Zemlinsky: Sarema

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Zemlinsky
LABELS: Koch
WORKS: Sarema
PERFORMER: Karin Clarke, Laslo Lukas, Norbert Kleinhenn; Trier Theatre Chorus, Trier City Orchestra/István Dénes
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6467-2
Sarema, Zemlinsky’s first operatic project, was undertaken by the 22-year-old composer for a competition organised in 1893 to encourage new German opera. Selected from over a hundred entries, it shared the prize with works by Ludwig Thuille and Arthur Könnemann, and it was premiered at the Court Theatre in Munich in 1897. The libretto for the opera is an adaptation made by the composer’s father of Rudolf von Gottschall’s play Die Rose vom Kaukasus, in which Sarema falls in love with her captor, the Russian Prince Tcherikov, enemy of her people. Disillusioned by Tcherikov’s betrayal and conscience-stricken at abandoning the Circassians, she returns in order to lead them to victory, spares Tcherikov’s life, but kills herself.

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Displaying influences of both Goldmark and Wagner – indeed, the motto which prefaces the Munich full score is a quotation from Die Meistersinger – Sarema is unquestionably the work of a young composer yet to focus his ideas and hone his technique. The opera was nevertheless well received at its premiere, although a review of the subsequent Leipzig performance considered the music to ‘veer between loud, hollow pathos and sweet, impotent lyricism’.

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This premiere recording from the Trier Opera is for the committed Zemlinsky enthusiast only, as neither work nor performance can be warmly recommended. Deborah Calland