NIELSEN: Maskarade (complete opera) – Stephen Milling (Jeronimus)/ Denise Beck (Leonora)/ Johan Reuter (Henrik)/ Anne Margrethe Dahl (Magdelone)/ Niels Jergen Riis (Leander)/ Ditte Hojgaard Andersen (Pernille)/ Stig Fogh Andersen (Leonard)/ Christian Damsgaard (Arv)/ Danish National Sym. Orch. & Chor./ Michael Schonwandt – Dacapo multichannel SACD 6.220641-42 (2 discs), 134:56, [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Carl Nielsen’s comic opus Maskarade made its first appearance in 1906 to ravishing success, and that success continues today, its status essentially solidified as Denmark’s national opera. His childhood friend Vilhelm Andersen undertook the task, with some initial reluctance, to create a libretto from Ludvig Holberg’s popular play. Eventually the opera surpassed the popularity of the stage work, and now Denmark’s Ministry of Culture has named it one of the country’s twelve greatest musical compositions. Yet Nielsen was not completely happy with the work, though that opinion was probably influenced by critical opinion which maintained a steady decline in quality through the three acts. But the set pieces and dances, many of which are performed outside the opera, have ensured the work’s popularity.

It is an energetic and tuneful piece, though the plot, as many comedies are, is not the easiest to follow—a libretto is essential, and a review beforehand helps greatly. Briefly, the story is about two youngsters named Leander and Leonora, who meet at a masquerade ball and fall in love. When Leander tells his valet Henrik about what happened, he is reminded that his parents have betrothed him to Leonhard’s daughter. Leonard (from remote Slagelse), complains to Leander’s father that his daughter is in love with someone she met at the masquerade. Finally, in the last act, the many personages go to the night’s masquerade, where all is revealed—happily, for everyone. It’s more complex than this, but you get the idea, a not untypical farce.

This is the second SACD release of the opera, but in reality the only one since the other release is remastered from 1977, also on DaCapo. There are about four altogether, but with the excellence of the cast, completely delightful and engaging, plus the radiant playing of the DNSO under Michael Schonwandt in sound that is state of the art and wonderfully balanced, this is simply the recording to own unless you are a Nielsen completist—and there are worse things than that. But do enjoy this marvelous opera if you don’t know it, and audiophiles have nothing to gripe about.

—Steven Ritter