Fennimore and Gerda was the final opera of Frederick Delius, completed in 1910 and dedicated to Sir Thomas Beecham who, by that time, had already become the composer's greatest champion. Ironically, Beecham -- who had produced and conducted Delius' A Village Romeo and Juliet in London earlier that same year -- never accepted the new work, with its unusual minimalist structure and stark, impressionistic settings. The opera was staged for the first time in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1919. Fennimore and Gerda proved popular in Germany and the opera enjoyed an extended run in Frankfurt. The work also enjoyed a natural appeal in Denmark, despite its libretto being in English, by virtue of the fact that Delius' source for the work had been the novel Niels Lyhne by the Danish author Jens Peter Jacobsen. In keeping with its disposal of conventional operatic structure, there is no overture, the opera opening on the first of 11 scenes designated as "pictures." In the first, two friends, writer Niels Lyhne and painter Erik Refstrup, are in the home of Consul and Mrs. Claudi and their daughter Fennimore in Fyrodby, Denmark. Niels sits with Fennimore and she tells him of her childhood, her boredom with her life, and her desire for excitement. Fennimore and Erik later express their love for each other as Niels looks on. In the third picture, three years have gone by and Erik has implored Niels to help him escape from the boredom of the marriage. When Erik is away, Niels and Fennimore profess their love for each other, but their attraction is destroyed when she is later told that Erik has died in an accident and the two part in bitterness and recrimination. Three years later, Niels has become a successful farmer and pleads for the hand of Gerda, the eldest daughter of Councilor Skinnerup -- the young woman accepts and the two look forward to their impending marriage. The opera has many beautiful arias and duets, and its preludes were excerpted as orchestral pieces, but its modernistic elements in structure, as well as setting, were slow to be accepted. In the 1970s, British and American audiences were able to hear the complete work, with its hauntingly beautiful impressionistic vocal and instrumental parts, when it was recorded by EMI under conductor Meredith Davies with Elisabeth Söderström, Robert Tear, and Brian Rayner Cook with the Danish Radio Symphony Chorus and Orchestra.
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Description by Bruce Eder
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