... we're not likely to get a new recording any time soon. This, the most famous of Reznicek's operas, has never been recorded before and apparently this recording of a live performance from the Kiel Opera, with musical forces of less than international standards, was partially underwritten by The Reznicek Society, an organization based in Alaska(!). There has been a freshet of Reznicek recordings lately and I've raved here at Amazon about the recordings of two of his orchestral masterpieces, 'Der Sieger' and 'Schlemihl,' also on the cpo label. One, of course, knows the Overture to 'Donna Diana,' even if one doesn't know they know it. It has figured on pops programs, has been used in commercials and was the signature tune for the old radio program, in the US, 'Sergeant Preston of the Yukon,' and in Germany for their equivalent of 'Name That Tune' ('Erkennen Sie die Melodie?').
Reznicek was resident in Prague in the 1894 when he wrote the opera; he had been a military bandmaster at the time, but had just been fired for getting into a fight with a student who made advances to his wife. (Reznicek's life is so filled with dramatic incidents it could make the plot of an opera in its own right.) He submitted the opera to the impresario of the Deutsches Theater in Prague, Angelo Neumann, and it was accepted but Neumann told him he needed to add an overture and 'make it a lively one!' This Reznicek did that very night and it became the one piece for which he is still remembered to this day.
'Donna Diana,' set in Spain, is based on a Spanish play, 'El desdén con el desdén' ('Disdain for Disdain'), which is a version of the 'Taming of the Shrew' story with weird echoes of the 'Turandot' story as well. The daughter of the ruling Count of Barcelona, the haughty heroine, Donna Diana (named, of course, for the chaste huntress of Greek mythology) is courted by three suitors whom she rejects with disdain. The hero, Don Cesar, by stealth and force, humbles her into loving him. This is all accompanied by the usual comic opera hijinks. Reznicek revised the opera in the 1930s, making considerable cuts and rewriting the libretto, setting the whole thing in the present, with Don Cesar as a bullfighter and Don Louis, one of Diana's suitors, as a sugar tycoon. We are given the original version in this recording.
The opera has some wonderful arias and ensembles, including a ironic, yet moving, choral prayer that sounds vaguely like the 'sacred' music of Mahler (but written before his 'Resurrection' Symphony) whose text beseeches God to 'bend Diana's stubborn mind' to Cesar's will. Musically, Reznicek's style is all over the place--he was master pasticheur--and we get Spanish melorhythms cheek-by-jowl with Wagnerian/Straussian harmonies and orchestration, and occasional forays into waltzes by the other Strauss. There are two particularly memorable arias, 'Floretta's Song,' and 'The Fool's Song,' the latter sung by the plot's behind-the-scenes manipulator, Don Perin. And there are a number of excellent orchestral interludes, including preludes to Acts II and III.
The performance of the Kiel Opera Chorus and Orchestra is lively and generally excellent, although they are some awkward asynchronies from time to time in this live performance. The main singers are acceptable, although the performance of Donna Diana herself by a spinto soprano, Manuela Uhl, is sometimes harsh and more than sometimes wayward. Don Cesar, the hero, is sung stalwartly by tenor Roman Sadnik. Floretta, whose aria in Act II is a highlight, is sung deliciously by mezzo Anne-Carolyn Schlüter. Don Louis is a sweet-voiced tenor, Hans-Jürgen Schöpflin. The star of the production is the Don Perin, sung by baritone Simon Pauly, whose 'Fool's Song' ('Die Narrenglocken klingen tagsüber mir ins Ohr') is outstanding, as are his singing and acting as Don Cesar's 'foolish' sidekick who actually knows all.
The booklet notes in German by Edward van den Hoogen are inelegantly written, but informative; the English translation of van den Hoogen's prose by Susan Marie Praeder does it no service. I've complained before about her inept translations in other cpo productions and this effort is no improvement. Sound is excellent. Audience noise minimal.
Bottom line: Not for everyone, but for any musiclover curious to widen his acquaintance of Reznicek's music, and particularly of his most famous opera, this is the only game in town.
2CDs: TT=112 mins