Carl Nielsen: Maskarade
30 June 2015
David's Review Corner
David DentonThis elegant comedy
, set in Copenhagen in 1723, comes from Nielsen’s early period as a composer, its libretto taking its inspiration from the commedia dell’arte. Its plot relates the masquerades that had become popular among the liberally minded in the 18th century, but was frowned upon by the puritanical, Jeronimus, who has promised his best friend, Leonard, that his son will marry his daughter. But Leander has already fallen in love with an unknown masked girl at the masquerade, and has even exchanged rings. Well now you might have guessed the happy outcome
, but that is not until everyone around him, including his wife, has taught Jeronimus that masquerades are just good fun. Nielsen’s score opens with a sparkling overture, often played as a concert piece, and is not, in the outgoing sense, comic, but underlines the unfolding events. Yet he certainly knew how to slowly build up the fun on stage, and by the time we reach the end of act one, the score sizzles in vitality, and the foot-tapping third act masquerade is a masterpiece of comedy that had its roots in Verdi’s Falstaff, and would, four years later be taken up by Richard Strauss in Der Rosenkavalier. Why do we not hear it more often in opera houses outside of Denmark?
Well there is the question, for it is undoubtedly a masterpiece. There was certainly an excellent case made for it in a recording made some many years ago, headed by Skovhus, Haugland and Resmark, but it now needed this remake in modern sound to celebrate Nielsen’s 150th anniversary. The Danish cast
is headed by the weighty voiced Stephen Milling as Jeronimus, though it is Johan Reuter, as the Figero-esque Henrik, servant to Leander, and Ditte Højgaard Andersen in the cameo role of Pernille, who almost ‘steal the show’, from Niels Jørgen Riis and Stig Fogh Andersen as Leander and Leonard. The Danish orchestra is outstanding for conductor, Michael Schønwandt, who has the opera in his lifeblood, allowing the work to flow with lyric beauty. The sound is excellent with ideal balance between soloists and orchestra which also reveals every small orchestral detail.