Through Opera, Debussy Reaches a New Audience

(New York Times) — It may seem a paradox that one of the most influential composers of modern sung theater completed only one opera. “Pelléas et Mélisande” brought the French composer Claude Debussy instant fame in 1902, but the stage work achieved such a perfection of his artistic ideals that he never managed to repeat the success.

Skeptical of the theater establishment, relentlessly self critical and plagued by illness in his final years, Debussy left behind a legacy that musicologists are, to some extent, still working to reconstruct. Even after a premiere performance, he would continue making adjustments, sometimes to more than one copy of a given score. And he left the majority of his stage works unorchestrated before dying at age 55.

The centennial of the composer’s death this year provides an occasion to revisit the less-known corners of his oeuvre. The label Warner Classics in January released the first compilation of Debussy’s complete works, a 33-CD set that includes four premiere recordings of vocal music. […]

Revisiting Debussy's Vocal Music

Die Gezeichneten, Komische Oper Berlin — tasteless banality

Die Gezeichneten

(Financial Times) —  Franz Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten is a natural choice for the director Calixto Bieito, who, with or without an overtly erotic plot, is known to introduce sexual violence on stage. And yet, in his eighth production for the Komische Oper, he is not content merely to grapple with the storyline about a secret isle where noblemen indulge their fantasies with kidnapped girls.

The main character, Alviano Salvago, instead has a penchant for young boys and carries around a doll in infantile longing. The painter Carlotta Nardi has an incestuous relationship with her father, the mayor of Genoa, and it is she — not Alviano — who murders the playboy Vitelozzo Tamare in the final scene.

Schreker, presaging Berg’s Lulu and building on the seething harmonies of Wagner, captures the volatile excesses and social hypocrisy of fin de siècle Vienna. At the height of his opera career, between 1917 and 1921, the Austrian composer enjoyed more fame than Richard Strauss. He was subsequently ousted by the Nazis. […]

Long-lost Lied: how a Kurt Weill song was rediscovered

(Financial Times) — When a previously unknown song by Kurt Weill resurfaced in the archives of the Free University Berlin in September, even scholars were taken by surprise. The composer of Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) fled Germany with the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s and quickly found success on Broadway once in American exile. While not all German-period works survived, his wife — the actress and singer Lotte Lenya — ensured that his legacy would be preserved through further research, performances and her own legendary recordings.

The rediscovered song — described as a “sensational” find by musicologist Elmar Juchem, managing editor of the Kurt Weill Edition — is “Das Lied vom weißen Käse” (“Song of the White Cheese”). Juchem said he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the score while doing archival research for a new edition of Weill’s musical comedy Happy End. Lenya, who sang it at a revue in November of 1931, could not even remember the correct title. “It must be buried in a cellar somewhere,” she lamented while searching in the 1960s for a number which she recalled as the “Lied vom blinden Mädchen” (“Song of the Blind Girl”). In fact, the manuscript was sitting among the papers of the little-known actress Gerda Schäfer, an ensemble member of Berlin’s “Volksbühne” (People’s Theater) in the 1930s.

The revue, entitled “Wir sind ja sooo zufrieden” (“We are sooo perfectly content”), was organised by a group of young actors, some of whom had lost their jobs at the Volksbühne. The “Junge Volksbühne” sought a more radical alternative to the main house, which its members believed had strayed from its mission as a working-class theatre.  […]

Long-lost Lied

Visionary Traditionalist

A Tribute to Ferruccio Busoni

(Steinway Owners’ Magazine) — The 150th anniversary of Steinway Immortal Ferruccio Busoni’s birth passed earlier this season without much fanfare. But the historical importance of the pianist and composer is only revealing itself more with the passage of time. While best known in his day as a virtuoso pianist and arranger of Bach and Liszt, Busoni stands alongside Schoenberg and Stravinsky as one of the twentieth century’s most formative figures.

Listeners are often to surprised to learn that Busoni taught Kurt Weill, who ended his career in musical theater, but also mentored Edgar Varèse, whose experimental compositions shaped the avant-garde on both sides of the Atlantic. Busoni’s principles transcended not just questions of style but politics and nationality. Everyone from Schoenberg and Hindemith to Louis Grünberg and Otto Lüning – seminal figures in the history of electronic music in the U.S. – owned marked-up copies of his Entwurf einer neuen Ästhetik der Tonkunst (Sketch for a New Aesthetic of Music).

