Nielsen: Maskarade

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Nielsen
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Maskarade
PERFORMER: Aage Haugland, Susanne Resmark, Gert-Henning Jensen, Bo Skovhus; Danish National RSO & Choir/Ulf Schirmer
CATALOGUE NO: 460 227-2
Carl Nielsen’s nimble, intricate, wise and witty opera about masquerading, the social craze of 18th-century Copenhagen, is little known outside Denmark. This recording, only the second generally available, should bring to wider attention a magical, distinctive work that nevertheless draws productively on both the accrued traditions of comic opera and some important models of that genre (particularly Meistersinger and Falstaff). The central plot is briefly told: Leander refuses a marriage arranged for him by his father (Jeronimus) in favour of an exquisite young lady at the masquerade – who turns out to be his intended.

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In general, Ulf Schirmer and his forces produce infectious sparkle in passages calling for spirited momentum (such as the many dances); in less predictably paced music they sometimes seem studied and tentative. The leading members of the cast keep the show lively, however: Aage Haugland adorns stodgy Jeronimus with a rich array of traditional basso buffo comic devices, while Bo Skovhus’s lithe singing emphasises the suavity of garrulous, worldly Henrik, manservant to Leander (portrayed with gleaming if tremulous tone by Gert-Henning Jensen). This elegantly prepared performance may not offer consistently vivid dramatic characterisation, but a recommendation comes easily: if you love opera and don’t know Maskarade, this set will enrich your life. David Breckbill