Zandonai’s operas: too beautiful to ever forget

Riccardo Zandonai was once considered Puccini’s successor. He wrote about thirteen operas, of which actually only Conchita (1911), Francesca da Rimini (1914) and Giulietta e Romeo (1921) were ever really successful. Nowadays, they are seldom performed and the average opera lover gets no further than Francesca da Rimini. A pity, because his operas are a pure pleasure to listen to.

Francesca da Rimini

Paolo and Francesca da Rimini 1855 Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882 Purchased with assistance from Sir Arthur Du Cros Bt and Sir Otto Beit KCMG through the Art Fund 1916

Francesca da Polenta (1255 -1285), better known as Francesca da Rimini was a contemporary of Dante Alighieri, who “granted” her a place in his ‘ La Divina Commedia’, but in the fifth circle. Sad, because she did not deserve that and she must surely get a pardon.

The story: to seal the peace between the houses of da Polenta and Malatesta, Francesca must marry the eldest of the Malatesta brothers, Giovanni (Gianciotto). However, he is so hideous that the chances of her saying “no” are extremely high. To fool her, she is introduced to his younger brother, Paolo il Bello. Francesca immediately falls for the beautiful Paolo and
he too feels an all-consuming love at first sight.

The reality is gruesome: Francesca wakes up as Gianciotto’s wife. And to complicate matters further, the youngest of the Malatesta brothers, Maletestino the one-eyed, also falls in love with her.

Francesca rejects him, after which he swears revenge. He does not have  to wait long: he discovers that Francesca and Paolo are lovers, reveals this to Gianciotto, after which both lovers are killed.

Romance at its finest, no wonder it was an inspiration for many a painter and tone poet, but literature was not left behind either. Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863 – 1938) wrote a beautiful play about it (a fun fact: the leading role was played by none other than Eleonore Duse, perhaps the greatest Italian actress ever), which was adapted for an opera by Riccardo Zandonai in 1914.

Zandonai was a pupil of Mascagni and a true verismo adept, but at the same time he was also a Wagnerian. He was also a great admirer of Debussy and Strauss, and you can hear all this in his music. The opera is sultry, sensual, but also extraordinarily lyrical.

The leading role requires not only a big, dramatic voice with plenty of lyricism (I call Francesca Isolde’s little sister), but also the ability to shape the needed all-consuming passion. The greatest Francesca’s were therefore the singers who dared to go beyond “just” singing: Magda Olivero, Raina Kabaivanska, Renata Scotto and Nelly Miriciou.

On 31 January 2011 Francesca da Rimini was performed for the first time in Paris, at the Opéra Bastille. The superb cast led by Svetla Vassileva and Roberto Alagna certainly lived up to the high expectations. Director Giancarlo del Monaco, though, had to put up with a deluge of boos.

Ontmoetingscène van Francesca (Svetla Vassileva) en Paolo (Roberto Alagna). Foto: Mirco Maglioca/Opéra National de Paris

Whether Svetla Vassileva achieves real greatness only time will tell, but at the premiere she was certainly impressive. A beautiful, slender lady with a traditionally lyrical voice with which she could reach all corners even in that immense opera house.

Roberto Alagna was a near-perfect Paolo. He has an ideal timbre for the role and as his voice has grown considerably over the years, he knows how to handle the fiercest passages. In the more lyrical moments I found him less convincing and at times he sounded downright tired, especially in the high notes. Not all notes were pure either, and at times he
seemed to overhype himself. Still, he was unquestionably credible.

George Gagnidze (Gianciottto) disappointed me. His voice is undeniably big and impressive, but woolly. And I found little substance in what he sang.

William Joyner, on the other hand, was a Malatestino out of thousands. Often the role is played by a good ‘comprimiario’, well – here a would-be great was in the starting blocks!

Beautiful also was Samaritana (Louise Callinan) and the small role of Smaragdi was beautifully performed by Cornelia Onciuiu.

Giancarlo del Monaco’s direction was actually exactly what you could expect: realistic through and through, which in itself has nothing wrong with it at all. But in his attempt to recreate d’Annunzio’s world, he created a mishmash of the Middle Ages and Art Deco.

Kamer in  ‘Il Vittoriale degli Italiani’, villa van d’Annunzio. Foto courtasy Italy Magazine

The Malatesta’s palace was a literal recreation of “Il Vittoriale degli Italiani”, the poet’s last residence, and the effigy of his bald head “adorned” the front screen.

The ladies wore dresses that seemed straight out of the paintings of Klimmt or the Pre-Raphaelites and the gentlemen were wearing something of a uniform. Except Paolo, that is. In accordance with the surviving paintings, he wore a long blue robe and he went into the battles with bow and arrow.

What I also (or perhaps most?) blame the director for is that he borrowed” from his colleague Piero Faggioni; he made a weak copy really. Poor del Monaco was met with a huge “boo” shout, so that even the walls of La Bastille were shaking. He took it very well. He knelt,raised   hands to heaven and threw kissing hands to the audience. Cute.

The production is on You Tube:

And no one should miss Francesca da Rimini from the MET, with Renata Svotto and Plácido Domingo. When music says more then thousands words:

Giulietta e Romeo

The only complete recording of Giulietta e Romeo (GOP 66352) known to me was made in 1955 in Milan. The leading roles were sung by Annamaria Rovere, a fine soprano with a voice typical for the time, and Angelo Lo Forese, who I find slightly irritating. Because of the opera itself, but also because of the phenomenal Renato Capecchi as Tebaldo, an absolute must for any opera lover.

An aria from the opera is also on Jonas Kaufmann’s ‘Verismo’  CD:

IL Bacio

Il Bacio (GOP 66351) had its very first performance in 1954 in Milan (Zandonai had died in 1944, leaving the opera unfinished). Fortunately for us, the performance was recorded by RAI and put on CD. The publisher apologises for the absence of the libretto, but there is no synopsis either, so one can only guess at the opera’s content. No problem, the music is captivating enough, and it is beautifully sung by, among others, Lina Pagliughi in the role of Mirta.

Recovered Voices: A Lost Generation’s Long-Fortgotten Masterpieces

Like no other renowned conductor, James Conlon has been an ardent advocate of the ‘Entartet composers’ for years. In his Cologne years (between 1989 and 2002 he was chief conductor of the Gürzenich-Orchester and artistic director of the opera) he performed and recorded almost all of Zemlinski’s orchestral and vocal works. I cherish his recordings on EMI (unfortunately most of them are no longer on the market) as the greatest treasures, which they probably are.

James Conlon

In 2006, Conlon was appointed musical director of the Los Angeles opera and one of his first projects was a series of ‘Recovered Voices: A Lost Generation’s Long-Fortgotten Masterpieces.

The series started in 2008 with a double-bill of Ullmann’s Der zerbrochene Krug and Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg. (Arthaus Music 101 528)


Victor Ullmann

Der Zerbrochene Krug (1941/1942) was the last work Ullmann composed before being deported to Theresienstadt. In October 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz and gassed two days after his arrival, The libretto (written by Ullmann himself), a delightful Commedia dell’arte, is based on an 1808 classic by von Kleist.

It was the first time I saw the opera and I fell for it immediately. The music is wonderful: jazzy, occasionally atonal, but with lovely waltzes. Basically a bit of everything. Eclectic? Sure, but since when is that a dirty word?

The production stole my heart. That already happened with the overture: while maestro Conlon whips up the orchestra to unprecedented heights (can you also play comically?), we also get a performance of a ballet pantomime (choreography: Peggy Hickey), which “tells” us what happened beforehand.

The images, the shadows, the light, the choreography – everything makes that you can’t help but smile.

The highly erotically charged story is about a man who, during a night-time visit to Eve, has broken a cherished jug belonging to her mother, Frau Marthe Rull. The woman seeks justice for this from Judge Adam, but in the end it turns out that the judge himself was the perpetrator.

Set in a small village (Heisum) in Holland, it produces delightfully recognisable images. Anton Pieck, Delft Blue, Frau Antje, windmills, clogs – it is all there! And it is so beautiful! The lighting technician (David Weiner) really deserves an Oscar award.

Melody Moore (Eve) is a true discovery. With her pliant, lyrical, sparkling soprano, she manages to express the conflicting feelings of innocence and vice, flirtation and genuine love in an inimitable way. At times, she reminded me of the young Lucia Popp.

