KRENEK: Karl V.
DOVE: The Adventures of Pinocchio
Austrian born composer Ernst Krenek's music is too challenging for most audiences, minimally represented on recordings. ArkivMusic currently lists about 61 recordings of his work, but these are for the most part individual vocal and piano works. Dimitri Mitropoulos championed his music and several live recordings conducted by him exist. Many years ago Decca's Entartete Musik series included the opera Jonny spielt auf and Violin Concerto No. 1, currently available thanks to ArkivMusic. Krenek (1900-1991) studied in Berlin with Franz Schreker, and composed in varied styles, often influenced by jazz. In 1922 he met Alma Mahler's wife (Gustav had died in 1911) and she asked him to complete her husband's unfinished Symphony No. 10, which Krenek never did. However, he did marry her daughter, Anna, a marriage that lasted less than a year. In 1938 Krenek came to the United States becoming a citizen in 1945. He taught in many American universities, and his students included George Perle and Robert Erickson. He died in Palm Springs, California. Krenek wrote almost two dozen works that might be considered to be operas. The eleventh of these was Karl V. which the composer actually considered to be a "stage work with music," the life of Emperor Karl V. told in a series of flashbacks. Karl V. was the first full-length twelve-tone opera. Commissioned by the Vienna State Opera, it could not be presented by them as the composer was blacklisted by the Nazis. It wasn't until 1938 in Prague that it had its premiere. The Bregenz Festival is resurrecting interest in Krenek's music and in July 2008 presented Karl V. a production we can now experience on this fine DVD. The star is baritone Dietrich Henschel who gives a stunning performance in the title role dramatically and vocally. Henschel is one of the most versatile, respected singers of the day, having recorded Bach, Monteverdi, Mahler, Schubert and Strauss as well as Dallapiccola, Eisler and Schreker. Henschel's artistry is matched by the remainder of the cast. Being atonal, this music is incredibly difficult to sing, and Henschel is paired with a cast that is uniformly strong. The score is hypnotic and powerful—give it a chance and you will find it compelling indeed. The audience was as responsive to this atonal score as they would have been for Puccini or Wagner. This is a major release.
A much lighter side of Krenek is his 1930 satire with music. He wrote his own libretto about this story of Vienna's post-WWI rogues including Othmar Brandstettler, who attempts suicide, is rescued and then works in varied positions in an effort to win the hand of Elisabeth, which he finally does. The score was neglected until it finally had its premiere in Vienna in 1990. This performance, also recorded at the Bregenz Festival in July 2008, is staged minimally, and well sung. Audience reception is rather tepid, understandably so. The reason to own this DVD set is Karl V.
Totally different (just about anything would be!) is a new opera by Jonathan Dove, The Adventures of Pinocchio, with a clever libretto by Alasdair Middleton. This was commissioned jointly by Opera North and Sadler's Wells, and this DVD has a performance filmed February 29 and March 1, 2008 at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. Colorful sets and costumes are by Francis O'Connor with stage direction by Martin Duncan. The familiar story moves quickly, all performers are fine, particularly Victoria Simmonds in the title role, and Jonathan Summers as Geppetto. The Blu-Ray edition displays remarkable definition, and the surround sound is outstandingly effective. This is a good show, particularly for the younger set. .
Here is yet another adulatory film about Maria Callas, this one by Philippe Kohly. Via many filmed performance excerpts and photographs it covers her entire life including her early years in New York, continuing through her fantastic successes (and failures) in the operatic world. Her relationships with her husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini is rather glossed over, but considerable time is devoted to her ill-fated relationship with Aristotle Onassis, and her early demise in 1977 at the age of 53. Her attempt at a comeback via her concerts with Giuseppe di Stefano is mentioned along with an excerpt recorded at one of them. The narrator also mentions that di Stefano was her lover at the time, something I had never heard before. Other than that, there's really nothing new here, but the film is tastefully presented and probably will appeal to the Diva's admirers.
R.E.B. (December 2009)