Compositions: Beatrice Cenci
Performers: Bregenz Festival/Johannes Debus
Catalogue Number: C Major 751408 (DVD), also Blu-Ray
Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996) was German-Jewish, his early successes swept away by the Nazis forcing him to flee to England. After the war, his late-lyrical style was out of fashion. When his opera Beatrice Cenci, based on Shelley’s play, won first prize in the 1951 Festival of Britain opera competition, Covent Garden refused to mount a production.
First recorded with a cast of wobblers by Sony in 1994, the opera comes up far better in this Bregenz Festival. The story concerns the 1599 murder of the depraved Count Francesco Cenci by his wife Lucrezia and daughter Beatrice who the Count has viciously raped. Despite the obvious extenuating circumstances, the Pope decreed that two women should be executed “pour décourager les autres”. The opera doesn’t delve deeply into psyches, a fact neatly circumvented in Johannes Erath’s stylish and stylised production, which portrays late-Renaissance Rome as a timeless riot of colour and debauchery. Christoph Pohl is a commanding Count Cenci, his powerful baritone and classy acting overcoming his diamante posing pouch. Gal James is seriously impressive as Beatrice, singing with enormous power and insight. Dshamilja Kaiser is equally lush-voiced as her stepmother. Johannes Debus draws sumptuous sound out of the Wiener Symphoniker and it’s well-filmed. A must for lovers of Strauss and Schreker.