Ruggiero Leoncavallo: Der Roland von Berlin (1904)

Oper im vier akhten. Running Time 2 hours 18 minutes.

Welcome to my super-sized review! Basically, this is my surah Yusuf.

Now that I recently spent 3300 words on an opera by an Austrian Jew set in Italy, let me spend 5500 words on an opera by an Italian “Jew” set in Germany. A little more on that later.

This is my birthday review for this year. It has taken me almost an entire year to finally finish, and it is my longest review. I am not sure why they keep getting so massive, but that is how it is. Many may think that this one is excessive, even verbose, but I will admit at the start that it was a challenge which I ultimately enjoyed. Although I am a little surprised that I wrote SO much for this post.

Okay, so this one was very difficult for me. The plot is almost unbearably complicated, there are 15 characters, it is sung in German, and the only book which has a detailed summary is by Konrad Dryden and costs $120. However, it is possible to find a copy of the Dryden book on Internet Archive for free (thank you, OperaScribe!). The opera, and even more so the novel it is based on, has a strong political commentary element which is sometimes blurred by the opera, which perhaps naturally, and rather unsatisfyingly for the original German critics, focused the plot on the romantic elements of the story rather than the political ones, which are rather irrelevant unless one is German, a student of German history, or are seriously interested in how dysfunctionally classist medieval municipal governments were. The backdrop of the opera is the corruption of the city councils of Colln and Berlin in the mid-15th century. This is also a very long review, over 5500 words, making it my longest, even compared to Ivanhoe. WordPress claims it takes around half an hour to read, so strap in!

The score is available at Petrucci in German and Italian (Leoncavallo originally set the score to an Italian libretto, which was translated into German for the premiere in Berlin). Although I can not read German beyond a few basic words, my Italian reading skills as a bit better, so although I will quote from the German lyrics in this review, I was actually reading the Italian text since the German is almost totally unintelligible to me).

This opera also has strong Jewish subtexts which are not immediately obvious. Some background: Leoncavallo (falsely) claimed to be Jewish. This started as a desperate attempt at publicity while he was negotiating a contract in Vienna in January 1898, and it quickly got out of hand. Hoping that it would give him some support among Jews in the entertainment industry, it backfired badly. Some simply did not believe him, others took him seriously and it resulted in anti-semitism. To the defense of Leoncavallo, his wife, Berthe, actually was Jewish, and at a later date he claimed that what he had said was that he was married to a Jewish woman, not that he was actually Jewish, but the social damage appears to have been done by that point (Dryden, p. 75). I bring this up because the story of Der Roland von Berlin has Jewish themes and Jewish characters, mostly real-life people who lived in Berlin and Colln in the mid to late 15th century. However, the 1989 performance, and only recording, obscures these Jewish themes. The Jewishness of Salome is obscured, the scene between her father Civile Baruch, and the mayor of Berlin, Rathenow, has been cut as well.

Following the successful premiere of I Medici in Berlin, the Kaiser commissioned Leoncavallo to write the German equivalent work. Based on a 1840 novel of the same name, it was to be the largest and longest work Leoncavallo ever created (the overture alone is nearly 12 minutes long and the composer considered it his greatest work, and in terms of size, it certainly is). Its failure resulted in Leoncavallo giving up on producing long works ever again, and apart from revising his La Boheme, all of his later works were no more than an hour and a half long, or else operettas. The one hour long Edipo Re was actually composed after Leoncavallo died mostly from the music taken from Roland by a composer paid by his widow. Given that the work had only been heard in Berlin (and sporadically in Italy), and for only one season, it must have been assumed that no one would notice. And no one did, until Konrad Dryden proved that there was no reference to the later work by Leoncavallo nor a note of it written in his hand. Der Roland von Berlin has been produced rarely since the First World War, with a production in Berlin in 1987, which is the basis of this review, being the only instance of it being recorded. There are two main sections of the Dryden book which concern this opera, pages 83-96 (which goes over the history of its composition) and pages 258-271 (which covers the rather complicated plot). The first section goes into the background of the genesis of the work, the second gives a highly detailed commentary and synopsis of the opera.

