British composer breaks an iceberg at Vienna Opera

British composer breaks an iceberg at Vienna Opera


norman lebrecht

June 14, 2015

We had spotted the Austrian premiere of The Tempest this week, but missed the precedent.

It appears that Thomas Adès will tonight be the first British composer ever to take part in a performance when he conducts his own work at the hallowed house.

It is the third time in its history that the Vienna Opera has premiered a Shakespearean work. The others were by Frank Martin and Luciano Berio.

thomas ades


  • Gary Carpenter says:

    I’m not sure I understand the post. The Tempest isn’t a premiere but if the post refers to a Viennese premiere, surely the Vienna State Opera has at some point ‘premiered’ Falstaff, Otello, Macbeth, Merry Wives Of Windsor, I Capuleti e i Montecchi etc. etc.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Let nobody accuse the Viennan State Opera any longer of being ‘conservative’.

    • Simon S. says:

      Really? Even Thomas Adès is too modernist in your opinion? Wow!

      To avoid misunderstandings: I regard “The Tempest” a great opera, and I really enjoyed it in a porduction here in Frankfurt 2 or 3 years ago – but I wouldn’t see it as avantgardist. Considering the development of music in the 20th and early 21st century, Adès is rather conservative indeed.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Obviously I meant, that taking-on Ades’ opera demonstrates that the Vienna State Opera is not conservative. By the way, notions of ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’ are entirely dependent upon context. Ades leans towards traditional means, which makes him ‘progressive’, Olga Neuwirth screams with chaotic dissonance which makes her ‘conservative’. Something that was ‘modern’ in 1965 is no longer ‘modern’ in 2015. The British composer David Matthews, who composes in an idiom reminiscent of early 20C music, is entirely ‘contemporary’ i.e. ‘progressive’. And so on… There are many composers out there nowadays who try to return to musical qualities which have eroded under the influence of arrogant, ignorant and unmusical ideologies after WW II. If Ades achieves expressive effects in his opera, this is due to ‘traditional influences’ and that is to his credit. The VSO will have recognized it and thus thought the work suitable to their programming.

        The VSO gives commissions to a wide range of contemporary composers, next to her cultivating ‘old’ repertoire. The people running it, try to find musical and theatrical quality and are not concerned about labels or ideologies. And by the way, being ‘conservative’ in periods of decline is the best position cultural institutions could take.

  • La Donna del Largo says:

    Surely part of what makes this “event” so “unique” is that most composers are not performers, at least of their own works. Adès is something of a rara avis in that he is both a successful modern composer and a fine conductor as well.

  • Amadeus says:

    Die Oper hat Längen,gefährliche Längen. ( Ariadne auf Naxos).