Aribert Reimann’s Lear is a pretty good example of how to create a thoroughly modern opera within a thoroughly traditional framework. It’s a classic story of course. Here librettist Claus Henneberg has taken the classic German translationof the Shakespeare play and condensed it in a highly intelligent fashion; retaining all the emotional drama while sacrificing some fairly peripheral narrative. Reimann’s score is modern though not strictly twelve tone. He creates a distinct musical voice for each character; speech/Sprechstimme for the Fool, weird coloratura for General etc. This is reinforced by many of the characters having a tone row that serves as a sort of leitmotiv. Atonality and quarter tones are used for varying effects from the violence of the Blasted Heath scene; apparently inspired by the composer’s experience, as a nine year old, of the bombing of Potsdam, to the shimmering, ethereal quarter tones of Lear’s final monologue. For anyone with even a vague tolerance for “modern” music it’s a fascinating listen.
Klaus Michael Grüber’s production of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, recorded at the Aix-en-Provence festival in 2000, is both stylish and stylised. The stage and costume designs, by Gilles Aillaud and Rudy Sabounghi, are extremely elegant and, at times, very beautiful. The Seneca scenes at the beginning of Act 2, set in a sort of lemon grove, are especially effective as ai the use of painterly backdrops looking like Greek vase paintings reinterpreted by a fauviste. The director complements the designs with a somewhat formalised acting style that fits rather well. He also makes some changes to the narrative to tighten up the drama, dispensing with Ottavia’s nurse and ending with Pur tí miro, rather than Poppea’s coronation. Coupled with excellent acting performances it’s a straightforward but effective way to tell the story.
What follows, eventually, is a review of the Blu-ray recording of Busoni’s Doktor Faust recorded at the Opernhaus Zürich in 2008. First I feel the need to digress somewhat about the work itself.