In Review > International

Violanta

BREMERHAVEN
Stadttheater Bremerhaven
6/22/12

When Violanta — the second opera by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) — had its premiere in Munich on March 28, 1916, the composer had yet to celebrate his nineteenth birthday. This extravagant one-act work, composed in Korngold’s trademark late-Romantic style, was performed on a double bill with his comic opera Der Ring des PolykratesViolanta was soon eclipsed by Korngold’s enormously popular third opera, Die Tote Stadt, first heard in 1920, with simultaneous premieres in Cologne and Hamburg, and which arrived at the Metropolitan Opera in 1921, as a Met debut vehicle for Moravian diva Maria Jeritza, who had created the role of Marietta/Marie at the Hamburg premiere.  Jeritza’s popularity in New York was such that the Met mounted Violanta for her in 1927.  Korngold’s operas lapsed into obscurity in Europe after the Nazis banned them due to the composer’s Jewish ancestry.

Violanta eventually resurfaced in 1980, in an outstanding recording with Marek Janowski conducting the Munich Radio Orchestra and featuring Eva Marton in the title role.  In June of this year, Violanta was offered at the Stadttheater Bremerhaven in the small German seaport (seen June 22).

Director Petra Luisa Meyer eschewed the fifteenth-century Venetian setting specified by librettist Hans Müller. and opting for a modern-dress production that featured a camcorder and a doll of the titular character among its props, screen projection techniques, and a prominent hanging giant hollow cube of white confetti streamers. This unusual symbolic staging enhanced the opera’s timeless yet intensely melodramatic story of hatred, revenge, and love as penned by Müller (1882–1950), an eccentric Austrian playwright and novelist who later wrote the tedious libretto of Korngold’s masterfully melodic yet unsuccessful fourth opera, Das Wunder der Heliane (1927). But brevity is the soul of wit in this eighty-minute opera and under the baton of Stepahn Tetzlaff Korngold’s brilliant music shone gloriously throughout the performance.

The cast was right on the mark. South Korean baritone Sangmin Lee was thoroughly excellent as the jealous Simone Trovai, who at first suspects the mysterious absence of his young wife Violanta (Kirsten Blanck) during the Venice Carnivaland gleefully agrees to stab the lothario prince Alphonso (Hans-Georg Priese), whose amorous ways caused the suicide of Violanta’s sister. Blanck’s voluptuous singing exuded both innocence and passion as she attempted to resist Alphonso’s seductive melodies as Simone lay in wait for him offstage. But Violanta’s hatred turned to love in the gorgeous duet “Reine Liebe” before Simone returns and mortally wounds Violanta.  Korngold’s score reaches a Wagnerian climax as Violanta dies among a joyous flock of masked celebrators.  This rare performance of one of the composer’s most expressive works was indeed a sumptuous treat. spacer

PETER ANDRES

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