Zemlinsky: Der König Kandaules

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COMPOSERS: Zemlinsky
LABELS: Andante
WORKS: Der König Kandaules
PERFORMER: Nina Stemme, Robert Brubaker, Wolfgang Schöne, Mel Ulrich, Jon Nuzzo, Jochen Schmeckenbecher, Randall Jakobsch, Georg Zeppenfeld, Jürgen Sacher; Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra, German SO, Berlin/Kent Nagano
With its central themes of betrayal, vengeance and the misuse of power, it’s easy to interpret Zemlinsky’s final opera Der König Kandaules as an allegorical response to the unprecedented political turmoil that the composer experienced during the 1930s. Yet although the work had been conceived in short score a few years before the Nazis forced Zemlinsky to emigrate to the United States, it was never completed. Attempts to stage the opera in New York foundered because the scenario, which includes elements of nudity in Act II, was deemed far too risqué for the prudish American public. For many years the manuscript languished in the archives of the Library of Congress until the conductor and Zemlinsky scholar Antony Beaumont undertook the heroic task of orchestrating the work during the 1990s. Scandalously, this second commercial recording of the opera (the first, on Capriccio, was reviewed in July 1997), which derives from staged performances at the 2002 Salzburg Festival, barely acknowledges Beaumont’s contribution, and is also deficient in other respects. Although the singing of the three main protagonists – Robert Brubaker as Kandaules, Wolfgang Schöne as the fisherman Gyges and Nina Stemme as the beautiful queen Nyssia – has considerable theatrical immediacy, and Kent Nagano secures some fine playing from the German Symphony Orchestra, the balance between voices and orchestra in this Austrian Radio recording is often askew, with far too much loss of detail. Despite Andante’s lavish presentation, the cause of this important work would have been far better served with a properly prepared studio recording. Erik Levi