Schillings: Mona Lisa

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schillings
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Mona Lisa
PERFORMER: Klaus Wallprecht, Albert Bonnema, Beate Bilandzija; Chorus of the Kiel Opera, Kiel PO/Klauspeter Seibel
CATALOGUE NO: 999 303-2 DDD
Max von Schillings’s Mona Lisa was written in 1913-14 and apparently had well over 1,000 performances before fading into oblivion (but for his death in 1933, its composer was poised for a leading role in the Nazis’ cultural hierarchy). In purely historical terms, it is interesting for being the first in a string of melodramatic operas set in the Italian Renaissance written at the time, including Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten (1913-15), Korngold’s Violanta (1915) and Zemlinsky’s Eine florentinische Tragödie (1915-16, which, as conductor, Schillings premiered). Beatrice Dovsky’s libretto invents the story behind Leonardo’s famous painting, to create a tale of marital infidelity, lust and jealousy – an ideal subject for Schillings’s musico-dramatic gifts and suitably lurid, forthright language.

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This recording was made in the studio, but in the middle of a run of staged performances in 1994-5, and reveals the Kiel forces in much better shape than in the Delius I reviewed last month. Doubts can be raised about the pleasurability of listening to the lead tenor and soprano in long stretches, but Wallprecht’s Francesco sounds aptly villainous. Matthew Rye