Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Some operas have changed musical history: Christoph Willibald Gluck´s "Orfeo ed Euridice" is one of them. Born in 1714, his operatic career started in typical Italian form following the Metastasio model of "opera seria" based on myth or ancient history: recitatives and florid arias generally sung by castrati and sopranos; almost no duets or choirs or ensembles. From 1741 to 1760 he wrote 22. And from 1755 to 1761 a series of nine French comedy operas mainly for Schönbrunn, in a very different style from the Italian ones. So when we arrive to 1762 he had already created 32 operas in the two predominant styles of those times. He was 48 years old, a mature man. It´s worth mentioning that in 1761 he had composed an astonishing "ballet d´action", "Don Juan" , scenario by Angiolini based on Molière, with very dramatic music in the scene where Don Juan falls to Hell. This showed that the right literary stimulus could change Gluck´s music, and in fact it was the poet Raniero Calzabigi´s libretto on the old Greek myth that compelled the musician to write differently. Indeed there are basic changes: the melodies in the arias are simple but expressive, with little ornament; there´s a lot of choral writing; and the "recitativo secco" (only with harpsichord) is substituted with the "accompagnato" of strings. The opera is short in three succinct acts, not overlong as many "opere serie" were. There´s a French influence in the inclusion of dances. But Orfeo is still a contralto castrato, not a tenor. Of course the Orphic myth was essential when opera was invented by the Camerata Fiorentina: Jacopo Peri´s "Euridice", dated 1600, is the first opera that survived those seminal birth years. And Claudio Monteverdi´s "La favola d´Orfeo" (1607, Mantova), was a giant step forward. Gluck´s "Orfeo..." was called a reform opera, but he came back to Metastasio´s model several times. However, his "Orfeo..." had an impact, even if most composers followed the old model, and in 1767 Calzabigi spurred him on and the composer wrote "Alceste" for Vienna, going far beyond the reforms of "Orfeo...". As Gluck wrote in the preface: "I have striven to restrict music to its true office of serving poetry by means of expression and by following the situations of the story". And then, from 1774 to 1779, came his period in Paris, where he succeeded Rameau as the greatest creator of French tragic operas, including an adaptation by Moline of Calzabigi´s "Orfeo...". There Orfeo is a tenor, and some wonderful pieces are added: the Dance of the Furies (derived from the closing pages of "Don Juan") and the beautiful Eurydice aria, "Cet asile aimable et tranquille", plus an expansion of the dances in the final Tableau. Berlioz adapted in 1859 the tenor part to the contralto voice of Pauline Viardot, and a new tradition began. This transposition soon was used also for the Italian version. In fact, many recordings have opted for this change (e.g., Horne with Solti), until more recently historicism tried something else: a countertenor substituting for the castrato. But baritones (Bacquier in BA, Fischer-Dieskau on records) have also sung the part, attracted by its serene beauty. The numerous recordings still list more contraltos than countertenors, and at the Colón from 1924 to 1953 sang contraltos or mezzos; then, Bacquier in 1966 and mezzo Zimmermann in 1977. But in 2009 Franco Fagioli sang the countertenor version at the Coliseo, where the Colón did its season. And this brings me to the musical side of the current presentation of "Orfeo..." at the Avenida by Juventus Lyrica, for they opted also for a countertenor, Martín Oro. Eurydice has always been sung by sopranos, and Amor is a light soprano, also as usual. The 37-member historicist orchestra conducted by Hernán Schvartzman was very good; it included a cornetto and chalumeau (an early clarinet). Although Oro sang unevenly, with hooty highs, he knows the style; as Maria Goso (Eurydice) showed great improvement compared to her Merry Widow and Victoria Gaeta was sprightly and accurate, and furthermore the Choir under Hernán Sánchez Arteaga was enthusiastic, we seemed to have the makings of a correct evening, but it wasn´t so. A poor version, far too fast, of the famous "Che farò senza Euridice", didn´t help. Again the culprit was the production, for María Jaunarena had an unfortunate wrong concept. Instead of respecting Calzabigi and Gluck, she invented an ugly transposition to current times. At the start, Orfeo composes helped by a violin. Eurydice salutes him, goes out; a screech and crash: she is dead. Then a medical team attempts to