Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Don Giovanni, Bavarian State Opera

All told, this was probably the best Don Giovanni I have seen and heard. Judging opera performances - perhaps we should not be ‘judging’ at all, but let us leave that on one side - is a difficult task: there are so many variables, at least as many as in a play and a concert combined, but then there is the issue of that ‘combination’ too.

A dance to life in Munich’s Indes galantes

Can one justly “review” a streamed performance? Probably not. But however different or diminished such a performance, one can—and must—bear witness to such an event when it represents a landmark in the evolution of an art form.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Franz Schreker : Die Gezeichneten
30 Aug 2009

Franz Schreker : Die Gezeichneten, Salzburg

Franz Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten isn't the easiest opera to produce, with its grand effects, but this production comes close to being a perfect union between stage and music.

Alviano Salvago : Robert Brubaker, Carlotta Nardi : Anne Schwanewilms, Graf Andrea Vitelozzo Tamare : Michael Volle, Herzog Antoniotto Adorno : Robert Hale, Ludovico Nardi : Wolfgang Schöne, Konzertvereininigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Deutsches-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano: cnductor, Director : Nikolaus Lehnhoff, Stage design : Raimund Bauer, Director for film : Andreas Morell

EuroArts 2055298 [DVD]

$26.99  Click to buy

Created for the specifics of the Felsenreiitschule in Salzburg, it was extremely expensive to mount. Chances are that its like will never be seen again. This film is a unique testament to visionary stagecraft.

In the early 90’s Decca did a series of recordings of Entartete Musik, music suppressed by the Nazi regime. It was an act of great commercial foresight because at the time much of this music wasn’t known outside specialist circles. The Decca series, created by Dr Albrecht Dümling, was truly visionary, extremely well curated, and the performances often so good they remain classics even now the genre is pretty much mainstream. This series is the benchmark by which all else is measured. Probably there won’t be another series of this breadth and quality.

Franz Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten was part of the series, conducted by Lothar Zagrosek and the Berlin Radio Symphony who were behind many of the recordings. Entartete Musik was cherished in East Germany, where there was a performance tradition. On one disc there’s Matthias Goerne, barely out of his teens. Worthy as that recording is, it’s outclassed by the performance in Salzburg in 2005, when Peter Ruzicka was director. So a visionary performance, unmissable for anyone, interested in the genre or not. This puts* Die Gezeichneten *firmly in the mainstram repertoire.

The Salzburg production is so good that topping it will be a challenge no one has yet dared attempt. It was conducted by Kent Nagano, and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (where many East Berliners went to). The cast is absolutely top notch : Anne Schwanewilms, Michael Volle, Robert Hale, Wolfgang Schöne and Robert Brubaker in what must be the ultimate performance of his career. The director was Nikolaus Lehnhoff.

Lehnhoff’s penchant for massive constructions works wonderfully to express the meaning of the opera. The stage at first looks like it’s strewn with formidable boulders. Alviano Salvago has built Elysium, a secret world on a remote island off Genoa. These boulders are like the bastions of a frightening fortress, which is what Elysium really is, despite being dedicated to art, love and beauty. There are prisoners here, and unspeakable crimes which don’t get revealed until the end. Salvago himself is a fortress. He’s a hunchback, “the ugliest man in Genoa”, crippled by self-loathing. He’s built Elysium as an escape. It’s so perfect that it makes everything beautiful. It’s used by aristocrats for exquisite orgies, in which Salvago himself doesn’t participate despite the magical aura which makes hideousness beautiful.

As the lovely Overture unfolds, Brubaker is carefully putting on elaborate makeup. He’s dressed in a flimsy negligee. but his cropped hair and butch features make him look like a caricature drag queen. Immediately, the staging and acting conncet to the idea of psychic dissonance that is so much the soul of this opera. The boulders on stage are formed by a giant statue of a woman, but a statue collapsed and destroyed, only one arm, on hand still raised in a futile gesture to heaven. Most of the action in the opera unfolds on the statue’s body, so watch carefully how the body becomes part of the action. Sometimes its rounded curves nurture, sometimes they allow a place to hide, but they remain opaque, inpenetrable, unlike the island’s victims. The stage too extends to the walls around the auditorium, arches representing the many secret rooms in the grotto, yet also look sinister, like catacombs. The statue does not foretell the ending. It’s clear in the music and text all along that Elysium is an unsustainable delusion in the first place, and Salvago is not deluded. This is important because there are moral and social values in this opera. Elysium is a prototype of an ideal society, corrupted by people who don’t have ideals.

Salvago announces he’s giving Elysium away to the City of Genoa. An altruistic act, perhaps, but Salvago knows that the girls used in the orgies were kidnapped from the town. Schreker’s dwarf is an altogether more complex person than any of Zemlinsky’s. Zemlinsky’s dwarves fall in love with beauties, but accept their rejection on a relatively straightforward fairy tale level. Schreker’s Salavgo (note the name) is so screwed up he doesn’t dare look beyond himself and or even conceive of love. Fortress Elysium blocks out vulnerable feelings.

