Opera Scotland

Song of the Night Das Lied der Nacht

Music

Hans Gál (born Brunn am Gebirge, nr Vienna, 5 August 1890; died Edinburgh, 1 Octobert 1987)

Text

Karl Michael von Levetzow

 

Premieres

First Performance: Breslau (Wroclaw), 24 April 1926.

First Performance in UK: Edinburgh (Queen's Hall), 4 June 2017.

First performance in Scotland: as above.

 

Background

Hans Gál was one of the most important figures in Scottish musical life in the years following the Second World War. His compositions include a group of symphonies and concertos as well as chamber music and opera. Performance of his work was banned by the Nazi regime in 1933, and he eventually emigrated to Britain after the 1938 Anschluss, settling in Edinburgh. During the war, he was interned as an alien - like many other artists on the Isle of Man. After his return to Scotland he joined the music faculty at the University of Edinburgh and became an important teacher during the period from 1945 until his retirement in 1960. He was also highly influential during the early years of the Edinburgh Festival.

The most successful of his four operas, the second, Die heilige Ente (The Holy Duck), was a comedy premiered at Düsseldorf in 1923. It was soon performed in Berlin and Prague. This was followed by his third opera, the 'dramatic ballad' in three scenes, Das Lied der Nacht, the only one of the four that is not a comedy. It is composed in a powerful late-romantic style, and had a successful premiere in Breslau, followed by further  performances in Germany (Königsberg) and Austria (Graz).

Gál also had a career as musicologist, and in 1927 he prepared an edition of Dido and Aeneas for performance in Vienna. In 1936 he also prepared Monsigny's 1761 opera On ne s'avise jamais de tout for performance at Baden, outside Vienna.

 

Characters

Lianora, Crown Princess of Sicily (soprano)

Hämone, the Princess's confidante (soprano)

Tancred, a Knight, the Princess's cousin (baritone)

Abbess, the Princess's aunt (contralto)

Chancellor (bass)

Ciullo, a boatman - the Nameless Singer (tenor)

 

Plot Summary (adapted from programme notes)

Scene 1 12th Century Sicily - A Palace Courtyard. Lianora, the Crown Princess, is under extreme pressure to find a husband who will fill the vacant throne as king, as it is three months since the death of her father. Her lady-in-waiting, Hämone, along with her women, anticipate the approaching celebrations. Her Chancellor is in favour of a marriage to Tancred, who would make an excellent ruler.  Tancred himself, a knight deemed by all to be the most eligible suitor, is confidant that he will be chosen. Lianora, however, is appalled at any thought of marriage and attracted to the cloister. Her aunt is Abbess at the convent and, when summoned by her niece, challenges Lianora to listen to her heart, to look into the 'night within herself', and to acknowledge the 'inner voice before which she has trembled' or risk 'turning into stone' like the Abbess herself. Lianora, remains unhappy, but does think of a mysterious voice she has heard - she is not even sure that it is real. Hämone jokes that perhaps this 'Unknown Singer', a disembodied voice heard only by night, whom no-one has ever really seen, could be the man for her. Lianora realises that his 'song of the night' is indeed the nocturnal voice that thrills her - and it is heard from offstage as the scene ends.

Scene 2 The Princess's Bed-Chamber. Lianora is preparing for bed and apologises to Hämone for her earlier outburst at the mention of Tancred. Hämone continues to try persuasion. As Lianora is left alone the Voice is heard singing in the distance, once more to disturbing effect. Her reverie is shattered when Tancred bursts in to her chamber, having gained access through Hämone's room with her connivance. His attempted rape is interrupted by the timely arrival of the Singer, who enters through the window, his features masked. He fights Tancred and the vanquished knight flees. Lianora then asks the Singer to name his reward, and he asks to kiss her hand. As their passions are aroused he goes on to kiss her lips, and Lianora's entire attitude is transformed. He is now her chosen man to be declared in public the next day - but he is doubtful as she still does not know his identity. She gives him her dagger as a token.

Scene 3 The Palace Courtyard again. The following morning the preparations for a wedding are in hand - decorations going up, jolly choruses, ornate fanfares. Tancred blames Hämone for persuading him to take part in the previous night's scheme, though he was equally guilty. Hämone is herself extremely contrite. Lianora, however, is now only interested in the happier events that followed that incident and is in forgiving mood. She announces to the assembly that her chosen king is the Nameless Singer. He enters, still masked. When he removes the mask Lianora recoils in horror at the thought that she has chosen a mere boatman. She very quickly recovers her composure, realising her true feelings, but Ciullo has already taken out the dagger she had given him and stabbed himself. After his death Lianora is at last ready to withdraw from the world, and the Abbess appears from the convent to usher her in through the gateway.

The Cast

Abbess
 known as the 'Stony Abbess', Lianora's aunt
Chancellor
 Imperial Administrator
Ciullo
 a boatman - the Nameless Singer
Galwine
 
Hämone
 the Princess's companion and confidante
Lianora
 Crown Princess of Sicily
Solo Voice
 
Tancred
 a Knight, Lianora's cousin

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