OP0637. CASSANDRA (Gnecchi), Live Performance, 13 July, 2000. Enrique Diemecke Cond. Montpellier Ensemble; Nikola Mijailovic, Alberto Cupido, Denia Mazzola-Gavazzeni, Tea Demurishvili, Arnold Kocharyan, etc. (Italy) 2-Agora 260, w.Elaborate 65pp. Libretto-Brochure. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 8018430260026
“This city's annual music festival, run jointly with Radio France, has made a specialty of acting on the idea that a lot of good — or at least interesting — music has appeared and then disappeared into the rubble of history and that some of it is worth digging out for another look.
This year's opening event was a concert performance of CASSANDRA, an opera by Vittorio Gnecchi (1876-1954), with a libretto by Luigi Illica, one of Puccini's regular collaborators. It had its world premiere in 1905 in Bologna, championed and conducted by the already celebrated Arturo Toscanini.
But CASSANDRA ultimately became less well known for its music or artistic merits than for a polemic that developed around its resemblances to ELEKTRA, Richard Strauss' take on the dreadful events concerning the fate of the House of Atreus as related by Aeschylus. The catch is that ELEKTRA came four years after CASSANDRA, and that Gnecchi in 1905 had submitted a piano score of his work to the older German composer, who acknowledged receiving it and presumably looked it over.
A few months after the 1909 premiere of ELEKTRA in Dresden, a respected Italian musicologist, Giovanni Tebaldini, published an article entitled ‘Musical Telepathy’, in which he pointed out numerous musical and dramatic analogies that he treated as unconscious borrowings or just coincidence. Strauss and his musical style were too well established to permit him to openly suggest plagiarism.
None of this did Gnecchi any good. Even after the Bologna premiere, his post-Verdian style had been criticized as too ‘Germanic’ by critics manning the barricades against the Wagnerian threat to Italian music. Also, Gnecchi seems to have had enemies in the Italian musical establishment. A member of a wealthy, prominent Milanese family, born in the shadow of La Scala, he was suspected at least of dilettantism.
CASSANDRA died quickly in Italy, but did well north of the Alps, notably in a 1911 production at the Volksoper in Vienna, with Willem Mengelberg conducting and the young Maria Jeritza as Clytemnestra. It was in the repertory of several German theaters into the late '20s. It got as far as Philadelphia, in 1914, where comparisons with ELEKTRA were made again, except that this time it was Gnecchi who, against the facts, was accused of borrowing from Strauss.
Gnecchi, who felt that his publisher, Ricordi, had not supported him strongly enough, recuperated his material and placed it in a family vault, where it was not tracked down until recently by musical sleuths who brought it to the willing attention of Rene Koering, the Festival's artistic director.
Like Strauss, Gnecchi used a large, richly colored orchestra allied to melodic declamation that combine to put this work in the front line of musical development at the time, especially in Italy. But he does not match Strauss in the dramatic development of the musical material. And despite the similarities, Gnecchi does not abandon his Italian voice.
Enrique Diemecke conducted with apparently total and ardent conviction, drawing fine performances from the Orchestre National de Montpellier and the Latvian Radio Chorus, which supplied the Eumenides and other essential crowd elements.”
- David Stevens, INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, 19 July, 2000