Reznicek: Donna Diana
Ulrich Windfuhr, singers, Kiel Opera
cpo 999 991-2
The Performance Could be Better, But ...
... we're not likely to get a new recording any time soon. This, the most
famous of Reznicek's operas, has never been recorded before and apparently
this recording of a live performance from the Kiel Opera, with musical
forces of less than international standards, was partially underwritten
by The Reznicek Society, an organization based in Alaska(!). There has
been a freshet of Reznicek recordings lately and I've raved here at
Amazon about the recordings of two of his orchestral masterpieces, 'Der
Sieger' and 'Schlemihl,' also on the cpo label. One, of course, knows
the Overture to 'Donna Diana,' even if one doesn't know they know it.
It has figured on pops programs, has been used in commercials and was
the signature tune for the old radio program, in the US, 'Sergeant Preston
of the Yukon,' and in Germany for their equivalent of 'Name That Tune'
('Erkennen Sie die Melodie?').
Reznicek was resident in Prague in the 1894 when he wrote the opera;
he had been a military bandmaster at the time, but had just been fired
for getting into a fight with a student who made advances to his wife.
(Reznicek's life is so filled with dramatic incidents it could make
the plot of an opera in its own right.) He submitted the opera to the
impresario of the Deutsches Theater in Prague, Angelo Neumann, and it
was accepted but Neumann told him he needed to add an overture and 'make
it a lively one!' This Reznicek did that very night and it became the
one piece for which he is still remembered to this day.
'Donna Diana,' set in Spain, is based on a Spanish play, 'El desden con
el desden' ('Disdain for Disdain'), which is a version of the 'Taming
of the Shrew' story with weird echoes of the 'Turandot' story as well.
The daughter of the ruling Count of Barcelona, the haughty heroine, Donna
Diana (named, of course, for the chaste huntress of Greek mythology) is
courted by three suitors whom she rejects with disdain. The hero, Don
Cesar, by stealth and force, humbles her into loving him. This is all
accompanied by the usual comic opera hijinks. Reznicek revised the opera
in the 1930s, making considerable cuts and rewriting the libretto, setting
the whole thing in the present, with Don Cesar as a bullfighter and Don
Louis, one of Diana's suitors, as a sugar tycoon. We are given the
original version in this recording.
The opera has some wonderful arias and ensembles, including a ironic,
yet moving, choral prayer that sounds vaguely like the 'sacred' music
of Mahler (but written before his 'Resurrection' Symphony) whose text
beseeches God to 'bend Diana's stubborn mind' to Cesar's will. Musically,
Reznicek's style is all over the place--he was master pasticheur--and
we get Spanish melorhythms cheek-by-jowl with Wagnerian/Straussian
harmonies and orchestration, and occasional forays into waltzes by the
other Strauss. There are two particularly memorable arias, 'Floretta's
Song,' and 'The Fool's Song,' the latter sung by the plot's behind-the-scenes
manipulator, Don Perin. And there are a number of excellent orchestral
interludes, including preludes to Acts II and III.
The performance of the Kiel Opera Chorus and Orchestra is lively and
generally excellent, although they are some awkward asynchronies from
time to time in this live performance. The main singers are acceptable,
although the performance of Donna Diana herself by a spinto soprano,
Manuela Uhl, is sometimes harsh and more than sometimes wayward. Don
Cesar, the hero, is sung stalwartly by tenor Roman Sadnik. Floretta,
whose aria in Act II is a highlight, is sung deliciously by mezzo
Anne-Carolyn Schlueter. Don Louis is a sweet-voiced tenor, Hans-Jurgen
Schoepflin. The star of the production is the Don Perin, sung by baritone
Simon Pauly, whose 'Fool's Song' ('Die Narrenglocken klingen tagsueber
mir ins Ohr') is outstanding, as are his singing and acting as Don Cesar's
'foolish' sidekick who actually knows all. The booklet notes in German
by Edward van den Hoogen are inelegantly written, but informative; the
English translation of van den Hoogen's prose by Susan Marie Praeder
does it no service. I've complained before about her inept translations
in other cpo productions and this effort is no improvement. Sound is
excellent. Audience noise minimal.
Bottom line: Not for everyone, but for anyone curious to widen their
acquaintance of Reznicek's music, and particularly of his most famous
opera, this is the only game in town.
2CDs: TT 112 mins