Bretan: The Evening Star

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: The Evening Star
PERFORMER: Ionel Voineag, Bálint Szabó, Marius Budoiu, Adriana Croitoru; Transylvania PO, Cluj/Béla Hary
Although one can find mention of Nicolae Bretan as a footnote to the history of Romanian opera, he more properly belongs to Transylvania – that ethnically mixed and westward-looking part of Romania that belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire. Born in 1887, Bretan witnessed two world wars – his wife’s family was murdered in Auschwitz – and the rise of an aggressive ethnic Romanian nationalism under the Communists. Small wonder that he should have been preoccupied with ideas of transience and mortality; they inform his 1921 one-act opera The Evening Star, which tells of how the King’s daughter chooses a human union rather than one with the Evening Star. The theme was familiar, but – unlike Dvorák’s Rusalka, for example – Bretan’s characters are scarcely more than ciphers, and despite some strong melodies and a telling evocation of the Star’s lonely orbit, the opera is often derivative. However, although the orchestral sound is rather thin, there are some effective performances here – especially from Marius Budoiu as the Mariner – and the disc offers an insight into a neglected national operatic tradition. William Humphreys-Jones