A Schoenberg opera sells out

A Schoenberg opera sells out


norman lebrecht

September 21, 2014

We hear from Amsterdam that every available ticket for the premiere run of Gurrelieder has been sold.

It is the first time Gurrelieder has been staged as an opera and the first time – surely – that Arnold Schoenberg has sold out a run in a national opera house. Apart from the seats behind the cameras on two TV nights, every single space in the 1,600-seat house was either sold at full price or allocated to press and management for Pierre Audi’s production. The run opened on September 2 and closes this Tuesday after seven performances and a public general rehearsal.

These are exceptional results – historic, you might agree.

gurrelieder dutch


  • Daniel Rye says:

    Not sure of the figures, but the Royal Opera House looked pretty full from the pit at WNO’s two performances of Moses und Aron in July.

    • Peter says:

      Agreed….. Busy when they did it at Birmingham. John Tomlinson fantastic. Chorus and orchestra outstanding.
      A few weeks later I spoke to a couple who said they had been to their first opera. Which one? Reply ‘Moses and Aron’. I paused….. How was it?
      Reply ‘fantastic’.
      This just shows what can be achieved by a first rate inspired performance.
      Thank you WNO!

  • John Borstlap says:

    The reason is, that Gurrelieder is still ‘normal music’, and very romantic and Wagnerian music, without threats of modernism. It is traditional without being conventional. It is Schönberg before his wife ran-off with his friend Richard Gerstl.

    • Jan de Jong says:

      Already in 1995 hardcore Schönberg had a huge public succes with ten performances of Mozes and Aaron, almost all sold out

      • John Borstlap says:

        A production of Moses is a success if the terrible music is saved by the visuals. Audiences love to see this plot without having to pay much attention to what’s underneath.

  • Neil McGowan says:

    Very understandable! Magnificent music, and a rare chance to hear it – since it requires a vast orchestra, and many ‘specialist’ extra woodwind and brass instruments.

    • Sixtus says:

      Not to mention the percussion part for chains, which are also used in Janacek’s From the House of the Dead.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Actually, the enormous size of orchestra & chorus is not necessary at all in relation to the musical substance: everything in that piece can be done with a normally-sized orchestra, would have been better in terms of clarity and better for the singers. And the sound effects could have been ‘composed-into’ the music, i.e. stylized. At that time some composers thought that bigger was also greater – bad influence of Wagnerism. If Schönberg had decided for a normal instrumentation, this piece would have become regular part of the regular repertoire long ago.

      • Anne Wirth says:

        Have you ever been to a performance?

        • John Borstlap says:

          Actually, all my life I attended. and still attend, every performance and production of Schönberg’s works I can lay may hands on, to check whether it’s me or Schönberg or the PC consensus who got it wrong. It takes a great deal of my time…. almost 82%… but my terrible fear that I may be conservative keeps me going.

  • James says:

    Where do they put the performers?

  • Anne Wirth says:

    Not sure what motivates you to make so many ignorant stupid remarks! Have you ever been to a performance of Moses and Aron, Erwartung, Glueckliche Hand, Von Heute auf Morgen?

    • Jan de Jong says:

      I am afraid for Mr. Borstlap that he was born 100 years late.

      He is the nostalgic and polemic misanthrope of the Dutch classical composers’ scene.

      He writes quite pleasant and skilful neo-conservative music (this is not ironically meant). Examples to be found here: http://johnborstlap.com/

      • John Borstlap says:

        A correct remark if seen from the point of view of the sixties of the last century… which is a conventional, conservative, reactionary point of view and ignorant of movements in contemporary painting and architecture. In fact, it betrays an underlying nostalgia for those nice, rather puerile years… when anything from the past could be stamped wrong because of being cultivated by those terrible, authoritarian parents.

        By the way, thank you for the compliment… 100 years ago was not a bad period: Mahler, Strauss, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Scriabine, Rachmaninoff, and yes: early brilliant Schönberg.