Ironically, the new commission from the Kaiser for this opera was a major factor in the delaying of the version of La Boheme written by Leoncavallo, and why it was produced a year after the Puccini work. Interesting, Dryden does mention that themes from Puccini operas (such as the finale which comes close to the mourning scene for Fidelia in Edgar) show up in Der Roland von Berlin. The original production boasted a cast including Emmy Destinn as Elsbeth and Geraldine Farrar as Eva.

SETTING: Berlin, 1442. Henning Mollner (tenor) is in love with Elsbeth (soprano) the daughter of the mayor Johannes Rathenow (baritone), who is engaged to one Melchior Schumm (baritone), son of the mayor of Colln (Historian Phil: which at the time was a twin city of Berlin which has since been incorporated into Berlin, hence why probably this is news to anyone reading this), Bartholomaus Schumm (bass). What complicates all of this is the rigid class structure of the city, which afflicts both the gentile and Jewish populations of the city. Compounding this personally for Mollner is that he is owed a certain amount of money for the wrongful death of his father, who died saving the life of Rathenow from assassination, but which the city government refuses to pay. Mollner crashes an engagement party for Elsbeth and her fiance disguised as a masked minstrel (ACT 3) which is cancelled after true rumours of his being seen climbing down her balcony spread and Elsbeth is insulted by Eva (soprano), the sister of her fiancé. Mollner is elected leader of a middle class revolt against upper class corruption in the city and nicknamed Roland after a statue in honour of Roland (possibly a reference to the statue in Bremen, Germany, erected in 1404? as no such statue existed in Berlin at the time the opera is set). Meanwhile, Friedrich (bass) the Crown Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, has been going about the city incognito, and realizing the injustice being inflicted by the upper classes, tacitly allows for the uprising to happen. However, he eventually brings in an army, and Mollner is accidentally killed. There is also a sub-sub-plot involving a Jewish girl named Salome (mute) who was seduced by the son of Rathenow and publicly flogged for addressing Elsbeth in public and how her father, the wealthy money lender Civele Baruch (tenor) tries to intercede for her and predicts the fall of the mayor, a fate from which Rathenow only seeks to spare Elsbeth from (ACT 2) as everyone else in this opera is frankly guilty as sin. That is only around half of the plot of the opera, and I have not mentioned multiple other characters who I will mention later in the review because there are just far too many of them and many are walk-on characters who only appear once or twice.

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: Main Square in Berlin, on the left a church and a statue of Roland, a Sunday afternoon while Mass is still going on, off-center the barbershop of Ferbirt where the barber is shaving someone as Henning, while in the shop, watches across the street at the church where Elsbeth is attending mass, on right a tavern where patrons are being served and further down the home of the mayor, Johannes Rathenow, a clear skied Sunday afternoon in February. (47 minutes)

0: The overture *** is a massive, twelve minute-long tone poem taking influences from the full range of 19th century German music (there are traces of Weber, Meyerbeer, Wagner, even Lehar, Smetana, Verdi, and Tchaikovsky in this!). It reminds me personally of the overture to Euryanthe, but obviously saturated in early 20th century and late-19th century conventions. The overture displays a series of musical motifs which will be used throughout the opera: After an almost inaudible harp chord, a theme in the trumpets (supported by eery strings) is the Patrician Theme which represents the established and slowly dying ruling class. This builds up for nearly three minutes into a kind of trumpet voluntary/dawning theme. The next theme, which will be taken up by Henning early in act one, is the Victory Theme (so christened by Dryden) and is unmistakably dramatic and hymn-like simultaneously. This is then followed by the Conflict Theme which is the melody most similar to Euryanthe. The fourth theme represents Henning himself and his political idealism, and is followed by a fifth theme representing his love for Elsbeth (it sounds like Lehar). The Conflict Theme returns, which gives way to a crescendo (notice the timpani) and then the sixth and final theme representing Crown-Prince Frederick (it returns at the end of the opera and is based on a 1577 German folk song). It will either come off as amazing or a steady stream of blatantly obvious Teutonic orchestral effects.

