15 Mar 2009
Henze: Der junge Lord
Hey man, you wanna take a trip? Groovy!
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
Hey man, you wanna take a trip? Groovy!
Like a hallucinogenic sugar cube, this Medici Arts DVD of Hans Werner Henze’s Der junge Lord, with libretto by Ingeborg Bachmann, will take viewers on a wild ride and really put it to the system. The opera premiered in 1965; this filmed version dates from 1968. Although the story takes place in a bourgeois German town in the 19th century, the cast might as well be in bell bottoms and paisley. Henze and Bachmann take over two hours to tell the story of the mysterious Sir Edgar, who excites a status-crazed German town when he visits. A party designed to present Sir Edgar’s son, the young lord of the title, sets the stage for the supposedly shocking climax. After the hypocritical elites of the town have excused the strange behavior of the young lord, they recoil in shock as the finely dressed young man goes, pardon the expression, ape-excrement crazy, at which point Sir Edgar steps in to reveal that this “son” is actually an ape who has been taught how to “ape” the manners of society. Wow! Crazy, man, far out.
Der junge Lord plays, then, like an over-extended Twilight Zone episode in one of Serling’s rare and not notably funny forays into humor. That isn’t necessarily dismissive criticism, however, and though this DVD can’t elicit a general recommendation from your reviewer, its merits shouldn’t be dismissed either.
Of primary value is Henze’s score, which skips and frolics with macabre glee, not unlike the ape-lord himself at the ball in his honor. Although far from sweet and lyrical, Henze’s music adopts tonality almost to mock the conservative, conventional society of the story. Through sharp, disruptive rhythms and kaleidoscopic orchestration, Henze manages to give the impression of edgier music than he has actually composed. No tunes may lodge in listeners’ memories, but Henze’s energetic imagination holds the attention. With Christoph von Dohnanyi’s expert leadership, the Deutsche Oper Berlin forces play like crazed apes themselves.
Gustav Rudolf Sellner staged and directed the production, and it manages the rare feat of retaining a theatrical perspective while making good use of the camera. The actors/singers perform to a recorded soundtrack, following Sellner’s precise direction, almost choreographic in its flow and ease. Bachmann’s libretto, basically didactic, doesn’t really care to properly characterize any of the roles, but the performers try their best. Somehow both at the center of the story and extraneous to it are a young couple in love, sung by Edith Mathis and Donald Grobe. Mathis in particular manages some very difficult music while maintaining beauty of tone. Sir Edgar is a silent role, with Barry McDaniel as his secretary serving as a properly unctuous spokesperson. In the title role, Loren Driscoll also must cope with some challenging vocal lines, especially in the off-camera scene where the lord/ape is being tortured during his German lesson. Driscoll’s contorted posture and manic dancing do make the final scene almost worth the long wait to reach it.
Almost. In the end, Der junge Lord probably qualifies more as a fascinating artifact of its time than a successful opera. Those who still tune into the occasional Twilight Zone marathon and wonder how many of the shows could have been the basis for an opera should check this curiosity out.