Opera in one act. Running Time: 43 minutes.
Here is my first opera in Slovenian, which up until the Second World War was the most performed opera in Slovenian. Even today it is the most performed opera in Slovenia in any given season. Viktor Parma was a Slovene of distantly Italian origin and I had originally intended his first opera 1894’s Urh, grof Celjski to be part of a double bill post here but I figured I’d do this quickly. The main influence is supposed to be Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana (hence the intermezzo) but I feel like it sounds more like a combination of Dvorak and Verdi, among other influences. I was looking for something like this: short and elegant! This works perfectly with the ascetic I’m going for with this blog, and I am certain that few people have heard of this rather neglected work.
SETTING: A forest scene between a monastery and its church in Medieval Russia. Aleksej (tenor) is a monk who is in love with a noblewoman named Ksenija (soprano) who was forced to marry his brother (known only as Vitez (baritone) or “knight” in Slovenian), Aleksej being forced into a monastery. Apart from the two male choruses of monks and soldiers, the only other character is Tatiana, Ksenija’s maid (mezzo-soprano) who accompanies her in her flight from her husband. The knight comes to the monastery in pursuit of his wife, and goads his brother into a duel, resulting in death.
LOOK OUT FOR:
0: The prelude * beings with a bang and some ornery brass (a leitmotif for the knight, I think) before some high drama strings and woodwinds end in another bang. Then a nice theme pops up before more high drama. The beginning starts off like the opening of act 1 scene 2 of Ballo.
3: A chorus of monks ** starts off a little ornery but flowers into a rather lovely climatic melody.
5: Aleksej’s aria ** in which he describes his former beloved. It sounds like good rip-off later Verdi (where have I said this before…). The tenor does seem to be stressed on the high notes though.
10: The two women arrive at the monastery in a very traditional sounding recitative. Aleksej recognizes her as his beloved. Their trio *** sounds a little like Mozart, a little like Verdi, with some distinctly Slavic rhythms.
14: Tatijana’s aria ** as she stands guard has a bird-like flute singing along with her. Something about the vocal line reminds me of Meyerbeer even though I know this is probably crazy.
16: The Ksenija-Aleksej duet *** would sound like Verdi (or is it Donizetti?) at first if not for a dancing melody which better resembles Tchaikovsky. Most of it consists of background as they remember their past love. Aleksej’s remembrances are strongly influenced by his aria, and it turns out much nicer as the two go down memory lane. They go into the monastery.
27: The Intermezzo ** is a quiet and sweet piece, halfway between a waltz and Rossini’s Ranz des vaches.
30: The Knight arrives and his soldiers embark on a rather tuneful choral number **.
33: The very tuneful duet ** for the two brothers at first demonstrates none of the life-and-death situation they are in. Suddenly the chorus pops in and there is some agitation but it is followed by a delicate harp accompanied patch of arioso from Aleksej followed by an almost equally happy sequence for the Knight and the soldiers then laugh.
37: The actual duet *** is a very delicate tune, again not depicting the total drama but very pretty.
38: The finale *** finally things get more scary with the preparations for the duel. The leitmotif from the prelude repeated here must represent the knight. In the last two minutes the two men fight, Ksenija comes between them trying to stop them and is run through by her husband. With her dying breath she prays that her death will bring peace for the two brothers. The final chords are pure Tchaikovsky.
Is it just me or was this 1974 Ljubljana recording cast for two sopranos and two tenors? The mezzo and baritone sound so high! They sound more like a soubrette and a dramatic tenor against a coloratura soprano and a high tenor. Maybe the sound has been pitched up on the recording? Apart from the male choruses, the entire opera could be performed by four singers, so there isn’t very much action. There is some backstory that you need to know in order to understand the opera, but it all gets explained over the course of the first half or so of the opera. The on-stage drama itself is rather simple and this is a plus. That’s it really, someone who has a greater knowledge of music than I could explain further, but I think you can get from the star ratings that I really enjoyed this. A little known mini alpha.