Classical CD Reviews

KORNGOLD: Die stumme Serenade (complete operetta) – Sarah Wegener (Silvia Lombardi)/ Birger Radde (Andrea Cocle)/ Young Opera Co./ Holst-Sinfonietta/ Klaus Simon – cpo (2 CDs)

The recorded canon is now complete. But is this a necessary acquisition?

Published on September 13, 2013

KORNGOLD: Die stumme Serenade (complete operetta) – Sarah Wegener (Silvia Lombardi)/ Birger Radde (Andrea Cocle)/ Young Opera Co./ Holst-Sinfonietta/ Klaus Simon – cpo (2 CDs)

KORNGOLD: Die stumme Serenade (complete operetta) – Sarah Wegener (Silvia Lombardi)/ Birger Radde (Andrea Cocle)/ Frank Buchwald (Benedetto Lugarini)/ Werner Klockow (Caretto)/ Anna-Lucia Leone (Louise)/ Sebastian Reich (Sam Borzalino)/ Young Opera Co./ Holst-Sinfonietta/ Klaus Simon – cpo 777-485 (2 CDs), 118:33 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:

The Silent Serenade has a tortured history, much too complex to relate here. Suffice it to say that the composer, tired of his Hollywood film sojourn in the 1940s, was trying to return to a more “serious” vein, and planned on going back to Europe. After having a libretto suggested to him by his father Julius, Korngold decided to create a work in a lighter genre in order to reintroduce himself back to Vienna and Europe. The piece is a sort of hybrid opera/ operetta/ singspiel/ revue that has a convoluted plot and some gorgeous music, albeit hanging on a thread in terms of structure. He even tried to have it converted into a Broadway musical until the Shubert Theater put so many constraints on the libretto and music and the production that the composer backed out. Then the offer came to the librettist to divorce his work from the music so that something else could be created, but nothing successful happened, and none of the alternative music even approached the quality of Korngold’s. Eventually the piece had a premiere in Europe, but by then the critics, and evidently the public, had moved on, finding the music quaint and anachronistic.

So do we need to hear it now? Yes and no. The plot tries to be seriously comical and not farcical, but in the end borders on the ridiculous, centering on the boudoir of a famous actress invaded by the protagonist’s—Silvia—admirer and dress maker. In the meanwhile we have connections with a bombing, kidnapping, a reporter, courtroom scene, and the Prime Minister. It needs simplification, and the result is something not only hard to follow, but contextually not funny as, well, though as I said, a lot of the music—surely one of Korngold’s most lyrical scores—is radiant.

Korngold’s orchestra is a small chamber, consisting of two pianos, celeste, two violins, cello, flute, clarinet/ tenor sax, and offstage trumpet, timpani, and percussion. It doesn’t sound small however, thanks to the genius of Korngold’s orchestration skills. This performance completes the recorded legacy of the composer, everything he officially published now lasered into silver disc. All of the performers are excellent, especially the Silvia of Sarah Wegener, who carries the lion’s share of the work and it’s hard to imagine a better performance. Is this a mandatory release? Not really—I find the German dialog intrusive and wordy, and think that a highlights disc focusing on the music only would have sufficed. But for the Korngold completest, Nirvana is here.

—Steven Ritter




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