D’albert: Die toten Augen

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WORKS: Die toten Augen
PERFORMER: Dagmar Schellenberger, Hartmut Welker, Norbert Orth, Margaret Chalker; Dresden PO & Chorus/Ralf Weikert
CATALOGUE NO: 999 692-2
Eugen d’Albert (1864-1932) is generally credited with being the first to weld Wagnerian music language to elements of Italian verismo within the German operatic tradition that he, as a Scotsman of Italian and English parentage, adopted. Two other interesting but unrelated facts: he married a total of six times; and he wrote as many as 21 operas. Of these, only a handful were successful, including Tiefland (1903), his most famous work, and Die toten Augen (The Dead Eyes), premiered in Dresden in 1916 and thus roughly contemporary with Strauss’s revised Ariadne, Korngold’s Violanta, Pfitzner’s Palestrina, Zemlinsky’s Florentine Tragedy and Schoenberg’s Die glückliche Hand (not bad for wartime). Set in Jerusalem on the original Palm Sunday, the plot of Die toten Augen is based on the Parable of the Good Shepherd, with plenty of psychology and symbolism thrown in for good measure. Myrtocle is cured of her blindness by Jesus, but when she welcomes the wrong man as her husband, blinds herself again with the sun’s rays to restore marital bliss. The music is even headier than in Tiefland, though with recognisable stylistic turns of phrase from that earlier work. This no-holds-barred performance recorded live in concert in 1997 is spectacularly successful in conveying the thrust of the drama, and there is barely a weak link in the cast.