What is this anguish that each of us carries inside? That’s the central question of Thomas Larcher’s chamber opera Das Jagdgewehr that premiered at the Bregenz Festival in 2018. It’s based on a 1949 novel by Yasushi Inoue about a hunter, the three women in his life and the poet to whom he sends the women’s letters. It’s a stark, intense tale of love, death, secrecy, loss and betrayal told in a prologue and eleven scenes over about an hour and a quarter.
There are five principal characters and an off stage chorus of seven voices. The instrumental forces are some nineteen strong. The music is in a decidedly modern idiom. It’s mostly forceful and dramatic with a mostly declamatory vocal line that supports the text well. Much of the time the chorus doubles the soloists line which is a bit uncanny and very effective. On a few brief occasions the instrumental music drops into an almost liturgical mode. I was reminded of Purcell’s Funeral Music for Queen Mary but you may well hear something quite different.
The direction and staging by Karl Markovics is simple, quite abstract and striking. There’s a white square frame and a snowy path and that’s about it bar some rather good video projections. It’s very close to the audience. The orchestra and chorus are off to one side to allow the stage almost to flow into the auditorium.
The performances are first class. The hunter, Josuke, is sung by baritone André Schuen with clarity and a certain aloofness appropriate to this enigmatic character. Soprano Giulia Peri sings his estranged wife Midori with great pathos. Mezzo Olivia Vermeulen generates a really beautiful sound as the lover Saiko while Sarah Aristidou copes very well with the insanely high music that Larcher gives to Saiko’s daughter Shoko. Robin Tritschler’s rather beautiful tenor rounds things out as the unnamed poet who has been drawn into this small scale tragedy almost unwillingly.
The chorus is the Ensemble Modern and they cope brilliantly with the far from easy tasks they are given. The same can be said for the instrumentalists of the Schola Heidelberg. Michael Boder does a really good job of pulling the music making together, especially given the tricky spatial set up.
Feix Breisach directed the video and, naturally enough, he concentrates on the stage and the principals but shows us enough of the bigger picture to get an idea of the whats and whys of the total theatrical layout. Video quality on Blu-ray is very good indeed and both stereo and DTS-HD-MA sound tracks are top notch. There are no extras but the booklet has a good synopsis and the story of how the opera came about. Subtitles are German, English, Japanese and Korean.
This is a really interesting new opera. Musically it’s very much in the modern continental European manner which won’t be to everyone’s taste but I’ll take it over pseudo-Broadway any day. I think performances and production do the work full justice; as does the recording. Of serious interest, perhaps essential viewing, for anyone with an interest in contemporary European opera.