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THE LISZT SOCIETY Newsletter No 151 – 2023 Q2

Almost three years ago I started a fairly regular radio broadcast about forgotten operas for the Romanian Musical Radio Station (Radio Romania Muzical). On Saturday evenings from 7-9pm (EET) I present different, more or less unknown operas from my collection. As my passion for opera started almost 70 years ago, you can imagine the huge number of Opera Rara in my library (maybe several hundred CDs and DVDs). Up to now I have presented 40 such programmes.

I remember that I started with “La grota di Trofonio”, an opera by Antonio Salieri (1750-1825), an important composer, and one of the first teachers of Franz Liszt. Another opera was Der Stein der Weisen (The Philosopher’s Stone) - composed six months before Die Zauberflote by five composers, including Emanuel Schikaneder (who also wrote the libretto) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 

The young Franz Liszt reached Paris on 11th December 1823, with a letter of recommendation from Salieri, but the director of the Conservatoire, Luigi Cherubini, refused to accept him as a student because he was a foreigner. After giving private concerts, all of Paris was enthusiastic about Liszt, and considered him the new Mozart. He found an excellent private teacher in the Italian composer Ferdinando Paer (1771-1839) — who recently had a great public success with his French comic opera “Le Maitre de Chapelle” (1821) — and then he started an intense series of concerts and was the greatest attraction in the concert halls of Paris. The French public was very fond of operas, so Liszt was tasked with composing an opera for the Académie royale de musique — quite something for a 13-year-old boy! He received a libretto inspired by a story of Claris de Florian (1755-1794), a famous author who, being a noble, despite being a great-grandchild of Voltaire, was jailed during the French Revolution, and lost his life at the age of 39 (a typical crime of the revolution). But after the Restoration, his works were reevaluated, and the Paris Opera gave the green light for the project.

Young Liszt started to compose under the supervision of his teacher Paer, and the premiere of the opera Don Sanche ou Le Chateau d'Amour took place successfully on 17th October 1825, one week before Liszt turned 14. The conductor of the premiere was the composer and violinist Rodolphe Kreuzer (1766-1831) (admired by Beethoven, and the dedicatee of the famous Opus 47 sonata for violin and piano), and the title role was sung by the famous tenor Adolphe Nourrit (1802-1839) at the peak of his artistic career which ended some years later tragically. 

Liszt was always a fan of opera. His preoccupation with the dissemination and performance of opera occupied much of his professional life, whether as a conductor/producer or as a pianist/ composer. hi Hyperion's Liszt Edition, Leslie Howard established a world record with 100 CDs of music for piano by Liszt, of which more than 10 CDs contain paraphrases, reminiscences, variations, potpourris, and transcriptions from numerous known and not so well-known operas. In his splendid residence, Altenburg (which I visited in 2003), Liszt received a large number of visitors including Richard Wagner, Hector Berlioz, Johannes Brahms, Clara Schumann, Anton Rubinstein, Hans von Bulow (first husband of Cosima), Carl Tausig, Joachim Raff and Peter Cornelius (to name only musicians). Perhaps under the influence of Carolyne, Liszt started several sketches for various operatic projects. The most significant attempt, Sardanapalo, after Byron , runs to 111 pages. David Trippett discovered the manuscript in 2016. He then deciphered, completed, and edited it. The premiere of the [only existing] first act took place in Weimar in 2019, and it sounds like a grand opera a la Meyerbeer! 

The only near-opera which Liszt completed was his oratorio The Legend of Saint Elizabeth, which was successfully staged as an opera, against Liszt's protest, at Weimar in 1881, and is included as an opera in different German Opernfuehrer. During the Liszt year (bicentenary of his birth) in 2011, the oratorio was presented in Cluj-Napoca, the historical capital of Transylvania, the favorite region of the UK's King Charles III, who is these days a most welcome visitor! 


DON SANCHE ou Le Chateau d’amour [French opera]

Production Hungaroton with the orchestra and choir of Hungarian Radio-Television (1987)

Don Sanche  -  a gentleman            - Gerard Garino, tenor

Elzira              - a princess                - Julia Hamari, mezzo-soprano

Alidor             - a magician              - Istvan Gati, baritone

Conductor                                         - Tamas Pal

SARDANAPALO [Italian opera]

Orchester Staatskapelle Weimar, Female choir of the National Theater Weimar (2019)

Mirra              - Ionian slave girl     - Joyce El-Khoury, soprano

Sardanapalo  - King of Assyria       - Airam Hernandez, tenor

Beloso            - a priest                    - Oleksander Pushniak, bass-baritone

Conductor                                         - Kirill Karabits


Constantin Erbiceanu