Violanta, Op. 8
Annemarie Kremer, Michael Kupfer-Radecky, Norman Reinhardt, Peter Sonn, Soula Parassidis, Anna Maria Chiuri; Orchestra e Coro Teatro Regio Torino/Pinchas Steinberg
Dynamic CDS7876 79:12 mins
Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violanta is half a double-bill of one-act operas that this remarkable wunderkind composed in his mid-teens. It was premiered in Munich in 1916. At times the score is mesmerisingly gorgeous, with opulent, Jugendstil-like orchestration. Often it has drawn acclaim for the precocity of its sensual, supposedly psychological love story.
The tale nevertheless could seem more Mills & Boon than Freud. We’re in Renaissance Venice at carnival time. Violanta hates Alfonso, who seduced her sister, who then committed suicide, and orders her husband, Simone, to murder him – but at the crucial moment she decides she is in love with Alfonso herself and takes the fatal dagger blow in her own breast. This libretto, by Hans Müller, is so clunky that a more mature composer would likely have rejected it. More seriously, the continually heightened state of the music requires a performance that does not drag it down under the weight of its own richesse.
This recording, from a production in Turin which has won wide acclaim, suffers first from a patchy cast: decent accounts from Kremer as an imperious Violanta (despite vague diction) and Reinhardt as the attractive Alfonso. Michael Kupfer-Radecky is less convincing as cardboard-cut-out villain Simone and some shaky performances in the minor roles do little to help. Next, Pinchas Steinberg’s conducting too often lets the music sag, which is usually – no, always – fatal to Korngold’s jet-propelled style. The recorded sound quality is muddy, and the booklet translations are dire (‘The women I collided with are a past concern…’). For convincing Korngold, try John Wilson’s recording of the Symphony in F sharp.