Revealed: Gurrelieder is an opera

A hundred years after its first performance, Gurrelieder is being performed tonight as an opera.

The text and story of Schoenberg’s oratorio are unquestionably dramatic and Pierre Audi of Dutch National Opera has been working all summer to bring the massive work to the stage next week.

Here, shown for the first time, is the thinking behind the production.

schoenberg portraitSchoenberg_Gurrelieder

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  • Bit optimistic to think you only need 120 players. More like 140 + according to my score! However many they have it will surely be pretty cramped in the pit.

  • I adore the music, of course!

    But composers are usually the best judges of their own work. The dramaturgy of Gurrelieder is so unwieldy that it would be very unlikely to make a good opera. That doesn’t mean that the work could not be presented in a semi-concert version, with costumes and lighting – that could be attractive? But hardly necessary, for a work whose drama is entirely written into the music!

    It’s like all those woeful attempts to stage Handel’s oratorios – Handel wrote in a different way when producing them. They don’t stage well. Yes, and I include that deadly-dull Glyndebourne ‘Theodora’, too.

    • Go, see and judge afterwards.

      Yesterday, I saw an extraordinary production, musically and dramatically, like the Mozes and Aaron one with Boulez, 20 years ago. Worth the way to Amsterdam, wherever you come from.

  • It’s a wonderful work. And it shows how much still could be done with a late-romantic style, although such size of orchestra was not necessary in relation to the musical substance – could be done with a Ring orchestra, or less. He wanted to out-Wagner Wagner, which is a somewhat juvenile ambition. Probably a staging will show even more Wagner’s overwhelming influence and the threat this must have meant to Schönberg’s own development and artistic independence.

    Early Schönberg shows-up the misconceptions that plagued the composer’s mind later-on, when his wife ran-off with the painter Richard Gerstl who committed suicide on Mathilde’s return. Early Schönberg shows what he could have become – something of a Schreker, or a German Szymanowski. His desperate sinking into ‘atonal expressionism’ is great too, but after that Schönberg could have restored the optimism and energy inspiring his early works. The 1st World War must have been a great emotional barrier to do so.

    What a pity he steeped, in the twenties, into that dogmatic, sterile rationalism of 12-tone music, combined with pretentious Teutonic totalitarism: ‘I have developed a tone system which will ensure German musical domination for the coming hundred years’. And: ‘I envisage a new party, a new sect… nationalistic-chauvinistic to the highest degree, in the religious sense, based on the notion of the chosen people, militant, aggressive, against all pacifism, against all internationalism’. An ideal which has been only realized, in terms of mentality, in post-WW-II-modernism, especially in Germany.

    Performing early Schönberg may redeem the odious image he created for himself. Audi’s initiative is to be applauded!

  • Just seen the production in Amsterdam. Truly amazing. Everybody should see this, especially those who say that it can’t work as a opera. Worth the journey from the UK.

  • I recently watched this production and thouroughly enjoyed it. I do not know if this will become a trend but I would definitely be interested in seeing Gustav Mahler’s complete version of Das Klagende Lied recieve the same treatment!

  • Just watched the Blu-Ray. Musically outstanding, dramatically a tad confusing, but that could be my inability to get some of the symbolism, like the setting in a bar and the entrance of a giant fish. I’m guessing the Fool’s white costume and luminescent balloon that trails him are meant to underscore the nighttime darkness that prevails until the final scene, when the sun bursts forth. Maybe a second viewing will help. (Wish I could get a second shot at hearing it live with Stokowski and the PO back in the 60s—a performance that, I’m afraid, mostly went over my teenage head.)

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