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HK Gruber: featured composer at Bregenz Festival

(July 2014)

This year's Bregenz Festival features the world premiere of HK Gruber's new opera Tales from the Vienna Woods, a staging of his operatic pigtale Gloria, and a selection of orchestral music.

HK Gruber is featured composer at this summer's Bregenz Festival, including the world premiere of his new opera Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald (Tales from the Vienna Woods), with performances on 23 and 27 July and 3 August. This three act operatic adaptation of Ödön von Horváth's famous play is directed by librettist Michael Sturminger and conducted by Gruber. The cast includes Ilse Eerens, Angelika Kirchschlager, Jörg Schneider, Albert Pesendorfer and Anja Silja, with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and choral voices of Ensemble Nova. The premiere is the final highlight of David Pountney's tenure as Artistic Director of the Bregenz Festival.

The staging of Tales from the Vienna Woods is a co-production with the Theater an der Wien where it will receive five further performances in March 2015. This is Gruber's third full-scale opera, following Gomorra (Vienna, 1993) and Der Herr Nordwind (Zurich, 2005). Best known for his pandemonium for chansonnier and orchestra Frankenstein!! , which has been performed worldwide with Gruber as soloist, Gruber also brings theatrical flair to his concert works, including a series of admired concertos written for leading soloists including Yo-Yo Ma and Håkan Hardenberger.

Tales from the Vienna Woods proved to be a controversial play, observing the breakdown of Austrian society in the interwar years following the collapse of the Habsburg Empire and recognising how the social void threatened to be filled by the rise of Fascism. In his opera, Gruber explores how Horváth's light, comic vein is a mask for the venality of the characters who impose the conventional attitudes of an exhausted society. Marianne attempts to escape a bourgeois marriage to the local butcher by pursuing an affair with a feckless dandy, but her search for true love remains unfulfilled as poverty drives her to a tawdry nightclub, prison and a return to the suffocating quiet street in Vienna.

Music was integral to Horváth's play and provides opportunities to Gruber with his fascination for the dark side of light music. Johann Strauss's Tales from the Vienna Woods waltz is used ironically to comment on the Viennese cosiness, and on-stage instruments provide the danceband for the cabaret scene conjuring up ghosts from the Weimar era. The composer describes how he views the drama as a universal warning, well beyond the banks of the Danube:

"The work inevitably has special meanings for the Viennese with its settings in the 8th district, in the Vienna Woods, on the banks of the Blue Danube, in the Wachau. But this isn’t important to the heart of the opera. The quiet street has a toy shop, a butcher’s and a tobacconist and this could be in any city such as Paris, Madrid or London. The drama played out, depicting the stupidity of convention through an arranged marriage ‘in everyone’s interests’, must be happening somewhere in the world right now."

The programme of theatrical events in Bregenz also includes Gruber's chamber opera Gloria in a touring production by Mahogany Opera Group directed by Frederic Wake-Walker. The staging, employing the witty translation by Amanda Holden, has travelled to four venues in the UK including The Royal Opera's Linbury Theatre in London and is seen in Bregenz on 31 July and 2 August. Described in Opera magazine as "a zany folktale", the work is scored for five voices and nine instrumentalists and tells of a gorgeous lady pig who does not realise that her love for the farmer may end in sausages.

Gloria has enjoyed a recent New York staging presented by the Met Museum in collaboration with the New York Philharmonic and the Juilliard School. Alan Gilbert conducted the production by Doug Fitch for the Giants are Small company, as part of the orchestra's new Biennial series. Following its premiere by Opera North and Big Bang Theatre in Munich in 1994, Gloria has been staged in Vienna, Munster, Aspen, Hamburg, Berlin and Hannover.

Other Gruber works featured in Bregenz provide interesting contexts for Tales from the Vienna Woods. Busking is a concerto for trumpet, accordion, banjo and string orchestra, exploring street music with a sardonic edge. The Vienna Symphony's orchestral programme, conducted by Claus Peter Flor, also includes Charivari, in which Gruber plays with Johann Strauss's Perpetuum Mobile. A chamber programme includes three songs from Gruber's earlier opera Gomorra, with the composer as chansonnier.

> Read an interview with Gruber about Tales from the Vienna Woods

> Bregenz Festival

> Further information on Work: Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald

Image: Bregenz Festival

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