Das Wunder der Heliane

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Das Wunder der Heliane (German for The Miracle of Heliane), Op.20 is an opera in three acts by Erich Wolfgang Korngold with a libretto by Hans Müller-Einigen, after Hans Kaltneker. It was first performed at the Hamburg State Opera on 7 October 1927. A suite for violin and piano based on the music from the aria "Ich ging zu ihm" is in print at Schott publishing.

After many successful premieres across Germany, Korngold composed this new opera beginning in 1924. Before its premiere in 1927 Korngold claimed that this would be his masterwork.

Performance history[edit]

At the world premiere in Hamburg the audiences and critics were unimpressed, feeling that Korngold's music held no new surprises and it was not modern. Critics were united in their lack of esteem for the work, many simply dismissing it as kitsch.[citation needed]

The opera is generally considered to have been a flop[by whom?] for Korngold, following as it did the critical and public success of Die Tote Stadt and several other operas by the composer. Within the artistic community however there is evidence that there was admiration for the work, soprano Lotte Lehman even stating that the title role was her favorite.[citation needed]

It was presented at the Berlin Städtische Oper under Bruno Walter in 1928, but Heliane was forgotten for some time. However, it was revived in the 21st century with high profile performances in London and the a recording and performance at the BBC's The Proms of the opera's the most famous musical sequence, "Ich ging zu ihm" sung by soprano Renée Fleming plus the release of the aria on the singer's studio album.

In 2010 it was given at the Kaiserslautern Pfalztheater, under Uwe Sandner, directed by Johannes Reitmeier, and set designer Daniel Dvorak, plus costume designer Thomas Dörfler. Its cast included: Sally du Randt (Heliane), Derrick Lawrence (Der Herrscher), Norbert Schmittberg (Der Fremde), Silvia Hablowetz (Die Botin), Alexis Wagner (Der Pförtner), Hans-Jörg Bock (Der blinde Scharfrichter), Alexandru Popescu (Der junge Mensch),Jung-Baik Seok, Michael McBride, Roland Goroll, Hubertus Bohrer, Eric Erlandsen, Miroslav Maj (Die sechs Richter), Elena Laborenz, and Galina Putintseva (Die seraphischen Stimmen).

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere cast, 7 October 1927
(Conductor: Egon Pollak)
Heliane soprano Maria Hussa
The ruler, her husband baritone Rudolf Bockelmann
The stranger tenor Carl Günther
The messenger alto Sabine Kalter
The doorman bass Hermann Markowski
The blind judge tenor Gunnar Graarud
The young man tenor Jan Berlik
The six judges: Paul Schwarz, Hermann Siegel, Julius Gutmann, Peter Kreuder, Herbert Taubert, Arnold Greve
Die seraphischen stimmen: Olga Schramm-Tschörner, Franziska von Issendorf, Olga Wiese, Frieda Singler, Sophie Bock, Erna Homann, Janna Maria Balß
The folk choir

Synopsis[edit]

Place: An unnamed totalitarian state
Time: In an unknown era.

Act 1[edit]

The cruel Ruler exercises his power the over the land. The Ruler suffers because he is unable to win the love of his wife Heliane. Since he is unhappy, he will not tolerate his subjects living in happiness. A young Stranger has recently arrived in the land and was bringing the people joy; as a result he was arrested and sentenced to death. He will be executed at sunrise. The ruler visits him in order to learn the reason for his actions. The Stranger pleads for mercy but the Ruler is intent on his death. However, he agrees to allow the Stranger to remain unchained this last night of his life. When her husband has left, Heliane comes to the cell to comfort the Stranger. As she speaks to the Stranger and realizes his goodness, her feelings of pity and sadness turn to love. The Stranger tells Heliane how beautiful she is and she reveals to him her long golden hair. She then exposes her bare feet and then, finally, stands completely naked before him. The stranger asks Heliane to give herself to him on his last night of life, but she refuses and goes to the chapel to pray for the Stranger. The ruler returns to the cell, proposing that if the Stranger can teach Heliane to love the Ruler then he will offer him his life and Heliane. Heliane returns, still naked. She is shocked to meet her husband in the cell. In anger, he orders the Stranger's death and Heliane's trial.

Act 2[edit]

The ruler and his messenger (also his former lover whom he has rejected) await the coming of the executioner and the members of the high court. Heliane will be tried when the six judges and the blind Chief Justice arrive. The Ruler accuses her of adultery with the Stranger. Heliane cannot deny that she stood naked before the Stranger, but she insists that she gave herself to him in thought only. The Ruler presses his dagger into her breast telling her she should kill herself. The Stranger is brought in to testify but he will not speak, wanting to be left alone for a few moments with Heliane. He kisses her and then takes the dagger and kills himself, making it impossible for the Ruler to prove that Heliane is lying. The Ruler dismisses the court and tells Heliane that she will be on trial before God: if she is innocent, as she claims, she must bring the Stranger back to life. In shock she agrees to undergo the trial.

Act 3[edit]

A crowd has assembled outside of the Ruler's palace. The Judges, together with the Chief Justice arrive to witness Heliane's attempt to bring the Stranger back to life. The messenger stirs up the crowd against Heliane as the test begins. She cries, she will not lie, admitting that she did love the young Stranger. When the ruler sees her cry he wants to save her, but only on the condition that she will be his. Heliane resents her husband more than ever and she refuses this last offer for life. The crowd drags her away to the stake where she will die. Suddenly all are shocked as thunder crashes. Just as suddenly, stars begin to appear in the sky and everyone is amazed to see the young Stranger's corpse rise, transfigured from the funeral bier. By some miracle he is alive. Heliane breaks away from the shocked crowd and runs into the arms of this Stranger whom she loves. In a fit of rage the Ruler plunges his sword into her breast. The Stranger offers a blessing to the people and banishes the ruler whose power is broken. The Stranger takes Heliane in his arms. United in their love they rise to heaven.

Recordings[edit]

  • Nicolai Gedda, Andreas Scholz, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Gotthold Schwarz, Hartmut Welker, John de Haan, et al. Conductor: John Mauceri, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. 3x CD, DDD, Decca, part of the "Entartete Musik" series.

References[edit]

Sources
  • (Author unknown), "The Inspired Idea", Opera magazine, November 2007, p. 1310
  • Adam, Thomas, Germany and the Americas p. 624

External links[edit]