Asrael is the first opera by Alberto Franchetti (1860-1942), an Italian composer who, after his years of study in Venice, continued his training in Germany, between Munich and Dresden. The subject is Samuel-Henry Berthoud's French novel about two angels, Asraël et Nephta, published in 1831. The libretto, after an initial refusal by Arrigo Boito, who was busy working on Nerone, was by Ferdinando Fontana, who had discussions with Giacomo Puccini during the drafting process. The first performance took place in Reggio Emilia on 11 February 1888, followed by Bologna and, in the same year, the title opened the seasons of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa. The excellent success of La Scala production was the starting point for a good diffusion of the opera. In 1889, performances were recorded in Florence, Treviso and Trieste. In 1890, the opera crossed national borders, reaching the theatres of Hamburg, Prague (where it was revived numerous times), Coburg, Budapest (with Gustav Mahler conducting) and New York. It remained on stage until 1903 and, after a revival in 1926 in Treviso and (possibly) Genoa, from 1945 left the programming.
The new edition brings back the original musical text as close as possible to the version heard at La Scala on 29 December 1888, where, after overcoming production difficulties, the opera was so successful that it was staged for 16 performances until late March. Theater Bonn staged the first new production since 1925, with incredible success, following the previous revival of Franchetti's stage works Germania, Cristoforo Colombo and Giove a Pompei.
Press quotes from Theater Bonn
"The sounds of a large orchestra and choir section immediately begin to develop a psychosomatic pull. Drama, suaveness, desire, and love, to which motifs, brass fanfares, trumpeters onstage, and trumpet ensembles from the upper-right balcony above the pit blast their salvos. [...] Meaning permeates everything as it does in a Wagnerian opera, yet less heavily so. Although, with an organ in the pit there are plenty of sacred prayer scenes. From the first minute to the last, the score is a bag of tricks."
Klassikfavori, 17. October 2022
"House conductor Hermes Helfricht synchronised the voices with the simmering orchestra pit, sparking a playfully differentiated orchestration of extremes – from the delicate to the overwhelming – that is certainly worth a listen. Franchetti likewise succeeded in painting in the solos and a consistent search for a musical climax, often a blossoming top note. That an opera without well-known hits maintains tension and indulges the ears in such an enjoyable way speaks to the music of this great talent."
Bonner Generalanzeiger, 18. October 2022
"A spectacular rediscovery! The Theater Bonn has seen the reanimation of a work that has not seen the stage since 1945. Italian composer Alberto Franchetti’s opera Asrael, which premiered in 1888 in Reggio Emilia, is a “legend” in four acts. The Bonn version produced by the Italian publisher Ricordi relies upon the autographs of scores from the Berlin and Munich state libraries, and strives to be as close as possible to the original as to the version that was premiered."
nmz, 17. October 2022
"As far as the music is concerned, influences from Boito and his Mefistofele, Gounod’s Faust, Verdi, Ponchielli, and Puccini can be clearly discerned. Franchetti goes easy on neither the listener nor the musician. He is daring for his time, leaning far from the window of operatic convention. It is, without question, one of the most spectacular operatic excavations of recent decades."
nmz, 17. October 2022
"It is a tremendous effort, and its effect speaks to this. For the revival after almost 100 years of Franchetti’s first opera Asrael, the Theater Bonn has gone to great lengths, including by asking Ricordi for new performance material. What was required was provided. Asrael is a piece for a large orchestra and a large choir. It requires five excellent protagonists as well. All this, for an almost unrestrained, exuberant, vocal and orchestral indulgence."
Die Deutsche Bühne, 17. October 2022
"Asrael’s conclusion is a multi-leveled struggle for a musically dramatic ending, which, with a little poetic imagination, could be ascribed to Proust’s A la recherche du fin perdu (In Search of Lost Time). Great cinematicism alternates with small-scale scenes, and culminates in the Bonn Theater’s famously trumpeting choir entwined with the bombastic Beethoven Orchestra Bonn, which by this third hour has mastered the ins and outs of this enormous score."
O-Ton, 19. October 2022
"Asrael: The Theater Bonn uncovers Italian-Jewish composer Alberto Franchetti’s fantastic first work – a long shot in more ways than one."
Frankfurter Rundschau, 16. October 2022
"Bonn’s highly-gifted young kapellmeister Hermes Helfricht held the large apparatus together well; storming boldly through demonic hell dances, excitedly exploiting the chromatic orchestral colours of the Tristanesque love duet of the third act, and refusing to shy away from the religious kitsch of the fourth, all the way to the oversized, final apotheosis – slenderly withdrawn, yet played out with all pious emphasis."
Opernwelt, 24. November 2022
Go to the composer's catalogue
Access the composer's digital scores on nkoda
ph. Theater Bonn © Thilo Beu