Schubert could write great melodies and he had a real affinity for the voice so one might expect him to have been successful when he turned his hand to opera. He wasn’t with Fierrabras which wasn’t performed until decades after his death and has been revived seldom since, most recently at Salzburg in 2014 where it was recorded. It’s easy to see why. The libretto is awful and even if the music were really amazing, which it isn’t but more of that later, I doubt it would have made much impact.
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.
Berndt Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten was something of a sleeper hit at the 2012 Salzburg festival and is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s a peculiar work. It’s very episodic and requires massive forces. There are 16 singing and 10 non-singing roles, a 100 piece orchestra, a jazz band and more. At Salzburg the scale was magnified by staging it in the Felsenreitschule, using the full 40m width and enormous height of the stage. I’ve included some full stage shots in the screen caps to give an idea of how huge this all is. They can be expanded to full size Blu-ray caps (roughly three times the size of the image in the review).
Messiaen’s Saint François d’Assise is an astonishing piece of music theatre and Pierre Audi’s Amsterdam staging of it is equally extraordinary. There is very little “plot”. The work consists of eight loosely linked tableaux taken from 16th century accounts of St. Francis’ life and ministry. There is theology and leprosy and ornithology and it goes on for four and a quarter hours. It ought not to work but it does. Continue reading →