dissonant harmony, and some militaristic musical interventions within what is a generalized folkloric style.
The five substantial ballet sequences contain nothing nearly so rhythmically complex or orchestrally inventive as, say, Le Sacre du printemps, though Wellesz does ring the changes in terms of mood and texture. Hollywood epic film scores still lie ahead, of course, though they’re not too far away.
Of the three central sung roles, Wolfgang Koch gives the Field Commander’s declamatory pronouncements grandeur while Ivan Urbas’s Head of the Council delivers the similarly foursquare writing accorded his official in like manner. As the Prince’s Shield Bearer, Robert Brooks’s bold tenor suggests the blend of nobility and bravado of an individual versus a foreign state.
The orchestral playing is impeccable and there are strongly-voiced interventions from the choir as the initially hostile populace. The conductor Friedrich Cerha proves a determined advocate for this obscure piece. There’s a German text in the booklet, but no translation. george hall
The Rose Elf, Hertzberg Sydney Mancasola (The Girl/Luna), Samantha Hankey (The Elf), Kirk Dougherty (The Beloved/Horus), Andrew Bogard (The Brother), c. Robert Kahn. Meyer Media MM20044 (one CD) After the glowing reception of the recording of David Hertzberg’s first opera, The Wake World—‘anyone interested in the future of opera should seek it out,’ was John Rockwell’s summation in these pages (August 2020, pp. 979-81)—expectations of his second could hardly have been higher. Now, just a matter of months later, we also have a recording of Hertzberg’s The Rose Elf. Premiered respectively in 2017 and 2018, the works were written by a composer who also supplied his own librettos and who at the time was not yet 30. Both derive from fairy tales, which the composer explains by saying that his love for opera ‘begins with its incandescent power to illuminate the language of myth’. In the earlier work, the authorial source was Aleister Crowley; the newer work adapts and truncates Hans Christian Andersen’s tale about a tiny elf who lives inside the petals of roses and spends his sunny days dancing on the wings of butterflies and flying from flower to flower, but who then witnesses a murder. There is a young couple; the girl has a brother who hates her lover, drives him away, and kills him; the girl dies of grief. (In the original, the elf avenges the crime.) Hertzberg has turned this into a one-act chamber opera for four singers, lasting barely an hour. In staged performances the work involves dance and mime, so three of the singers must also be capable dancers. This, together with a libretto rich in drama and opportunities for colourful stage-setting and direction, is likely to contribute to a strong theatrical impact; by all accounts that was certainly the case at the work’s premiere in the catacombs of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
So does The Rose Elf live up to expectations? The short answer is no. Whatever impact the opera might have had at its premiere, the most charitable inference to make from this audio version is that a good deal is lost when the work is sundered from the visually dramatic. One’s attention then goes, for example, to the libretto’s play with the kind of obscurity that tends to be ostentatious, or to the work’s ‘arty’ construction and some attendant superficialities. For this listener at least, the work seldom offers much in the
Opera, May 2021