11, 16: Accende lumen sensibus/Vergeltung! The opening scene contrasts a Latin hymn (the score claims it is taken from a German Catholic hymnal circa 1500, which means it post-dates the setting of the opera) with what is going on in the street **. Henning laughs at a story Ferbirt is telling as he shaves another customer. The Crown Prince comes on in cognito with a Count Knipprode (who almost gives away his disguise) and remarks on the scene. More street conversations as the organ music continues in the church, and the scene is obviously modeled off of the opening of Meistersinger. The stillness is broken * by shouts from Makensprung (a storekeeper) who claims that he has been robbed by bandits in the nearby forest. The populous demand action, but Makensprung says that after having requested help from the town council, they scoffed at him for being too poor to demand justice. An announcement is later made that a “prostitute” (Salome, the daughter of one of the city’s Jewish families) is being brought to the square for public punishment (specifically, whipping). Her crime? Greeting Elsbeth on the street after having slept with her brother the night before. Mollner, who is already owed money by the city for the wrongful death of his father (who died saving the mayor) is enraged by the maddening injustice of the municipal government, and Makensprung decides to take his grievance directly to the Crown Prince, not realizing that he is actually standing there in their midst and has overheard everything.

19, 22: Den Grund fur solche/Treu den Gobote Henning tries to rouse the Berliners to action by singing a liberty song * which freely quotes Rienzi (three minutes in the second go makes this even more obvious when the Victory Theme makes its first appearance in the vocal line) **, as a reaction to Makensprung have been rebuffed by the councillors. The finishing chorus is explosive. After the announcement about Salome is made and the Crown Prince speaks with Henning about power, and offering him a knighthood, things start to die down finally.

27: Elsbeth, Gott stehe allzeit The arrival of Elsbeth ** (who has come from church and dropped her prayerbook to a solo oboe), prompts a brief encounter of around seven pages before she retires to her father’s house. She tells Henning that her father is trying to get the payment through the city council, and that he should have faith in him, giving him her prayerbook (this is an important plot point which comes up later). She also invites him to the house that evening before taking leave (this will be a plot point in act two). In the conversation between Henning and Ferbrit that follows, Leoncavallo quotes (in the upper strings) the Spinning Chorus from The Flying Dutchman as the latter asks if a weaver (Henning’s occupation) has the right to demand justice from anyone? One must seriously wonder if German society has always had equality issues. When Ferbrit wonders if it were better for Henning to gain the support of the Crown Prince, the weaver rejects this (remember, the CP is literally standing meters away) and Frederick warns him (to a quotation from Siegfried) not to underestimate the support of the Hohenzollerns.

33: Carnival! Carnival! And now for one of the most bizarre scenes in all opera ** as a gigantic money-eating puppet (representing the city council) and a tenor clown named Bajazzo arrive with a crowd of citizens. Henning asks the puppet if he will ever get his money from the city, the puppet simply continues to demand more money to eat and soon Henning and the crowd call for the death of the puppet. The clown then takes out a wooden sword and decapitates the puppet. This would mostly have gone unnoticed if not for the arrival of Johannes Rathenow at that exact moment. He warns the clown, threatening to have him hanged, but the clown claims that the entire situation is in jest, asking when Henning will get his money. Rathenow announces that he will pay Henning personally because the city of Colln has been so slow with the payment. But the people are furious and threaten to have Rathenow thrown into the river Spree. Henning personally helps Rathenow seek sanctuary in the church.

