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The launch of the book The life and times of the first Tosca illustrated with an indedited concert

Tuesday, 13 June 2023 , ora 10.02

An extraordinary event took place at the National Bank of Romania on Monday the 29th of May 2023. René Seghers (an organiser of opera and concert performances) presented an extensive biographical volume dedicated to the soprano Hariclea Darclée, after 22 years of research and documentation. The Dutch author also included in the event two innovative musical moments - first, two songs composed by Eugen Ceaur Aslan and Grigori Ventura for soprano Hariclea Darclée; scores performed by soprano Mãdãlina Barbu; and then arias from the opera "Enoch Arden", dedicated to soprano Hariclea Darclée by Alexis Catargi - Romanian composer and diplomat of the late 19th and early 20th century; soloist - Dutch soprano Barbara Schilstra. Accompanied by pianist Liana Mareș.

The Marble Hall of the National Bank of Romania hosted an extraordinary event today, opened by NBR Governor Mugur Isãrescu. He recalled that, over the years, his institution has financially supported the International Singing Competition "Hariclea Darclée" in Braila, appreciating the efforts of the late soprano Mariana Nicolesco, the founder of the competition; he also recalled that the employees and collaborators of the National Bank of Romania keep alive the memory of the Christmas concerts that Mariana Nicolesco organized at the Bank's headquarters, presenting young opera artists. This was the reasoning behind Governor Mugur Isãrescu's decision to host the event, which began with the presentation of an extensive biography of Haricela Darclée, compiled by René Seghers after 22 years of research and documentation.

The second speech was given by Anthony van der Heijden, a banking personality and the book's main sponsor. I would also like to mention the financial contribution made by Constantin Erbiceanu, President of the Erbiceanu Cultural Foundation, who was also present at the event.

It was then René Seghers' turn to tell the story of this volume in detail, starting from his curiosity to find out "who is this Hariclea Darclée?!". A simple question that triggered a 22-year search, during which René Seghers discovered the Romanian diva of the last century, for whom the great composers of the time created operas that the artist performed, giving life for the first time to famous characters such as Tosca, Iris and Wally. René Seghers travelled to the places where Darclée performed, identified posters and photographs from that era, went to Bucharest and then to Brãila. For, without knowing how, as soon as he arrived in Bucharest, he was sought out by soprano Mariana Nicolesco, who led him to Brãila and thus gathered even more precious information. In the capital he visited archives and libraries, identifying the score of Enoch Arden by Alexis Catargi, as well as the record Darclée recorded in 1910 on which two songs are found - The Flute Player's song by Gheorghe Stephãnescu and Oh, dear, in love we are by Gheorghe Dima; the recordings were broadcast during the event.

The volume written by René Seghers is around 500 pages long and includes 200 digitally coloured photographs, it is edited in English and printed in exceptional graphic conditions. I had the opportunity to see the book and watch some projected excerpts during the presentation. A few copies were given away at the launch, among the recipients were the Governor of the National Bank of Romania, the Manager of the Bucharest National Opera and Doinița Ciocan - Deputy Mayor of Braila, who announced that the Hariclea Darclée International Festival will not take place this year, but that the local authorities want the Festival and the Competition to continue, so they will find a solution for next year. And one of René Seghers' goals has been achieved, for, as he told me in an interview the other day ( see here ), he sought to co-interest the Romanian Opera in presenting his rediscovered work, Enoch Arden. Daniel Jinga, the manager of the Bucharest National Opera announced that he will include this title in the institution's projects, with the occasion of the Puccini centenary (in 2024 it will be 100 years since the composer's death), taking into account that the opera created by the Romanian composer Alexis Catargi is written in a verist style. The project will take place at the Experimental Opera and Ballet Studio "Ludovic Spiess", as part of the studio's Opera rara programme. Daniel Jinga also said that the score of Enoch Arden will be techno-written and that he will be looking for a solution for the finale, as the manuscript of Act III has not yet been identified (a finale will probably be created, in style).

During his research, René Seghers discovered the original scores of two songs created for Darclée by two Romanian composers - Eugeni Ceaur Aslan's Serenade and Grigori Ventura's Epistola. The first score he discovered on an international auction site, and the second was offered to him by a person who contacted him by email, hearing that he was looking for any details about Darclée.

Today, the songs were performed by soprano Mãdãlina Barbu, accompanied by the pianist Liana Mareș, bringing back to life two chamber gems that have not been heard by the public for over a century.

At the end, the pièce de résistance was the performance of two arias from the opera Enoch Arden composed by Alexis Catargi on an Italian libretto (O mio crudo martirio and O, sposo mio) separated by an instrumental Intermezzo. The opera was certainly intended for international performance, it just didn't have this chance. The score was performed in Bucharest in 1906, with Hariclea Darclée playing the character of Ammie Lee for the first time; unfortunately, no recordings exist. We have now been able to hear these excerpts thanks to the Dutch soprano Barbara Schilstra (an excellent choice by René Seghers), a young artist unknown to the general public, still in the process of establishing herself, but who impressed the audience with her warm, vibrant voice, generous volume and a vocal fach suited to the rendering of this apparently extremely complex score. Barbara Schilstra works for René Seghers' opera company, and her roles to date include Saffi, the difficult role of Johann Strauss's son în the operetta The Gypsy Voivode (which explains some of the inflections in her voice, typical to this stylistic genre). Liana Mareș, the experienced musician of the Bucharest Opera, was at the piano, also playing the Intermezzo, the sonority of the score indicating a dense, rich orchestration that subscribed to a charming melody.

In order for René Seghers' work to be a complete success, one objective remains to be achieved - the translation and publication of a Romanian version of this biographical volume, in graphic conditions that maintain the quality of the book, but that allow it to be purchased by the general public.

Florica Jalbã
Translated by Delia Cocoș,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year II
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu