Die Opferung des Gefangenen by Egon Wellesz: an extremely interesting hybrid.

“This West Indian tragedy has remained the sole dramatic work of a heroic world in pre-Columbian times that, after a flourishing heyday, was abruptly terminated by foreign violence” (Egon Wellesz in 1925).

Die Opferung des Gefangenen; what exactly is it supposed to be?: it is both opera and ballet and at the same time it is neither an opera nor a ballet. It’s a hybrid, and an extremely interesting one indeed! Wellesz was always deeply invested in developing his own style, so that almost all his compositions speak a different ‘language’. He was trained by Schönberg who, in addition to the twelve-tone technique, also taught him to use a large dose of expressionism.

Die Opferung des Gefangenen has the subtitle ‘Ein Kultisches Drama für Tanz, Sologesang und Chor’ and it was composed on a libretto by Eduard Stücken after the Mayan play ‘Rabinal Achi’. It is about a conflict between the Quiché and the Rabinal Indian tribes, at the beginning of the fifteenth century. The premiere took place on 2 April 1926 in Cologne, and it was conducted by Eugen Szenkar.

After the Anschluss in 1938, Wellesz (Jewish and author of ‘Entartete Musik’) fled to Oxford where he died in 1974. Nowadays we rarely hear his music.

The recording that Capriccio has now (re?) released on CD is from 1995 and it is an absolutely good one, for which I am very grateful. But how I would love to experience this work live, because on CD you miss half of it, namely the ballet!

Egon Wellesz by Oscar Kokoschka


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