revive a naked girl quite unlike Goso, to no avail, whilst heavy pseudomedical data is both yelled and projected, interfering the brilliant Gluck Overture. And then, the opera starts, interrupted many times, for Jaunarena has incorporated orphic texts and writings on the Orpheus myth, mostly recited by Oreste Valente in clear Italian, plus several men and women; a particularly tasteless frequent parading of the dead girl was irritating. About twenty minutes of the music are ruined, and as several dances are cut (presumably to spend less), not much was left to be enjoyed. The costumes by Jaunarena are nondescript, and both the lighting and stage designs of Gonzalo Córdova were negative. When you can´t recognize an opera looking at the stage something is seriously amiss. And it was. For Buenos Aires Herald
WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne/Hirsch (Wergo)Bernd Alois Zimmermann was an anomaly in 20th-century Euro-modernism, not so much because he refused to engage with the big trends, but because he took those trends and went rogue. His ballet suite Giostra Genovese is a weird marvel of anachronism, with piles upon piles of quotations and non sequiturs; Music for King Ubu’s Dinner is a “ballet noir” from 1966 that still sounds politically incorrect. This WDR album contains both those works, plus the Concerto for String Orchestra, all performed with a meticulously menacing, deadpan sense of drama. The disc opens with the original, 1951 version of the Sinfonie in Einem Satz in all its lush, surreal, supremely foreboding glory. Zimmermann would later revise the score to make it more concise and regulate the bizarre instrumentation, but the grim organ in the original is marvellously creepy. This music has a terror that shouldn’t be softened, and conductor Peter Hirsch squares up unflinchingly. Continue reading...
On Tuesday the HERALD offered its readers valuable background written by Cristiana Visan on the Colón´s Latin American première of one of the most complex Twentieth Century operas: Bernd Alois Zimmermann´s "Die Soldaten" ("The Soldiers"). She included statements by Darío Lopérfido, Artistic Director of the Colón; Baldur Brönnimann, conductor; and Pablo Maritano, régisseur. This reviewer was at the première that same day; the hand programme also has interesting reflexions by Brönnimann and Maritano. On the present article I will assume that you read Visan and won´t repeat facts. First, it´s worth stressing that its presentation was an audacious bet by Lopérfido; it is also the only première of the operatic subscription series. Discarding the utopic original wishes of the composer (it was never done), the revised work nevertheless needs the full resources of an important opera house. My reference is the DVD of Stuttgart Opera´s 1989 staging by Harry Kupfer, conducted by Bernhard Kontarsky. Although their stage is smaller than the Colón´s, the set by Wolf Münzner was built on three tiers permitting when required the simultaneity of three different actions. And his costumes accorded with the original ambience of the Lenz text, written in 1776, so the Countess, e.g., is dressed as in those Pre-Revolutionary times an aristocrat was, with a big hoop-skirt. Zimmermann has conserved the stilted, ceremonious aspects of the Lenz text. For we are still in the Ancien Régime and forms were kept, even in battle. That´s why Kupfer (an avantgarde régisseur) respected dressing codes: because they agree with the words. Maritano, as so many nowadays, transports us to Zimmermann´s time, and that way the text clashes with what we see. Mind you, those decadent years pictured by Lenz nurtured snake eggs that would mature shortly after. He was part of the Sturm und Drang movement and he saw the future, as Büchner did years later in his "Woyzeck". It isn´t irrelevant to know that Lenz died insane and Zimmermann committed suicide. It´s worth mentioning that Wolfgang Rihm wrote "Lenz", an interesting chamber opera on the writer´s final period; we saw it at the San Martín some years ago. And that Manfred Gurlitt, a neglected composer, wrote his own "Wozzeck" (1926) and "Die Soldaten"! (1930). Of course, Berg´s "Wozzeck" was a great influence on Zimmermann, and there are several parallels (homages, in fact) between what may be the most important opera of the Twentieth Century and "Die Soldaten"., although they are also very contrasting: Berg wrote a social drama, Zimmermann a dystopic indictment of the brutal human race. He made me think of the Resnais film in which Henri Laborit insisted on the influence of the reptilian part of our brain; for evolution is very slow, it is still there and leads to