More Opera by Nicolai from Chemnitz
It was not too long ago that Otto Nicolai’s name was known to opera audiences exclusively in association with his comic opera The Merry Wives of Windsor. Then the performance of his opera Il templario changed our view of this composer’s oeuvre. Il templario, a work premiered in Turin in 1840, met with great international acclaim and recognition when it was produced on the stage and as a CD in Chemnitz (cpo 777 434-2; jpc 3865245). Its success has encouraged us to acquaint the music world with yet another Italian opera by Nicolai produced in Chemnitz: Die Heimkehr des Verbannten, which celebrated its premiere as Il proscritto in Milan in 1841. Three
years later it was presented as a German opera entitled Die Heimkehr des Verbannten in Vienna in a version revised by Nicolai that went on to be successfully performed about forty times over a period of three years at the Court Opera Theater. While revising the opera Nicolai rewrote half of
the music. During subsequent years he continued to work on it and ended up creating a third version that was first performed in Berlin in 1849 a few months after his death. In Chemnitz the decision was made in favor of the Vienna version of 1844. While the overture and the ensembles are very much obliged to the German opera à la Freischütz, the influence of the Italian bel canto clearly continues to manifest itself in the arias of the soloists. A magnificent work revealing that there is more to Otto Nicolai than The Merry Wives of Windsor!
The action is set during the Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century. Many years earlier Lord Artur Norton was forced to leave his country. Since his wife Leonore has to assume that he has died, she has become engaged to marry Count Edmund of Pembroke. However, on their wedding day her missing husband returns. The two men initially insist on the validity of their claims to Leonore, but then Edmund generously concedes that Leonore belongs to Artur and declares that he is ready to renounce his beloved bride. He even secures a pardon for his rival from the king. However, it is precisely this act of kindness that makes it impossible for Leonore to decide between the two men. Instead she takes her own life.