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Merlin - Teatro Real Madrid


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World premiere May 2003 at the Teatro Real

Isaac Albéniz (1860 - 1909)


Photo of the scene

Performance of June 4, 2003 - Though Isaac Albéniz was one of the most important Spanish composers, he has never found the recognition, he would deserve. Only few works of the already as a 'Wunderkind' worldwide - like in South America, Leipzig (GER) and Bruxelles (BEL) - celebrated concert pianist are well-known today with the exception of his piano pieces and there especially the Suite Iberia,  which has written music history. Albéniz, who lived at London from 1890 till 1893 and settled down afterwards at and near Paris, where he also died in 1909, was already during his lifetime very disappointed of this non-recognition of his work work and person in his home country. And this though Albéniz has written besides his piano works, of which the most celebrated besides the Suite Iberia are Recuerdos de viaje, Espana, Seis hojas de álbum, several pieces for the music theatre like The Magic Opal, San Antonio de la Florida, Henry Clifford, Pepita Jiménez and Merlin.

Ballet scene

Merlin was supposed to be the start of an Arthur trilogy in the style of Wagner's tetralogy. Wagner, who was very much admired by Albéniz, took a lof of influence on the work of the Spanish composer, what can be heard in the elaborated orchestral sound as in Albéniz' use of the 'Leitmotiv' techniques and the aimed unity of music and drama. The libretto for Merlin was written by the wealthy British lawyer, poet and patron of the arts Francis Burdett Money Coutts, who also finanzed Albéniz. Money Coutts should have writtren also the libretti for the two other pieces of the planed myth trilogy to which it should not come anymore. In 1897 Albéniz started the work on Merlin, but did not finish it before five years had passed.

David Wilson-Johnson as Merlin the world premiere

First of all the at Madrid born José de Eusebio has to be praised for that the stage works of Albéniz have been paid more attention to over the last years. His concert recording of Merlin with Carlos Álvarez in the title role and Plácido Domingo as King Arthur has won several awards, among those the Grammy. The CD recording of Merlin in the year 1998 has been followed meanwhile by recordings of Henry Clifford, Pepita Jiménez, San Antonio de la Florida, The magic Opal, Počme d’amour, Lancelot and the symphonical work of Albéniz. But, Eusebio was not only the musical director of the concerts and recordings, he also did the critical editions of Merlin, San Antonio de la Florida and Henry Clifford.

Carol Vaness as Nivian in the world premiere

In its original language English Merlin saw its world premiere under the musical direction of José de Eusebio and in the production of John Dew on the stage of the Teatro Real at Madrid on May 28, 2003. The on Cuba born British stage director developed together with his stage designer Heinz Balthes and his costume designer José Manuel Vázquez a mystic, splendid atmosphere with fairytale costumes for the stage appearance of the King Arthur - Merlin myth. Especially the first act proved to be atmospherically intense and as well the musical as the stage performance captivated and impressed. The musical following of Wagner's work cannot be overheard. Into the mystical world leads already the wonderfully orchestrated and of the Madrid Symphonic Orchestra like in the recording touchingly presented overture.

Photo of the scene

A bit long-winded became the second and third act. In that case one or the other cut would certainly be no fault, since in the current form the arch of tension gets lost. Also the relation between the proceeding of the contents and the ballet scenes cannot always be realized. The by Mei Hong Lin designed and studied choreography like during the ballett scene in the wood or in the scenes with the dancing Sarazene sisters gave often the impression that the movements did not really well correspondent with the music and they reminded too often about aerobic dance.

Photo of the scene with Eva Marton as Morgan le Fay in the premiere und Ángel Ódena as her son Mordred (all performances)

 The singers

In the part of King Arthur the American tenor Frank Porretta could be heard, whose voice has even still gained since his European debut in the role of Verdi's Otello at Sevilla (ESP) in October 2003  in glowing power and luster and whose heights are certain and brilliant, while his piani are touching. Of Christopher Robertson's pleasing baritone in the part of Merlin one would have wished more power and volume. Substantial and well-floating with an agreeable sound was Mordred embodied by the baritone Ángel Ódena, whose mother Morgan le Fay was sung with the splendid, also in the dramatic scenes never sharp and forced soprano of  Eugenie Grunewald.

Merlin and Morgan le Fay

Her in the heights very certain and with a beautiful middle range equipped soprano gave Kathleen Broderick to the role of Nivian. Juan Tomás Martínez convinced with the nice timbre and the power of his baritone, which one looks forward to hear also in bigger roles. The only part, which was sung bby the same person on the CD and in the Madrid stage premiere was the one of Gawain with Ángel Rodríguez. The Spanish tenor did not succeed to pull the for Arthur destined sword out of the marble and to become king, but to fulfill briiliantly his role.

Birgit Popp

Bericht - Photo impressiones part I and part II





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