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Braunfels: Prinzessin Brambilla / Belardinelli, Et Al

Release Date: 10/18/2005 
Label:  Marco Polo   Catalog #: 8225312-13   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Walter Braunfels
Performer:  Eric ShawElena Lo ForteEnrico MarabelliKim Sheehan,   ... 
Conductor:  Danilo Belardinelli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cracow PhilharmonicWexford Festival Opera Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 35 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAUNFELS Prinzessin Brambilla ? Daniele Belardinelli, cond; Enrico Marabelli ( Pantalone ); Peter Paul ( Prince Bastianello ); Eric Shaw ( Claudio ); Elena Lo Forte ( Giazinta ); Ekaterina Gubanova ( Barbara ); Cracow PO; Wexford Festival Op Ch ? MARCO POLO Read more 8.225312?13 (2 CDs: 95:16)

Walter Braunfels (1882?1954) himself called Prinzessin Brambilla an anti-Wagnerian opera, and averred in later years that ?for the first time, the attempt was made to withdraw from the coercive power of Wagner?s overwhelming genius, by thumbing its nose, in grotesque tone, against anything that smacks of pathos or tragedy.? This is both self-serving and inaccurate, for numerous foreign composers had achieved international success through high-spirited comic operas that completely ignored Wagner. Within the German sphere of musical influence, however, Prinzessin Brambilla was probably the first performed opera since Cornelius?s delightful Der Barbier von Baghdad (1858) to buck not just Wagner but the grand Romantic sensibility.

The plot of the work comes from E. T. A. Hoffmann, though I find elements of it suggestive of both Carlo Gozzi and Ben Jonson. On the eve of the Roman Carnival at the turn of the 18th century, the fantastical Prince Bastianello (who may or may not possess magical powers; it?s never clear) and his sly servant Pantalone decide to have fun at the expense of the populace. They fasten upon an actor, Claudio, who daydreams about having a noble background and wife. Under the influence of Bastianello, Claudio comes to believe he is a prince looking for his lost love, Princess Brambilla. He repeatedly rejects his fiancée, the seamstress Giazinta, only to come to his senses during the unmasking that follows the Carnival?when it?s revealed that the Carnival Princess he?s danced with, his supposed Brambilla, is actually Giazinta. There?s a good deal more to matters, including a subplot involving Pantalone?s recurrent spurning of his wife Barbara, but that?s the gist of it.

Musically, the opera shows great similarity to the mature works of Ferruccio Busoni. Prinzessin Brambilla possesses the same enormous energy, hard-edged satire, frequent recourse to counterpoint, and willingness to treat late Romantic, Baroque, and Classical styles as grist for quick juxtaposition that were Busoni hallmarks. Unlike Busoni, however, Braunfels supplies a potent core of lyricism in his opera; and the cruel manipulation of Bastianello is a corrective that ultimately helps anchor the all-too-easily obsessed Claudio in reality. Prinzessin Brambilla is an inventive, sparkling work, not on the level of the composer?s delightful Die Vogel (London 488 679), but definitely worthy of revival.

This live, 2003 performance is middling, but on the whole, competent. Shaw?s light, soaring tenor is its greatest asset, followed by Paul?s high baritone. Enrico Marabelli?s baritone is dry though effective. Lo Forte?s voice is too thick, monochromatic and ungainly (with a wobble whenever she presses for volume) to make much of Giazinta, the female lead. Her juxtaposition to mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova is unfortunate, since the latter has that vocal control and focus the former lacks. All the artists with the exception of Shaw could have done far more dramatically with their lines; though as the performance was live, it?s probable more of their energies were put into movement than dramatic interpretation of this unfamiliar work. (A lot of movement can be heard on stage, but the sound quality is good, if perhaps balanced a shade too much in favor of the orchestra.) Finally, the Cracow instrumental forces are barely equal to the effort, even at Belardinelli?s overly relaxed tempos.

The liner notes focus on the opera, but are decent of their kind. A synopsis is provided with CD points, but neither original text nor translation is included. This last is especially missed. But despite this and the album?s short timings, Prinzessin Brambilla is truly worth knowing. We can hope for a more vigorous performance with a stronger cast at some time in the future, but in lieu of that, we have this quite decent one, now.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Prinzessin Brambilla, Op. 12 by Walter Braunfels
Performer:  Eric Shaw (Tenor), Elena Lo Forte (Soprano), Enrico Marabelli (Baritone),
Kim Sheehan (Soprano), Ekaterina Gubanova (Mezzo Soprano), Vicenç Esteve (Tenor),
Alessandro Svab (Bass), Riccardo Massi (Tenor), Peter Paul (Baritone),
Stewart Kempster (Bass)
Conductor:  Danilo Belardinelli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cracow Philharmonic,  Wexford Festival Opera Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1909; Germany 
Venue:  Live  Wexford Festival 
Length: 95 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Language: German 
Notes: Version: 1929-30
Wexford Festival (10/25/2004 - 10/31/2004) 

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