Monday, 17 September 2012

Austria 1-2 Germany

This week it seems that opera is mirroring World Cup qualifiers, if only in the results and not the play. First up, Berlin’s Deutsche Oper of all places has put Dominique Meyer to shame with a production of Lachenmann’s Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern (pictured) which early reports indicate is a triumph. Austria scores with the news, not yet confirmed but looking certain, that Kent Nagano and not Cornelius Meister will replace Simone Young as Hamburg GMD; with any luck this may make Meister keener to extend his contract with the RSO Wien. (There are those who won’t be impressed by Meister’s conducting until he acquires some status, but then we should remember that the same people once regarded Abbado as a washed-up insult to Viennese cultural pride.) Making this a comfortable win for Germany however is the Monteverdi madness at the Komische Oper and lack thereof at the Theater an der Wien: having thought over Claus Guth’s Ulisse I concluded there’s really not very much to think about, whereas the L’Orfeo/Odysseus/Poppea marathon in Berlin kept me glued to the screen for ten straight hours yesterday (thanks, 3sat). Barrie Kosky’s three productions amounted to a muted start to his Intendanz despite the various calling cards (lots of nudity, and outrageous drag, as there well should be, and pokers inserted into people’s bottoms), but if as conceptually bare as Guth’s latest production they at least avoided seeming as empty. What has been done to the music, by contrast, is far more audacious: taking Renaissance principles of expressive freedom as carte blanche to let her imagination loose, postmodern style, composer Elena Kats-Chernin has pushed Monteverdi’s scores down a rabbit hole with results only the most joyless purist would pull a face at. From the dodgy reverb of a Procul Harum Hammond to the hillbilly banjo, what might have sounded tastelessly gratuitous was incisively applied with a skilled orchestrator’s ear and welcome absence of New Age stylings, even if ‘Pur ti miro’ did sound like that Norah Jones crap all the rage in coffee shops a few years ago (you could avoid Starbucks, but never Norah’s sultry shtick). The continuo was HIP standard padded by various non-Western instruments I hadn’t heard since the days of ethnomusicology seminars spent sat on beanbags, listening to our esteemed ma’lūf specialist reminisce about what she smoked in Tunisia during the mid-1980s, so bear with my rustiness: a cimbalom, definitely; some kind of bowed instrument like a kamancheh or probably ghazhak, as it seemed much lower in register; a plucked instrument, no European lute, for which the umbrella term of dutar will have to do; and a few other things I didn’t get. The beauty of these instruments is something one needs to be no ethnomusicologist to recognize, and how well they served that of Monteverdi's music should perhaps have come at little surprise too. Those who subscribe to the HIP hegemony will have no patience for this contemporary alternative, but they get Monteverdi performed their way often enough as it is and nobody but the most partisan HIP devotee would accuse Kats-Chernin of lacking respect for the music. So go and enjoy, and consider: after six hours down and four to go, your resistance to a Monteverdian electric guitar may well be much reduced.

Briefly, back to this morning’s football analogy. Three yellow cards for Austria in that match, and three here:

Wilhelm Sinkovicz reports that a new Klagenfurt production of Der Freischütz has nothing to do with Weber’s opera. Why could that be? He explains: ‘as I have said for years, the problem is that psychoanalysis was invented. Ever since, there have been people who can explain everything.’

The Wiener Zeitung writes of children’s concerts in the four new halls underneath the Musikverein. Phew. When I read the headline ‘Mehr Kinder im Edelkeller’ I mistook it for quite a different article.

Ben Becker, the actor who got thrown out of the Salzburger Festspiele’s inaugural ball, claims that tickets for the event sold so poorly that the festival packed the Felsenreitschule with extras who were paid €70 for the evening and kitted out with ball gowns from the costume department.


  1. I didn't do the Monteverdi marathon and thought the TAW performance of Ulisse that I went to well worth the price of the ticket, but your reference to this lässige ethnomusicology seminar makes me feel I missed something (on 3sat, not in my life).

    The self-proclaimed Kulturnation is in a crisis, alas. And those three yellow cards do hurt.

  2. After putting the finishing touches to my own Ulisse write-up I took a look at the Kurier review (here, for those interested: and have to say, I'm afraid, that I agree.

    One thing I neglected to mention about the KOB's Monteverdi was that of course the house couldn't get the orchestra to work a twelve hour shift, so strings for each opera were purely violins, cellos and violas (in that order, if I remember correctly). Obviously I noticed the uniformity of the string timbre but it didn't seem to matter so much what with everything else Kats-Chernin had going on.