Opera Review: DER RING DES POLYKRATES (Numi Opera at Zipper Hall in Los Angeles)

by Barry Creyton on December 26, 2019

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


Erich Wolfgang Korngold is best known for his grand scores of the golden age of movie music – principally for such swashbucklers as The SeahawkCaptain Blood, Anthony Adverse and The Adventures of Robin Hood. Andre Previn praised these great scores thus: “His wonderful melodies, orchestrated in the most gorgeous Richard Strauss-oriented manner, are a joy to hear. All display Korngold’s musical extravertism, and his unmistakable Viennese kind of sentiment helped Errol Flynn be a convincing English hero.”

Yet, long before Hollywood embraced his talent, Korngold had enjoyed immense success as a composer in his native Austria. A child prodigy, at eleven, he wrote a ballet Der Schneemann, which became a sensation in Vienna. He followed with a piano sonata composed when he was thirteen, and at seventeen, the one-act comic opera Der Ring des Polykrates. This was presented in engaging concert form by Numi Opera at the beautifully appointed Zipper Hall in Colburn School.

The libretto by Leo Feld is based on a drama by Teweles, but is almost incidental to the music which supports it. Musician Wilhelm Arndt (Scott Ramsay) is happily married to Laura (Shana Blake Hill), while his copyist Florian and the maid servant Lieschen have their own romance simmering. Arndt’s old friend Peter Vogel comes to stay, and jealous of Arndt’s happy life, suggests he make a sacrifice to the gods to secure his marriage. Arndt instigates an argument with Laura in which he quizzes her about her former life. Florian, true to his profession, copies this love test with Lieschen. At the end, all four realize the value of what they have, and the sacrifice they make to endorse their love for one another is to banish Vogel from their lives.

The singing was uniformly fine. Scott Ramsay and Shana Blake HIll as Wilhelm and Laura, the happily married couple, alternated between feather light comedy and passionate jealousy, while Florian (Alex Boyer) and the perky Leischen (Emily Rosenberg) pursued their romance with bouncy assurance. The interloper Vogel (bass Roberto Perlas Gomez) played his trickster with tongue in cheek humor.

The piece was integrated in concert form by Gail R. Gordon and conducted with due ebullience by Francesco Milioto.

The real revelation of the evening was the music itself. Sophisticated far beyond the composer’s seventeen years, and innovative by the standards of 1914, the score reveals a mastery of orchestration which alone deserves unqualified praise. Prolific composers borrow from admired peers — here and there in Polykrates, we hear a hint of Strauss — and sometimes from themselves: In Robin Hood, we hear a succession of chords reminiscent of the opening bars of Polykrates.

To hear this neglected work by a great composer offered with the respect it deserves was a treat indeed.

photos by Philicia Endelman

Der Ring des Polykrates
Numi Opera
Zipper Hall at the Colburn School, 200 South Grand Ave
ends on December 22, 2019
for more info, visit Numi Opera

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