• Das Wunder der Heliane


    Lotte Lehmann and Jan Kiepura in the Vienna staging


    After the big hit of Die Tote Stadt, the new Korngold's opera was eagerly awaited. The premiere was in Hamburg and Vienna, but, after a short series of performances, it just dissapeared around 1930, and it has been hardly staged since then.

    Das Wunder der Heliane is based on a poem from an obscure Romanian writer, Hans Kaltneker, under the title of "Die Heilige (The Saint)". Korngold loved this poem and requested Hans Müller to wrote a libretto.

    The plot is as follows: In a distant kingdom, a Tyrant has enslavered the people, but a Stranger appears, bringing back passion and joy. He is arrested, convicted and sentenced to die the next day, in the morning.

    The beautiful and pure wife of the Tyrant, Heliane, go to visit the Stranger, and he fells in love with her. Heliane shows her naked body to him, but they are surprised in the act and the Tyrant wants Heliane to be tried for adultery.

    Heliane relates in Court what happened. The Stranger refuses to testify against Heliane. Then the Tyrant offers a knife to Heliane, and asks her to take her own life. The Stranger steals the knife and stabs himself instead.

    The Tyrant then challenges Heliane to resurrect the Stranger, if she is still pure. Heliane collapses, and confess she loves the Stranger. She is sentenced to death, but the Tyrant offers to pardon her, if she promises to love him in return. Heliane refuses him, and the Tyrant stabs her. She runs to the corpse of the Stranger, than magically rises from death.

    Then the Stranger exiles the Tyrant and bless the people. Heliane and the Stranger go together to Heaven, in love with each other.

    The roots of the opera's failure are several: the powerful enemies of Korngold's father, Julius, in the musical circles of Vienna; the premiere of a totally different kind of opera, Jonny spielt auf by Ernst Krenek, that was the greatest box office success of all times in Germany and Austria (two different brands of cigarettes were launched, the popular and cheap "Jonny", and the elegant and expensive "Heliane"); and the opera itself, complex and dark, while the public was expecting another Marietta's lied.

    Korngold himself was pretty strong about Heliane, and claimed to his death it was his best work. Difficult to say, I'd prefer Die Tote Stadt, but Heliane is worthy of a bigger exposure, beyond a doubt.

    There is a nice CD recording:







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