“We did not lose a human being, but a value,” wrote Weill after Busoni’s death, calling him a “spiritual European of the future.” Busoni’s legacy is so far-reaching that it is hard to say where his greatest contribution lies: in his original works, scholarly editions, writings about music or teachings. His compositions may not have been taken seriously exactly because of his multiple talents.  […]

Exploring Rodin’s Place in Literary History

(New York Times) — If “The Hero (Man and His Genius)” ranks among Rodin’s lesser-known works, it owns a place in 20th-century literary history. The bronze figure sat on the desk of the Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal for two decades and was sold with the help of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who played a central role in Rodin’s popularization in the German-speaking world. From Nov. 17 to March 18, the 18-inch-tall sculpture will be the centerpiece of the exhibit “Rodin-Rilke-Hofmannsthal; Man and His Genius” at the Alte Nationalgalerie here.

A small collection of sculptures, graphic art and manuscripts will address the theme of inspiration not only among artists and literary figures, but also within the oeuvre of Rodin, who will have died a century ago on opening day. The exhibit combines Rodin figures from the museum’s permanent collection with objects on loan from the Musée Rodin in Paris and the Künsthalle Bremen, while also including lithographs by the artists Max Klinger and Eugène Carrière from the Print Gallery of the Berlin State Museum.

Ralph Gleis, the exhibit’s co-curator and director of the Alte Nationalgalerie since May, said he was excited to explore the fruitful relationship between Rodin and his contemporaries as well as inspiration as subject matter. “It is a kind of self-portrayal,” he said. “The artist is trying to grasp an ephemeral moment that is decisive for him.” […]

Rodin, Rilke and Hofmannsthal

Üben, üben, üben – Mit Kirill Petrenko auf Tour

Petrenko on Tour

(Berliner Morgenpost) —  Das Orchester schweigt. Kirill Petrenko betritt die Bühne mit einem Handtuch um den Nacken und einer Flasche Wasser in der Hand. Sein athletischer Körperbau und zufriedenes Lächeln lassen einen an einen Yoga-Meister denken.

“Konnichi wa”, begrüßt er das Bayerische Staatsorchester mit einem leichten Beugen. Die Musiker kichern. Schon bei der einschneidenden Pause zwischen den Trompeten-Rufen, die Mahlers Fünfte Sinfonie einleiten, kommt die akribische Arbeitsweise des Dirigenten zum Vorschein. Vier Mal wurde das Programm bereits aufgeführt, zuletzt vor weniger als einer Woche in Seoul. Nun wird Petrenko auf Asien-Tournee mit der Bayerischen Staatsoper zum ersten Mal vor japanischem Publikum stehen im Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, einer 1961 entstandenen Konzerthalle mit berühmter Akustik.

“Deutlicher”, sagt er den Bläsern nach einer präzise aufgeführten Phrase. “Pianissimo und gesungen”, verlangt der designierte Chefdirigent der Berliner Philharmoniker noch, wie “aus dem Nichts”. Beim dritten Mal erlangt die Musik eine sterbende, zerbrechliche Qualität. Vor allem der langsame Adagietto erweist Petrenkos Sorgfalt um die Dynamik.

Für den 45-Jährigen ist die Arbeit an der Partitur nie fertig. Dass er am Klavier in den frühen Morgenstunden sitzt, ist den Musikern bekannt. Bei Premierenfeiern oder einem Umtrunk ist er nur sehr kurz dabei. “Man merkt es auch in den nächsten Konzerten”, so der Hornist und Orchestervorstandsmitglied Christian Loferer. “Die Dinge, wo er Potenzial sieht, werden sofort abgearbeitet – damit man es noch besser macht”. […]

Staatsoper Berlin Finally Reopens. Sort Of.

(New York Times) — After seven years of construction, the Staatsoper is finally preparing to reopen its doors on the historic Boulevard Unter den Linden, at least temporarily.

The work took much longer than expected — the company was originally scheduled to move back from its interim residence across town in the Schiller Theater four years ago — and the renovation costs spiraled from an estimated 239 million euros to 400 million ($473 million), half of which was covered by federal funds.

The season begins on Sept. 30 with a concert outside the opera house and continues on Oct. 3 with a new production of Schumann’s “Szenen aus Goethes Faust,” to be conducted by the music director, Daniel Barenboim, and staged by the current general director, Jürgen Flimm. Performances in the main theater will then be suspended for approximately two months, starting Oct. 8, so technicians can master the new computer-controlled stage equipment.

