This extravagant, mystical oratorio was the score that made Schumann famous as a composer, and it was performed dozens of times following its 1843 premiere. Yet Paradies dropped far, far out of the repertoire during the 20th century, only to be championed in the past few years by such enterprising conductors such as John Eliot Gardiner and Nikolaus Harnoncourt — and, most recently, Rattle, who says excitedly, "Everybody needs to know about this piece!"
The curly-haired maestro brings Paradies to the Northeast Corridor beginning tonight, conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, half a dozen soloists and a chorus of 120 in three performances at home in Verizon Hall beginning tonight and one at Carnegie Hall in New York tomorrow evening. (Click the links for dates and times; visit www.philorch.org for tickets and further information.)
Why should music this gorgeous have disappeared from concert halls for over a century?
To be fair, much of the problem could be with the libretto, which most present-day commentators find too florid and overwrought for current tastes. The text is drawn from a German translation of Lalla Rookh: An Oriental Romance, a lengthy poem by the Irishman Thomas Moore based on an old Persian legend. The "peri" of the title is a spirit, the daughter of a fallen angel and a mortal; she searches the world for a gift that will convince the gods to admit her to Paradise. Soprano Heidi Grant Murphy sings the role of the Peri, joined by soprano Christine Brandes, mezzo Bernarda Fink, tenors Mark Padmore and Joseph Kaiser, bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni and the Philadelphia Singers Chorale.
Rattle suggests another possibility for the obscurity of the score. "Maybe people found it too sweet," he told the Inquirer. "You know, to our very puritanical, middle-European ears, people think this is simply too beautiful, the dissonances are too extraordinary. People have a problem with ecstatic music."