15 Mar 2009
Henze: Der junge Lord
Hey man, you wanna take a trip? Groovy!
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
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.