Her mother is in a enchantingly exaggerated way sung by Elisabeth Bishop and Richard Cox is excellent as her fiancé Ruppert.

But everything and everyone pales in comparison to James Johnson, who sings judge Adam. What a voice! Such diction! And what a performance! What he does with the role borders on the impossible. This is what makes a person happy.Victor Ullmann

Der Zerbrochene Krug from Los Angeles:

Der Zerbrochene Krug on cd., with a.o. Michelle Breed tand Claudia Barainsky.
Gerd Albrecht conducts:


The idea of composing an opera about an ugly man who is in love with a beauty has haunted Zemlinsky all his life, and that’s how he ended up with Oscar Wilde and his The Birthday of the Infanta

.Costume design for ‘Der Zwerg’ by August Haag, Cologne 1922.

On her eighteenth birthday Donna Clara receives a remarkable gift: a dwarf, who is also hideously ugly. A delightful toy for the infante, especially since the dwarf does not know he is ugly himself – he has never seen his own reflection… Donna Clara makes him fall in love with her and makes him think that she loves him too, after which she puts him in front of mirrors. He doesn’t survive, but that doesn’t interest the spoiled princess.

A delightful toy for the infante, especially since the dwarf does not know he is ugly himself – he has never seen his own reflection… Donna Clara makes him fall in love with her and makes him think that she loves him too, after which she puts him in front of mirrors. He doesn’t survive, but that doesn’t interest the spoiled princess.

Diego Velázques: Las Meninas

The very traditional and naturalistic setting is exceptionally beautiful and the costumes are dazzling. You really think you’re at the Spanish court. The whole thing looks like a painting of Velazques, breathtaking.

The execution is also breathtaking. James Johnson sings and acts an excellent Don Esteban. Mary Dunleavy has everything it takes to perform the conceited infante: she is beautiful and capricious. Her voice is silvery and childishly light. As an actress she also knows how to convince.

Rodrick Dixon sings the leading role here in an inimitable way. The only singer I ever liked better in this part was Douglas Nasrawi, whom I heard singing it during a Saturday Matinee at the Concertgebouw.

James Conlon:

“The music of Alexander Zemlinsky and Viktor Ullmann remained hidden for decades by the aftermath of the destruction wrought by the policies of the Nazi regime […]. Full recognition of their works and talent is still lacking, more than 65 years after their deaths […].
Their lives and personal histories were tragic, but their music transcends it all. It is up to us to appreciate their story in its full historical and artistic context.

For Massenet on his birthday: a small survey of some of his operas

Jules Massenet was the most prolific and, artistically as well as commercially, also the most successful French opera composer between 1870/71 and World War I, the belle Epoque of the Third French Republic. He is best known for his operas, of which he wrote more than thirty. The two most frequently staged are Manon and Werther



Jules Massenet’s Manon has, since its now legendary performance starring Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon (Berlin, April 2007), become a real hype. Anyone who had ever seen the performance could sincerely ask, like Verdi’s Ford (‘Falstaff’): ‘e sogno o realta’?

It was a reality that turned out to be a dream after all, as Netrebko found a new love, leaving Villazon with heart and voice problems. It was also not entirely clear until the last day of rehearsals whether he would sing the, scheduled for June 2007, performances of Manon in Barcelona.

He did come, and although he sang below his usual level, he managed to completely convince everyone with his acting and (sometimes a little too) intense commitment. His Manon is brilliantly portrayed by a spectacularly singing and acting, Lulu-like, Natalie Dessay.

Manuel Lanza is a fine Lescaut, but for Samuel Ramey, a singer I greatly admire, Comte des Grieux unfortunately comes too late in his career.

The mise-en-scène and character direction by David McVicar, for me still really one of the best contemporary directors, were more than excellent. The costumes were beautiful to behold and the (traditional) staging was often really surprising, all the more so as McVicar managed to give it a contemporary twist from time to time.

As a bonus, you do get a ‘peek inside’. Through a truly fascinating documentary, you can follow the stars during their rehearsals with McVicar.


In 1902, ten years after the premiere, Massenet produced a new version of his Werther, this at the request of Italian baritone Mattia Battistini, who was eager to sing the lead role. Massenet did not change the key, but rewrote the vocal lines of Werther’s music, making the arias, ‘Pourquoi me réveiller’ included, barely recognisable.

The “baritone version” of the opera was and remains an oddity; no original manuscript of the score even exists. In recent times, with its penchant for ever new challenges, there was also an increased interest in alternative versions of well-known operas. The baritones, tired of singing the villains, are rediscovering the repertoire, in which they can release all their lyrical melancholy.

Thomas Hampson has always been an explorer of lesser-known paths and he first performed the role of Werther back in 1989. In 2004, he sang a concert performance of it at the Paris Chatelet, and that performance has been released by Virgin on two DVDs. He does an excellent job, but the manic-depressive is a bit off.

His Charlotte is sublimely sung by Susan Graham, who also performed the role in Amsterdam some years ago, where she moved the audience and press to tears. Michel Plasson has all the drama at his fingertips as you can hear.

“Pourquoi me réveiller” by three tenors

Alain Vanzo :

Sergei Lemeshev in Russian:

Jonas Kaufmann:

Piotr Beczala:



Who does not know ‘Méditation’, the sentimentally sweet but oh-so-beautiful piece of violin music? Most often it will make you cry.

Méditation in Josef Hassid’s performance:

However, not many people have ever heard, let alone seen, the opera in which this piece acts as a kind of interlude in the second act.

Recordings of the complete work are still scarce, I only know of three myself (with Anna Moffo, Beverly Sills and Renée Fleming), of which the one with Sills, Sherrill Milnes and Nicolai Gedda (Warner 0190295869069) is dearest to me.

Below Beverly Sills and Sherrill Milnes in the final scene of the opera:

DVD from La Fenice

Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production from La Fenice had previously been released on CD and I found it particularly strong musically and mainly vocally. I was therefore particularly curious as to whether the visuals added anything to it on Dynamic’s DVD. To which I can now say a resounding “yes”.

The sets are sparse, yet the stage seems to be completely full of them. Because of the colours (with very predominant red) perhaps, but also because of the dominant place they occupy on stage. For instance, Thaïs’ rose-covered bed, on which she – as if she were the Venus of Urbino or one of the versions of Danaë, also by Titian – lies very voluptuously. This bed is very prominently in the centre of the stage.

In the third act, when the fun life has ended and the penance begins, the roses are nowhere to be seen (a bed of thorns?) and her posture is as chaste as her white robe.

The costumes are a story apart: very opulent, oriental and barely concealing. Eva Mei doesn’t go as far as her colleague Carol Neblett, who went completely out of her clothes in New Orleans in 1973, but her see-through little nothing of a dress, from which her breasts keep escaping almost unnoticed, leaves nothing to the imagination.

Perhaps she was inspired by the very first Thaïs, Sybil Sanderson, whose breasts were also ‘accidentally’ visible during the premiere performance in 1894? Then again, it is all about the greatest (and most beautiful) courtesan in Alexandria!

Eva Mei is very virtuoso and very convincing as Thaïs . So is Michele Pertusi as Athanael. There is a lot of ballet, though. Also where it really shouldn’t be, which is very distracting at times.

Thaïs from Toronto: unearthly beautiful orchestral playing

Recordings of Thaïs are still scarce so any new releases are more than welcome. Especially if the performance is good, and this new recording on Chandos most certainly is. At least: to some extent.

The Toronto orchestra sounds so incredibly beautiful that you cannot help falling in love with it. Sir Andrew Davis truly extracts the impossible from his musicians: I have not heard the score performed so beautifully before. The pianissimi, the way they manage the quiet passages to perfection, the subcutaneous tension. Hats off! Hats off also to the violinist who manages to add new layers to the ‘Meditation’. So beautiful!

Unfortunately, the singers lag a bit behind. Erin Wall is a beautiful soprano with a crystal-clear voice, but a ‘Whore of Babylon’? More like a rather childishly naive girl.

Joshua Hopkins has the right voice for Athanael but he goes the wrong way when it comes to ‘earthly desires’. Andrew Staples is a good Nicias but he too fails to fully convince me.


