Violanta is one of those works which seem oddly out of place, among other things. It’s a one act opera by the eighteen year old Erich Korngold which premiered in Munich and Vienna in 1916. It hardly needs saying that most eighteen year olds in Europe in 1916 were engaged otherwise than in composing rather overwrought operas about seduction and death in 15th century Venice but there you go.
It’s actually a pretty trite story. Alfonso, bastard son of the king of Naples has seduced Violanta’s sister leading her to kill herself. Violanta pretends to seduce Alfonso to lure him to her house where her husband, Captain Simone Trovai will kill him. On discovering that poor Alfonso has never known true love, Violanta falls in love with him and, realising that the only way she can now retain her honour is death, interposes herself between Alfonso and her husband’s sword. She claims redemption in her dying words. Ho hum say I.
The music is not unlike Korngold’s other operas. It’s a very well crafted lush soup of late Romanticism with maybe a hint of Debussy but ne’er a trace of atonalism. The sometimes suggested influence of Tristan und Isolde (there’s a rather torrid love/death duet) seems extremely unfair to Wagner.
It was recorded for video in a production by Pier Luigi Pizzi at the Teatro Regio Torino in January 2020 (is this the last pre COVID opera video?). Pizzi chooses to set the piece in the 1920s in a sort of nightmare vision of Carnival for no especially obvious reason though it’s harmless enough. It’s pretty straightforward with no real attempt to get more out of it than there is to be got. In fact in the interview with Pizzi in the accompanying booklet one gets the impression that he’s not overly impressed or interested.
The performances of the three principals are good. Annemarie Kremer is a convincing Violanta (if she comes across as a bit overwrought it’s not her fault) with a fine young dramatic soprano that suits the music (she also sings Heliane so she’s a glutton for Korngold punishment!). Michael Kupfer-Radecky has a very firm baritone which suits the role of Trovai and he acts well. Norman Reinhardt completes the trio of principals as Alfonso. He has a strong tenor with good high notes and he actually becomes quite sympathetic. The supporting roles are all fine though the chorus’ German diction is a bit loose. The orchestra sounds fine and Pinchas Steinberg gets an appropriately rich sound out of it.
It’s a very straightforward production and Matteo Ricchetti directs the video very straightforwardly. Video and sound (the usual DTS-HD-MA and stereo) on Blu-ray are high quality. There are no extras but besides the Pizzi interview the booklet has an essay, synopsis and track listing. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Korean.
I think this production and performance are a fair representation of a piece I wasn’t too impressed by but it might appeal to Korngold completists.