Saturday, April 28, 2001

Conlon brings life to long-forgotten opera

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Thanks to James Conlon, the music of Alexander Zemlinsky continues to win a wider audience. The latest in Mr. Conlon's EMI Classics series of Zemlinsky's music is the rarely heard opera Der Traumgorge (Gorge the Dreamer).

        Mr. Conlon, who opens his 22nd season as music director of the May Festival next month, leads a cast of excellent soloists with his Gurzenich Orchestra-Cologne Philharmonic. (His other jobs are general music director of the City of Cologne and principal conductor of Paris Opera.)

        Der Traumgorge, an opera in two acts and an epilogue, was to have premiered in Vienna in 1907. It was canceled when Gustav Mahler, who was to conduct, resigned from the State Opera. It lay forgotten for 70 years until it was mounted in 1980 in Nuremberg.

   James Conlon, Gurzenich Orchestra-Cologne Philharmonic
   Zemlinsky, Der Traumgorge
   EMI CLASSICS; 4 stars
   2 CDs $32.99; no cassette
        The lush score is steeped in the post-romantic world of Strauss. But there are moments — such as opening village scenes — where the music seems right out of Puccini.

        Like Zemlinsky's other operas, the plot is semi-autobiographical; it was composed after his ardent love affair with the beautiful Alma Schindler, who subsequently married Mahler.

        Its theme explores Gorge's search for ideal love. Through daydreaming, he escapes from his problems to a fantasy world.

        The score is full of musical riches. In the brief orchestral introduction, Mr. Conlon sets an atmospheric stage of full-blown sound, yet one that is delicate and detailed. His forces, especially the winds, respond to his well-paced direction with excellent playing.

        Tenor David Kuebler (Gorge) is versatile in a role that demands a range of emotion from the first page. The rest of the cast is also first rate, including Iride Martinez as Grete; Andreas Schmidt as her sweetheart, Hans; and Patricia Racette as Gertraud.

        One of the most remarkable moments is sung by a vision: Susan Anthony as the Dream Princess. Her “Die Welt” is soaring and passionate.

        With such a persuasive recording, perhaps some opera director will rediscover its merits.

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