A fairy tale has its own rules. Much is interchangeable, but what must never be compromised is the “happy ending”. So: the ugly duckling becomes a beautiful swan and Cinderella becomes a princess. All evil spirits are punished and we can sleep peacefully.

Sometimes I pray to those I don’t really believe in: give us back our fairy tales, because these days everything has to be totally true to nature and as realistic as possible. Fortunately, my prayers are sometimes heard and so it came to pass that I was able to enjoy an old-fashioned evening; with my cat on my lap and Cinderella on my screen.

Laurent Pelly is undoubtedly one of the best contemporary directors: he puts a modern spin on everything he does, but he stays true to the libretto and the music. In the process, his staging is extraordinarily witty. As is the delightful Cendrillon, recorded at London’s Royal Opera House in 2011.

I no longer need to recommend Joyce DiDonato (Cendrillon) to anyone – she is easily the greatest ‘zwischenfach singer’ of our time. Ewa Podleś is a more than delightful stepmother and Alice Coote the most charming ‘Prince Charmant’. And to this you may add the truly idiomatic conductor (Bertrand de Billy)….
Life really can be beautiful sometimes

Trailer of the productie


Richard Strauss composed his world hit Salome to a play by Oscar Wilde; and the latter drew his inspiration from a short story by Flaubert, ‘Herodias’. Paul Milliet and Henri Grémont also based their libretto for Massenet’s opera Herodiade on this story. Neither Wilde nor Milliet and Grémont were very faithful to Flaubert. Whereas the French novelist more or less limited himself to the biblical narrative, enriched with his poetic language and descriptions, the playwright and librettists added entirely new aspects and twists to the story.

Hérodiade was first performed in the Royal Theatre of Brussels on 19 December 1881. Anyone expecting animal eroticism, blood and sweat, as with Richard Strauss, will be disappointed. Massenet’s Salome is a truly innocent and devout girl. When her mother left her to marry Hérode, she was given shelter by Jean (John the Baptist), with whom she fell in love. A love that proved to be mutual.

No opera is complete without complications: Hérode has a crush on Salome, Hérodiade becomes jealous of her and Jean is beheaded. Salome sees Hérodiade as the instigator of all evil and wants to kill her. Hérodiade whispers “I am your mother” and Salome commits suicide.

The music already exudes a hint of the perfume of Massenet’s later works, but with all those choruses, exotic Oriental scenes and elaborate ballet scenes, it is nothing less than a real Grand Opera in the best Meyerbeer tradition.

One of the earliest recorded fragments of the opera is, I think, the famous aria of Hérode ‘Vision Fusitive’ by the French baritone Maurice Renaud, made in 1908:

And from the recording Georges Thill made in 1927, we know what an ideal Jean should sound like:

Regine Crespin 1963

If you are in possession of this performance, you need look no further. It doesn’t get any better than this. There is only one problem: this recording does not exist. At least not of the complete opera.

In 1963, EMI recorded the highlights of Hérodiade with the best French singers of the time (and of today, for that matter) and the answer to the “why not complete ????” will probably never be given.

Georges Prêtre conducts the orchestra of the Theater National de Paris as if his life depends upon it and every role is more than excellently cast.

Regine Crespin sings ‘Il est doux, il est bon’:

Regine Crespin’s Salomé is unequalled and so is Rita Gorr’s Hérodiade. Albert Lance (Jean) shows how that role should really be sung in the tradition of Georges Thill, and for Michel Dens as Hérode we really cannot find the right words. Such singers no longer exist.

Hopefully, Warner will one day release the recording on CD.

Montserrat Caballé (Barcelona 1984)

 This recording also may only be obtained via a pirate (or You Tube), but then it is complete and moreover with (admittedly bad) images!

Dunja Vejzovic portrays a deliciously mean Hérodiade and Juan Pons is a somewhat youthful but otherwise fine Hérode. A few years later, he will become one of the best “Hérodes” and you can already hear and see that in this recording.

Montserrat Caballé is a fantastic Salomé, the voice alone makes you believe you are in heaven and José Carreras is very moving as a charismatic Jean.

Below, Carreras sings ‘Ne pouvant réprimer les élans’:

None of the protagonists is really idiomatic, but what a pleasure it is to watch a real Diva (and Divo)! They really don’t make them like that any more

The whole opera on you tube:

Reneée Fleming 1994

In the mid-1990s, Herodiade enjoyed a short-lived revival. The opera was then performed in several opera houses and it was even recorded – officially – three times: once in the studio and twice live.

I must admit that I was a bit concerned about Gergiev as the director, but he really did an excellent job. Under his baton the opera sounds like a real Grand Opéra, grand, fiery and compelling.

Plácido Domingo (Jean) is perhaps a touch too heroic, but his voice sounds youthful and contageous, worthy of a true prophet.

Personally, I find Dolora Zajick (Hérodiade) a bit on the (too) heavy side, but her singing is undeniably excellent and there is nothing wrong with her interpretation.

Juan Pons is an excellent Hérode, but I would have liked Phanuel (Kenneth Cox) to be a bit more idiomatic. Something that also applies to the Salomé of Renée Fleming: she sings beautifully but in this role she can not totally convince me.

Nancy Gustafson 1995

The performance in Vienna was highly praised, and that this praise was justified is proved by the recording made live in the house by ORF.

First of all, there is Agnes Baltsa’s brilliant title role: fierce and dramatic. If you ask me: apart from Rita Gorr probably the best Hérodiade ever.

Placido Domingo sings ‘Ne pouvant réprimer les élans’:

Domingo, in the role of Jean, is even more impressive here than on Sony and also Juan Pons (Hérode) actually convinces me yet more on this recording. His rendition of ‘Vision Fugitive’ is very, very moving. Unfortunately, Nancy Gustafson (Salomé) must acknowledge the superiority of Fleming (Sony), but both pale in comparison to Cheryl Studer (Warner). Not to mention Regine Crespin!

Judging by the photos in the text booklet and the sparse clips on YouTube, we should be glad that the recording appeared on CD and not on DVD.

Finale of the opera:

In any case, the sound is excellent and the Vienna Opera orchestra under the direction of Marcello Viotti plays with great passion.

Cheryl Studer 1995

Orchestrally, this recording is really top-notch. Michel Plasson conducts the orchestra from Toulouse very energetically, with a lot of verve and drive, and he also knows how to allow space for all the subtleties. Exciting and beautiful. That is how I like to hear opera.

José van Dam is an impressive Phanuel and Nadine Denize an excellent Hérodiade., although her intonation is not always pure.

Hérode is not really a role for Thomas Hampson, but he sings it very beautifully. Something that unfortunately cannot be said of Ben Heppner’s Jean. A heroic tenor in that role is nothing but a terrible mistake.

Cheryl Studer, on the other hand, is a Salomé of everyone’s dreams: girlish, innocent and naive. Her voice shines and sways and her final words “Ah! Darned Queen, if it is true that your cursed loins have given birth to me, look! Take back your blood and my life!” leave you shuddering and desperately weeping. Brava.

NTR ZaterdagMatinee presenteert seizoen 2023/24

De ZaterdagMatinee is een begrip, een feest voor iedereen die van muziek houdt. Rots in de branding in de zo uitgeholde muziekleven in Nederland. Voor elk wat wils: opera, oude muziek, hedendaags muziek met een keur aan opdrachten en premières, Bijzondere concerten, de beste zangers en het schitterende RFO die door de beste dirigenten mag geleid worden

Bladerend door de brochure van het nieuwe seizoen wordt ik melancholisch. Het is nog steeds het seizoen van Kees Vlaardingenbroek, maar wat komt er na? Ik houd mijn hart vast en met weemoed denk ik aan al die zaterdagen die ik, jaar in, jaar uit in het Concertgebouw heb doorgebracht.

Ik ga even stilstaan bij de concerten met de werken, componisten en/of uitvoerenden die mij lief zijn of waar ik nieuwsgierig naar ben en zelf heel graag zou willen bijwonen. Ik snap wel dat niet iedereen zal blij zijn met mijn keuze want allemaal hebben we zo onze voorkeuren. Dat begrijp ik. Beschouw het maar als een selectieve en zeer subjectieve keuze van Basia Jaworski.


