Korngold Das Wunder der Heliane
Annemarie Kremer, Ian Storey, Katerina Hebelková; Freiburg Theatre Choir; Freiburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Fabrice Bollon
Naxos 8.660410-12 161:37 mins (3 discs)
This is Korngold’s most ambitious opera and pulling it off successfully is quite a tall order. Premiered in 1927, the same year as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, it feels closer to that dystopian drama than to The Adventures of Robin Hood, the film score for which Korngold later won an Oscar. It’s a hefty, mystical tale: ‘Blessed are those that love…they who love shall not die,’ declares the chorus. Not that you’d know, since Naxos hasn’t included a libretto, a frightful omission for such an obscure work.
Long, loud and densely scored, this opera cannot be easy for its singers. Heliane, the queen who loves the condemned Stranger, receives a touching, vulnerable and beautifully sung portrayal from Annemarie Kremer, notably in her big aria ‘Ich ging zu Ihm’. Ian Storey is strong and warm as the Stranger. The Ruler is splendidly villainous in the capacious baritone of Aris Argiris, and Katerina Hebelková brings suitable bitterness and angst to the Messenger. Fabrice Bollon and his outsize team draw out the opera’s strengths, even if occasionally they fall prey to its weaknesses. Despite various ragged edges in diction and in the orchestral ensemble, and audio quality that could be more sharply defined, this recording from two live concert performances has flair and lots of heart.