KRÁSA: Verlobung im Traum.
Juanita Lascarro, Jane Henschel, Charlotte Hellekant, Christiane Berggold, Bogna Bartosz (Traum); Brigitte Balleys (Symphonie); Robert Wörle,Albert Dohman, Michael Kraus (Traum); Women of the Ernst Senff Chorus; Deutsches Symphony Orchestra of Berlin, Lothar Zagrosek (Traum) and Vladimir Ashkenazy (Symphonie), cond.
London 455 587 (2 CDs) (F) (DDD) TT: 56:24 & 62:55) By no means have I heard many in London's Entarte Musik series, co-produced with Deutschland Radio—"degenerate music" according to the Third Reich's Kulturmeisters, much of it by "non-Aryan" (i.e. Jewish) composers, but some by pure-blooded rascals such as Hindemith. Of those I've acquired this one forward by webmeister Benson stands out. No least because Lothar Zagrosek conducts with a passion and precision I've found either diluted or simply missing in his performances since Krenek's sassy, jazzy Jonny spielt auf.
The singing, furthermore, is impressive without exception—outstanding in the cases of soprano Juanita Lascarro in the focal role of Zina, and tenor Robert Wörle as Paul, the smitten relative of a ga-ga Prince (Albert Dohman) who is visiting overnight in the small-town house of Zina's grasping, matchmaking mother (Jane Henschel). The heroine is in love with a gravely ill revolutionary, Fedya, never seen, who dies before the opera's end. Meanwhile, mama's jealously impoverished sister-in-law (Charlotte Hellekant) conspires with Paul to block the Prince's troth.
This has distant echoes of Krása's elder countryman, Janácek, who died just about the time Verlobung in Traum (Betrothed in a Dream) was finally completed. It resembles the elder's Kat'a Kabanova in two respects: inspiration from a short story by a Russian author—in Krása's case, Dostoyevsky —that targets 19th century bourgeoisie shibbeloths. Both feature dourly dominant mothers and sadly obedient daughters. The plot is scrupulosly obedient to the rules of classic tragedy: it takes place within a 24-hour period. What's more impressive, however, is Krása's music. Born in 1899 to wealth, he transcended dilettantism by his real expertise as a composer. I've seen a couple of reviews that have dismissed him and his fascinating score as a mélange, a pastiche of styles. Rather, I would say after two attentive hearings, that he synthesized various prewar-2 trends in Central European music, including Schoenbergian sprechstimme in the final movement of his brief 3-movement Symphonie from 1923 (a setting of Rimbaud's The Lice-Pickers), alongside spiky harmonic sauces that Kurt Weill, Hindemith, Hanns Eisler, and others slathered on their music.
Verlobung is a masterfully crafted score and sharply characterized; unless you're fearful of crossing into the 20th century, with the exception of Der Rosenkavalier or Die tote Stadt, this music should pique your taste buds and provide considerable pleasure on an occasional basis. Consider that George Szell, no less, led its premiere in the New German Theater at Prague on May 18, 1933.
The Symphonie is a gossamer thing for chamber orchestra: Impressionism with a Central European overlay. Shorn of the last movement, it has been played stateside as well as in Europe. Little else by Krása survived, if indeed, much else was ever written; he died in a concentration camp—Theresien is implicit—at the age of 45.