9 september

Il Pirata van Bellini. Heerlijke opera die nog steeds de erkenning niet krijgt di hij verdient. De bezetting is om te likkebaarden: Michael Spyers, Albina Shagimaturova en Franco Vassallo.

3 februari 202

Eindelijk, eindelijk! Le Rois D’ys van Lalo! Waarom we het nooit eerder hier hebben gehoord? Retorische vraag, denk ik
Judith van Wanroij zingt de rol Rozenn

23 maart 2024

De zaak Makropulos van Janacek. Karina Cenellakis dirigeert en als Jaroslav Prus  horen we niemand minder dan Bo Skovhus, Sally Matthews zingt de 300-jarige diva en ook ons eigen Arnold Bezuyen doet weer eens mee. Het werd tijd!



Hier had ik altijd naar uitgekeken. En nog steeds…. Buitengewoon spannend, want ik wil de nieuwe werken van de (niet noodzakelijk) nieuwe componisten ontdekken. Mits… No ja, je doet mij geen plezier met Ten Holte of Stcokhausen. Maar die komen gelukkig de Matinee niet in.

Dit seizen ligt de nadruk op twee componisten:

György Ligeti, omdat hij honderd jaar geleden werd geboren



En de Koreaanse Unsuk Chin van wie ik nog nooit een noot heb gehoord en die nu in het zonnetje wordt gezet door de programmeur van de Matinee.

Unsuk Chin © Klaus Rudolph

Unsuk Chin: Graffiti

Met, als aanvulling, of beter gezegd een verrijking: werken van George Benjamin op 16 september

George Benjamin – At first light

Thomas van Dun (jaargang 1995) op op 28 oktober.

Composities van van Dun zijn hier te bekijken en te beluisteren:

Hirs, Poppe en Langgaard/Abramsen op 16 december.

En als kers op de taart op 1 juni Chins opera Älice in Wonderland

Waar ik verder naar uit kijk:

21 oktober staat in de teken van Poulenc, met – eindelijk, eindelijk zijn Stabat Mater! Stéphane Denève, de nieuwe vaste gastdirigent van het RFO heeft de leiding

Op 17 februari zingt Chen Reiss liederen van Strauss, begeleid door het RSO olv Lahav Shani, die ook de Zesde Mahler voor zijn rekening neemt

Chen Reiss:

20 april dirigeert Stéphane Denève werken van Rijnvos, Roussel en Ravel

Bacchus et Ariane onder Denève

En, en dat lijkt mij echt heerlijk: op 27 april krijgen we première van Viaggio Italiano van Willem Jeths en Petite Messe Solennelle van Rossini. Met meer dan uitstekende (veelal) Nederlandse  solisten!

Rossini’s ‘Petite messe solennelle’ door het Groot Omroepkoor:

Vervolgde Nederlandse componisten in de Tweede Wereldoorlog

Mijn referentiekader

Shoa, Holocaust, de hel… Razzia’s, dorgangs kampen, “model” kampen, concentratie kampen,  vernietiging lagers…. Nergens in Europa werden – procentueel – zo veel Joden weggevoerd en vermoord als vanuit Nederland. Hoe dat kwam laat ik aan de historici en onderzoekers over. Ik wil nu even stilstaan bij degenen die het muziekleven – en meer – alleen in Nederland (maar ook buiten de grenzen) konden bepalen, veranderen, verrijken en die vernietigd werden als waren ze het ongedierte en daarna gewoon ”vergeten”. En van wie we nog steeds (te) weinig horen. Ook van degenen die de hel hebben overleefd.

Hoe en met wie zal ik beginnen? Met de jongste? De meest bekende? De vrouwelijke? Dilemma. Ook, omdat ik nog steeds niet alle namen paraat heb, en niet alles heb gehoord. Dan maar door elkaar, ook omdat ze zo van elkaar verschilden en zo de Nederlandse muziek (en de kunst)wereld bepaalden.

Dick Kattenburg

Vierentwintig is hij geworden. Vierentwintig. Meer mocht het niet van de nazi’s. Wie weet, wat hij nog meer in zijn mars had? Welke opera’s hadden we van hem kunnen verwachten? Wie weet was hij nu Wagner voorbijgestreefd, de componist die het niet zo op Joden op had? Maar misschien was hij een totaal andere richting opgegaan en werd hij een jazz gigant?
We zullen het nooit weten, want hij is maar vierentwintig geworden en toen de oorlog uitbrak was hij nog geen twintig. Wel had hij al naam gemaakt als violist. Maar ook als componist, want componeren was iets wat hij altijd deed. Ook tijdens zijn onderduik.

Ooit wilde hij ook een muziekleraar worden, wat blijkt uit een advertentie in Het Joodsche Weekblad (een uitgave van de Joodsche Raad) van 7 september 1941, waarin hij zich aanbood als leraar muziektheorie en vioolpedagoog. Nog maar kort daarvoor had hij bij Willem Pijper het staatsexamen in de vakken theorie en viool met succes afgelegd, waardoor hij zich ook als leraar kon vestigen, met als standplaats Naarden, waar hij inwoonde bij zijn moeder, zijn jongere broer, zijn zus en haar echtgenoot.

Kattenburg heeft nooit zijn Joodse achtergrond verloochend. Hij heeft een groot aantal Hebreeuwse melodieën gearrangeerd, verschenen in zijn manuscripten in het Hebreeuws gestelde titels en maakte hij gebruik van de datering overeenkomstig de joodse kalender. In 1942 kwam in zijn manuscripten zelfs symbolisch de Davidsster voor

Niet zo lang geleden is er cd uitgekomen met Kattenburgs “all that jazz’, iets wat we te danken hebben aan een Duits piano duo, Friederike Haufe en Volker Ahmels.

De ‘Ouverture voor twee piano’s’ uit 1936 is het enige werk dat Kattenburg schreef voor tweepiano’s . Hij was toen 17. Uit dezelfde periode stamt ook  ‘Tap dance’ waar ook echt een tapdanser aan te pas moest komen.

Kattenburg maakt zelfs een zeer geslaagde tekening van de tapdanser in het manuscript. Deze rol is Tonio Geugelin werkelijk perfect aangemeten.

Van zijn Trio à cordes beleefde zijn wereldpremière op de waanzinnig goede cd van Het Haags Strijktrio. Het werk duurt maar vijf minuten maar wat een vijf minuten!

Maar ook de uitvoering door het Black Oak Ensemble is gewoon subliem.

Kattenburgs jazzy ‘Novolette’ is als koren op de molen in de handen van Marcel Worms. Worms speelt alsof zijn leven er van afhangt. Vol overtuiging en een echt pianistiek elan.

De altvioolsonate van Dick Kattenburg bestaat uit maar één deel, allegro moderato. De reden is simpel: vóór Kattenburg het werk kon voltooien werd hij tijdens een razzia in een bioscoop opgepakt en op 5 mei 1944 naar Westerbork gestuurd. Op 14 mei 1944 werd hij op transport naar Auschwitz gesteld. Een op 30 september 1944 gedateerde overlijdensakte vermeldt dat hij in Midden-Europa is gestorven. Daar werd hij tussen 22 mei en 30 september vermoord

Max Vredenburg

Max Vredenburg (1904 -1976) is tegenwoordig voornamelijk bekend als medeoprichter van het Nationale Jeugd Orkest. In de jaren twintig vertrok hij naar Parijs waar hij met o.a. Paul Dukas en Albert Roussel studeerde, componisten die hem zeer hebben beïnvloed.

 In 1941 vluchtte hij naar Batavia en in 1942 belandde hij in de Jappenkamp. Hij heeft de oorlog overleefd maar een groot deel van zijn familie werd vermoord in Sobibor en Auschwitz. Het Lamento componeerde hij in 1953 ter nagedachtenis van zijn zus Elsa.

Marcel Worms houdt zich een beetje schuil, zijn IJslandse collega alle eer gunnend om te brilleren. Maar ga maar goed luisteren en ervaar hoe ontzettend meevoelend zijn bijdrage is. Zoiets heet ‘partners in crime’, denk ik. Beter kan ik het niet omschrijven.