41: Drum auf gerafft As is becoming usual in this opera, we get one more diversion, as Salome is brought on for her scourging (which occurs off stage, the night is also coming on) ** in a series of rather haunting choruses. The Crown Prince (without revealing his true identity) convinces Henning in aiding him in escaping from the city. Henning gives him a boat that is behind the barber shop. When the Prince offers money, Henning refuses it, saying that unlike the puppet, he can not eat it. Instead, he asks for the Crown Prince’s help. The Crown Prince is surprised by his modesty, and tells Henning to go after the bandits who robbed Makensprung, saying that this is something the “Crown Prince” would approve off. He finally reveals his true identity to Henning. The Victory Theme returns at this point as the CP disappears down the river and Henning is left wondering, as he kisses Elsbeth’s prayerbook, if he will one day become a knight.

ACT 2: A room in the house of Rathenow, one month later. The statue of Roland can be seen from the window center stage, illumined by the lights coming from the church windows across the street. A door, stage right, leads to the chambers of Elsbeth. (30 minutes)

3: Wohl ver diente Ruh! The act opens with a prelude depicting the angst of Rathenow (the Patrician Theme), flowing directly into a conversation between Rathenow and Ryke, one of the Berlin town councillors, with a very attractive accompaniment if it is about rather disagreeable prospects: Henning will not get his money since the Colln councillors rejected the proposal, claiming that Henning is already independently wealthy. The Berlin members, who all supported to pay Henning, were out voted. Ryke then leaves and Rathenow ponders to the gentle Elsbeth theme. Rathenow embarks on a striking aria ** in which he begs the statue of Roland for help, if not for himself, then for Elsbeth. What follows is supposed to be a conversation between Rathenow and Civile Baruch in which Rathenow attempts to get the money for Henning from Baruch (who is a Jewish moneylender), but Baruch refuses because his daughter, Salome, was recently scourged on order of the town council because of her sexual relationship with Rathenow’s son (who never actually appears in the opera, incidentally), but this has been cut and the performance goes into a musically lush non-encounter between Rathenow and Henning (a Lehar-esque theme, similar to the love theme in the overture of The Merry Widow). Henning has arrived to speak with Elsbeth, but Rathenow does not actually see him and Henning hides as the scene progresses.

9: Seid willkommen Leoncavallo has us embark on an attractive (if Polonaise accompaniment ** as Rathenow speaks with Bartholomaus Schum (the father of Melchior, the fiance of Elsbeth) and his friend Thomas Wintz, about the wedding plans and contract. Henning overhear all of this before Elsbeth enters, having just returned from dinner at the rectory with Gertrude, her maid.

16: Bin rich denn nicht Patrizierin? Elsbeth asks her father if she can wear the family neckless. He claims that she is too young, but she chides him, saying that as she is a Rathenow she is able to wear it (the Patricians Theme returns at this point *). He gives in to her request (more of the gentle Lehar-esque music from earlier in the act). The neckless is an important plot point in act three, which is why I am mentioning it here, when it is introduced.

18, 22, 27: Bei Mondesschimmer auf nacht/In stiller Brust/Ach holder Klanger! The remainder of the act consists of a shimmering aria for Elsbeth *** and her duet with Henning *, who finally comes out of hiding. He confronts her about her up coming marriage to Schum. The love theme returns towards the very end in the vocal line for Henning ** as he gives her a wedding present, a ring from the CP no less, before Elsbeth helps him escape the house by climbing down from her window (this is an important plot point, as unknown to both, Henning is seen).

ACT 3: The Engagement Party at the City Hall, Colln. (25 minutes)

0: Preis und Ehr! The thunderous act opener party chorus and intrigues by the soloists **.

3: Gavotte The celebration festivities move into an attractive gavotte *, which is the equivalent of the central ballet in this opera. It is based on a German Pickleherring Tanze dating to 1519 which was adapted by Leoncavallo. Blankenfeld arrives, saying that he would rather have Ryker as mayor instead of Rathenow. Melchior Schum, who shows up with his sister Eva, who refuses to dance, tells his father that he knows that Elsbeth has no interest in him whatsoever and says, rather crudely, that after the ball, the next time he wants to even look at her will be on the wedding night. They leave, prematurely.

