World première reviews

a brilliant musical achievement” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Christiane Wiesenfeldt)

absolutely fascinating ... An eminent discovery. What a pity Liszt didn't continue along this path." (Die Welt, Manuel Brug)

"Sardanapalo is no for-the-hell-of-it resurrection, but a unique, high-octane fusion of Italian opera with Wagner’s through-composed vision" (The Arts DeskDavid Nice)

It is immensely colourful and melodic, original music with appealing lyrical moments, but also powerful and effective dramatic passages. Sardanapalo is an extremely interesting discovery.” (Neue Musikzeitung, Regine Müller)

"An entirely convincing drama, packed with incident and bursting with thrilling vocal and orchestral colour – think Bellini reimagined by Wagner and you have some idea of the vast emotional sweep of this gripping music." (Bachtrack, Stephen Pritchard)

"There were audible gasps heard within the auditorium as the work ended with a very visceral bang ... a thrilling piece of music, alive, vibrant, and new—and only 170 years old." (Opera Canada, Catherine Kustanczy)

"Startling lyric beauty ... The influence of Tannhäuser and Lohengrin seem obvious, but perhaps even more exciting is the composer’s (and Trippett’s) ability to mould shifting, sometimes scarily chromatic harmony to more traditional bel canto arias of supreme sophistication" (Bachtrack, Stephen Pritchard)

"We can recognize in Sardanapalo a kind of missing link in music history, a transition from bel canto to a more dramatic style. ... There's no trace of nonsensical arioso; everything is pure, intense feeling." (Thüringer Allgemeine ZeitungWolfgang Hirsch)

“Hearing the mastery of Sardanapalo, its deft characterizations and emotive power, raises questions about what its effect might have been on opera had Liszt completed it. As it is, light is cast on a heretofore unsuspected facet of one of the 19th century’s great creative figures.” (Washington Post, Patrick Rucker)


CD reviews

immensely important … the act is beautifully shaped, while Liszt’s fluid treatment of bel canto structures reveals an assured musical dramatist at work. Trippett has carefully modelled his orchestration on Liszt’s works on the 1850s, and it sounds unquestionably authentic. A fine work by one of the most inventive of composers. (Gramophone, Editor’s Choice, Tim Ashley)

“A torridly exciting recording … It is not too big a statement to say that the work’s emergence changes music history — changes it, too, in ways viscerally audible in every vocal roulade or each volcanic eruption by Liszt’s orchestra … Finding a work so determined to echo and at the same time reform Italian opera traditions puts a new perspective on Liszt’s thinking, and presents a vision of a road ahead that the composer ultimately did not take. … When El-Khoury’s volatile soprano shoots skywards, wildly dramatic, you wonder what heights were left to breach in the unwritten acts. … A most special and historic release.” (The Times, Geoff Brown)

A lost opera of glittering scope … The opening music moves from something like Mendelssohnian fairy music to a worldly little waltz that wouldn’t sound out of place in La Traviata; and yet some of Liszt’s glittering textures seem to look half a century ahead to Richard Strauss. Then, around every corner, there is Wagner, and there’s a Wagnerian slant to the harmony as well as a corresponding grandeur of scope.” (The Guardian, Erica Jeal)

“These fifty minutes are a musical intoxication. Liszt combines brilliantly crafted melodies with orchestral colors prognostic of his symphonic poems. So: fifty minutes of frenetic 'Tannhäuser' ecstasy rising to bel canto delights! ... An exceptional operatic feast” (Concerti, Album of the Week, Roland Dippel)

“The score is a fascinatingmelange of Italianate and Germanic elements, with long stretches of bel canto melody punctuated by darker, proto-Wagnerian outbursts. … [T]he act ends on a superb orchestral cliff-hanger as Sardanapalo’s troops march off to death or glory. It’s undeniably thrilling stuff.” (Presto Classical, Disc of the Week, Katherine Cooper)

David Trippett’s orchestration … brings this fragment back to life, and it is rip-roaring stuff, characteristic of the dramatic orchestral narratives of the composer’s neglected tone poems. Karabits conducts his Weimar forces with flair, and the voicesmake a fine case for this rediscovery. (The Sunday Times, Album of the Week, Hugh Canning)

Sardanapalo has now blazed into life in a new edition … The torso of Liszt’s opera may only last around 50 minutes, but it packs in such a richness of gratification that it is hard to see where the opera would have gone from there ... The music rolls together vocal writing like Bellini, rousing choruses similar to early Wagner, wild orchestral sounds out of Berlioz, and even a pre-echo of Massenet … This first-ever recording offers a fascinating glimpse of what might have been. (Financial Times, Richard Fairman)

With [Sardanapalo], one is at the heart of Byronic romanticism and immersed in the sound world of Franz Liszt … [it] emphasizes how Liszt was always an inspired musician, that is to say a brilliant artist of extraordinary creative spirit. A very interesting discovery. (Crescendo, Jean-Baptiste Baronian)