Leo Kok

© Leo Smit Stichting

Kok verloor zijn beide ouders toen hij nog maar een kind was en werd grootgebracht door zijn oma. Hij speelde piano, componeerde en … voetbalde, alle drie als een prof.

Hij zat in het verzet en overleefde de hel van Buchenwald. Na de oorlog vestigde hij zich in Ascona, waar hij een klein antiquariaat dreef.

Wat kan ik u nog meer vertellen? Dat zijn stijl eigenlijk geen stijl is, want hij was van alle markten thuis?  Dat de prachtige “Mémoires” uit 1935 onder de handen van Marcel Worms je aan een aquarel of een penseeltekening doen denken en dat de ‘Trois Danses Exotiques’ het bloed in je aderen sneller doen stromen?

Marcel Worms speelt  ‘Vite, Trés Rythmée ‘

Irene Maessen is een zeer overtuigende pleitbezorgster van zijn liederen, al had ik persoonlijk wat meer expressie willen horen. Ursula Koch (viool) mist een beetje dat “smachtende”, maar is zeer ontroerend in de twee werkjes uit het “Enfence -cyclus”

‘Twee Nederlandse Gedichten’  door Irene Maessen en Marcel Worms

Alleen al het prachtige boekwerk met veel foto’s, muziekfragmenten, facsimile’s van de partituren, affiches en de begeleidende tekst in vier talen verdient meer dan lof.

Johnny & Jones

Artiestenfoto Johnny and Jones. Foto: PR © Achterhoek Nieuws b.v

In het echt heetten zij Nol van Wesel en Max Kannewasser. Max had een gitaar en Nol een goede stem en allebei hielden zij van jazz. Vóór ze ontdekt werden  – tijdens een personeelsfeestje in 1934 – werkten ze voor de Bijenkorf. Twee jaar later traden zij voor het eerst professioneel op en gaven ze definitief hun banen op. Nol (Johnny) was toen 18 en Max (Jones) 20 jaar oud.

Johnny & Jones waren de eerste echte Nederlandse tieneridolen, ze werden dan ook door hun achterban op handen gedragen. Zij traden in de beste clubs op, ook in het buitenland.

Johnny and Jones in de Dierentuin Antwerpen, fotograaf onbekend, 1932

Hun laatste optreden dateert van 24 augustus 1941. Op 9 oktober 1943 werden ze naar Westerbork gedeporteerd, waar zij bleven optreden. In augustus 1944, tijdens een kort uitstapje naar Amsterdam hebben ze een zestal nummers – allen geschreven in kamp Westerbork – voor de plaat opgenomen. Toen werd hen een onderduikadres aangeboden, maar zij weigerden. In het kamp waren hun families achtergebleven bovendien waren zij immers Johnny &Jones?! 

Van Wesel en Kannewasser tijdens sloopwerkzaamheden in Kamp Westerbrk, tekening van Leo Kok uit 1944

In 2001 werd hun grootste hit ‘Meneer Dinges weet niet wat swing is’ samen met nog een paar van hun populairste nummers op cd gezet (Two kids and a guitar Panachord DH 2051)

en enkele maanden later kwam een tweede cd uit met nooit eerder uitgebrachte materiaal, waaronder ook liedjes, die zij op een huwelijksfeest in maart 1942 zongen alsook de verloren gewaande opnamen van die bewuste dag in 1944 (Maak het donker in het donker NJA 0101)

Daar zit ook de Westerbork Serenade bij, een loflied op het kamp. Werden zij ertoe gedwongen? Niemand zal het ooit weten.

Pál (Paul)  Hermann

De exacte datum en de plaats van zijn dood zullen voor altijd onbekend blijven. Het laatste wat we van Paul Hermann (1902 – 1944) hebben vernomen is dat hij opgepakt werd tijdens een grote straatrazzia in Toulouse in april 1944 en via het doorgangskamp Drancy overgebracht werd naar Auschwitz en verder naar Litouwen. Sindsdien werd er niets meer van hem vernomen.

Hermann werd geboren in Boedapest, waar hij aan de Franz Liszt Academie studeerde bij o.a. Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály en Léo Weiner. Tijdens een optreden in Nederland maakte hij kennis met de Nederlandse Ada Weevers met wie hij trouwde en met wie hij tot 1933 in Berlijn woonde.

Hermann met vrouw en kind

Toen Hitler aan de macht kwam, vestigde het gezin zich in Oudorp in Nederland (leuk weetje: Hermann sprak en schreef voortreffelijk Nederlands). Na de tragische dood van zijn vrouw verhuisde Hermann eerst naar Brussel en later naar Parijs.

Hermann was voornamelijk beroemd als cellist (hij werd de ‘Hongaarse Casals’ genoemd), zo speelde hij de wereldpremière van solocellosonate van Kodaly en eind jaren dertig trad hij vaak op in het Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; maar hij was ook een begenadigd componist. Na de oorlog raakte hij – net als zovele van zijn lotgenoten – in de vergetelheid.

Zijn Grand Duo uit 1930, oorspronkelijk gecomponeerd voor en uitgevoerd met Zoltan Szekely, krijgt nu een uitstekende vertolking van Burkhard Maiss en Bogdan Jianu. Wat een ongekend prachtig werk het toch is!

De Strijktrio en de Pianotrio stammen uit het begin jaren twintig, toen Hermann nog aan het Liszt-Academie studeerde. Dat er in beide, zeer prettig in het oor klinkende werken een prominente rol aan de cello is toebedeeld is nogal wiedes.

De droevige liederen die Hermann in impressionistische stijl na de dood van zijn vrouw componeerde worden zeer ontroerend gezongen door Irene Maessen.

Rosy Wertheim

Rosy Wertheim, in 1912 geschilderd door Jan Veth. Collectie Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam

Rosy Wertheim (1888 -1949) was één van de eerste vrouwelijke componisten in Nederland die ook nog internationaal naam maakte. In 1929 verhuisde zij naar Parijs, in haar appartement hield zij een kunstenaarssalon, waar o.a. Milhaud, Messiaen, Jolivet en Honegger elkaar ontmoetten. Haar muziek – voornamelijk haar strijkkwartet – werd toen regelmatig en met veel succes uitgevoerd

In 1935 vertrok ze naar Wenen waar zij contrapunt studeerde bij Karl Weigl. In 1936 reisde ze naar New York om lezingen te geven en uitvoeringen van haar werken te regelen.

Naar Nederland keerde zij in 1937. Haar pianoconcert werd in 1940 werd in Den Haag uitgevoerd door Residentie Orkest olv Willem van Otterloo.

In september dook zij onder. Zij heeft de oorlog overleefd maar werd ernstig ziek en overleed vier jaar later. Haar totale oeuvre omvat ruim negentig werken, meest liederen en kamermuziek. (bron: © Eleonore Pameijer)

Zeer interessante documentaire over Rosy Wertheim:

Nico Richter

Nico Richter met zijn vrouw Hetty

Nico Richter (2 december 1915 – 16 augustus 1945) was zowel arts als de componist.
Al op jonge leeftijd kreeg hij vioolles. Hij studeerde geneeskunde in Amsterdam maar onderbrak zijn studie om bij Hermann Scherchen directie te gaan studeren. In 1935 verwierf hij de Prix Henri Leboeuf  prijs met zijn Concertino voor klarinet, hoorn, trompet, piano en twee violen.

Registratieformulier van Nico Richter als gevangene in nazi-concentratiekamp Dachau

In 1941 studeerde hij  af als arts. Hij raakte betrokken bij het verzet en in 1942 werd hij opgepakt en werd naar Dachau gestuurd. In 1945 keerde hij terug, hij was toen al doodziek. Na zijn thuiskomst schreef hij nog twee delen van een Serenade voor fluit, viool en cello. Hij stierf in augustus 1945, voordat hij de overige delen had voltooid.

Leo Smit

Leo Smit (Amsterdam 14 mei 1900 – Sobibor 30 april 1943) studeerde piano en compositie bij o.a. Sem Dresden.

Eind 1936 verhuisde hij naar Brussel. In 1937 keerde hij terug naar Amsterdam, waar hij op 12 februari 1943 zijn laatste werk voltooide, de sonate voor fluit en piano.

Op 27 april 1943 werd hij op transport gesteld naar Sobibor waar hij op 30 april werd vermoord.

