It was when he was in his early 20s that the Florentine music student Luigi Dallapiccola ventured to Milan to conduct a presentation of  Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. From that moment, he knew where his future would lie. Dallapiccola would go on to be perhaps the most lyrical of 12-tone composers, writing four stage works, of which Il Prigioniero (The Prisoner) is widely considered to be his masterpiece.

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In fact, from its first presentation in 1950 as a radio opera, the work has long been distinguished as one of the finest of the 20th century’s short operas, running for approximately 45 minutes. Based on a short story by Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, it has a horrific plot – concerning a prisoner of the notorious Spanish Inquisition who is supposedly released through an unlocked door into a garden where he is met by the Grand Inquisitor himself. Dallapiccola updates the plot and changes the tale from one of religious persecution to its political equivalent. The opera is presented as a series of duets featuring the prisoner with his mother, his gaoler and the Grand Inquisitor.

This one-acter has had a rather generous recording history with releases by Antal Doráti and Esa-Pekka Salonen amongst several others. What makes this opera attractive with modern audiences is the way Dallpiccola is able to combine long lyrical vocal lines while an atonal idiom is maintained by the orchestral forces (here the impeccable Danish National Symphony).

This release is another in Noseda’s ongoing series devoted to this composer and the balance caught between the orchestral and vocal forces in very fine. Released as a hybrid SACD in Chandos’s usual excellent sound, Il Prigioniero not only makes a fine addition to Noseda’s series but compares very well others as a standalone release.

Composer: Dallapiccola
Work: Il Prigioniero
Performers: Soloists, Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir/Gianandrea Noseda
Label: Chandos CHSA5276 (SACD)

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