OP0624. LES DANAÏDES (Salieri), recorded 1990, w.Gelmetti Cond. Stuttgart Radio Opera Ensemble; Dimitri Kavrakos, Raul Giminez, Margaret Marshall, etc. (Germany) 2-EMI 54073, w.Elaborate 87pp. Libretto-Brochure in French & German. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 077775407327
“Some years back I made an effort to hear as much of Salieri’s music as I could - although this recording of LES DANAÏDES was then out of the catalogues. I immediately recognised that, contrary to expectations, he showed considerable signs both of genius and innovation. Some of this Mozart was not afraid to imitate. The final scene of DON GIOVANNI, for example, clearly owes something to Salieri’s infernal music for Il grotto di Trifonio. It is also clear that Mozart managed to get more mileage out of his material than Salieri could do. One cannot pretend that Salieri’s muse, for all its flashes of something great, worked on the same level as his Viennese contemporaries such as Mozart, Haydn or Beethoven.
His earlier opera LES DANAÏDES, on the other hand, operates more in the realm of Gluck, and this is no accident. The text was originally written by Gluck’s librettist Calzabigi with the intention that it should be set by Gluck. Following the failure of his opera ECHO ET NARCISE IN PARIS Gluck refused to write another opera for the French market. He lent his name to the advance publicity for LES DANAÏDES, but once its success was assured he hastened to tell the public that his role had been purely advisory and that the music was entirely by his pupil Salieri. Berlioz, a great admirer of Gluck, heard the opera in Paris in 1822, and was enthusiastic about it: ‘The pomp and excitement of the spectacle, the sheer weight and richness of sound produced by the chorus and orchestra … excited and disturbed me to an extent which I cannot describe. It was as though a youth possessing all the navigational instincts, but knowing only the small boats on the lakes of his native mountains, were suddenly to find himself on board an ocean-going galleon’ . Earlier, William Bennett, an Englishman on the Grand Tour, had encountered the opera in 1785 and was similarly overwhelmed by it: ‘Our Opera ended with a representation of Hell, in which the fifty Danaïdes were hauled and pulled about as if the Devils had been going to ravish them … and they were at last buried in such a shower of fire, that I wonder the Playhouse has not burned to the ground’.
Why then did LES DANAÏDES subsequently disappear so completely from the operatic stage? Part of the problem must be placed at the door of Gluck, whose example Salieri strove to valiantly to emulate. Calzabigi’s libretto, in five Acts, moves at a brisk pace which cannot however disguise the fact that the first three Acts are perilously short of dramatic content. The plot, from Greek mythology, is a pretty thin one to start with: Danaus has, presumably by a string of different women, fifty daughters, whom he proposes to marry to the fifty sons of his equally productive brother as a gesture of reconciliation following a family feud. He has an ulterior motive, commanding his daughters to kill their husbands on their wedding night, which they do with considerable enthusiasm. Only one daughter, Hypermnestre, refuses to do her father’s bidding, and is thus saved from the damnation which overtakes her sisters and father. The first three Acts consist of a series of choruses and solos leading to the weddings. Although Salieri manages to introduce plenty of contrast with the use of dances and variety of pace one is really waiting for matters to reach their gory climax. When they do, suddenly the music gains immeasurably in dramatic power. The final Act with its confrontation between Hypermnestre and her father and the transition to the scene in Hell is strong stuff indeed. Berlioz clearly recalled his enthusiastic reception of the final scene when he wrote his music for the fall of Troy in LES TROYENS. Yes, it really is that good."
- Paul Corfield Godfrey, MusicwebInternational