Das Verlorene Paradies (Paradise Lost) Op. 54 / Sacred opera/oratorio in three acts with German libretto
(Vikhvatinets, Ukraine, 28 November 1829 – Peterhof near St. Petersburg, Russia, 20 November 1894)
Das Verlorene Paradies Op. 54 (Paradise Lost)
Sacred opera/oratorio in three acts
Rubinstein already had written three symphonies, three piano concertos and a fair number of smaller works, when he embarked on this religious opera – ‘Paradise Lost’ – in the year 1855. He had some operatic experience, although only one of his operas had reached the stage.
In July 1854 Rubinstein attended a music festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. He was much impressed by Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt and Haydn’s The Creation. Franz Liszt, who was also present, suggested commissioning a libretto from Karl Arnold Schlönbach (1817-1866), a German actor and poet. It was written in German and freely adapted from John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’.
To reach a wider audience, Rubinstein hit on the idea to combine two popular genres: biblical oratorio and grand’ opera. To meet the needs of an even larger public, he added elaborate stage instructions, which made the performance acquire the character of a religious service. Rubinstein was convinced of the general appeal of this genre. As he later said in his Gedankenkorb (A Basket of Thoughts),”it is not necessary to be religious to appreciate or even to write religious music”.
The first performance of the oratorio took place in Weimar on 1 March 1858 under the baton of Franz Liszt. Many performances in concert halls all over Europe followed, mostly conducted by Rubinstein himself.
In the early sixties, every year saw the premiere in Moscow or Petersburg of a grand’ opera that had proven successful abroad, scoring a big public success in Russia as well. Unfortunately, staging ‘Paradise Lost’ as a biblical opera according to the composer’s wishes, proved impossible. The exorbitant initial expenses for such a project were far beyond Rubinstein’s means. In vain, he approached not only musicians, but several high church officials as well.
When Wagner’s Bayreuth was in full swing and after numerous successful performances of his oratorio, he felt it the time had come to realize his intentions. Rubinstein wrote letters to the editor of a well-known German music journal. He also published an essay on the viability of the sacred opera, emphasizing his pious intentions by referring to medieval mystery plays. Although this article – Über die Geistliche Oper (On the Sacred Opera) was widely read and discussed, no investors came forward.
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