8, 12: Auf leichtem Fittich/Mein Fraulein! An elegant tenor minstrel arrives to entertain everyone with a sexy and exciting song, claiming to be the King of Song *** (I wonder who this might be?). This is extremely well received by the guests (notice the quote from Act 2 of Parsifal after the guests exclaim their delight at the song). Still in character, the minstrel questions Elsbeth about where her fiancé is. She laughs as she figures out that it is Henning behind the mask, but plays along anyways. Leoncavallo plays off two themes here: a minuet tune, and a variant of the love theme *.

14: Act! Entschuldigt! Wintz returns, intoxicated, and offers a bouquet of flowers to Elsbeth, only he hands them to Eva Schum, the sister of the groom. He realizes his mistake, and snatches them from his child, but this causes her public embarrassment (not sure why since it is obviously Elsbeth who is getting married, but anyway, now Eva is angry with Elsbeth (of course, because there needs to be some tension other than the tenor wanting to bang the soprano). This awakens the Conflict Theme *, Eva physically attacks Elsbeth, tearing the Rathenow family neckless from her neck (it is salvaged by Henning). Schum then accuses Elsbeth of having an affair with a young man seen climbing from her window days earlier (this is Henning, of course, but Schum waits until Rathenow has returned before he actually names the man).

20: Tochter! Mein Abgott! Rathenow (in a scene not in the novel) defends his daughter by covering her ears (symbolically protecting her from further knowledge of the accusations against her). This massive aria is set by Leoncavallo to a melody similar to that of Ridi Pagliaccio **, as Rathenow declares that, at this point, he only has faith in Elsbeth and in G-d, that Schum is just a petty merchant, that he (Rathenow) does not need Colln to pay off his debt to Henning (although he never comes to the most logical way of repaying Henning, giving Elsbeth to him as wife since they are both clearly in love with each other. The engagement with Schum is off, the two ruling families now divided by hate and scandal. (In the novel, this is expanded to a campaign to get Rathenow fired as mayor of Berlin and the mayor of Colln to replace him, ending the division of the two cities. This did not historically happen until 1710, when it was Colln that was erased with its unification with Berlin.) The act ends with a series of separated explosive chords.

ACT 4: (36 minutes)

Scene 1: As in act 2.

0, 8: Wo ist dein Vater?/Ah du! was hore ich! The scene starts with Wagnerian agitation * (a scene between Elsbeth and her nurse Gertrude is replaced by the following encounter between Elsbeth and Henning, who asks where her father is). Rathenow has been ordered by the City Council to a meeting: the Crown Prince is leading troops into the city to end the growing conflict between the Berling and Colln factions which have ignited as a result of the disclosure of the relationship between Elsbeth and Henning (however otherwise innocent it actually is). Henning brings her the neckless which was broken by Eva in the previous act and begs her to marry him. The Patrician Theme returns as Elsbeth (who actually is in love with Henning, and eventually admits to him so) declares that she and Henning can never marry because of their class differences. She tells him to marry a woman of his own social caste, whom she vows to love as a sister for life. He accuses her of being false (to the love theme), especially from when she gave him her prayerbook. This prompts her to admit that her love for him is true, but she already knows that nothing can ever come of their relationship. He tells her that he can be knighted by the Crown Prince for military efforts, he does not have to always been below her in caste. But she tells him that it is not worth it, and he will probably be killed trying. They finally sing the love theme in unison ***, but it is too late. Rathenow returns at that moment and tells them that the city is is serious trouble. Henning begs Rathenow to have mercy on him and allow him to marry Elsbeth. But this is rejected.

11: Vater, gleich einem Sohn This prompts a quartet ** (including Gertrude, who warns Rathenow to let the young people marry, knowing that the family is literally doomed at this point and if he wants to save Elsbeth, this is the only way. Rathenow tells Henning that the only way Elsbeth will marry him is if the statue of Roland falls from its base. Henning then leaves, cursing Rathenow as ungrateful and selfish for causing the murder of the son of the man who saved his (Rathenow) life. Elsbeth collapses in despair.

