The long-awaited premiere of Kurtág's opera based on Samuel Beckett's Endgame was presented to acclaim by La Scala Milan in November.
The long-awaited premiere of György Kurtág’s first opera by La Scala in Milan was a historic event, with the work hailed as the magnum opus of the 92-year-old composer. He first saw Samuel Beckett’s Fin de Partie (Endgame) in Paris in 1957 and creating an operatic version became a lifetime obsession, finally fulfilled. Utilising over half of Beckett’s text and opening with a setting of his Roundelay, the resulting opera is twice the length of any of Kurtág’s earlier pieces but minutely detailed in his characteristic fastidious fashion.
Alex Ross in The New Yorker described the opera as “the final masterpiece of twentieth-century music”, defining the end of an era for many in the audience, while exploring the ambiguous sense of closure in Beckett’s play. Pierre Audi’s production, featuring a superhuman cast of four singers conducted by Markus Stenz, travels on to Amsterdam for further performances at Dutch National Opera in March.
“Kurtág, the last survivor of the group of influential European avant-garde composers born in the 1920s has been steeped in Beckett all his artistic life… Beckett once told an actor preparing the play that he must “fill my silences with sounds”. Kurtág has done just that. Far from stamping on the face of mankind, this masterly composer has caressed it with all his own life’s worth.”
“Fin de Partie is a farewell not just to a life and a marriage, but also to a whole culture… modernism is always on the verge of leaving, it seems to say, yet it is also always here to stay – the opera is truly goodbye to all that… a miracle of dedication, craft and care.”
New York Times
“…the composer’s reverence for the source material radiates from the score… a personal tribute to a lifetime’s work. Scrupulous attention to detail, typically exhibited in Kurtág’s miniature compositions, is unflaggingly applied over the opera’s two hours. Myriad orchestral shards colour the French text, which here takes primacy over all.”
“…an uncompromising work that is utterly distinctive, unforgettable and touching... The text is set as extended recitative, only rarely erupting into lyricism, and supported by an orchestral score that never uses more than the absolute minimum of instruments. There’s the dramatic directness of Monteverdi and the extreme instrumental compression of Webern… It’s surely his musical testament.”
“Beckett humanises his desolate scenario with skeletal wit. Kurtág, likewise, proves to be a deft musical comedian. Grunts of tuba and bassoon, scuttlings of strings, a splash of saxophone, and slapstick percussion hint at the vaudeville tradition that informs so much of Beckett’s work.”
The New Yorker
Boosey & Hawkes is licensor for performances of Fin de Partie in the UK, Eire, countries of the Commonwealth, and the US.
The premiere staging of Kurtág's Fin de Partie in Milan (Photo: Brescia/Amisano, Teatro alla Scala)
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