Otto Nicolai: Il Templario, Opera In 3 Acts

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Booklet notes in German, English and French; Libretto in Italian, German and English.

Before Otto Nicolai wrote the major work for which he is known--The Merry Wives of Windsor--he wrote Italian operas, of which Il Templario, first shown in 1840 in Turin and given more than 70 productions over the next 40 years, was the third. This recording is a reconstruction of Il Templario from various versions--there were revisions in Italy, a German language edition, a French piano-vocal score--by the musicologist Michael Wittmann. The result is a full-blown, exciting Italian opera in the bel canto tradition (more like Bellini, Mercadante, and Meyerbeer than Rossini) that looks forward to the energetic, melody-filled works of the young Verdi.

One of the opera's great joys, however, is the Germanic orchestration; brass and winds are flavorful and the latter in particular are used to intertwine with the voices. Taken from Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, large choral pieces (there's jousting and feasting galore) dot the opera.

In brief, this finely racist drama involves the desire by the Anglo-Saxons to reclaim dominance over the conquering Normans who look down on them; meanwhile, local Jews and Moslems are simply pariahs. Cedric (bass), leader of the Anglo-Saxons, has a ward named Rowena (soprano); he wants her to marry into the English royal family, which will solidify the English dominance. But Cedric's son Vilfredo d'Ivanhoe (tenor) has fallen in love with Rowena, leading his father to disown him.

Vilfredo goes off to the Crusades; he is wounded and is taken care of by a Jewish woman named Rebecca (mezzo-soprano), who falls in love with him even though she realizes that she, as a Jew, can never be the wife of a Christian crusader. But she and her father Isaac (tenor) go to England so she can be near Vilfredo. Brian (baritone), an ambitious Knight Templar, falls in love with Rebecca--he would be willing to leave the Order for her.

All of this happens before the opera begins. The best-drawn characters are the conflicted Brian and Rebecca. In the opera's final scene, Brian drops dead immediately before a duel with Vilfredo--this is seen as a sign from God. Similarly, immediately after Rebecca confesses that she loves Vilfredo more than her God, she is struck dead. The Anglo-Saxons praise Vilfredo for his triumph over faithlessness.

We know we're in for a treat from the overture, which is as dark as the start of that for Der Freischütz and is similarly constructed. Drum rolls, an undercurrent of throbbing strings, and unexpected loud chords give way to martial music, handsome melodies, and conflict, with rousing energy at its close.

And the opera does not disappoint. A fine cavatina for Vilfredo comes soon after the opening chorus, and like all of his music, it is firmly rooted in bel canto, sitting quite high, with a showy lyricism. Tenor Stanley Jackson has all the notes but not enough true Italian style; still he's sincere and good enough throughout. Very convincing are Hans Christoph Begemann as Brian and Tiina Penttinen as Rebecca; they each have an impressive solo and join in a stunning second-act duet. Judith Kuhn is a fine Rowena and the rest of the cast is acceptable.

The Chemnitz Choir is superb; the Orchestra is good enough. Frank Beermann's leadership is firm and energetic. This is a terrific find in a far-more-than-passable performance. Highly recommended.

--Robert Levine,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777434-2

  • UPC: 761203743421

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Otto Nicolai

  • Conductor: Frank Beermann