Korngold: Violanta / Janowski, Marton, Jerusalem, Berry
Violanta was Korngold’s second opera, composed after the comedy "Der Ring des Polycrates" when the composer was only 17 years old. It was given a double bill premiere with Der Ring in 1916 at the Munich Court Theatre under Bruno Walter, with Maria Jeritza in the title role.
The libretto, by Viennese playwright Hans Müller, has definite echoes of verismo. The opera is set during the Renaissance, in the Venetian Republic. Simone, military commander of the Republic is married to the beautiful Violanta, who has sworn revenge against Alfonso, Prince of the Republic. Violanta’s sister, Nerina, committed suicide after being seduced by Alfonso. Violanta’s plan is to lure Alfonso from the Carnival into her quarters, then have him killed by Simone, after being promised that his marital privileges will resume once Alfonso is dead. Once Alfonso is in Violanta’s quarters, she realizes that she’s in love with him as Alfonso is with her. She hesitates to give Simone, who is hiding, the signal to come out and kill him. Simone becomes impatient and comes out, finding the lovers in embrace. As Simone is about to strike Alfonso, Violanta gets in the way, receiving the blow and dying in Simone’s arms.
Here we have a marvellous example of how the young prodigy achieved his distinctive style at this early age. The usual description given to Korngold’s music, as made of elements of Richard Strauss and Giacomo Puccini, while being for the most part only a useful pointer, applies here perfectly. However, as with all generalizations, it does not give the whole story. Yes, the combination of rich orchestration and beautiful melodies is there; but listen, for example, to the Vorspiel where the very first mysterious chord is played in arpeggio by pretty much the whole orchestra, which then transforms into the main motif, played in tutti: Pure and unmistakable Korngold.
There are other wonderful moments in the opera, including the duet between Violanta and Alfonso; a Tristan-esque affair that, in my humble opinion, has a sense of forward movement that the Bayreuth master only achieved in "Die Meistersinger".
Let’s now talk about this recording. It is, to my knowledge, the only recording of this opera. The Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra - the same one that recorded with Erich Leinsdorf the classic 1975 premiere recording of "Die Tote Stadt" - is, as in that recording, in wonderful form. The clarity and power of the brass, the richness of tone of the strings and the clarity of the woodwinds put it in the same class as the best in the world.
Marek Janowski’s pacing of the score is very appropriate. It doesn’t feel rushed at all, letting the inner drive of the music provide the impetus. This is something that I feel is critical to let Korngold’s music shine; Erich Leinsdorf in his Tote Stadt feels at times rushed. Listen instead to the Leif Segerstam recording of the same opera on Naxos; while there are many controversial points with his interpretation, his pacing sounds ideal. Janowski seems to agree in his approach to Violanta.
Walter Berry, in this recording is beginning to show a bit of strain, but, for the most part, his voice is a rich as ever. On the other hand, Eva Marton in the title role is at the height of her powers, handling the difficult role with aplomb. Siegfried Jerusalem, although an acquired taste for many, as Alfonso, has the right qualities for a role that is not very dissimilar to that of Siegmund in vocal requirements.
The recorded sound is excellent, spacious, with great balance between the singers and orchestra. This is a 1980 analogue recording; by then, the art of recording by analogue means had reached a pinnacle. It can be said that by then it was perfected. Along with this release, other releases of the late 1970s, early 1980s era, like Solti’s "Hansel und Gretel" and parts of his Mahler cycle, show how far the technology had progressed. The SPARS code for this release is ADD, indicating that re-mastering took place, although no information about it is provided.
A libretto in the original German is included, along with translations to English and French. The very useful and informative notes include a short biography of Korngold, a history and description of the opera and analytic commentary, all written by Christopher Palmer. The introduction is written by none other than Karl Böhm, reminiscing about hearing the opera for the first time and his experiences while coming in contact with the Korngolds. An introduction by Vienna State Opera executive producer Marcel Prawy is also provided.
In conclusion, a great recording of a great opera that is well worth tracking down. This is a must not only for Korngold fans, but to admirers of late-romantic German opera. By virtue of being the only recording, it is THE reference recording, but it’s hard to think that it could have trouble holding that place against possible new recordings. Still, record companies, please keep them coming!
-- Victor Martell, MusicWeb International
Catalog Number: SONY35909
Label: CBS Masterworks
Composer: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Conductor: Marek Janowski
Orchestra/Ensemble: Bavarian Radio Chorus, Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra
Performer: Eva Martón, Gertraut Stoklassa, Heinrich Weber, Horst Laubenthal, Karin Hautermann, Manfred Schmidt, Paul Hansen, Renate Freyer, Ruth Hesse, Siegfried Jerusalem, Walter Berry