Any fears that Liszt might not have been at home in the genre are dissipated, for the work, reconstructed by musicologist David Trippett, is lush and Romantic to a fault, with long-spun melodies, an innate sense of dramatic thrust and some thrilling choral work. Much fun can be had trying to discern musical influences, and it is obvious that Liszt had one foot in the bel canto tradition and another in a more forward-looking German school; but he does forge his own voice, and it is a shame that we only have Act I. (Opera Now, Choice of the Month)

Completely convincing … This is operatic music right at the very peak of its time, as composed by Verdi, Bellini or Berlioz … The impression of this music is absolutely compelling in the ensemble scenes, and naturally also results from the exemplary commitment of all those involved – a splendid document of the Spielkultur of DNT Weimar. (Fono Forum, Gieselher Schubert)

Just think! Liszt’s only incursion into the lyric genre, lost, found, realized and finally performed. It is like exhuming a lost picture by Michelangelo … This is the fascinating discovery of an unknown Liszt, who stands out from Meyerbeer, is of a piece with Verdi and, while preserving a harmonic language unmistakably his own, has drawn from Tannhäuser and Lohengrin the prevalence of an orchestra that no longer accompanies but embraces and guides the voices. (Paul de Louit, ‘Diapason Découverte’, Diapason)

Liszt opens the action à la française with an iridescent female chorus; the concubines of the royal Assyrian court ensound the wealth and luxuriance of the peace-loving King … [Throughout] the striking orchestral part is more than a mere accompaniment, it is a vivid musical counterpart. (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Anja-Rosa Thöming)

This premiere recording presents … a realization by David Trippett who has brilliantly orchestrated the surviving piano-vocal score … Sardanapalo seems to hail from the Liszt stable most convincingly. … there are echoes of Wagner’s Tannhäuser and of Lohengrin, but more often than not the lyrical music is more redolent of the operas of Hungarian Ferenc Erkel and Pole Stanisław Moniuszko of the same period. (Classical Source, Alexander Campbell)

We hear all sorts of musical combinations … and some tropes that would mightily impress Richard Strauss and Respighi. … The splash and sheer volubility of Liszt’s sense of scope rises above the fray and display: an epic musical imagination on a par with his operatic idol Berlioz, who shares with Liszt the responsibility of having absorbed all the conceits of 19th-century Romanticism. (Audiophile Audition, Gary Lemco)

The music is a highly attractive score—irrespective of its various stylistic affinities—which realizes the lyrical and dramatic demands of the material with great inspiration. (Orpheus, Christoph Zimmermann)

Will Sardanapalo one day know the honors of the stage? Why not, in so far as Liszt very skillfully took his honey wherever he found it, in the chromaticism of he who was not yet his son-in-law, Wagner, and in the Italian school and its new representative, Verdi. The mix of the two gives a decidedly interesting result that prefigures certain music of the late nineteenth century … Led by the Staatskapelle Weimar directed by Kirill Karabits, Liszt's music is convincing and we hear many beautiful things. (Forum Opera, Laurent Bury)

We are persuaded by the cosmopolitanism of the composer of the Faust Symphony, the reminiscences of a Meyerbeerian bass clarinet, the Wagnerian harmonies and the Mendelssohnian fairies. … The opening seems to throw us into the second act of Don Carlo, when ‘Giù pel piano’ then ‘Ahi! Nell’ansio rapimento’ couples cantilena and cabaletta in the best tradition of bel canto. … If Sardanapalo is likely to appeal more to the lyricomaniac than to the Lisztian, no one can ignore it now. (Classica, Jérémie Bigorie)

The results are striking. Trippett’s orchestrations are convincing, flowing naturally from those of Mazeppa … none of the bel canto forms quite stick. Liszt breaks them up and fools with them continually, matching them elegantly to aspects of the story, and looking constantly to the future. … Highly recommended, and a great surprise. (All Music, James Manheim)

The result is spectacular. We hear Italian bel canto, Weber-like passages, all with Wagner-like traits. In the Preludio, Liszt draws the listener into nature with a pastoral tune and the suggestion of whistling birds. “L'altera Ninive” becomes positively monumental at “s'inchina.” In Liszt we have lost a great opera composer. (Luister, Quirijn Bongaerts)

In every respect a magnificent recording, above all in the resounding music … The opulence of the orchestra is equal to Verdi. Characteristic in the introductory and incidental music, it whips up the exploding drama in the Finale: Sure, the King’s arias blaze; as though on a bobbing skiff, the waltz chorus rocks gently; Mirra and Sardanapalo duet powerfully as a couple in Verdi or Bellini. (Neues Deutschland, Stefan Amzoll)

The prima donna role could have been modelled on Bellini’s Imogen (Il Pirata), its dramatic coloratura style alternating between frills and vehemence … Ensembles … gradually build in force, with strong orchestral effects and some ingenious instrumental solos. … The score is tuneful and, if sometimes derivative, not predictable; it is restless and innovative, marked by adventurous harmonies and considerable rhythmic freedom. … The orchestra music is dramatically successful, while the best vocal passages recall the fine poetic quality of a Liszt song. (Opera News, David J. Baker)

Since an extract from Sardanapalo aired on BBC Radio 4 in 2017, the project has received significant coverage in the media: