Liszt's Lost Opera: Sardanapalo
Last week Dr Trippett, Fellow in Music, released a CD of his edition of Franz Liszt's lost opera, Sardanapalo.
The Italian opera, of which only Act 1 survives, had lain silently for nearly 170 years, and had been thought indecipherable. Over three years, Dr Trippett edited and orchestrated the first act, which received its world premiere last summer in Weimar.
Upon its release in February, the recording became the #1 best-selling classical CD in the UK charts. The Times declared it ‘torridly exciting … the work’s emergence changes music history … you wonder what heights were left to breach in the unwritten acts’, the Guardian, ‘a lost opera of glittering scope’, and Gramophone dubbed it ‘immensely important … a fine work by one of the most inventive of composers’.
The opera is based on Lord Byron’s tragedy of the last king of Assyria, whose aversion to bloodshed and forcible rule encourages rebels to overthrow him. After a second uprising, the Euphrates rises and floods its banks, destroying the main defensive wall of the royal palace. Sardanapalo sends away his remaining troops, treasure and family, and burns himself alive with his Ionian lover, Mirra, amid scents and spices. In Byron’s words: “Not a mere pillar form'd of cloud and flame, a beacon in the horizon for a day, but a light to lessen ages, rebel nations and Voluptuous princes.” For Liszt’s part, he told a friend that his finale will even “aim to set fire to the entire audience!”