Scene 2: The City Gates.

16: The scene is preceded by an explosive intermezzo *** depicting the arrival of the Crown Prince and his army, demanding entrance into the city. A Harold announces the arrival of the CP. Although Schum and Blankenfeld support the CP, Rathenow refuses. Leoncavallo seems willing to pull all the stops for this: the chorus in panic mode (and open rebellion), bells, chimes, cymbals, timpani, all working overtime.

23: Dank euch zu vor! Henning confronts Rathenow carrying an axe, claiming that he wants to lead Berlin to greater glory. He takes the axe to the city gates. The Crown Prince arrives *** (to his theme, in its first statement since the overture and Leoncavallo pulls it off rather stately) and orders that the statue of Roland be toppled (this is depicted musically by Leoncavallo as the statue is not visible in this scene). Rathenow hands over his neckless (the symbol of his power as mayor) to the Crown Prince (recognizing himself as part of a dead political system just as Elsbeth arrives on the scene, at which point an utter sense of doom impregnates the opera). The Crown Prince is looking for Henning, who has disappeared since his attack on the gates.

27, 30: Farwohl! Traut gesell! Count Knipprode shocks everyone by announcing that Henning has been killed by troops of the Crown Prince. The last seven and a half minutes ** of the opera starts off with a surprisingly brief funeral march for Henning as his body is brought to the church of St. Nicholas. The Victory motif here appears as a broken motif, similar to the Rheingold theme by Gotterdammerung. The Crown Prince declares that Henning shall be buried as a knight. Elsbeth gets a mini-liebestod *** as she kisses the forehead of the dead Henning. She returns to her father (an idea from Leoncavallo, not the novel) symbolizing her never-ending loss (set to the love theme). She will never marry, anyone. However, the Crown Prince returns the mayoral neckless to her as the curtain falls to a choral variant of the Victory Theme. A brilliant, if bittersweet, finish.

COMMENTS:

This was difficult to get through. The opera itself is not all that long, and most of the score is impressive if of mixed quality. I ended up with 27 items of note, which is about average for my reviews, but this one just had so much plot detail that I felt I could not do the opera justice unless I went all out on it. Leoncavallo tries his hand at being Teutonic and Wagnerian here, and at least in terms of the leitmotif system he rather succeeds. The combination of various influences, however, does not allow the other to have a unified musical tone, instead it switches from Lehar to Wagner almost randomly and the leitmotifs, although saturated into the score, come off almost like pop tunes. They are not repeated to the same droning extent as in late Wagner, thankfully, but they can occur at seemingly odd times or almost randomly.

The tenor lead, Henning Mollner, is a very difficult part, and it is obvious by act two that the singer is starting to get exhausted. The role is on stage for most of the opera. In fact there is little of the opera, apart from the finale, in which he is not on stage spare an aria for Rathenow in act two, an aria for Elsbeth in act two in which he is on stage but does not actually sing (until the end) and the choral-ballet opener in act three. The other roles, including Elsbeth, are significantly smaller. Apart from Rathenow, the other roles are almost cameo level (I mention thirteen by name in this review, but there are far more) with the Crown Prince (who is on stage for much of act one) not returning until the final scene.

The plot is probably the greatest weakness. The novel itself was considered unoperatic before Leoncavallo set it, and although it does contain many of the features of a successful grand opera, (historical setting, an act set during a ball, romantic, religious, and political conflicts all playing out in the personal and public spheres) there is something unsatisfying about it. Perhaps it is the classism of the Rathenows, the cloaked anti-semitism which irredeemably saturates German culture, the rather unusual focus not on people in power corrupted by power but of an almost faceless political corruption and how those involved with it are destroying each other, and innocents like Henning, which makes it somewhat unbearable. The ending, with Henning being killed under friendly fire by the men of the Crown Prince, is actually an invention of Leoncavallo, the Kaiser himself criticized the fact that the composer did not allow the tenor to marry the soprano in the end. There is also an unusual sense of fate and dread which impregnates the opera from its opening bars. Christianity, especially medieval Catholicism, is not given to such demonstrable preoccupations with predestination and fate, which is closer to Islamic or Calvinist doctrines. The classism is historically accurate, however, although for me it seems to address, similarly to the Norman-Saxon conflict in Ivanhoe, if much of western social progress, or lack there of, is the result of centuries of pre-existing racism and casteism among peoples of Germanic ancestry.

