A highlight of Gottfried von Einem's centenary has been a powerful new production of his opera The Visit of the Old Lady (Der Besuch der alten Dame) at the Theater an der Wien.
Gottfried von Einem’s centenary in 2018 has brought major new productions of his stageworks in Austria and beyond. His operatic setting of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s classic drama Der Besuch der alten Dame (The Visit of the Old Lady), premiered in 1971, won applause anew at the Theater an der Wien in March. Swedish mezzo Katarina Karneus took centre-stage in Keith Warner’s staging, relishing the role of the monstrous billionairess who returns after 45 years to wreak revenge on her town by demanding the death of her ex-lover.
Die Deutsche Bühne praised a “high-tension, outstanding evening at the opera”, led in the pit by Michael Boder and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, who “underlined the consciously ‘wrong’ notes which expose the idyll… unleashing the rhythmic pounding of greed until it tears apart the thin veneer of Western morality. What is alarming is the fact that none of the collective murderers mind – they have all irrevocably allowed themselves to be bought: prosperity is on credit for a sacrificial victim.”
“However defiantly ‘anti-modern’ the opera might have sounded when it was written, it has since found an appreciated place within the diverse music theatre cultivated in the 20th century… That was demonstrated by the almost unanimous cheers in the Theater an der Wien. For above all, Dürrenmatt’s parable about universal corruption has assured the opera its timeless validity... The score functions as a sonic red carpet for outstanding singers, producing powerful music theatre.”
“Keith Warner impressively stages this bitter and oppressive parable about money and greed, love and revenge. The dilapidated town of Güllen is presented in black, white and grey as the colourfully-dressed billionaire Claire Zachanassian beckons with her entourage (including a black panther): it becomes colourful only through the money and consumption. Claire offers one billion dollars for the death of Alfred Ill, who once did great injustice. Gradually, the townsfolk succumb to the lure of mammon; Ill’s fate is sealed, as the scenery is getting shriller, brighter and more spectacular. Terrific!”
“Einem’s tonal language is insistent and throbbing, the instrumentation complex and dense with unexpected accents, the often floating vocal lines clearly discernible... His works were always a success with audiences, achieving a balancing act between musical surprises and a tonality whose boundaries are only slightly scratched. On a renewed encounter his opera showed that Einem’s musical galaxies are still capable of unfolding their impressive sonic attraction.”
A historic recording of Der Besuch der alten Dame has been released on the Orfeo label in honour of the Einem centenary, drawn from the Vienna State Opera premiere production in 1971, starring Christa Ludwig as Claire Zachanassian and Eberhard Waechter as Alfred Ill, under the baton of Horst Stein (Orfeo C 930 182 1).
The Salzburg Festival, which Einem did so much to rejuvenate after the Second World War, presents a centenary concert performance of his Kafka opera The Trial on 14 August, conducted by HK Gruber. Tulifant, Einem's fairy tale opera 'not only for children' was staged by the Vienna Boys Choir's theatrical company, the MuTh, in May.
> Further information on Work: Der Besuch der alten Dame
Photo: Keith Warner's new production of The Visit of the Old Lady (Theater an der Wien/Werner Kmetitsch)
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