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Korngold: Die Stumme Serenade

Korngold / Young Opera Company / Simon
Release Date: 01/31/2012 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777485   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Performer:  Jutta LauerFrank BuchwaldSarah WegenerWerner Klockow,   ... 
Conductor:  Klaus Simon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Holst SinfoniettaYoung Opera Company Freiburg
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

KORNGOLD Die stumme Serenade Klaus Simon, cond; Sarah Wegener ( Silvia Lombardi ); Birger Radde ( Andrea ); Werner Klockow ( Caretto ); Anna-Lucia Leone ( Louise/First Customer ); Sebastian Reich ( Sam Barzalino ); Young Op Co; Holst Sinf CPO 777 485-2 Read more (2 CDs: 118:33)

In The Last Prodigy , Brendan G. Carroll’s fine biography of Korngold, Die stumme Serenade is indexed under “Korngold: Other Dramatic.” It’s a reasonable choice for a work that straddles several genres. That’s probably also one of the two main causes of its failure. Operagoers who enjoy Die tote Stadt or Violanta (to name just two of Korngold’s operas that are finally beginning to achieve the recognition they’ve long deserved) might reasonably be confused by the mix of spoken word and songs here, as well as the lighter tone that invokes everything from cabaret to film scores to the composer’s genial Much Ado About Nothing . The natural audience for this kind of mix are those who appreciate Brecht/Weill, but Die stumme Serenade provides no political message, and none of the dark irony and bitterness found in Die Dreigroschenoper, Der Silbersee , or Mahagony-Songspiel.

Carroll goes further, criticizing the work’s book as a “silly comedy” for its “inept and rather forced” humor and its “convoluted plot.” Die stumme Serenade is certainly silly, but so is a great deal of entertainment that’s successful in every time and place, including many popular operas. It is no sillier than the seemingly endless train of superhero films, or Star Wars , and it probably would have made a successful film adaptation if directed by Ernst Lubitsch in the early 1930s—around the time of The Smiling Lieutenant and especially the highly esteemed Trouble in Paradise , both of which were great hits. Perhaps that’s another key to the work’s failure. Such a work in the 1950s was too far away from its roots to be regarded as anything but old-fashioned, too near at hand for nostalgia to bring a reassessment.

I can’t say I find the plot, set in Naples in the 1820s, convoluted. The fiancée of the Prime Minister is disturbed at night by an intruder who kisses her and leaves. (I suspect Lubitsch would have started with this scene, and slyly finished with a fadeout from a similar scene in which the intruder stayed.) It’s actually a popular fashion designer and would-be suitor of hers, one Andrea Coclé. Unfortunately, there’s another nighttime visitor prowling about who just attempted to blow up the Prime Minister with a bomb. Farcical and amusing complications ensue that eventually conclude with the proper lovers together.

The production heard on this album exudes style, even if it at times lacks polish. Birger Radde is a very effective Andrea, suitably warm-voiced and with a nice sense of phrasing, though a little raw at times (“Dis stumme Serenade”). Sarah Wegener has a silvery lyric of considerable distinction (“Wenn einer Frau vor’m Spiegel steht”), and a winning way of shading for color. Anna-Lucia Leone’s soubrette is tremulous and poorly supported, tightening uncomfortably in her high notes. Werner Klockow is more of a character actor than a singer, and delivers his patter song (“Wär ich ein Verbrecher”) delightfully. Sebastian Reich has a thin, unpleasant high baritone with little resonance. Conductor Klaus Simon and the Holst Sinfonietta perform with an irresistible early 20th-century Viennese charm, equally adept at the score’s mix of light sentimentality and wit.

There is one drawback to consider, however: a German libretto, but no English translation. This is unusual for CPO, so I checked the website just in case they were pulling a Naxos, but no luck. If the opera in question had been Aida or Lohengrin it wouldn’t matter as much, because the English was available elsewhere, and because most of us could probably sing the whole score in our sleep (and badly, too). But you’ll look in vain for a translation of this archly told but highly amusing tale.

That aside, I can recommend this opera to anyone who won’t be turned off by its style. As I wrote above, think Lubitsch, and you’ll enjoy it.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Die Stumme Serenade by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Performer:  Jutta Lauer (Mezzo Soprano), Frank Buchwald (Baritone), Sarah Wegener (Soprano),
Werner Klockow (Tenor), Anna-Lucia Leone (Soprano), Birger Radde (Tenor),
Lena Laferi (Soprano), Sebastian Reich (Tenor), Franziska Gudert (Alto)
Conductor:  Klaus Simon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Holst Sinfonietta,  Young Opera Company Freiburg

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