Anti-Jewish elements in the original novel have been muted here, although looking at the score this seems to have more to do with the 1987 production in Berlin than the original score as written by Leoncavallo. I noticed while following along with the score that references to the German word for Jewish were deleted from the performance when it exists in references to the characters of Salome and her father Baruch. This is probably due to the relatively recent proximity of the performance to the Second World War, which had ended only 42 years earlier. Also, I am not sure if the production was in West or East Berlin, and I am inclined by the cutting of many (although not all) of the religious references, that it may very well have been East Berlin, which explains further some of the changes.

As for the opera: although I had to repeatedly listen to much of the score (I probably listened to the first hour of the opera three or four times before finally moving on) I find much of the score itself to be rather enjoyable listening. Little of the music can be termed dull, and much of it is actually very attractive if not excitingly good. Certainly one gets the impression that Leoncavallo was putting in every effort to make the opera a success, and its failure was obviously a hard blow, and I do not think deserving either. Composition appears to have begun around 1895-96 with the premier occurring nearly a decade later, meaning that much time was spent on details beyond simply translating the libretto from Italian into German. The German translation is considered inferior to the Italian original which was set by Leoncavallo, but the Kaiser did want his German I Medici– so…

Another factor may be an undercurrent of nostalgia which permeates the opera. Much of the score borrows themes which resemble the music of an earlier era, particularly the 1870s and 80s. Granted, Leoncavallo wrote much of the opera prior to 1900, but by 1904 this must have been seen as harkening back to a by-gone era. This nostalgic feeling may be deliberate, it is not just musical but also directed toward the long-gone political system at play. The nostalgia grows, first within the overture, but then as each act progresses it becomes more and more obvious until the final scene which ends rather affectingly on it with its usage of the Prussian march. And killing off the tenor (who doesn’t even get a final death aria) may be off-putting and cause the ending to fall into the realm of Maytime.

I give it an alpha, although I know others will rate it a bit lower, probably deservingly.

SOURCES:

I want to give personal thanks to Professor Konrad Claude Dryden for his detailed biography of Ruggiero Leoncavallo and his operas. The detail in this review was only possible due to his book Leoncavallo: Life and Works published by Scarecrow Press, Inc. in 2007, in particular pages 83-96 and 258-271. Dryden makes references in his synopsis to the historical novel of the same name by Willibald Alexis, demonstrating that the seemingly un-operatic novel was well treated by the genre and the opera follows the plot of the novel relatively closely. Some of the differences between the opera and the novel include that the character of Baruch is actually named Joel in the novel. If anyone would like to read more about this and other Leoncavallo works, I strongly suggest visiting Internet Archive and taking out on loan the digital copy of the Dryden volume. However, I warn everyone that I am currently using it to work on more Leoncavallo reviews for everyone who is in my Opera World!

There is also an article in German from OperaLounge on the opera if anyone is interested (I have translated it into English with GT): https://operalounge-de.translate.goog/history/die-vergessene-oper/von-teutscher-art?_x_tr_sl=de&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=wapp

3 responses to “Ruggiero Leoncavallo: Der Roland von Berlin (1904)”

  1. If you don’t mind one small correction – the word for four in German is vier not fier (see top of review). Thanks and enjoyed your review.

    Like

    1. Thank you for catching that!

      Like

      1. You’re welcome. My B.A. was originally German until I switched to Italian. Don’t you just love the coincidence?

        Like

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