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Interview with René Seghers, author of the biography of soprano Hariclea Darclée
A unique chamber concert will take place at the National Bank of Romania on Monday, the 29th of May 2023. In the programme - arias from the opera "Enoch Arden", dedicated to the soprano Hariclea Darclée by Alexis Catargi - Romanian composer and diplomat of the late 19th and early 20th century. Two songs composed by Grigore Ventura and Eugen Ceaur Aslan for soprano Hariclea Darclée will also be performed. During the event, René Seghers (organiser of opera performances and concerts) will present an extensive biographical volume he has dedicated to soprano Hariclea Darclée, including digital colour photographs.
René Seghers gives us more details:
The presentation of your recent book - an extensive biography of soprano Hariclea Darclée, as well as a concert including arias from Romanian composer Alexis Catargi's opera Enoch Arden (a score thought to have been lost, which you have rediscovered), are the main moments of the event that will take place on 29 May. Please give us more details.
I have worked for 22 years on this biography of Haricella Darclée. It is a very beautiful book, which also includes digitally coloured photographs along with a full chronology of the artist's career, thus reconstructing her life. There's detailed information about the singers who were her stage partners, the operas she sang, the theatres she worked in, stories from her life, the opera titles that were dedicated to her and that she performed in their world premieres - such as Wally's, Iris, Tosca. There are also Darclée recordings of titles, including lesser-known operas such as Condor by Carlos Gomes and Hero e Leandro by Luigi Mancinelli.An exception is the only Romanian creation dedicated to her, Enoch Arden by Alexis Catargi, performed by Darclée in an absolute premiere in 1906. So I started looking for the score that was thought to have been lost. I found it in the archives of Bucharest, without anyone knowing about it, but I received help from several people. It is a fantastic piece of music, particularly attractive, including vocally it is avant-garde, with incredible drama. Catargi wanted to compose in the verismo style of the time. The arias to be performed in the concert are unlike anything you have ever heard. We were all impressed by the frenetic sonorities.
I think it is important for Romania that this opera gets to be performed in its entirety, but so far we only have the scores of the first two acts; the third act is still missing, so if anyone identifies it, let us know!
The concert programme also includes two songs created with dedication to Darclée. Epistola by Grigore Ventura, a composition dated around 1882, when the artist was still appearing under her married name, Hartulari, and was known only nationally, and later moved to Paris. I found the score which is completely unknown. And the second piece - Serenade by Eugen Ceaur Aslan which dates from the period when Darclée was already internationally famous; I don't know the exact year of composition, but I managed to identify this score, which I bought at an auction.
Who will be the concert performers?
Soprano Mãdãlina Barbu will be the one performing the two songs. Liana Mareș, a well-known pianist in Bucharest, will accompany her, she impressed me with her professional level and her way of working with singers, which is very important for this concert. From the Netherlands will come soprano Barbara Schilstra, a dramatic voice, well suited to bring to life the arias of Enoch Arden. An opportunity for a beautiful collaboration between the two countries.
People ask me how come a Dutch author wrote a biography of Haricela Darclée in English? Well, because my favourite operas are Iris and Wally's and this way I discovered that they were dedicated to Haricela Darclée. I was looking to find out who this artist was, and the research led me to travel to the places where she performed, so I gathered a lot of information, then I went to Bucharest, searched the music archives and that's how I ended up writing the book.
What will be the next step for Enoch Arden?
I want to record the event on Monday, and then see if we can co-interest the Romanian Operas to present this score, and I also want to propose this to the "Geroge Enescu" International Festival. I think that from a historical perspective this is important for Romania, being an opera written before Bretan's or Enescu's Oedipus. Of course, before that there had been the operas of Caudella or Stephãnescu. The musicologist Viorel Cosma, when he was still among us, told me that the music of those operas was of folkloric inspiration. I also listened to a recording of an opera by Caudella in the 1960s, but I believe that Enoch Arden was an important step in the process of institutionalising the Romanian Opera, which was completed in 1921.Enoch Arden was not an international success at the time, but not because it wasn't a good work, but because it wasn't enough to compose an opera and then be able to present it on a stage just because it was good. This was only true if you had the right publisher, such as Ricordi or Sonzogno, and it was also in their interest to have the performance staged; but if you didn't have such a publisher - as in Catalani's case - your work wasn't performed. There were also composers like Carlos Gomes who wanted to keep their copyright, but theatres were dominated by the likes of Ricordi and they didn't present works to which they didn't have the copyright assigned. So composing a work somewhere locally and then having it performed internationally was not possible.
How can we buy the biography? Is the English version already on sale? Are you preparing a Romanian version?
The English version is available in a deluxe edition.
Monday's event has two aims - to raise interest in this music and to see if we can find a publishing house willing to publish a translation of this volume. It is very important that the volume is published in Romanian, not just in English, as it is important that it exists in English, as it repositions Darclée in the international framework of the lyric world, as she deserves, since until now there was very little published about her. The volume is the result of extensive research, which abounds in details of the artist's life, reflecting my work over 22 years. It is relevant for the Romanian public, as Darclée was the most titled diva of those times, presenting operas for the first time - Puccini, Mascagni composed for her, something that does not happen nowadays with such success as it did then. Unquestionably, Darclée represents in the world of opera a name of fame and pride for your country.
The book can be ordered from the darclee.com website, but is very expensive, being a deluxe edition. This is yet another reason why it needs to be published in a different format; I don't make a profit from it, so an affordable edition is needed.
Translated by Delia Cocoș,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year II
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu