one that he has so praised. He asks her to sing the carnival song for him but she hesitates and tells him that if she does it will be the last song he hears. She then tells him who she is and why she has planned his death. A lengthy interaction follows during which she says that despite her feelings against him, she has fallen in love with him. He sings a lengthy monologue trying to make her understand his unhappy life and his actions, and that he loves her in turn. Violanta understands this, because she has never been happy in her marriage, and they fall into each other’s arms. He urges her to live for the moment, and with a heavy heart she sings the song. Her husband rushes in and Violanta implores him not to kill Alfonso, and she tells Simone that she has fallen for Alfonso. Understandably, Simone is enraged and moves to stab him, but the blow is misplaced and Violanta is fatally wounded. The opera ends with Simone bending over Violanta whilst she sings that her shame has been expunged and that she is once again his wife.

Well, as opera libretti go, it is no more fanciful than many others, although the conversion from visceral hatred to overwhelming love on Violanta’s part is a bit too much to believe; however, in this performance the acting of Annemarie Kremer almost managed to convince me, her facial and bodily movements were spot on, and her emotional change and subsequent commitment were well expressed via her truly opulent soprano, firm and full above the stave, as the role requires.

Norman Reinhardt takes the part of Alfonso. He arrives on a gondola and is dressed in a carnival costume that at first seems bizarre, only when at one point he refers to his singing as a raven croak, do we realise that he is dressed, in black, as a raven, with a beaked head dress to make the point. His very attractive tenor voice is, perhaps, a little light for a role that is virtually heldentenor, and although he vigorously takes the top notes with which Korngold peppers his aria, they sound a little bit strained (but only a little bit). Like Annemarie Kremer, he is a fine actor, and almost makes one believe that his love for Violanta has reformed his character.

The rather ungrateful role of the dour Simone is very well taken by Michael Kupfer-Radecky; his well produced baritone excellently illustrates the character’s rather severe personality, which moves from being rather indecisive to an awful bemusement by his wife’s change of attitude.

The minor roles are all well taken, especially that of tenor Peter Sonn as the painter. The orchestra play well under Pinchas Steinberg who leads a thoroughly committed performance. It is sung in German.

The sound is excellent and can be heard in 2 channel stereo or multichannel 5.1, and I listened to it in the former. The stage is well lit, and the photography is fully revealing of the passions of the singers. The DVD comes with a synopsis booklet in English and Italian with coloured photos of the staging. Subtitles are in English, Italian, French, German, Japanese & Korean.

As to the production, it was the first Italian performance of the piece and although Director Pier Luigi Pizzi has followed the fashionable route of transforming the setting to the present day, there is no real conflict between the modernism and the libretto.

Jim Westhead

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