Wednesday, July 09, 2008

In about an hour, I’ll be on my way to New York City for what promises to be THE high point of the opera year. The Lincoln Center Festival has brought over from Europe a stunning and technologically astonishing staging of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s great post-WWII anti-war opera Die Soldaten.

The production originated not at an opera house, but by a free-lance company that assembles production teams interested in working at large, highly untraditional industrial spaces (in Germany it played at a former gas plant). The enormous Park Avenue Armory is actually somewhat smaller than the original venue but the set has been adapted in a way that preserves its most striking feature—the motorized 974 seat audience seating riser unit that straddles the long, narrow (approximately 10’-6” wide) acting platform and travels up and down it on railroad tracks designed for the movement of giant construction cranes. The riser glides the audience back and forth along the stage platform at 7-1/2 inches a second to track scenes in the opera, some of which take place in “the present" while others are set in either the past or the future.

Here are some pictures from the various New York Times articles leading up to the premiere performance on Monday:

Musically, Die Soldaten was called unperformable often during its early years, one critic saying it had taken the twelve-tone “atonal” style to its outer limits. The orchestra numbers 110, with a heavily reinforced percussion secgtion. Performances were few and far between for a while until musicians and singers learned how to perform the “unperformable” opera (Franz Schubert’s Symphony #9 and Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” were also called unperformable when first presented to the Vienna Philharmonic and the Hungarian State Opera respectively. Both are now repertory standards.) Critics now mention how many parts of this score are delicate or lyrical.

Sadly, the composer wasn’t able to see the opera become, if not a repertory standard, at least a viable challenge for companies looking for compelling contemporary works to produce. Zimmermann committed suicide five years after Die Soldaten’s premiere in 1965.

More—probably much more—when I get back.

I hope you have a wonderful trip down here. One of these days, we need to meet up when you visit New York!
I am dripping with envy about Soldaten....looking forward to your take on it.
I am a big fan of 20th century operas; they suggest the genera is not dead but vibrant.
this is one i would dearly love to hear/see.
I have been curious about this piece forever! I think I read a lengthy review/appreciation in Fanfare or something a long time ago. Isn't there a fairly disturbing gang rape in it? It is supposed to be pretty intense and I will be willing to bet that this work has only become more thought-provoking over time. The production concept sound uber-kewl. Olorcay me ealousjay!
Will, I enjoy your blog and great critiques. However a note on the Armory show of 1913. It was in fact held at the Lexington Ave Armory at 25th-26th Streets. The Park Ave Armory has indeed held many many art and antiques shows, and will continue to host large scale live performances, inspite of efforts of Park Avenue residents to curtail them. Do wish I could have seen this latest epic.
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