Wolfgang Rihm’s Dionysos is described by him as “eine Opernphantasie”. It certainly isn’t an opera in the conventional sense lacking, as it does, anything resembling a plot. It’s a staged setting of poems by Nietzsche written just before his final descent into madness (if one considers that’s not where he was from the start!). Rihm conceives this as four scenes each dealing with a different “element” in Nietzscean terms. The four are Water, a scene set on a lake; Air, a mountain scene; Intimate Space, a scene in a brothel; and Public Space, set in a town square. So, episodic and linked only by a certain kind of mood and the characters. The weight of the piece is carried by “N”, a baritone role. he interacts variously with a amle guest who doubles as Apollo and a high soprano who doubles as Ariadne. In addition there is a trio of ladies; high soprano, mezzo, contralto, who play various roles from pseudo Rhinemaidens to tarts.
Musically it’s very much modern German. There’s lots of dissonance, lots of percussion and extreme vocal techniques. The two high soprano parts are just that; high. It’s not the type of piece that’s easy to grasp first time through and I’m sure many people will dismiss it out of hand.
The performance recorded at the 2010 Salzburg festival probably makes as good a case for the piece as possible. Pierre Audi, backed up by Jonathan Meese (sets), Jorge Jara (costumes) and Jean Kalman (lighting) create a sometimes beautiful, sometimes disturbing staging. The actors, led by Johannes Martin Kränzle as “N” and Mojca Erdmann as first high soprano (the role was created for her) give extremely committed performances and are well supported by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsoper with conductor Ingo Metzmacher.
The video side of things is pretty much exemplary. Bettina Erdhardt is a sympathetic and un-neurotic video director and, on Blu-ray, she’s supported by first class picture and sound. She also contributes a 53 minute documentary Ich bin dein Labyrinth which explores the work and the production from various angles. There are English, German and French subtitles. The booklet is one of the most interesting I’ve seen with a video recording. Besides the ususal stuff it contains some interesting and decidedly odd sketches by the production team. It’s well worth a look.
So, bottom line, this isn’t one of those new contemporary pieces that grabbed me and made me want to rush out and see it in the theatre unlike, say, Birtwistle’s The Minotaur or Reimann’s Medea. On the other hand there is a lot to explore for anyone with a mind open to contemporary European opera and the performances and recording are excellent.
As an after thought, reviewing this made me realise why i hate star systems so much. Suppose I was writing for one of those publications that demand I give piece x stars out of y, how would i have scored this? What basis would I have scored it on? How would it have helped anybody? People who hate this kind of piece will have figured out it’s not for them. The more experimental will have realized what they are getting into it. I could give it 1 star or 5 but who would care?
Euroarts Blu-rays continue to challenge in the vid caps department. A firmware upgrade to my external BD player allowed me to play some other, previously rather Bolshie, Euroarts releases but this one is resisting all my wiles. I may try a few more tricks. The fact that the disk seems to be labelled “Die Soldaten” isn’t inspiring confidence though.
ETA: Ripping to .mkv and then taking the caps from the .mkv file worked. Weird.