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Korngold, Das Wunder der Heliane, A. Tomowa-Sintow, RSO Berlin, J. Mauceri (re-released April 10, 2007)
The historical background of the opera's creation, outlined capably in the liner notes by Brendan G. Carroll, is significant. Heliane was composed during the first two years of the composer's marriage, to a woman hated by his controlling parents. Korngold's father was a celebrated and ultra-conservative music critic in Vienna, the literal successor of Eduard Hanslick, and he attempted to use his son as a pawn in his critical tirade against atonal modernism. The libretto, Hans Müller's adaptation of a mystery play (Die Heilige) by Hans Kaltneker, could be interpreted as the struggle of Julius Korngold (the Ruler) and Erich Korngold (the Stranger) for the love of Music (Heliane). In the end, the Ruler's power is broken, and the Stranger and Heliane rise to eternal life, exalted in union. The angels that sing in chorus in the third act connect the lovers' salvation to the power of their love, a notable echo of the end of Mahler's Resurrection symphony (and the end of the Symphony of a Thousand, for that matter). Not surprisingly, Korngold dedicated the opera to his young wife.
Jessica Duchen, Erich Wolfgang Korngold
(Phaidon Press, 1996)
This recording, the only one of the opera, features generally fine solo singing from Anna Tomowa-Sintow (Heliane), Hartmut Welker (Der Herrscher), and John David de Haan (Der Fremde). La Fleming's rendition of the famous Act II aria Ich ging zu ihm -- in which Heliane testifies, during the trial ordered by the jealous Ruler, that she showed the Stranger her hair and feet and then stripped naked in his cell -- is more pleasing than Tomowa-Sintow's (this is what Fleming will sing with the NSO next month). One hopes Fleming will have the chance to sing the role on the stage soon. The score calls for a Glockenklavier (a lower relative of the celesta), only one part of a diverse and clanging battery, all of it used to greatest effect in the transcendent third act, where Korngold flirts the most with outright atonality. John Mauceri holds the large forces, well honed, together impressively. Only the women's voices of the Rundfunk Chor Berlin are occasionally too strident for their angelic role.
Jessica Duchen will surely be covering the opera's much-anticipated U.K. premiere (we already know that she will give a pre-concert lecture), with Ionarts favorite Patricia Racette and the London Philharmonic Orchestra (November 21). Vladimir Jurowski will conduct.
Decca 475 8271