Daarna werd het stil, er was geen belangstelling, hij werd niet uitgevoerd. Vergeten. Voor de tweede keer vermoord. Dankzij de Leo Smit Stichting werd hij weer een beetje teruggebracht naar het landschap van het Nederlandse muziekleven, maar terug is hij niet.

Divertimento for piano 4 hands 1. Allegro ma non troppo – 2. Lento – 3. Allegro con fuoco performed by: Jorian van Nee & Jurn Tjoa:

Lucas & Arthur Jussen:

Of? In 2020 hebben de Jussen broers zich over Smits werken ontfermd  en regelmatig uitgevoerd. Zij maakten ook een documentaire over de componist, dus er is wel hoop. Hoop ik

Montserrat  Caballé as Norma, Salome and Salome. And herself


Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Norma” starring Montserrat Caballé, John Alexander, Fiorenza Cossotto, and Giorgio Tozzi in February 1973. Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Caballé is a kind of cross between Callas and Sutherland: wonderful top notes, incredibly beautiful legato arches, perfect trills, and moreover a pianissimo that none of her colleagues could match. She was a much better actress than Sutherland, moreover she had great charisma. She never went to extremes like Callas or (later) Scotto, but her performances were always very convincing.

In 1973 she recorded the role for RCA and the result was very decent (GD 86502). Her Pollione, a very young Plácido Domingo, was vocally crystal clear and sounded like a bell. However, he lacked dominance, making him sound far too young for the role.

Fiorenza Cossotto in her role of Adalgisa looked more like Azucena than a young girl, but her singing as such was flawless. Unfortunately, the orchestra sounds uninspired and hurried, which must surely be blamed on the conductor, Carlo Felice Cillario.

In 1974 she sang Norma in the Roman amphitheatre in Orange (Provence). It was a very windy evening, and everything blew and moved: her hair, veils and dresses. A fantastic sensation, which added an extra dimension to the already great performance. It was filmed by French television (what luck!), and has now appeared on DVD (VAIV 4229).

Caballé sings ‘Casta Diva’:

Caballé was in superb voice, very lyrical in ‘Casta Diva’, dramatic in ‘Dormono etrambi’ and moving in ‘Deh! Non volerli vittime’. Together with Josephine Veasey, she sang perhaps the most convincing ‘Mira , o Norma’ – of all, at least in a complete recording of the opera. As two feminists avant la lettre, they renounce men and transform from rivals into bosom buddies.

John Vickers (Pollione) was never my cup of tea, but Veasey is a fantastic (also optically) Adalgisa and Patané conducts with passion. Of all the recordings on DVD (and there are not many), this is definitely the best.


This recording may only be obtained via a pirate (or You Tube), but then it is complete and moreover with (admittedly bad) images!

Dunja Vejzovic portrays a deliciously mean Hérodiade and Juan Pons is a somewhat youthful but otherwise fine Hérode. A few years later, he will become one of the best “Hérodes” and you can already hear and see that in this recording.

Montserrat Caballé is a fantastic Salomé, the voice alone makes you believe you are in heaven and José Carreras is very moving as a charismatic Jean.

None of the protagonists is really idiomatic, but what a pleasure it is to watch a real Diva (and Divo)! They really don’t make them like that anymore

The whole opera on you tube:


Montserrat Caballé as Salome? Really? Yes, really. Caballé sang her first Salome in Basel in 1957, she was only 23 at the time.

Salome was also the first role she sang in Vienna in 1958 and I want to (and can) assure you: she was one of the very best Salome’s ever. Especially on the recording she made in 1969 under the blistering direction of Erich Leinsdorf.

Her beautiful voice, with the whisper-soft pianissimi and a velvety high even then, sounded not only childlike but also very deliberately sexually charged, a true Lolita.

The Jochanaan, sung very charismatically by Sherrill Milnes, has an aura of a fanatical sect leader, and Richard Lewis (Herod) and Regina Resnik (Herodias) complete the excellent cast (Sony 88697579112).

Caballé as Salome in 1979:


What’s the difference between a terrorist and a diva? ‘Caballé, beyond music’

“We all owe a great deal to music (…) It is a form of expression that originates not so much from thinking as from feeling”. These words come from one of the greatest singers of the twentieth century, Montserrat Caballé.

In his film Caballé Beyond Music, Antonio Farré portrays the diva*, her life and her career, talking to her, her family and her colleagues. The documentary also contains a lot of wonderful (archival) footage, starting with Caballé’s debut in Il Pirata in 1966 in Paris.

The film is interspersed with fun anecdotes such as how she smashed a door because she was not allowed to take time off (Caballé wanted to attend a performance of Norma with Maria Callas). How she had stopped a dress rehearsal in La Scala because she noticed that the orchestra was not tuned well. About her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the discovery of José Carreras (how beautiful he was!), her friendship with Freddy Mercury ….

About her Tosca in the ROH in London in the production that was made for Callas. She wasn’t happy with that, it didn’t feel good, but no one wanted to change it. Caballé called Callas, it was exactly eight days before her death, and complained about her fate. “But of course it doesn’t feel right”, said Callas. “I am tall and you are not, I am slim and you are not, I have long arms and you have not. Tell them to call me, I will convince them that you are not me”.

And so the production was adapted for Caballé. “Copies are never good,” Caballé says, and I agree with her. This is a fascinating portrait of a fascinating singer. Very, very worthwhile.

* London taxi driver: “What is the difference between a terrorist and a diva? You can negotiate with a terrorist”.

Caballé beyond music
With José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, Joan Sutherland, Cheryl Studer, Giuseppe di Stefano, Freddie Mercury, Claudio Abbado and others.
Directed by Antonio A. Farré, EuroArts 2053198

The other Cavalleria Rusticana

People say verismo and think: Mascagni and Leoncavallo. Rightly so? Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s  Pagliacci are among the most popular and most frequently played verist opera’s ever. What many people don’t know: there are actually two (and even three if you include La Mala Pasqua by a certain Stanislao Gastaldon from 1888) Cavalleria Rusticana’s.

Domenico Monleone (1875 – 1942), a composer not unknown at the time at the time, also used the story of Giovanni Verga for his one-acter, which his brother Giovanni converted into a libretto.

Illustration Gamba Pipein. Courtesy Boston Public Library, Music Department

Sonzogno, Mascagni’s publisher, accused Monleone of plagiarism (and indeed: careful study shows that Monleone’s libretto is closer to Mascagni than to Verga’s original story), after which the opera was not performed anywhere for a long time.

Until 1907, when Maurice de Hondt brought Monleone to Amsterdam, where his opera had its belated premiere. Coupled with … yes! Cavalleria Rusticana.

Both works were directed by their composers: it apparently did not bother Mascagni that his colleague had “borrowed” his libretto from him.

Cavalleria Rusticana

Intermezzo played by Hauser:

And the whole opera:

Il Mistero

Nevertheless, Monleone had to accept the court ruling, which meant that he had to find a new libretto for his music

It was changed into Il Mistero, another story by Verga, and this time the author himself had helped Giovanni Monleone with the libretto.

Both operas with the same music but on two different libretto’s were released by Myto on CD’s (Cavalleria Rusticana: 012.H063; Il Mistero: 033.H079). In both works the leading role (Santuzza/Nella) is sung by Lisa Houben, originally from the Netherlands.

Duett (romance e scena): Santuzza & Nunzia – Il dì che andò soldato…

The whole Il Mistero:

An ‘encore’: duet Santuzza/Turiddu, sung here by Denia Mazzola-Gavazzeni and Janez Lotric. Recording was made in Montpellier, in 2001:

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: more than just a composer of guitar works

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Florence, 3 April 1895 – Beverly Hills, 16 March 1968) was born into a Jewish family of Sephardic descent (Jews expelled from Spain in 1492). He was extraordinarily creative, to his credit he worked on all sorts of things: piano works, concertos, operas…. His compositions were played by the great: Walter Gieseking, Gregor Piatigorsky, Jascha Heifetz, Casella.

