CARL NIELSEN: Maskarade
16 September 2015
A new recording of Carl Nielsen's best, and best-known, opera was always likely during the year marking the 150th anniversary of his birth, and like its two predecessors on disc, it has a homegrown provenance. Over the last century Maskarade has become established as the classic Danish opera, a work of broad comic appeal and humanity that occupies a regular place in the repertory of the country’s opera companies. This latest version, conducted by the former music director of the Danish Royal Opera, Michael Schønwandt includes many of its leading singers in the cast.
Nielsen completed the work in 1906, using a play by Ludvig Holberg as the source of his libretto. It’s set in Copenhagen in 1723, and the comedy pivots about the usual 18th-century tangle of unknown assignations. The fun may be sometimes a bit strained and heavy-handed, but Nielsen’s score generally has the lightest of touches, with Wagner’s Meistersinger, Verdi’s Falstaff and Mozart’s Figaro – almost inevitable in an opera whose characters include a wily valet – prominent among his models.
When played and sung like this, by a cast, conductor and orchestra who clearly relish every bar, it is easy to be swept along by the warmth and generosity of spirit of the music. Niels Jørgen Riis takes the role of the dissolute Leander, the young man who finds himself about to be married off to Leonora (Dénise Beck), only to discover at the ball that he has fallen in love with her anyway. Johan Reuter is his servant, Henrik, who conveniently is attracted to Leonora’s servant, Pernille (Ditte Højgaard Andersen). All squeeze the maximum dramatic juice out of what the score gives them; they may be stock comic characters, but the feelings with which Nielsen invests them are real enough.