  • Will Duffay says:

    Gurrelieder is tonal and a quite wonderful piece. So the only surprising part is that the label ‘Schoenberg’ hasn’t put the audience of completely. I guess they’re better educated in Amsterdam, and know that Gurrelieder was written before Schoenberg took his wrong turn.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There are things in Gurrelieder that are incomparable… like the first episode, the ‘Lied der Waldtaube’, the ‘Sommerwindes wilde Jagd’. Certainly Amsterdam audiences are NOT more educated than elsewhere, in contrary, the reason that they innocently went to Gurrelieder is due to the fact that they never heard of Schönberg being difficult, and to the positive reputation of Audi who often creates excellent productions. Also the marketing will have helped: so and so many performers, etc., which gave the production a Barnum & Baily aspect that is very popular in Amsterdam. Cudos to the Dutch Opera though… they should do these things more often. Schönberg will have turned in his grave upon hearing of this success… bitterly regretting his ‘wrong turn’.

  • David B says:

    From what I saw, your source is incorrect. People were not all that excited about the run before it started.

    I arrived in Amsterdam a few days before the September 7th performance and there were a substantial number of seats still available – at every price level. In comparison, the Orfeo performance of September 6th was practically sold out with just a handful of seats left. Orfeo was the hot ticket. (Orfeo was great too by the way. Beautifully done.)

    At the September 7th Gurrelieder performance, there were empty seats on both ends of the balconies. The theater did not give the appearance of a sold out house.

    Judging from this, there was not too much excitement before the run about the production. After the reviews came in, and the buzz picked up, then tickets became highly sought. I suspect opera/music lovers traveled across Europe to see it. And if they didn’t, they should have.

    It’s a testament to how wonderful and fantastic the DNO’s production is – and how incredible Schoenberg’s music is. It went from being something people were not too interested in to perhaps being the must-see production of the season.

    Full credit to the Pierre Audi, the singers, chorus, orchestra, and the rest of the DNO for putting on Schoenberg’s phenomenal music in such a magnificent manner.

    Quality, creativity, imagination, and audacity can and will draw in the crowds.

  • David Ward says:

    When I was 16 (I’m now 73) I found tonal Schoenberg neither more nor less easy to listen to than his later music, although I only got occasional chances to hear either. I still feel the same.

    A few years ago I had the interesting experience of having a quartet of mine played to an untutored audience (mostly Aberdeenshire farmers) at a charity event alongside Beethoven’s Opus 95. Despite its often atonal harmony and one-off structure, they took enthusiastically to my piece. The Beethoven, though, visibly shocked and alarmed many of them with its violent changes of direction. They might almost have been reacting in the same way as did its first audience.

    A lot depends on the audience’s knowledge and expectations.

    • John Borstlap says:

      True. This is a remarkable story. And isn’t the ‘shocking factor’ with Beethoven that he both sets-up expectations through regular patters and then thwarts them? And eventually fulfils them.

      In a classical, tonal idiom (like opus 95), deviations from set-up patterns work stronger than in an idiom where the deviation is not within the structure of the piece but in the relationship with the common repertoire, so: outside the piece.

      Great idea to bring classical music to Aberdeenshire farmers.

  • William Safford says:

    Gurrelieder is a glorious work, lush and romantic and beautiful. It is as if Schoenberg attended a performance of the Mahler 8th, then afterward said to himself: “Yup–I can out-do it.” 🙂

    I heard it live once, with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Carnegie Hall (in 2000?). I took my parents. The three of us reveled in the beauty of the sound.

    It is not an opera. But if adding some staging is what it takes to get it onto a performance schedule, more power to them.

    I have also heard Moses und Aron at the Met. It is a very different experience, worthwhile in its own right.

  • clarrieu says:

    Worth mentioning (as already said by someone in a precedent article) is the work of Schönberg’s pupil Erwin Stein, who did a reduction for quasi “normal” orchestra (though still pretty big!), now recorded on CD by Günter Neuhold:
    Should give second thoughts to those (orchestras, managers) who think they can’t afford the costs of producing the original…

  • clarrieu says:

    Worth mentioning (as already said by someone in a precedent article) is the work of Schönberg’s pupil Erwin Stein, who did a reduction for quasi “normal” orchestra (though still pretty big!), now recorded on CD by Günter Neuhold:
    Should give second thoughts to those (orchestras, managers) who think they can’t afford the costs of producing the original…