Weill’s Royal Palace
is an important work in his theatrical
development but is still little known.
In fact so little that this is apparently
the world premiere recording and derives
from a performance given by BBC forces
at the Barbican in 2000. There was a
vogue for the zeitoper at the
time – mid twenties – when Weill set
the one act opera to a text by Iwan
Goll. The topical opera genre informed
the work of Hindemith and Krenek as
well as Weill and in his work we can
hear those musical and popular currents
that fed the syntax of the opera with
such informality; car horns, saxophones,
demotic language. The vernacular – the
use of foxtrot and jazz elements - extends
to the musical writing which, alongside
such anti-authority devices does certainly
embrace a broadly Wagnerian-Mahlerian
frame of reference, though in its tarter
writing the influence of Stravinsky
certainly seems unavoidable – specifically
A Soldier’s Tale.
This may seem an unlikely
brew and the essentially static or mythic-allegoric
nature of the characterisation may seem
almost anti-theatrical. But if Osud
can work there’s no reason why this
shouldn’t – in fact they’d make a good
pairing. Set in a luxury hotel Dejanira
(in myth the wife of Hercules, who caused
his death unwittingly and killed herself)
spends time with her husband and a past
lover and future one. Their failure
to understand or comprehend her – their
absurd bribes and braggadocio – leads
her to drown herself. Weill utilises
a ballet scene and a "film"
scene – the former suggestively percussion
laced with trumpet and clarinet to the
fore and a ragtime feel, laced with
trappings of the dance-jazz style that
swept Berlin at the time. Instrumentally
Mahler is most clearly evoked in the
string writing of Wir müssen
aber Orangeade trinken [track 3]
and there’s an eerie foreshadowing (almost)
of Peter Grimes in the scene
where the Old Fisherman talks with Dejanira.
In that film interlude Weill cannily
uses a "piano accompaniment"
(such as you’d have heard in silent
films) to lace the score with yet another
layer of topicality – along with blaring
trumpets and rinky-dink woodblock percussion.
There is a beautiful moment of evanescence
later – twinkle of bells, starlight
– as the saxophone mourns and a tango
rhythm as Dejanira "walks on the
water" to drown.
Coupled with Royal
Palace is Der Neue Orpheus, a small
cantata for soprano, violin and orchestra,
written just before the one act opera.
It’s a tougher, more astringent work
and written in Weill’s rather brittle
post-Schoenbergian terms. Punchy, wordy
with march rhythms and powerful brass
this also occupies mythic ground. The
text is again by Goll and concerns Orpheus’
arrival into contemporary Berlin where
he meets Eurydice at a railway station.
Part of the fabric of the writing is
to include some quotations – from Gluck
(obviously) but also from the Pilgrims’
Chorus in Tannhäuser. The violin
solo enters at the halfway point – this
cantata lasts just over a quarter of
an hour – and seems to have some soloistic
relation, at least, to the Violin Concerto.
It’s a much more concentrated, serious
and less immediately appealing work
than its disc mate.
These are both concert
performances and the teams sound very
well prepared. Everything is sung in
German by the English cast. Janice Watson
takes the greatest vocal burden in Royal
Palace – strong, powerful, theatrically
instinctual and managing to get it across
(not always very easy textually) though
also tending to be a little shrill at
the top of her compass. In the companion
work Kathryn Harries has an even bigger
voice than Watson and Michael Davis,
the BBC’s leader, makes a fine show.
Andrew Davis conducts idiomatically
and marshals with practised authority
– not for nothing was he at Glyndebourne
and now in Chicago. The Barbican acoustic
is not too sympathetic, and there are
the odd acoustical shifts in perspective.
But this is a valuable disc with premiere
recordings, pretty reasonable documentation
and dual language (German-English) libretto.