Like no other renowned conductor, James Conlon has been an ardent advocate of the ‘Entartet composers’ for years. In his Cologne years (between 1989 and 2002 he was chief conductor of the Gürzenich-Orchester and artistic director of the opera) he performed and recorded almost all of Zemlinski’s orchestral and vocal works. I cherish his recordings on EMI (unfortunately most of them are no longer on the market) as the greatest treasures, which they probably are.
In 2006, Conlon was appointed musical director of the Los Angeles opera and one of his first projects was a series of ‘Recovered Voices: A Lost Generation’s Long-Fortgotten Masterpieces.
The series started in 2008 with a double-bill of Ullmann’s Der zerbrochene Krug and Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg. (Arthaus Music 101 528)
DER ZERBROCHENE KRUG
Der Zerbrochene Krug (1941/1942) was the last work Ullmann composed before being deported to Theresienstadt. In October 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz and gassed two days after his arrival, The libretto (written by Ullmann himself), a delightful Commedia dell’arte, is based on an 1808 classic by von Kleist.
It was the first time I saw the opera and I fell for it immediately. The music is wonderful: jazzy, occasionally atonal, but with lovely waltzes. Basically a bit of everything. Eclectic? Sure, but since when is that a dirty word?
The production stole my heart. That already happened with the overture: while maestro Conlon whips up the orchestra to unprecedented heights (can you also play comically?), we also get a performance of a ballet pantomime (choreography: Peggy Hickey), which “tells” us what happened beforehand.
The images, the shadows, the light, the choreography – everything makes that you can’t help but smile.
The highly erotically charged story is about a man who, during a night-time visit to Eve, has broken a cherished jug belonging to her mother, Frau Marthe Rull. The woman seeks justice for this from Judge Adam, but in the end it turns out that the judge himself was the perpetrator.
Set in a small village (Heisum) in Holland, it produces delightfully recognisable images. Anton Pieck, Delft Blue, Frau Antje, windmills, clogs – it is all there! And it is so beautiful! The lighting technician (David Weiner) really deserves an Oscar award.
Melody Moore (Eve) is a true discovery. With her pliant, lyrical, sparkling soprano, she manages to express the conflicting feelings of innocence and vice, flirtation and genuine love in an inimitable way. At times, she reminded me of the young Lucia Popp.
Her mother is in a enchantingly exaggerated way sung by Elisabeth Bishop and Richard Cox is excellent as her fiancé Ruppert.
But everything and everyone pales in comparison to James Johnson, who sings judge Adam. What a voice! Such diction! And what a performance! What he does with the role borders on the impossible. This is what makes a person happy.Victor Ullmann
Der Zerbrochene Krug from Los Angeles:
Der Zerbrochene Krug on cd., with a.o. Michelle Breed tand Claudia Barainsky.
Gerd Albrecht conducts:
The idea of composing an opera about an ugly man who is in love with a beauty has haunted Zemlinsky all his life, and that’s how he ended up with Oscar Wilde and his The Birthday of the Infanta
.Costume design for ‘Der Zwerg’ by August Haag, Cologne 1922.
On her eighteenth birthday Donna Clara receives a remarkable gift: a dwarf, who is also hideously ugly. A delightful toy for the infante, especially since the dwarf does not know he is ugly himself – he has never seen his own reflection… Donna Clara makes him fall in love with her and makes him think that she loves him too, after which she puts him in front of mirrors. He doesn’t survive, but that doesn’t interest the spoiled princess.
A delightful toy for the infante, especially since the dwarf does not know he is ugly himself – he has never seen his own reflection… Donna Clara makes him fall in love with her and makes him think that she loves him too, after which she puts him in front of mirrors. He doesn’t survive, but that doesn’t interest the spoiled princess.
Diego Velázques: Las Meninas
The very traditional and naturalistic setting is exceptionally beautiful and the costumes are dazzling. You really think you’re at the Spanish court. The whole thing looks like a painting of Velazques, breathtaking.
The execution is also breathtaking. James Johnson sings and acts an excellent Don Esteban. Mary Dunleavy has everything it takes to perform the conceited infante: she is beautiful and capricious. Her voice is silvery and childishly light. As an actress she also knows how to convince.
Rodrick Dixon sings the leading role here in an inimitable way. The only singer I ever liked better in this part was Douglas Nasrawi, whom I heard singing it during a Saturday Matinee at the Concertgebouw.
“The music of Alexander Zemlinsky and Viktor Ullmann remained hidden for decades by the aftermath of the destruction wrought by the policies of the Nazi regime […]. Full recognition of their works and talent is still lacking, more than 65 years after their deaths […].
Their lives and personal histories were tragic, but their music transcends it all. It is up to us to appreciate their story in its full historical and artistic context.