Heifetz plays Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s second violin concerto: ‘I Propheti’. Recording from 1954:

Today, we know him mainly for his guitar works, nearly a hundred in all, mostly written for Andres Segovia.
Segovia plays the Guitar Concerto No.1 in D major, Op. 99; live recording from 1939:

In the beginning of the 1930s the composer began to explore his “Jewish Roots”, which was intensified by the rising of fascism and the racial laws. His music was not performed anymore. Helped by Arturo Toscanini, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and his family were able to leave Italy just before the beginning of World War 2.

Like most Jewish composers who fled Europe, Castelnuovo-Tedesco ended up in Hollywood. Where, thanks to Jascha Heifetz, he was appointed composer of film music by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

At Rita Hayworth’s special request, he composed music for the film The Loves of Carmen starring Hayworth and Glenn Ford. Below is the dance scene from the film:

During this time, Castelnuovo-Tedesco also composed new operas and vocal works inspired by American poetry, Jewish liturgy and the Bible: America offered him opportunities to deepen and develop his Italian musical heritage and his Jewish spirituality. He dreamed of hearing his Sacred Service “once in the synagogues of Florence”. It was premiered in 1950, at New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue.

Dating from 1956, the opera Il Mercante di Venezia after Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (Castelnuovo-Tedesco was a great Shakespeare lover) was performed at Maggio Musicale in Florence in 1961. Toscanini conducted and the leading roles were sung by Renato Capecchi (Shylock) and Rosanna Carteri (Portia).

In 1966, he composed The Divan of Moses Ibn Ezra. It is a setting of nineteen poems by Rabbi Moses ben Jacob ibn Ezra, also known as Ha-SallaḠ(‘writer of penitential prayers’).

An illustration of Ibn Ezra (centre) using an astrolabe

Born in Granada around 1055 – 1060, Ibn Ezra died after 1138 and is considered one of Spain’s greatest poets. He also had a huge influence on Arabic literature. Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed the ‘Divan’ (meaning; a collection of poems) to the modern English translation.

Roberta Alexander sings The Divan of Moses Ibn Ezra

Channa Malkin and Izhar Elias in ‘Fate has blocked the way’:

The composer wrote his Cello Concerto for Gregor Piatigorsky, the premiere took place in 1935, with Arturo Toscanini conducting the New York Philharmonic. And that was it. Since then, the concerto was totally forgotten for all of eighty years. Until Raphael Wallfisch took it on.

Raphael Wallfisch plays the Allegro Moderato from Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Cello Concerto

After World War II, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, like several Jewish composers who were forced to flee and seek refuge in Hollywood, was accused of conservatism and sentimentality. That he was inspired by Spanish folklore in many of his works, was not appreciated either.

Song of Songs

In 2022, in celebration of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s birthday on 3 April his official website presented a long-buried treasure: a recording of the world-premiere of The Song of Songs, which took place in Los Angeles on 7 August 1963

More information:

“In my life I have written many melodies for voice and published 150 of them (many others remaining unpublished) on texts in all the languages I know: Italian, French, English, German, Spanish and Latin. My ambition and, indeed, my deep motivation has always been to unite my music with poetic texts that stimulated my interests and feelings, to express its lyricism.”

In 2019, his biography was filmed in the movie Maestro. Below is the trailer:

Official website of Mario Castelnuovo -Tedesco:


De Nationale Opera presenteert seizoen 2023/24

Het nieuwe seizoen is bekend gemaakt. Ik heb er een paar dagen over gedaan om er iets van te vinden, want eigenlijk vond ik er niets van. Een oneliner? Ja, zeker, vandaar dat ik ga toelichten. Want: moeten we juichen? Nee. Mogen we teleurgesteld zijn? Ja. Zijn er veel herhalingen en te veel van hetzelfde? Ja. Zijn er dan helemaal geen verrassingen en leuke dingen? Ja, die zijn er, maar heus?

Om met de ‘verrassingen’ te beginnen: we krijgen voor het eerst sinds… dertig ? Veertig jaar ? Il Trittico van Puccini.  Ik heb het in ieder geval hier nog nooit gezien, althans niet op de planken, want Riccardo Chailly bracht Puccini’s juweeltjes mee naar de Kerst Matinees (waar is die tijd gebleven?)

Wel hebben wel Gianni Schicchi gehad, als onderdeel van een “Florentijns tweeluik”. Het was een mooie productie, dat wel, maar zo hoort het niet. Althans zo denk ik… Puccini heeft het niet voor niets aan elkaar geknoopt en daar had hij zijn bedoelingen mee. Maar wie heeft er nog een oog (en oor) voor de bedoelingen van de schrijver, componist, schilder? Juist.

Hoe de productie gaat worden, dat moeten we maar afwachten, maar met de wetenschap  wat Barrie Kosky met Tosca en Turandot heeft geflikt hou ik mijn hart vast. Maar wie weet? Weet hij ons te verrassen? Een ding is zeker: de cast is om te zoenen!


Waar ik persoonlijk echt naar uit kijk, is de Innocnce van Kaija Saariaho. Ik hou immens veel van deze Finse componiste en wat ik over haar nieuwste opera heb gehoord (en gelezen, het ging in Aix en Provence in première) belooft veel spanning, goed libretto en fantastische muziek. Goede bezetting ook.

We krijgen ook Oedipus Rex van Stravinsky, die hebben wij, bij mijn weten hier ook nooit gehad. De cast ziet veelbelovend uit  en het wordt gekoppeld aan Antigone, een nieuwe opera van de mij onbekende Samy Moussa, in ieder geval iets om in de gaten te houden

Ook Agrippina van Händel is hier nooit eerder geweest. Regie is in handen van Barrie Kosky, afwachten dan maar. Maar gezien de foto.. Ik zwijg

En dan komt deel drie van de ‘Tudor-trilogie’, Roberto Devereux. Op Ismael Jordi na ken ik de andere zangers niet. Of niet goed en de foto doet mij denken aan mierikswortel.

Die meer dan afschuwelijke  La Traviata  van Tatjana Gürbaca mag weer lekker terug.
Peter Franken had het al gezien:

Gürbaca’s Traviata is spijkerhard

Die Zauberflöte in de regie Simon McBurney komt nu voor de vierde (vijfde? keer terug  . Ik heb er nooit iets aan gevonden, maar mensen hebben gelachen.

Ook Beethovens Fidelio komt weer eens langs. Weliswaar een nieuwe productie, maar die opera hebben we hier al zo vaak gehad!
De regisseur ken ik niet. En Eric Cutler als de heldentenor?

En dan Lohengrin, toch een van mijn geliefde Wagners komt voor de zoveelste keer terug. Weliswaar in een nieuwe productie van Loy die ik zeer waardeer  maar ik had hem graag tegen Andrea Chenier gewisseld. Of Fedora. De cast is, althans op papier, ook niet om over naar huis te schrijven

Terug naar het begin. De allereerste productie is Kurt Weill’s  Mahagony, geregisseerd  door Ivo van Hove, geleend uit Antwerpen. Daar was Peter van Franken niet echt blij mee

Redelijk geslaagde Mahagonny bij Opera Vlaanderen

Maar er is ook goed nieuws: voor het eerst sinds 40 jaar krijgen we Der Rosekavalier niet!

Voor meer info, details en speeldata kijk op de site van DNO

Franz Schreker deserves Eternal Life in The Distant Perfect Sound


Sight & Sound Experience of Gustav Klimt – Atelier des lumières Paris

On the threshold of the twentieth century, many artists were guided in their work by the desire – and the search – for a perfect world. It had to do with the spirit of the times, among other things, and it influenced many painters, writers, poets and composers in their work. But with no other artist it was as prominent as with Franz Schreker (1878-1934). The search for ‘the’ sound dominated his entire life, he was fascinated and obsessed with it. A sound that would die of its own accord, but not really, because it had to continue to be heard – if only in your thoughts. It had to be a pure sound, but one with orgasmic desire and interwoven with visions. Narcotic. In his music I really hear the perfect sound that he so desired which makes me intensely happy.

For Schreker you can wake me up in the middle of the night. The fusion of shameless emotions with undisguised eroticism and intense beauty turns me into an ‘Alice in wonderland’. I want more and more of it. Call me a junkie. I consider his operas to be the most beautiful in existence, alongside those of Puccini and Korngold.

