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Recordings

Rued Langgaard: Antikrist
28 Nov 2005

LANGGAARD: Antikrist

Watching this DVD, your reviewer suddenly recalled a brief exchange from the film Reversal of Fortune, when the Ron Silver/Alan Dershowitz character says to the Jeremy Irons/Claus von Bulow one, “You are a very strange man, “ and Irons, in the moment that may have won him the Academy Award, replies with eerie blandness, “You have no idea.”

Rued Langgaard: Antikrist

Sten Byriel, Anne Margrethe Dahl, Poul Elming, Helene Gjerris, Johnny van Hal, Jon Ketilsson, John Lundgren, Susanne Resmark, Morten Suurballe. Danish National Symphony Orchestra / DR, Thomas Dausgaard (cond.)

Dacapo 2.110402 [DVD]

 

And until the gentle readers of Opera Today avail themselves of the experience of viewing Rued Langgaard’s Antikrist, they will have no idea how strange it is.

It is very, very strange. But more importantly — it fascinates on a deeper level than mere stunned incomprehension could ever effect.

The production comes from 2002, from the Royal Danish Opera and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation. An American citizen has the right to let his mind reel contemplating the Metropolitan Opera and PBS putting on a similar show…

Briefly, Langgaard created a “religious mystery opera,” an allegory of the Antikrist wreaking havoc in the despoiled realm of modern society. Many a singer has a Rodolfo or Mimi or Marcello on his/her resume. How many have “The Mouth Speaking Great Things” or “Spirit of Mystery.” Camilla Nylund takes on the demanding role of “The Great Whore.” Before this production perhaps no other soprano had ever ventured this role on stage. How many have assayed it offstage is a very different matter.

The accompanying booklet has two extensive, well-written essays. Bendt Vinholt Nielsen’s introduction gives the sources and inspiration for Langgaard’s work, and Jorgen I. Jensen offers a more analytical approach to the work and its meaning. Your reviewer read these AFTER viewing the DVD, and can vouch that they both clarify some matters, but that the opera as performed here works well on its own, on its own very, very odd terms.

Nielsen succinctly describes the opera’s form: “There are no recurrent characters, there is no plot in the traditional sense, and the opera consists to a great extent of monologues.” Almost an oratorio? But an oratorio, with a row of singers in tidy eveningwear, would belie the composer’s vision. This production, with a fine cast of actor/singers, lands us in his surreal landscape from the first moment and keeps us there, willing prisoners, until the end. At the very least, the repeated references to our modern world as “the church- ruin of noise” provides a useful epithet for flinging at the TV when watching the nightly news.

Not much set is required. The bare stage suggests the austere interior of a Protestant church, and the singers at first look dressed for Sunday service. Sten Bryiel’s wild-eyed Lucifer calls forth the antichrist, and off we go. No film director is listed, so perhaps stage director Staffan Valdemar Holm decided to include a roving on-stage cameraperson (unseen), who zooms in for close-ups and follows the stage action closely. This heightens the immediacy of the production, not to mention its oddness.

And the music? One might think the score would be some harsh, modernistic screech-and -scream affair. Not at all. Langgaard’s textures are thick and at times streaked through with bi- or polytonality. For the most part, however, the music is recognizably tonal, but driven and nervous, hardly starting off on one theme before scattering off onto another idea. It makes for brilliant, unsettling listening, and Thomas Dausgaard leads the Danish Symphony orchestra with confidence, as if this were another “Turandot” or possibly “Salome.” The hall might have been unfriendly to voices, or the orchestration; for one or both of those reasons, the singers have been provided with unobtrusive microphones. The sound suffers a bit, therefore, from a lack of real focus as to origin. But better to have heard the music than to have it swallowed up by the acoustics.

So who should seek out this DVD? Obviously, fans of twentieth century should consider this an essential purchase. But at only 95 minutes, the opera has something for even those usually averse to more progressive works. At the very least, they will be able to say they have seen “The Great Whore” on DVD.

But who hasn’t?

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

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