During that time, chamber opera and symphonic programs will take place in venues including the Neue Werkstatt, a repurposed orchestral rehearsal space in an adjacent building, until the house reopens permanently on Dec. 7 with a concert featuring works by Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Richard Strauss and Pierre Boulez, all composers who once conducted at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden.  […]

Staatsoper Berlin Finally Reopens. Sort Of.

Raphael Wallfischs musikalische Arbeit wider das Vergessen

A Cellist's personal Mission

(Berliner Morgenpost) —  Der Cellist Raphael Wallfisch beugt sich über das Notenpult in seiner Garderobe. Der Klavierauszug ist handgeschrieben und die Notenschrift ist so klein, dass Wallfisch eine Lupe zum Lesen benutzen muss. Das Cello-Konzert des österreichischen-amerikanischen Komponisten Karl Weigl, das er zusammen mit dem Konzerthausorchester Berlin und dem Dirigenten Nicholas Milton aufnimmt, wurde bislang noch nie gespielt.

“Ich werde bald mehr über diese Musik erzählen können”, sagt Wallfisch. “Sie ist sehr romantisch, ein bisschen wie die von Alexander Zemlinsky. Es gibt auch groteske Momente, die einen an Gustav Mahler denken lassen: märchenhaft, wie Gnomen im Wald”.

Der 61 Jahre alte, in London geborene Musiker widmete sich im Laufe seiner Karriere über 100 verschiedenen Werken des Cello-Repertoires, von Paul Hindemith und Bohuslav Martinu bis hin zu britischen Komponisten wie Gerald Finzi und James MacMillan. Die Reihe, die er für das Label cpo in Osnabrück aufnimmt, liegt ihm jedoch besonders am Herzen. Es entreißt die Musik jüdischer Exilkomponisten der Vergessenheit, und dies in jener Stadt, in der seine Mutter Anita Lasker-Wallfisch als Cello-Studentin einst die Reichspogromnacht erlebte. Sie ist eine der letzten Überlebenden des Mädchenorchesters von Auschwitz.  […]

Monteverdi Set Human Emotion to Music

(New York Times) —  More than any other composer of his time, Claudio Monteverdi liberated the human voice to express the most intense personal emotions. His “L’Orfeo,” which had its premiere in 1607, is widely regarded as the first great opera. But in the madrigals — short poetry settings that were sometimes woven into dramatic sequences — Monteverdi had already created an unprecedented synthesis between words and music. And his progressive style spilled over into church music.

This season in Europe, to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth, early music ensembles are exploring the composer’s oeuvre in all its breadth. Performances include I Fagiolini presenting Monteverdi’s lesser-known vespers (the 1641 “Selva morale e spirtuale”) at the Edinburgh International Festival on Aug. 19, and Les Arts Florissants in a selection from the third and fourth books of madrigals at the Festival in the Gardens of William Christie on Aug. 21 and 23.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir are on tour with a semi-staged trilogy of Monteverdi’s three surviving operas — “L’Orfeo,” “Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria” and “L’incoronazione di Poppea” — which arrives in Salzburg on July 26 and Lucerne on Aug. 22. […]

Monteverdi's Humanist Message

Mondparsifal Alpha 1-8, Theater an der Wien, Vienna — Wagner deconstructed

Parsifal goes to the Moon

(Financial Times) — The flower maidens give Hitler salutes. The magician Klingsor fornicates with a giant teddy bear. Parsifal prances in knee-length leather boots and a red bikini holster as the main melody from the chorus “Komm, komm, holder Knabe!” emerges to jazzy percussion and warped, glassy harmonies enhanced by accordion and electric synthesisers.

Wagner conceived his Parsifal exclusively for performance in Bayreuth. Thanks to a falling-out between the current festival administration and performance artist Jonathan Meese over a staging that was to take place last year, the opera is now enjoying a different fate at the Wiener Festwochen: Mondparsifal Alpha 1-8, a collaboration between Meese and Austrian composer Bernhard Lang, rewrites and rescores the original as a journey in which Parsifal is “redeemed from the redeemers”.

The Kingdom of the Grail is relocated to the moon, where the knights resemble deranged, Star Trek-like explorers. Kundry emerges first as a Wagner lookalike in a floppy beret, later as the science fiction film character Barbarella. Rather than dying for her sins, she survives in the final scene to dance with Parsifal. […]