- Maskarade (Masquerade), opera, FS 39
A century after its premiere, Carl Nielsen's "Maskarade" remains one of Denmark's little secrets. Not an actual secret, mind you: the opera has had numerous international productions, and the very nationalistic Danes would love for it to have a wider audience. But, largely because it isn't in one of the "big four" operatic languages (Italian, French, German, and Russian), "Maskarade" has never found its way into the theatrical batting order on a regular basis, and most non-Danes have no idea just how popular the work is in its native country. In fact, it is beloved, and for good reason: it has all the easygoing charm of Viennese operetta combined with a fluid and appealing lyricism that rarely shows signs of Nielsen's sometimes heady modernism. It has plenty of moments to please lovers of great singing, as well of lovers of great comedy and musical characterization, and its unassuming plot, which could be snipped "as is" from nearly any operetta, won't intimidate even the most opera-shy of listeners. Like the best operettas, "Maskarade"'s charms don't rest on the details of its story. Instead, the lighthearted melodies, sprightly structure, and characterization bring the otherwise trite plot into focus. It's meant to be a good time, and it is. If you want to know what you've been missing, the most popular Danish recording of the opera is now available on this hybrid super audio release from Dacapo. It is an exquisite remastering of a 1979 performance that was until 2004 only available on LP. The singers are clear, warm, and forward, and the orchestra is perfectly balanced and clear. More importantly, the cast, which is headlined by the bass Ib Hansen (a household name among Danish opera-goers), inhabits the opera as if they were born to it. John Frandsen's conducting is fluid, cheerful, and entirely at the service of storytelling. In all, it's the perfect way to get to know "Maskarade."