Cefalo e Procri

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Cefalo e Procri (Cephalus and Procris) is a chamber opera in three scenes and a prolog by Ernst Krenek, his opus 77, begun in 1933 and finished on 3 August 1934. The Italian libretto by Rinaldo Küfferle (1903-1955, now remembered for many singing translations from Russian) was commissioned by Universal Edition for the third Venice Festival.

Background[edit]

The festival came at a time of great tension between Italy and Germany over assassination attempts on the Italian-backed dictator Engelbert Dollfuß, and Benito Mussolini, who had taken a great interest in the festival, was intent on courting an Austrian composer. Alfredo Casella (perhaps unaware of Der Diktator) was responsible for steering the commission to Krenek.

The half-hour work premiered 15 September 1934 after the original conductor, bewildered by the twelve-tone score, was replaced by Hermann Scherchen. An anticipated companion piece by Honegger never materialized, and the program was shared with Vittorio Rieti's Teresa nel bosco and Antonio Veretti's Una favola di Andersen. Krenek had written to Küffele to suggest something from Ovid's Metamorphoses, though he seems to have been taken back by Küffele's choice of subject; perhaps Procis (who was courted in disguise by her husband) was inspired by a production of Cosi fan tutte at the festival, which also saw the Italian premiere of Die Frau ohne Schatten. Krenek called his work a fable, using not the phrase "favola in musica" but "Moralità pseudo-classica" in homage to the later Italian baroque opera, and set it as a series of arias and recitatives. Audience reaction was lukewarm and the reviews mixed; the loudest ovations were for Küffele, wearing a fascist uniform.

Piero di Cosimo 013.jpg

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 15 September 1934
(Conductor: Hermann Scherchen)
Cefalo tenor Giovanni Voyer
Procri soprano Sara Scuderi
Diana contralto Rhea Toniolo
Aurora soprano Ines Alfani-Tellini
Crono baritone Apollo Granforte

Critical assessment[edit]

Stewart gives an unfavorable assessment ("Küffele should have found some way to leave the dog out"),[1] but does note that Alban Berg liked the score, whose flexible handling of the row was similar to his own approach. Krenek himself scarcely ever mentioned his "brief and issueless flight into Italian opera"[2] again.

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Stewart, p. ??
  2. ^ Krenek, Im Atem der Zeit [his memoirs, "translated from the American"], p. 991

Further reading

  • Juverra, Filippo, Antikendeutung einmal anders: Cefalo e Procri in "Der zauberhafte, aber schwierige Beruf des Opernschreibens": Das Musiktheater Ernst Kreneks ed. C. M. Zenck (Argus 2006) ISBN 3-931264-31-9
  • Stewart, John Lincoln, Ernst Krenek: the Man and His Music, Ewing, New Jersey: University of California Press, 1991 ISBN 0520070143 ISBN 0-520-07014-3