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Reawakening the Antichrist (and other lost Opera Gems)

BERLIN – The Babylon whore, dressed in grotesque fat, sings a hedonistic hymn as Deutsche Oper produces its new “Antikrist” here.

Ersan Mondtag’s bold, colorful stylized staging of what the piece’s Danish composer, Rued Langgaard, calls a “church opera” is an almost breathless spiral. A nod to various early 20th-century art movements, including Symbolism, Expressionism and Bauhaus, this is only the third complete piece of the work, written and revised from 1921 to 1930, but was still unfinished at the time of Langgaard’s death. , in 1952.

Inspired by the Book of Revelation, “Antikrist” premieres on January 30 and runs until February 11. It is the latest in a series of work rediscoverys at the Deutsche Oper that, in recent decades, have highlighted works from outside the canon. In recent seasons, attention has been drawn to Meyerbeer’s “Le Prophète” as part of a series devoted to the once celebrated 19th-century composer, as well as two early 20th-century titles, “Das” Wunder der Heliane” by Korngold and by Zemlinsky “Der Zwerg.”

Coupled with Deutsche Oper’s commitment to running new operas, these rediscoveries are a way to renew and expand opera’s famous narrow repertoire. A fundamentally unknown work like “Antikrist” presents a host of logistical challenges, from training singers to attracting audiences, but it can provide its director with a creative license. create rare. The absence of fixed performing traditions can be artistically liberating.

Mondtag, who also designed the sets and helped design the costumes, said: “It was crazy. “It was something between Schoenberg and Wagner, and like a sacred opera without a linear narrative. So you have the freedom to do whatever you want.”

Mondtag, one of Germany’s leading avant-garde young directors, was perfecting his film “Antikrist” when the pandemic first brought the country to the ground in March 2020. Since then, he has directed two works. other rarely performed works of the 20th century , “Der Schmied von Gent” by Schreker and Weill’s “Silbersee,” even for the Vlaamse Opera in Belgium. A relatively newcomer to opera, Mondtag said it’s no surprise that he gets assignments like this, rather than ponies like “Tosca.”

“Doing the unknown is considered more experimental,” says Mondtag. During his brief stint in opera, he added, he’s gained a reputation as an “expert on operas that cannot be tagged or of unknown origin. I didn’t choose that; it just happens that way.”

When Deutsche Oper returns to performing live in the summer of 2020, it focuses on a new Wagner play consisting of four operas “Ring”. All four titles premiered at the house during the pandemic, but after “Ring” gave its final performances earlier this month, the company turned its attention to the premiere. “Antikrist” is delayed.

Dietmar Schwarz, general manager of Deutsche Oper, said: “It was such an impressive piece of music that I thought it was necessary to do it. He added that while he would love it if Mondtag’s production ignited a new interest in “Antikrist,” he was primarily focused on finding a curious and open-minded audience in Berlin.

“We don’t necessarily have to do that for the sake of this old opera’s existence,” he said.

Isolated products of rediscovery rarely catch fire. An exception is David Pountney’s staging of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s 1965 punitive work “Die Soldaten”, which first appeared in 2006 at the Ruhrtriennale festival in Germany and go to the Park Avenue Armory in New York two years later. A series of productions followed in Berlin; Munich; Salzburg, Austria; and other places.

However, even when the rediscoveries were limited to a single production, German opera curators increasingly prioritized them. This is in contrast to the United States: Today, it is more attention-grabbing for the Metropolitan Opera or the Lyric Opera of Chicago to present a world premiere than to brush off a forgotten work. (The full-production revival of Leon Botstein at Bard College in New York is a notable exception.)

“There is a treasure trove of things out there,” said Barrie Kosky, who leads the Komische Oper in Berlin. Since arriving at that company in 2012, he has scored some of his biggest successes with the production of long overlooked works, including operettas by Jewish-speaking composers. Germany as Paul Abraham and Oscar Straus.

“Let’s face it, we can’t survive on a diet of the 20 most famous titles,” says Kosky.

“Of course, that’s always a risk because sometimes you bring back an item and it just doesn’t work,” he said. Or, he adds: “You say: ‘Look, we’re bringing this back. It’s not a perfect piece of work, but the score is still well worth a listen. ‘ I think that’s also very legal and valid; I don’t think everything has to be a masterpiece.”

Kosky points to its own eclectic program at the Komische Oper – where before the pandemic the house had sold 90% of its seats – as proof that theaters can fill up with works by artists. composers other than Mozart and Puccini.

“All of that was blown away when I saw that we could sell out ‘The Bassarids’ altogether,” he said, referring to Hans Werner Henze’s 1965 opera, which Kosky staged in 2019. “Or we could have incredible pre-sales for a musical that people don’t even know the name or the music. “

When Matthias Schulz, general manager of Staatsoper in Berlin, programmed a Baroque festival in the first season leading the company, he wasn’t looking for the usual suspects.

“I want to do everything except Handel,” he said.

The focal point of the festival’s first edition, in 2018, was Rameau’s “Hippolyte et Aricie”. Since then, two rare works have followed: Scarlatti’s “Il Primo Omicidio” and, this past fall, Campra’s “Idoménée,” much more obscure than Mozart’s later “Idomeneo.”

Hidden in the dark corners of opera history, Schulz said, “there are real works and it is our responsibility to find them. We need to convince the audience that what we do is interesting and to challenge them.”

That process looks different in Berlin, with a rich opera scene thanks to three full-time companies, than in smaller cities. Laura Berman, artistic director of Staatsoper in Hanover, northern Germany, says that engaging audiences with confusing titles can be a challenge. However, she adds, the right job and the right production can also put a smaller home on the map.

During her first season in Hanover, Berman scored a hit with Halévy’s religious medley “La Juive” — which, like Meyerbeer’s grand operas, disappeared from the show at the turn of the century. 20th century. Lydia Steier’s work evokes a historical survey of anti-Semitism, beginning in post-World War II America and returning to 15th-century Konstanz, Germany, the setting indicated. by libretto. The 2019 Orchestra was acclaimed and helped the company win the title Grand Theater of the Year from Opera Magazine.

Berman said she’s not surprised that a piece about the need for tolerance has resonated in Hanover, a city of mixed religion and ethnicity that she calls “extremely diverse.”

“People always talk in theaters about the ‘hook’: how to get the audience hooked on going to see something,” she added. “Today I really feel that the subject matter, especially for younger audiences, is more important than the title.”

She adds that works like “La Juive” do a great job of convincing people “that the opera house is a forum for social and political discussion – which in the end, it always has been, for at least a few hundred years”.

The Staatsoper’s next big premiere in Hanover will be Marschner’s “Der Vampyr” in late March – directed by Mondtag. “His visual world is really special,” says Berman. “But for me, the key element is the ability to think through the works and be able to open them up.”

That’s less “scary,” she added, “if you do a job without preconception.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/28/arts/music/opera-antikrist-germany.html Reawakening the Antichrist (and other lost Opera Gems)

Fry Electronics Team

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