Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In Which Pan Cogito Contemplates The New European Vogue For Operatic Minotaurs; While America Breathlessly Awaits Revival Of 'Einstein On The Beach'

Loose ends ...

"Hans Werner Henze, today's most venerable composer for the theater, turned 80 last year but his creative drive shows no sign of weakening. With some 20 operas and other music-theater pieces behind him, plus numerous ballets, he has written a compelling new opera, "Phaedra," which on Sept. 6 had its world premiere at the Berlin Staatsoper in a production that moved to the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels, on Saturday.

Although early in his career Henze took pains to mitigate the harshness of the twelve-tone technique in which he was reared in Darmstadt, Germany, and elsewhere, his music can often be as challenging for the listener as it is for the performer. Yet in his selection of subjects, particularly as they involve love, he is a traditionalist, albeit one who takes a distinctly personal approach. His first opera, "Boulevard Solitude," was a updating of the Manon story. In other works the Aristotelian elements of terror and pity participate to an almost frightening extent. Take "Das verratene Meer," for instance, with its gruesome murder by a youth and his gang of his mother's lover.

Not surprisingly, the story of Phaedra - perhaps mythology's most stomach-churning tale of love - proves to be quintessential Henze material. Phaedra, wife of the Athenian king Theseus, is possessed of an all-consuming love for her stepson Hippolytus, a love she recognizes as repugnant but is powerless to resist. According to mythological accounts, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, is responsible for Phaedra's crazed love, but in Henze's version the goddess acts as a kind of alter ego of Phaedra in tempting Hippolytus. Contrary to other later treatments of the Phaedra story, such as Racine's tragedy, the libretto by Christian Lehnert includes no love interest for Hippolytus but depicts him as a devoted follower of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Phaedra and Hippolytus are thus each allied with a goddess.

The resulting duality is reflected in Henze's music, as the voices of Phaedra, a mezzo soprano, and Aphrodite, soprano, often join mellifluously in duet. The wind-dominated orchestra of 23 players reinforces the idea as two solo wind instruments often play intertwined musical lines. ... Henze's essential outlook remains modernistic, yet the music has a consistent rhythmic vitality and often an otherworldly beauty that is hard to resist.

Peter Mussbach's striking production, designed by Olafur Eliasson with costumes by Bernd Skodzig and lighting by Olaf Freese, deliberately avoids a representational treatment of a work enigmatically labeled by Henze a "concert opera." In an attempt to surround the audience with the drama, the orchestra is positioned at the rear of the main floor, with a ramp between it and the stage allowing access by the singers to both locales....

A commission and co-production by the Staatsoper, the Monnaie, the Vienna Festwochen, the Alte Oper Frankfurt, and the Berlin Festival, "Phaedra" can also be seen, after its current run in Brussels, next spring in Vienna, Frankfurt and Amsterdam."

George Loomis "Hans Werner Henze's new tragic opera 'Phaedra' compels" International Herald Tribune September 17, 2007

Scene from Henze, Lehnert, and Mussbach's new version of Phaedra.

Photo credit: (c) Ruth Waltz via International Herald Tribune. 2007. All rights reserved. With thanks.


OPERA Europa

OPERA America

2008 European Opera Days will reflect the European Commission’s initiative of Year of Intercultural Dialogue.

Royal Opera House -- A World Stage presents Birtwistle and Harsent's The Minotaur

Harrison Birtwistle in 1995 with sculpture by Beth Carter.

Photo Credit: (c) Malcolm Crowthers. All rights reserved. Via the ROH Website.


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