Luigi Dallapiccola wrote both the music and libretto for his opera 'Il prigioniero' (The Prisoner), a work with a prologue and one act. The opera was written between 1944 - 1948 and was first broadcast by the Italian radio station RAI on 1 December 1949. The work is based on the short story La torture par l'espérance ("Torture by Hope") from the collection Nouveaux contes cruels by the French writer Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam and from La Légende d'Ulenspiegel et de Lamme Goedzak by Charles de Coster. Dallapiccola's early experiences under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini colored his outlook and output for the rest of his life. He once supported Mussolini, believing the propaganda, and it was not until the 1930s that he became passionate about his political views, in protest to the Abyssinian campaign and Italy's involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Mussolini's sympathy with Adolf Hitler's views on race, which threatened Dallapiccola's Jewish wife Laura Luzzatto, only hardened his stance. His first protest work, 'Canti de prigioniero' from 1938 is included on this recording for a live performance of both the opera and the three choruses in March of 1995 in Sweden. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Swedish Radio Symphony and Choir and the soloists are Phyllis Bryn-Julson, soprano, Howard Haskin, tenor, Lage Wedin, bass, Sven-Erik Alexandersson, tenor, and Jorma Hynninen, baritone. It is a desperately moving work and one that pleads to be performed more frequently.
The radiant performance of 'Canti Di Prigionia for chorus, 2 pianos, 2 harps & percussion' is a treasure. For this listener the performance echoes those in the early 1960s when Dallapiccola was composer in residence in Los Angeles and conducted our college ensemble in these three parts: Preghiera Di Maria Stuarda (Mary Stuart's Prayer), Invocazione Di Boezio (The Invocation Of Boethius), and Congedo di Girolamo Savonarola (Girolamo Savonarola's farewell). As many listeners will find, the music at first seems difficult to understand (it is very difficult to sing....), but after a listening or two the music becomes so natural an expression of agony that it can only be considered on of the more important choral works of the last century.
Salonen brings to this performance/recording all the elegance and security he feels for the lyricism of Dallapiccola's twelve tone compositions. It is a secure and passionate pair of performances an done that belongs in the libraries of all those who want to understand more about contemporary music. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, August 11