13 October 2015
Francis MuzzuNielsen’s Maskarade is Denmark’s national opera
and conductor Michael Schønwandt says it’s the first score he knew by heart. It shows in this new recording for Dacapo Records, where he leads a masterful interpretation and paces the mercurial changes of mood with alacrity. Maskarade is a strange piece: premiered in 1906, Nielsen’s music is reminiscent of Rossini in the buzzing overture and first act, lurching to a contemplative Die Meistersinger with the prelude to Act II, and with echoes of La Cenerentola and Die Fledermaus in the ball scene (complete with mistaken identity and lovers reunited). It also has a bittersweet subtext of social change
, the staid order of things being supplanted by a more progressive stance. Schønwandt’s strong cast is completely Danish, with Nils Jørgen Riis a bouncy tenor hero, Dénise Beck’s sweet soprano making much of Leonora (a pretty thankless role), Stephen Milling booming and blustering as Jeronimus, and Johan Reuter stealing the show as Henrik, relishing the obtuse rhymes of his opening aria. If, like me, Danish is your fifty-third language or thereabouts, be reassured that it’s a very easy on the ear and a full translation is provided. An uneven piece, but interesting, enjoyable and worth investigating.