Two neglected works by Korngold and Vaccai

I sat down to listen to Nicola Vaccai’s Giulietta e Romeo and was pleasantly surprised by the melodic richness of the score. The night before my task had been to make it unscathed to the end of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Das Wunder der Heliane. I did, coming away from the three-hour listening marathon asking myself what it is that makes some operas catch on and become part of the standard repertory, and what causes others to crash and burn in their premieres with no chance of salvaging any of the wreckage.

Korngold became cursed by an overbearing father, who as a music critic for one of Vienna’s leading newspapers made more enemies than readers. The sin of the composer’s father consisted of championing his son’s work and poisoning the waters inhabited by any of his son’s fellow composers. By the time Korngold’s opera escaped Vienna and made it to Germany, the critic’s guns were cocked and aimed at the composer That is too bad for there is much to commend in Das Wunder der Heliane beyond its lush post-Strauss score.

The singers, conductor and production team in the Deutsche Oper Berlin recording, issued by NAXOS as a double DVD (2.1105584-85) are good. A strong cast of heavy-weight voices led by soprano Sara Jakubiak, tenor Brian Jagde, baritone Joseph Wagner, baritone Derek Welton, mezzo-soprano Okka von der Damerau, and tenor Burkhard Ulrich share the burden. Marc Albrecht conducts the orchestra and chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin. The set by Johannes Leiacker, the costumes by Barbara Drosihn,  and the staging by Christof Loy set the allegorical tale about love, life and death in a bleak contemporary world.

Now take Nicola Vacai’s Giulietta e Romeo. The opera was written around the time of Rossini while still in his apogee, and premiered in 1825 in Milan. A few years later another take on Shakespeare’s classic: Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuletti e I Montecchi, got a great deal more traction in Italy and abroad. A better work, Bellini’s opera eclipsed Vaccai’s less accomplished composition all but obliterating its presence in European opera houses to such an extent that it was not until our time that Vaccai’s version of the tale of the doomed lovers of Verona was revived now and then.

The Dynamic Opera Classic DVD was recorded at the 44th Festival della Valle d’Itria in the summer of 2018 and recently-released by Dynamic Opera Classic CD (37832)

The DVD sports a nice cast headed by Spanish soprano Leonor Bonilla as Giulietta and Italian mezzo-soprano Raffaella Lupinacci as Romeo. Both leads are good Bel Canto singers and both cut handsome figures in Giuseppe Patella’s neo-Romantic costumes.

Sesto Quatrini capably conducts the Orchestra Accademia Teatro all Scala and the choir of Piacenza’s Municipal Theatre.

The setting of Piacenza’s Palazzo Ducale is used to advantage in the handsome production directed by Cecilia Ligorio.

Rafael de Acha    http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

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