Long-Lost Liszt Opera Will Finally Get Its World Premiere

By David Salazar

Franz Liszt is not a composer that you would usually associate with opera. In fact, the composer only completed one such work, his “Don Sanche, ou Le château de l’amour.”

That work was lost for a long time before it was rediscovered in 1903 and given its first modern performance 74 years later.

Now another Liszt opera is getting a world premiere when “Sardanapale” bows at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition.

The work, based on a play by Lord Byron, was composed in 1849-50. However, the composer only completed one act, the work abandoned thereafter.

The task fell to Cambridge academic David Trippett who found the manuscript in Weimar.

After two years of intense work, Trippett was able to prepare a 10-minute version that will be featured at the competition featuring Armenian soprano Anush Hovhannisyan.

“The music that survives is breath-taking – a unique blend of Italianate lyricism and harmonic innovation. There is nothing else quite like it in the operatic world. It is suffused with Liszt’s characteristically mellifluous musical language, but was written at a time that he was first discovering Wagner’s operas,” stated Trippett regarding the work in a press release. “It was always assumed to be impossible to piece together, but after examining the notation in detail, it became clear Liszt had notated all the cardinal elements for act 1. You have to think through the artistic decisions traceable in the manuscript and try to reconstruct the creative process, to see how Liszt’s mind went this way and that.”

The music for act one will get published by Editio Musica Budapest (Universal Music Publishing) in 2018. Aside from Trippett, Cambridge’s Francesca Vella and musicologist David Rosen were major assets on the project. The former has worked on deciphering the Italian text while the latter translated the libretto, originally in Italian, into English.

The opera itself features the story of Sardanapalo, King of Assyria, who would rather indulge in women and partying than politics and war. When he is overthrown by rebels, he immolates himself.

There is also a documentary film in the works telling the story of the resurrection of Liszt’s long-lost opera. This film will get its release on May 15. “