On 2 March 1927, Kurt Weill celebrated his twenty-seventh birthday at Berlin's Staatsoper unter den Linden, where Erich Kleiber was conducting the premiere of two Weill works with texts by the Alsatian poet Iwan Goll, the one-act opera Royal Palace and the cantata Der neue Orpheus. Seventy-seven years later, the first recording of Royal Palace is finally available--paired with Der neue Orpheus--with the August 2004 release of a new CD from Capriccio featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis. Both works were recorded live during the BBC Symphony's January 2000 Kurt Weill Weekend.
Set at a lakeside resort, Royal Palace presents the situation of a beautiful woman who is asked to choose between three men: her husband, her former lover, and a new admirer. Weary of their egotism and attempts to possess her, she decides instead to drown herself in the lake. The Capriccio cast includes Janice Watson as Dejanira, Stephen Richardson as The Husband, and Ashley Holland and Richard Coxon as Yesterday's Lover and Tomorrow's Admirer.
Subtitled a "Cantata for soprano, violin, and orchestra," Der neue Orpheus tells of a modern-day Orpheus who finds his Eurydice in a train station but loses her again in the crowd. Abandoned in the waiting room, he shoots himself in the heart. Orpheus soloists are Kathryn Harries, soprano, and Michael Davis, violin.
The expressionist playwright Georg Kaiser introduced Kurt Weill and Iwan Goll in late 1924, and the two soon decided to collaborate on Royal Palace, which was finished in early 1926. Weill set Goll's pre-existing poem Der neue Orpheus in the summer of 1925, while Goll was writing the libretto for Royal Palace. In both scores, elements of popular music are incorporated, and Royal Palace is the first of Weill's compositions showing jazz influences, inclusion of saxophone in the orchestration, and use of dance forms such as the fox-trot and, most notably, the tango.
After a production at the Essen Opera in 1929, the orchestral score and parts for Royal Palace were lost during the Nazi era, and the opera was not performed again until 1971, when a reconstructed orchestration derived from the piano reduction by Gunther Schuller and Noam Sheriff was heard in concert at that year's Holland Festival. The reconstituted Royal Palace was not seen in a major professional theater until this summer, when the 2004 Bregenz Festival in Austria premiered a new production, conducted by Yakov Kreizberg and directed by Nicolas Brieger, in tandem with Weill's one-act opera Der Protagonist.
Royal Palace/Der neue Orpheus (Capriccio 60 106) is the latest installment in Capriccio's Weill series, following The Firebrand of Florence. The latter multi-award winning CD, a collaboration between Weill, Ira Gershwin, and Edwin Justus Mayer, was released in August 2003.