unspeakable acts. Half a century has elapsed since "Die Soldaten" was premièred. It retains its power to shock and impact, but it doesn´t move as "Wozzeck" does. Strange, Marie is the main female role in both. Musically, "Die Soldaten" is fully dodecaphonic, whilst most of "Wozzeck" isn´t; both are based on formal structures that are only apparent to the studious scholar. In "Die Soldaten" the brutality is much more explicit and the search for effect is evident. In this opera the soldiers are all beasts; only one voice admonishes them: Eisenhardt, the Padre, tells them: "if these girls are whores it is because you made them so". Marie´s sister, Charlotte, warns her against Desportes, but isn´t helped by their father, nor Stolzius´s mother. However, I don´t find Marie innocent; she is coquettish and is easily conquered by Desportes. The vocality is often quite unpleasant and badly written, with constant unnecessary jumps and absurd insistence on the highest range. There´s very little lyricism. The main musical quality is the handling of the huge orchestra with domineering percussion, and the ability to superimpose as much as three simultaneous vocal monologues and dialogues, each with a different rhythm. Also some moments of spatiality. And the pandemonium of the great soldier scene really stuns. Brönnimann worked hard and after weeks of intensive rehearsals got very good results from orchestra and stage. However, there was a snafu: in the scene between the Countess and her son something went wrong (tenor or conductor) and the scene had to restart. The six foreign singers made their local debut. Susanne Elmark was an admirable Marie; she looks the part and has the vocal agility to vanquish the highest range. And she acts with intensity. Tom Randle (Desportes) was taxed by the tremendous demands but did well. Frode Olsen (Wesener, Marie´s father) showed authority and a solid bass-baritone. Leigh Melrose was an anguished Stolzius and Julia Riley an adequate Charlotte. Only Noemí Nadelmann was below par as the Countess, her voice alarmingly frayed. Apart from Santiago Ballerini´s sole intervention as the son of the Countess (perhaps not his fault), the Argentines were remarkably good, especially Gustavo Gibert (Eisenhardt), Alejandro Meerapfel (Captain Mary) and Eugenia Fuente (Stolzius´ mother). Nazareth Aufe managed with well-placed voice the extremely high range of Captain Pirzel. In the picture were Virginia Correa Dupuy (Wesener´s Mother), Luciano Garay (Captain Haudy) and Christian De Marco (Colonel Obrist). I agree with Lopérfido: "Enrique Bordolini has built a great iron structure: it is a formidable stage design". It has some resemblance to what La Fura del Baus did in Enesco´s "Oedipe". Those cubicles in several tiers allow Maritano to fill them with vivid pictures. However, although he disclaims that his staging stresses graphic depictions, there´s plenty of faked sex acts and most are beside the point. The interaction of the characters was observed with acuity, and some scenes were stunning. The smallness of the cubicles sometimes was an obstacle. The costumes of Sofía Di Nunzio were quite good if you accept the transposition in time. The added videos didn´t make much of a difference. All in all, a necessary venture and an experience to have, though you need strong nerves. Some traditional members of the audience left in the interval, but most stayed and applauded enthusiastically at the end. For Buenos Aires Herald
Zimmermann had been performing on the “Lady Inchiquin” Stradivarius for 13 years; it was on permanent loan from a Düsseldorf bank, WestLB. But when that bank failed last year, its successor decided to auction off all of WestLB’s artworks, including this violin. Then a savior – perhaps an unlikely one – appeared.
In February 2015, Frank-Peter Zimmermann surrendered his 1711 Lady Inchiquin Stradivarius to a finance company, Portigon, that was under orders to sell it for the highest price. The German virtuoso had played the instrument on loan for 12 years and was devastated to lose it. He struggled on with a loan instrument but the pain never went away. Today, the Government of North Rhine-Westphalia arranged for the Lady Inchiquin aranged for it to be repurchased for him to play. That’s enlightened government for you.
The Ruhr Triennale, founded by Gerard Mortier in 2002, is changing hands for the next three years. The new team for 2018-20 are Stefanie Carp, intendant, and Christoph Marthaler, director-in-chief. Stefanie, 6o, is a protégée of Marie Zimmermann, whose early death prevented her from becoming head of the Ruhr Triennale back in 2008. © Edi Szekely/Ruhrtriennale