When the Nazis came to power, Schreker was labelled an ‘entartet’. His works were banned and no longer performed. In 1933 he was dismissed from all his engagements and suspended. Schreker was devastated. In December of that year he suffered a heart attack which became fatal to him. But even after the war Schreker was hardly ever performed. The same fate awaited him as (among others) Korngold, Braunfels, Goldschmidt, Zemlinsky, Waxman …. An unprecedented number of names of composers. They were once labelled  ‘Entartet’ by the Nazis and banned, reviled, expelled and murdered. Forgotten.

And that was not just the fault of the Nazis.  After the war, the young generation of composers did not want to know about emotions anymore. Music had to be devoid of any sentiment and subject to strict rules. Music had to become universal: serialism was born. The past was dealt with, including composers from the 1930s. It is only in the last thirty years that the once forbidden composers have regained their voices. The Saturday Matinee has played a major role in this and I thank them on my bare knees for that.


The premiere of Der ferne Klang, in Frankfurt in 1912, was very enthusiastically received. In the Frankfurter Zeitung, critic Paul Bekker wrote that “the audience could identify with the central metaphor of Schreker’s work. Everyone hears that enigmatic sound at some point”.

The protagonist is a composer with only one desire: to discover the perfect sound. On his quest for it, he rejects his beloved Grete and leaves everything he loves behind. Only at the end, when it is already too late, does he realise that he could only find the enchanting “distant sound”, along with happiness, in his love for Grete.

There are not many official recordings of the opera on the market. I myself know only one: live recording from Berlin 1991, on Capriccio (60024-2). I’ve never been devastated by that and quietly hoped that NTR will release their September 2004 performance, with Anne Schwanewilms and others. Alas.

Fortunately, Walhall is now coming out with a live radio recording from Frankfurt 1948, and I am very happy about that. It is a fantastic recording, with exceptionally good sound quality for the time.

I did not know any of the singers, the greater the surprise for me. Der Ferne Klang is an opera that is not easy to cast. Both main roles require big voices that are also distinctly lyrical, and Ilse Zeyen (Grete) and Heinrich Bensing (Fritz) are very much so.

The Frankfurt radio orchestra is sublimely conducted by Winfried Zillig, a very well-known German composer music theorist and conductor at the time.

Excerpts can be heard here:


The idea came from Zemlinsky. He wanted to compose an opera about an ugly man – his obsession – and commissioned the libretto from Schreker. After finishing his work, it was hard for Schreker to give up his text. Fortunately, Zemlinsky abandoned the opera so Schreker started to compose himself.

Zemlinsky, Schoenberg and Schreker in Prague 1912

Like Der Ferne Klang, perhaps his best-known work, Die Gezeichneten also deals with the search for unattainable ideals. Alviano, a deformed rich nobleman from Genoa, dreams of beauty and perfection. On an island he has ‘Elysium’ built, a place where he hopes to realize his ideals. What he doesn’t know is that the noblemen abuse his island: they are engaged in orgies, rapes and even murders.

Alviano: photo from the premiere in Frankfurt 1918 via Green Integer Blog

The title of the opera is ambiguous. Not only are the main characters ‘marked’ (Alviano by his monstrous appearance and Carlotta by a deadly illness), Carlotta also makes a drawing of Alviano, in which she tries to capture his soul.

This beautiful opera, with its thousands of colours and sensual sounds (just listen to the overture, goosebumps!), is being staged more and more nowadays. In 1990 it was performed at the Saturday Matinee, with an ugly singing but very involved and therefore very vulnerable William Cochran as Alviano and a phenomenal Marilyn Schmiege as Carlotta (Marco Polo 8.223328-330).

Evelyn Lear (Carlotta) and Helmut Krebs (Alviano), scene from the second act:

On Spotify you can find several performances of the complete opera, but if you want to have images as well: below you will find the recording from Salzburg 2005:


In 2010, The Opera in Bonn started a Schreker revival. Kudos! In 2010, Irrelohe was put on the stage there and recorded live by MDG (9371687-6).

The story most resembles a real horror movie. The lords of the Irrelohe castle are cursed. On their wedding day, they go mad and rape a virgin, a curse they pass on to their first-born son. Only a fire and its flames can lift the curse. And those flames do come, at the end, when the beautiful Eva (Ingeborg Greiner) prefers Count Heinrich (irresistible Roman Sadnik) to the bastard Peter (Mark Morouse). You get the idea: Peter is the first-born son of the rapist; Heinrich (who is his half-brother) was born 30 days later. All’s well that ends well, but first we shudder, shiver and enjoy…….

Roman Sadnik in scenes from Irrelohe:

Of the opera there already existed a recording on Sony, recorded live in Vienna in 1989. The Wiener Symphoniker was conducted by Peter Gülke and maybe it is his fault that it does not sound very exciting. The singers (including Luana de Vol and Monte Pederson) are certainly not to blame, although they are nothing to write home about.

Worth knowing:
Schreker wrote the libretto in a very short time (it took him only a few days) in 1919. The work takes its name from a railway station called Irrenlohe which Schreker passed by on a trip to Nuremberg in March 1919.


I had in my possession a pirate recording of Schrekers’s last opera, Der Schmied von Gent from Berlin 1981, but I wasn’t particularly fond of it: neither the sound nor the performance could really please me. Moreover, the opera was hard to follow without a synopsis.

So I was eagerly awaiting the first commercial release of it and lo and behold: there it is! ‘The Smith’ was recorded live in Chemnitz in 2010 and released on CPO (777 647-2), kudos!

It is a “Grosse Zauberoper” with a story a bit close to ‘Der Freischütz’, it also features a devil, as well as Saint Peter and … Alva (it takes place during the Eighty Years’ War). And yes, it all works out.

The cast, including a fantastic Oliver Zwarg in the role of Smee, is excellent.


I don’t think it was wise to include ‘Ekkehard’, a work Franz Schreker wrote while still in his youth. And certainly not to place it at the beginning of the CD. The symphonic overture has little to say, sounds incoherent, is boring and deters rather than invites listening. ‘Phantastische Ouvertüre’ on 15 is hardly any better and even I, a diehard Schreker fan, really had to force myself to keep listening to it.

But it could also be a bit down to the young English conductor Christopher Ward. He conducts very skilfully but lacks a real drive. Nor can I escape the impression that he doesn’t quite understand the ‘Schrekian idiom’, because somewhere between all the very neatly played notes he has quite lost the eroticism. You hear it best in Schreker’s best-known piece, his ‘Vorspiel zu einer grossen Oper’.

Fortunately, on that CD you will also find two songs; two settings to the poem by Walt Whitman, (translated into German by Hans Reisiger) entitled ‘Vom Ewigen Leben’ and here you hear the real Schreker. Sensual and languorous. That my final verdict is not negative is therefore thanks  to these songs being sung beautifully, with much sehnsucht, by Australian soprano Valda Wilson.


The unsurpassed Reinild Mees took the initiative and (of course) got behind the piano herself, to accompany and record two CDs full of Schreker’s songs. It features Jochen Kupfer, Ofelia Sala and Anne Buter and the result is truly outstanding (Channel Classics CCS 12098 and CCS 14398)

Also highly recommended is a release by Koch Schwann (3-6454-2), hopefully still for sale, which includes, in addition to the prelude to Irrelohe and ‘Vorspiel zu einer grossen Oper’, again the truly irresistible song cycle ‘Vom ewigen Leben’, after Walt Whitman’s poems.

It is phenomenally sung by Claudia Barainsky – for her alone, with her radiant height and tremendous understanding of the text, you really must have the CD. Not to mention the fantastically playing Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. The conductor, Peter Ruzicka understands exactly what Schreker’s music is all about.

For dessert, one of the most beautiful instrumental works by my beloved composer: Vorspiel zu einem Drama from 1913. The BBC Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Jascha Horenstein:

A new arrival:

Christoph Eschenbach and Chen Reiss

“Christoph Eschenbach conducts this generous survey of the sumptuous, hyper-Romantic music of Austrian composer Franz Schreker. Not only was he the pre-eminent opera composer of his generation, he also, says Eschenbach, “took Mahler’s symphonic writing to a whole new level”. The album includes the ecstatic “Nachtstück” from Der ferne Klang, the exquisite Chamber Symphony and some ravishing orchestral songs, featuring Chen Reiss and Matthias Goerne”(© DG)