16 SEPTEMBER 1955, Page 18


A NEW opera is included each year at the Salzburg Festival, but since Richard Strauss's The Love of Dance was presented in 1952, the new works, The Trial by von Einam and Penelope by Rolf Liebermann, have seemed scarcely worthy of inclusion and one began to doubt the wisdom of this policy. First impres- sions of this year's novelty Irish Legend by the 54-year-old Bavarian composer, Werner Egk, are, however, more favourable and the opera was _received more enthusiastically on the opening night than were the other two. Composed in five scenes without an overture, the opera is based on the Irish folktale from which W. B. Yeats also drew, material for his first play The Countess Cathleen, but the treat- ment differs greatly. No direct adaptation is attempted.

In Yeats's play the famine that drives the peasants to sell their souls to the devil, until redeemed by the Countess's sacrifice, is un- explained, whereas much of Werner Egk's libretto is devoted to explaining how it has been planned by the devil's messengers, given in their ancient hierarchy as a tiger, two owls, two hyenas and a vulture. Yeats's peasants, Mary, Semus and their son Teig, do not appear, and the composer has made the ancient legend more universal in application, and of con- temporary value as a fable. He has drawn an interesting analogy with the Faust legend, and a vision of the enchained Faust appears to the poet Alec!, who is then convinced that his allegiance to the Countess is sacrilegious. It

is his desertion that finally breaks her spirit, and drives her to sacrifice her soul to save her people. Werner Egk sees the legend as an example of the eternal problem of individual sacrifice in the face of overwhelming odds, political or economic.

The opera was conducted by George Szell and had excellent imaginative scenery by Caspar Ncher, including a lurid Walpurgis night drop- curtain. The ingenious production was by Oscar Fritz Schuh, who has contributed such important work to the festival in recent years. Inge Borkh sang Cathleen convincingly, and both she and Kurt Bohme, as the poet, acted well. Margarethe Klose sang Oona, the nurse, who is given an effective dream aria. The score has strongly original orchestration, though indebted at times to middle-period Stravinsky; there is almost no purely instrumental writing.

A new production of Mozart's The Magic Flute was given in the Rocky Riding School panoramic setting by members of the Vienna State Opera conducted by Georg Solti. The new decor was the first that Oskar Kokoschka has made for opera, but seemed inapt with grotesque pastel drawings hiding the natural

rock formations. Some of the costumes were inappropriate, too, as when Papageno entered —after releasing tame pigeons—dressed in long feathers but with a tall black hat that transformed him into a street busker. Vocally the performance was good, with Gottlob Frick singing impressively as Sarastro, and Erika Koth having full coloratura tone as the Queen of the Night. Elisabeth Grammer sang Pamina, and Anton Dermota was Tamino. The orchestral playing was not as polished as when under Wilhelm Furtwangler, to whom a plaque was unveiled during the festival. Per- formances in this arena are spectacular but unsatisfactory musically : next time it must be revived in the festival theatre.

Mozart's music is an almost inexhaustible source of beauty, and each year Dr. Paum- gartner presents new gems at the Mozarteum. A delightful matinee I attended included the E flat symphony K.132, the rare violin con- certo in D, K.211, superbly played by Willy Boskowsky, leader of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and two extremely difficult concert arias ably sung by Anton Dermota: