Zemlinsky, Alma Mahler

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COMPOSERS: Alma Mahler,Zemlinsky
LABELS: Decca Entartete Musik
WORKS: Eine florentinische Tragodie
PERFORMER: Albert Dohmen, Heinz Kruse, Iris Vermillion; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 455 112-2
Zemlinsky’s one-act opera A Florentine Tragedy is one of a group of German operas written around the time of the First World War reflecting the contemporary interest in the Italian Renaissance (others were Mona Lisa by Max von Schillings, Korngold’s Violanta and Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten). Zemlinsky’s work is based on Oscar Wilde’s drama of the same name, which had received its German premiere at Berlin’s Deutsches Theater in 1906 in a translation by Max Meyerfeld. The play’s opening love scene for Bianca and Guido is missing from Wilde’s manuscript, and after Meyerfeld refused Zemlinsky’s request to supply a replacement, the composer settled on a musical representation during the long and highly charged orchestral prelude.

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From the electrifying opening bars, Chailly lavishes full attention on every lurid detail of this masterly score, from the ardour and sweetness of the love-making to the menace which builds in the final stages. Kruse’s Simone – by far the largest part in the three-hander – captures the character’s insidious threat, often cloaked in fawning obsequiousness. Dohmen’s scrawny tenor is not inappropriate for the aristocratic aesthete Guido; Vermillion is satisfactory in the small role of Bianca. The superb clarity of Decca’s recording outstrips the rival version conducted by Gerd Albrecht on Koch Schwann. Deborah Calland