Alviano: photo from the premiere in Frankfurt 1918 via Green Integer Blog
The idea came from Zemlinsky. He wanted to compose an opera about an ugly man – his obsession – and commissioned the libretto from Schreker. After finishing his work, it was hard for Schreker to give up his text. Fortunately, Zemlinsky abandoned the opera so Schreker started to compose himself.
Zemlinsky, Schoenberg and Schreker in Prague 1912
Like Der Ferne Klang, perhaps his best-known work, Die Gezeichneten also deals with the search for unattainable ideals. Alviano, a deformed rich nobleman from Genoa, dreams of beauty and perfection. On an island he has ‘Elysium’ built, a place where he hopes to realize his ideals. What he doesn’t know is that the noblemen abuse his island: they are engaged in orgies, rapes and even murders.
The title of the opera is ambiguous. Not only are the main characters ‘marked’ (Alviano by his monstrous appearance and Carlotta by a deadly illness), Carlotta also makes a drawing of Alviano, in which she tries to capture his soul.
EDO DE WAART 1990
This beautiful opera, with its thousands of colours and sensual sounds (just listen to the overture, goosebumps!), is being staged more and more nowadays. In 1990 it was performed at the Saturday Matinee, with an ugly singing but very involved and therefore very vulnerable William Cochran as Alviano and a phenomenal Marilyn Schmiege as Carlotta (Marco Polo 8.223328-330).
LOTHAR ZAGROSEK 1994
In 1994, Decca (4444422) recorded Die Gezeichneten in the ‘Entartete Musik’ series. I am not particularly enamoured with either the orchestra or the soloists, but, like Marco Polo, it is complete.
WINFRIED ZILLIG 1966
I am not very enthousiastic about Helmut Krebs in the lead role of Alviano: while his timbre is beautiful, his height is pinched. The roles of Carlotta and the sadistic seducer Tamare are perfectly cast by married couple Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart.
American baritone Stewart was a highly celebrated Wagner singer at the time, famous for his Wotans and his various interpretations of Amfortas. Lear was often compared to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, I myself find her way of singing more natural and pleasant. Her beautiful appearance made her an ideal Carlotta, it is a pity that we have no footage of it.
Evelyn Lear (Carlotta) and Helmut Krebs (Alviano), scene from the second act:
However, it is the wonderful bass Franz Cras who dominates the recording in his role of Duke Adorno.
Initially the sound is on the poor side, but it seems to get better as the opera progresses. Of course, it could also be that you get used to it.
I don’t really like the Norddeutsche Rundfunk under Winfried Zillig. I miss the sensuality, but it could also be down to the recording. The score is, as was usual at the time, considerably shortened. A pity, but it is nevertheless undoubtedly an extremely important release! (Walhall WLCD 0376)
FRANZ SCHREKER 1928 (extracts)
A box set of three CDs (Symposium 1271/1272/1273) on which Schreker can be admired as the conductor of his own works, among others, also includes a few excerpts from Die Gezeichneten, recorded in 1928, with his wife Maria in the role of Carlotta.
DVD: LEHNHOFF/NAGANO 2005
In 2005, a widely acclaimed production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff was recorded live in Salzburg and released on DVD (EuroArts 2055298). Personally, I am not unreservedly enthusiastic about it, although I must admit that it is all very spectacular and very excitingly staged.
To begin with, I find the setting (the reclining body of a dead woman, the head separated from the torso, with everybody walking all over her remains) too emphatic and laden with cheap and unnecessary symbolism. I also find the final scene to be in bad taste: nowadays you need a lot more than kidnapped young virgins to shock, so Lehnhoff lets them be emphatically young.
These virgins, including Ginevra Scotti, are no more than 10 years old, so it may really be called paedophilia. Yes, that does indeed come across as shocking, but was it necessary? I’m not so sure about that.
But compared to Kušej’s horribly flat staging at De Nederlandse Opera (thankfully not recorded, but at the same time a shame because of Gabriel Sadè’s wonderfully good leading role), Lehnhoff is of course a hero.
So buy Lehnhoff anyway, because there is undeniably much to enjoy. First, there is the music itself, beautifully and very erotically played by the Berlin Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester under the direction of Kent Nagano. The visuals are beautiful, the colours (with predominantly deep blue) are lovely and the singers/actors, styled after contemporary stars like Johnny Depp and Tom Cruise, are beautiful – after all, everything here is about outer beauty, and Lehnhoff and his team manage to highlight that very clearly.
Robert Brubakker is an endearing Alviano, and although I don’t quite understand why he is put in female clothes at the beginning – he is impressive. Anne Schwanewilms is a beautiful, cool Carlotta, and Michael Volle convinces as the virile Count Tamare.
Extract from the first act:
And the whole opera:
Photos: © Bernd Uhlig