Ivar Hallstrom: Vikingarna/The Vikings (1877)

Opera i tre akter. Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes.

Finally, after years of attempts, I can announce that Phil’s Opera World can include Swedish as one of its languages!

I happened upon this 2021 upload from Julianfwong almost on accident and thought it might be interesting as this opera is considered to be THE Swedish National Opera (although it has a weak performance history). It was difficult to track down a synopsis, much less a libretto. But as usual I attempted some reconstructionism and hopefully, this opera is now a little bit more accessible. Special thank you to the site Swedish Musical Heritage for most of my sourcing with this entry.

Ivar Hallstrom (1826-1901) is the Ferenc Erkel of 19th century Swedish opera. A member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music from 1861, his greatest success is the opera Den bergtagna which I have known about for years but have never gotten around to reviewing the Sterling label recording there of. That work is a romantic grand opera in five acts, and like Vikingarna Hallstrom is Swedish, but very much located in a Central European idiom. The opera consists of an overture and 21 numbers.

The performance history is weak, although when has that stopped me?. Although initially a success when it premiered in Stockholm in 1877, it had not been performed complete since 1882, and its last performance in Stockholm was an edited format in 1884. This was the last time it was heard from until the Gothenburg Opera produced a concert version in 2016, which is the basis for this review.

SETTING: Provence, 10th Century (? based on there being a king named Raymond). The plot consists of a series of contrasts: refined and sophisticated Provençals, crude but warm Vikings, represented by Isaura (soprano), daughter of King Raimond (bass) of Provence, and Astrid (mezzo-soprano) the fiancee of Rolf Vidfarle (tenor) the Viking king, who is brought to Provence following a battle in North Africa in which Rolf has been struck by a poisonous arrow. Isaura tends to the Viking prince, and they fall in love, their intended marriage agreed upon by the people and her father, but rejected by the Vikings. When Bjorn (baritone), the foster-brother of Rolf, arrives with Astrid, confrontation ensures. Isaura also has a soprano confidant named Bertha, because of course she does. In the end, one of the leads is murdered, another apparently dies of shock, and two commit suicide by various methods.

VIDEO:

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: Terrace of the palace of King Raymond of Provence. (39 minutes)

0: The four and a half minute long overture ** starts off gloomily, then has a theme which appears to be taken from the ballet of Rienzi and then we switch out for a rather jovial dance number finish. Overall, a very good piece, displaying the musically contrasting theory which is the tension of the work.

5: Af vinskordens fest The lilting song of the Troubadour ** immediately positions us in the sound world of the work with its delicate and somewhat old-fashioned nature. This is followed by two minutes of recitative introducing us to Raimond and Isaura.

9: Jublande sangers glada Atmospheric chorusing from the Provençals **, who are startled by a courtier coming on frightened. They go off to investigate.

14: Det rads att bli A charming, if rather ordinary, cavatina for Isaura *, framed by recitative with her confidant Bertha (notice especially the brass effects).

18: Marsch They are interrupted by the sounds of a march from the orchestra **, King Raimond returns (very dramatic, almost Wagnerian actually), as we all await the inevitable arrival of the Vikings.

20: Ej bleknen sa for A chorus of monks, and their abbot, show up, fleeing the Vikings with banners of the Virgin Mary and fearing that they will all get killed *. A captain also shows up, with much the same issues, pleading with the King for protection, also recounting the horrible Vikings. Bjorn finally shows up, in recitative, in full armor and winged helmet, and describes what has transpired: King Rolf has been wounded in battle in North Africa, poisoned arrow, can you save him? King Raimond responds positively and summons that Bjorn have the Viking king brought into the palace for treatment. In terms of plotting it is very important detail, but musically it is rather uneventful.

28: Hvilken djerf och dristig man Another monastic chorus, not the most interesting, but it opens up the act finale *.

30, 35: Viking for vida King Rolf is brought in to very noble-sounding music and a just as noble chorus of Vikings ** (notice the cymbal effects). Rolf and Raimond exchange kingly pleasantries (given the circumstances). The tenor vocal work is rather good, probably better written than the other parts so far. He sees Isaura. The Troubador embarks on one last song (notice the harp) to bookend the act effectively *.

ACT 2: The Royal Park, palm and other mediterranean foliage, evening eventually gives way to night over the course of the act. (45 minutes)

0, 4: The orchestral entr’acte * is thematic, moving directly into a recitative and aria for Rolf ** with a tragic melody.

