The Resurrection of Franz Liszt's Unfinished Opera Sardanapalo

Categories: News

Tags: ERC

  • An ERC grantee from the University of Cambridge has brought back to life an unfinished opera by Franz Liszt. There will be a (free) piano-vocal performance on Saturday 27 April at the Library of Congress.

“Once lost is lost", one may think, especially if the piece of forgotten patrimony is an opera from 1850 that is “incomplete, too fragmented and irretrievable”, according to the experts. Except for Dr. David Trippet: like an art restorer holding fine paintbrushes, he has dedicated three years of intensive research to retrieve the unborn opera, bringing the music and libretto back to life 170 years later.

Based on a long feature from the University of Cambridge

'To hell then!'

Sardanapalo is the unfinished Italian opera by the Hungarian-born composer Franz Liszt (1811-1886). Based on Lord Byron’s tragedy Sardanapalus (1821), it tells the story of a peace-loving king of Assyria, the last of his monarchy, more interested in revelry and women than politics and war. Liszt started the project in 1845, but following several setbacks and some dissatisfaction with his librettist (“To Hell, then, with Mallefille’s Sardanapalo!, said Liszt”), he abandoned the project after completing only the first act. It would have been his only mature opera.

Known by only a few Liszt’s scholars, the score was judged extremely fragmented and difficult to read, its music irretrievable. Yet, Dr. David Trippett, a musicologist at the University of Cambridge, believed otherwise. With his research team, he has recently retrieved the original music and libretto through a meticulous analysis of Liszt’s 115-page manuscript. Dr Trippett’s research received EU funding through the European Research Council (ERC) starting grant scheme, opened to early-career researchers.

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