There have been over thirty operas dealing with Montezuma, last emperor of the Aztecs from Vivaldi in 1733 to Bernhard Lang in 2010. The second such premiered in 1755 and was rather remarkable. The idea originated with Frederick II of Prussia who decided to fit in an opera before his next war against the Austrians. He wrote a French prose libretto which was turned into an Italian text by his court poet Giampietro Tagliazucchi and then set by his court composer Carl Heinrich Graun. It’s pretty clear that Frederick identied himself with the idealized enlightened monarch Montezuma, the ultimate noble savage, and his betrayal by forces loyal to the Habsburgs and Catholoicism. The ideas earlier expressed in Anti-Machiavel are very much to the fore as are Frederick’s own rather odd ideas on fate and his own mortality(1). Basically this Montezuma is deposed and executed and his world goes up in flames.
My acquaintance with Korngold’s Die tote Stadt has been pretty much limited to recital and competition performances of Glück, das mir verlieb, better known as Marietta’s Lied and, apparently, the last opera aria to become a hit single and Fritz’ act 2 piece Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen. So, I was quite glad to get my hands on a complete recording of this lushly lyrical and rather weird piece. The “dead city” of the title is Brugge and the story concerns a wealthy man, Paul, who has turned his house, and his life, into a shrine to his dead wife Marie. He encounters a dancer, Marietta, who very closely resembles his late wife. What follows is wild and chaotic and is, ultimately, revealed to be a dream. Paul realises that only in the next world can he be reunited with Marie.
Richard Strauss’ last opera Die Liebe der Danae has a pretty chequered production history. It was scheduled to premiere at the 1944 Salzburg Festival but that was scuppered when all theatres were closed following the July bomb plot. A special exception was made for Die Liebe der Danae in that a single, public dress rehearsal was allowed at the conclusion of which Strauss is said to have bid farewell to the Wiener Philharmoniker with the words quoted in the title. It then remained unperformed until the 1952 festival where it got its true premier followed by productions over the next two years in most major European houses. After that it pretty much dropped out of the repertoire with occasional performances in Germany but apparently the production recorded at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 2011 is only the sixteenth production all told. It’s a bit hard to see why it has been so neglected. The music is perfectly good Strauss though maybe it lacks a headline aria of the “Es gibt ein Reich” variety. Maybe the subject matter was just too frivolous for the immediately post-war world; it’s described as “A Joyful Mythology in Three Acts”. In any event, I was happy to discover it.