7: Sjunker purpursegel An Icelandic bard comes in to comfort the wounded king **. It turns into a duet between the bard and the king.

17: Sankt har sig åter A chorus of maidens (with Bertha and Isaura) brings on the feminine element into the act *. It is at this point that Isaura sings about the moonrise.

22: Du far alltså? The love duet (Isaura-Rolf) has something of a start-stop quality to it **. The individual movements, separately and taken together, are perfectly fine. Around five minutes in a flowing melody comes out.

31: Harm och smärta hos mig brinna Bjorn arrives with Astrid (disguised as a boy) and the first truly great number in the opera finally arrives *** in a quartet for the principals: Astrid confused and hurt, Isaura and Rolf guilty, Bjorn shocked and a little angry. Bjorn and Astrid take on a very noble musical theme as they confront the illicit lovers.

35: Man hade rätt! The second act-finale is the climax of the work and in two parts: 1) The courtiers and King Raimond return ** and learn what has transpired about Rolf and Isaura and Astrid (whose cloak and helmet are removed, revealing her long, golden hair).

40: Och nu, tillbaks till stranden! 2) The concertate act finale *** which is furious (cymbals and flutes crashing about) rathe logically given the circumstances. A section in the vocal line of Rolf (backed by the horns) comes close to the climactic theme in Voyevoda. Rolf and Bjorn threaten each other, but Rolf decides that he will marry Isaura, which is acclaimed very positively by the Provençals, but the Vikings threaten civil war.

ACT 3: The shoreline, a fisherman’s hut center-stage, Rolf’s Dragon Ship on the other side, Bjorn’s Dragon Ship on the opposite side. (39 minutes)

0: The prelude ** moves from moderato to vivace. One of the better orchestral pieces in the work.

3: Höggo vi med svärd The first Viking chorus as they organize weaponry **.

5: Hell dig, älskade nord An a capella Viking song **.

11: Du är det, icke jag Rolf and Bjorn draw swords on each other in an angry duet **.

12: Hör på mig Astrid comes between the two foster brothers and stops them **.

17: Vår ungdoms lycka Astrid, alone, bemoans her love for Rolf and the suffering it has caused her. One of the best numbers in the opera *** as the music conveys her twin sense of doom and loss.

22, 24, 31: Hvad vill du mig?/Hvem ropar här? Isaura arrives, Astrid, although a little afraid, confronts her rival **. Eventually, Isaura goes bizzurk and stabs Astrid in the heart. It feels longer than it actually is. Some of the parts are excellent, but it goes on for too long (the scene is ten minutes long) and the dramatic tension starts to lose momentum before the fatal stab (although Astrid tries her best). The a cappella bit is a little weird just before one of the women kills the other. Rolf shows up just in time for Astrid to die in his arms ***. Rolf confronts Isaura, who goes nuts.

32: Hvad dödsskri nått vårt The play-out ***: 1) The courtiers and King Raimond arrive, Isaura has lost it completely and collapses (apparently dead or at least insane) before her terrified father. 2) Rolf takes Astrid’s body to his ship (which he then launches and lites on fire (a Viking funeral pyre). 3) Bjorn arrives with the Vikings who beat their shields. Seeing Rolf and the dead Astrid amid the flames, Bjorn falls on his own sword, killing himself. 4) The Provençals kneel, chanting in Latin in astonishment, as Rolf’s flaming ship goes further out to sea.

COMMENTS:

This was a bit of a find!

Okay, so the plot is rather a series of cliches: a standard love triangle, although this time the soprano murders the mezzo, with Viking winged helmets, ending in a Norse double-funeral as Southern European on-lookers are shocked and chant in Latin. But it is surprisingly enjoyable!

The cultural contrasts, Viking/Provençal, are rather well executed and Hallstrom is able to be convincing with both idioms. Although Isaura is a bit weird and not that musically interesting, the Viking leads (Rolf, Bjorn, and especially Astrid) are flesh and blood human beings one feels tragically sad for. Astrid’s murder is particularly shocking and poignant. Even King Raimond is understandable, at least certainly more so than his daughter.

Why the Provençals are so positive about their princess marrying a Viking is a bit odd, I rather agree with the Vikings!

The best numbers is the act two quartet and Astrid’s aria in act three.

Overall, an alpha minus.

Source:

Ivar Hallstrom: Vikingarne, Opera i 3 akter.

(Link in Swedish, English article is incomplete but accessible from search)

https://levandemusikarv.se/tonsattare/hallstrom-ivar/SMH-W4357-Vikingarne_Opera_i_3_akter

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