Schreker’s drama is more than fairy tale in other ways. Listen to the way Anne Schwanewilms creates Carlotta Nardi, the wayward daughter of the Podestà (Wolfgang Schöne). She’s a liberated woman, an artist who doesn’t follow rules, the personification of Der ferne Klang, the elusive melody in physical form. She paints souls. Listen to that wonderful passage where she sings about her dream. She sees a “small wretched wanderer” walk into the sunlight, and a miracle happens - he grows larger and larger. “So male ich eure Gestalt, Signor Alviano”. Watch Brubaker’s face twitch. This is truly masterful acting. He’s pouring out a flood of dammed up emotions, too powerful for Salvago to contain. Then she says, she still needs to see “trunkene Auge, darin all die Schoenheit sich gespeigelt”.

This line is critical. Can Salvago give her the “drunken eye” that mirrors beauty ? Brubaker pulls his butch black overcoat on again, hiding his soft pink negligee, and for a moment stands alone on the harsh boulders. The scene ends with poignant strings, the film projecting the statue’s blind stone eyes.

Salvago’s mirror image twin is Graf Vitelozzo Tamare, given a tour de force performance by Michael Volle, another high point in his career he deserves to be very proud of. Tamare is handsome, tall, virile. What body language! Yet listen to the music behind his description of Elysium, and its “Ein künstliche Grotto auf jenem Eiland”, the Eiland soaring, swelling lyrically. So it makes sense that Tamare, Alpha male that he is, unlke the other men, the one who discovers love. “There are men who see only the light, and darkness “ist ihrem Fremd”. Since he’s set eyes on the Carlotta with her mysterious, challenging smile, no longer can he be careless and uncaring, no longer can he be the prankster hero he used to be. Think Tristan. Pity Volle isn’t a tenor. Listen to the way Schreker builds echoes of horn calls into the music, as if he did hear the parallels. But it’s distinctively Schreker’s voice, “Ferne Musik und leise Gesänge” further invoked in the orchestral interlude that follows, where Lehnhoff has Schwanewilms start to seduce Brubaker.

Both Schwanewilms and Brubaker are encased in transparent black chiffon on naked flesh. When Schwanewilms talks off Brubaker’s hard, heavy boots it’s erotic and yet extremely tender. Watch Brubaker’s expressions carefully as he doesn’t have much to sing but his reactions are extremely important - thank goodness for close-ups in film! Yet seduction is just a simile for deeper intimacy. Carlotta sings of going out on s a sunny day, feeling sad without knowing why. Salvago realises someone has at last broken down his emotional walls. But that means he has to learn to give tenderness in return, for she, too is “ein gar gebrechliches Spielzug” She pulls off his pink dress, exposing him, but that’s it.

The most striking scenes in this production occurs as the interlude is played. Suddenly the auditorium is bathed in blue light, a reference to the light that makes the Grotto magic. The arches around the stage light up, and figures appear, in black capes. These reference the men of Genoa in their black, beetle-like attire and also longer dramatic traditions. Carlotta’s sensitivity is up against something too hard and too ingrained in society for her and Salvago to stand up to. Figures like vultures encroach on the stage as the Duke, representing power, persuades Carlotta that Salvago isn’t the man for her. Eventually, it’s Tamare she succumbs to, not unwillingly.

These groups of elegant but sinister figures, sexually ambiguous, with masks and feathered headresses, are Lehnhoff trademarks, but here wonderfully evoke things that can’t rationally be expressed - mystery, evil, death, power, perhap ? They prepare us for the terrible trial scene when Duke Adorno and the Council of Eight denounce Salvago, blaming him for kidnapping and corrupting the girls of Genoa. It’s a horrifying moment. Salvago squirms, helpless. The aristocrats who used Elysium are rounding on him for trying to end it. He must take the blame so they won’t. And he is to blame, even though he never laid a finger on anyone. His crime was trying to upset the natural order of things where beauty is beauty and ugliness ugliness. Salvago’s attempts to end the orgies on the island by giving it to the city are cruelly punished. Perhaps real ugliness is so powerful that dreams like Elysium can’t possibly work and Salvagos are destined to fail. And the rescued girls themselves blame him, for it was in his Elysium they were corrupted.

Then in the final interlude, the ground itself opens up, as Elysium is destroyed, revealing lots of children, half naked, some dead, their haunted eyes captured more accusingly on film than you’d ever see in the opera house. It’s horrible. In a corner, Carlotta and Tamare lie together as if dead. Then Volle sings. Even if he’s killed, it won’t change the fact he’s had the most blissful moment of his life. “Die Schönheit sei Beute das Starken”. In their final confrontation, Tamare tells Salvago in no uncertain terms why he’s failed. “Du sahst nur das Dunkle, die Scahtten, Gefahr und Sünde”. What’s worse, “ein freudlos Leben, ein langsam Seichen, oder ein Tod in Rausch und Verklärung rauscher in brünstg’r Unarmung ein selig Sterben!”. A death in rapture and transfiguration? Carlotta found the ecstacy, the “drunken eyes” she dreamed of so she died happy. Definitely, Tristan und Isolde.

But this is Schreker. Tamare recounts a tale about killing a funfair fiddler with his own violin. Carlotta awakes from her swoon and screams at Salvago in revulsion . “Gebt mir Wasser” she cries, “Nein, gebt mir Wein!” Salvago crumples into a ball as the music explodes into conflagration. This production is so good it truly deserves the tiitle “Festspieledokumente”.

Anne Ozorio

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):