BUCHAREST, 2023 May 29

On May 29 the English language biography of Hariclea Darclée will be launched in the Concert Hall of the National Bank of Romania. The governor of the bank will welcome the invited and introduce a driving force behind the book, Mr. Anthony van der Heijden. The latter worked with the book's author René Seghers on the publication since they met at the 1999 Hariclea Darclée International Competition in Brăila. Next Mr. Seghers will introduce the highlights of the book and the importance to finally have Darclée's biography and chronology available in English. Seghers: ‘Last but not least sopranos Barbara Schilstra & Madalina Barbu will give a recital of unknown Romanian songs and opera arias created by and dedicated to Darclée between 1882 and 1906. This includes the central scene from Alexis Catargi's 1906 opera Enoch Arden, created by Darclée in Bucharest!’

The importance of Hariclea Darclée in the operatic pantheon can't be stressed enough. Far more than just being the Maria Callas or Anna Netrebko of the verismo era Darclée was the last of the legendary role creators in line that ran from the castratos and contraltos of Händel’s day through Isabella Colbran (Rossini), Maria Malibran, Giulia Grisi, Giuditta Pasta and Pauline Viardot-Garcia (Bellini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer) and Cornélie Falcon (grand opéra) to Gemma Bellincioni in Cavalleria rusticana and Fedora. Darclée created Catalani’s La Wally, Mascagni’s Iris and I Rantzau, Carlos Gomes’s Odalêa, Mancinelli’s Ero e Leandro and Puccini’s Tosca. She was responsible for the local creations of works ranging from Don Giovanni to Meistersinger, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Manon, Le Cid, Cavalleria rusticana and even Glinka’s Vie pour le tsar in Paris, Nice, Monte Carlo, Milan, Naples, Barcelona, Madrid, Porto, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rosario or Rio de Janeiro. Puccini had wanted Darclée to create Manon Lescaut but could not afford her at the time! She appeared in the first Scala run of both Cavalleria rusticana and Manon Lescaut though. And yet Darclée ended up practically forgotten outside Romania, because her legendary operatic recordings, including creator's records of Tosca and Iris, were lost for posterity when the Berlin Odeon/Fonotipia factories were bombed during World War II.

Darclée was undoubtedly the most famous soprano of the 1890s and the last of the great creators, but following the Tosca premiere in 1900, the operatic world changed in an unprecedented manner. Recordings soon became predominant in spreading and preserving one’s fame. In the process Covent Garden London and the Metropolitan opera House New York became the prime opera theatres of the world. For reasons explained in the book Darclée never performed in either. With her recordings lost for posterity she turned from legend to mystery. All questions regarding her life and career are answered in ‘Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore, the Life & Times of the First Tosca, Hariclea Darclée’. Seghers: ‘The biography restores Hariclea to her rightful place in the top ranks of the operatic pantheon. That is good news for Darclée, but also for Romania, since she still is the national soprano heroine there to date.’


- Grigori Ventura: 'Epistola’ (1882, dedicated to Hareclia Hartular)
                           [Madalina Barbu, soprano]
- Eugenio Ceaur Aslan: 'Serenada' (dedicated to Darclée)
                           [Madalina Barbu, soprano]
- Alexis Catargi: Enoch Arden (1906) 'O mio crudo martirio... O sposo mio'
                           [Barbara Schilstra, dramatic soprano]
                           – Piano: Liana Mares

Following the book presentation there will be a concert focusing on the forgotten Romanian part of Darclée’s career in the form of songs dedicated to her by Eugenio Ceaur Aslan and Grigori Ventura, as well as an aria from Alexis Catargi's 1906 opera Enoch Arden. Seghers: ‘Until I rediscovered the score in the archives of Bucharest the work was considered lost. Enoch Arden is an important work. Musically, but also as the first conscious attempt to create a state funded National Romanian Opera House with a work that aimed at international success. There have been Romanian operas before that, such as those by Caudella or Stephănescu, but these were local operas with strong influences of Romanian folk song. This is gloriously demonstrated by Darclée’s own privately made 1910 recording of ‘Cântecul fluieraşului’ from Stephănescu feeria Sânziana şi Pepelea, which will be played at the presentation in a stunning new remastering by Christian Zwarg. Also played there is the other privately made song recording, Gheorge Dima's setting of Tiberiu Brediceanu's 'Vai mândruto draghi ne-avem'.

Darclée’s dream of a National Opera in Bucharest ultimately materialized in 1921. By then her world had gone under in World War I. With her fortune largely dissolved and royal protectors such as Queen Carmen Sylva gone, even a quiet sunset in her final years was not granted to Darclée. Seghers: 'Nonetheless, her passing away in 1938 was a national event. Her native country remembered her later in a 1960 movie and ultimately also in the Hariclea Darclée International Voice Competition in Brăila that brought many Romanian singers to a career abroad!’


According to Seghers Catargi’s Enoch Arden is a surprising work: ‘It may have been forgotten after the two performances in Bucharest 1906 with Darclée in the part of Annie Lee, but it is a surprising work nonetheless. It combines the force of La Wally with the lyricism of such works as Cavalleria rusticana or L’Amico Fritz. Harmonically the work is pure verismo, but vocally there are surprising avant-garde elements to be encountered in it. The dramatic declamation in the Act II dream scene that is performed at the concert at times anticipates Elektra or Turandot. There is no doubt that, with the score of acts I & II available again the work should be produced by either the Romanian National Opera, the Enescu Festival or – why not in Brăila? Bring back there what Brăila once brought to Bucharest with the voice of Darclée! Speaking of which, one of the songs performed, Eugenio Ceaur Aslan’s ‘Serenada’, actually dates back to her first concerts in Braila 1882, when she was still known under her marital name, Hariclea Hartulary, since Darclée was the pseudonym Charles Gounod gave to her once he chose her for the creation of Juliette at the Paris Opera in 1888.’


Performing will be Dutch jugendlich-dramatische soprano Barbara Schilstra, a fitting choice for Darclée’s central scene as Annie Lee in Enoch Arden. Not only does Schilstra have the stamina and the range for Annie Lee, but she also accolades the Dutch element in this biography of Romania’s National Muse! Schilstra sang with Seghers’s 401DutchOperas ensemble since 2016, and created Volivia in the June 2022 world premiere of Beethoven’s unknown opera torso Vestas Feuer. She also appeared at the stage of the Bucharest National Opera Opera in Nabucco and Fidelio and gave a concert there!

In addition Romanian soprano Madalina Barbu will perform two Romanian songs dedicated to and created by Darclée, Aslan’s ‘Serenada’ and Venturi’s ‘Epistola’. Accompanying Schilstra and Barbu on the piano is Romanian pianist Liana Mares.


Apart from baptising Seghers’s English language Hariclea Darclée biography and bringing Darclée back to the attention of both International ánd Romanian audiences, the prime aims of the Bucharest book launch are to make a plea for the above mentioned future CD recording with Darclée’s complete part of Annie Lee in Enoch Arden, along with her two Romanian song creations and other repertoire from her chronology that is still missing from the history of recording.

Such a CD should ideally accompany a Romanian translation of ‘Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore, the Life & Times of the First Tosca, Hariclea Darclée’, which should also bring the author’s countless discoveries on the life and the career of Darclée to the attention of Romanian audiences.