Bernhard Lang is a composer with an interest in jazz and in electronic
music. These would seem to be rather curious qualifications for
writing a comic opera about the staging of a Mozart opera. In
fact, with librettist Michael Sturminger, Lang has created a lively
and entertaining new work.
The opera was premiered
at the Theater an der Wien in 2006 as part of the Viennese Mozart
Year festivities. And these performances form the basis for
this handsome set which encompasses an SACD recording, libretto,
pictures of the production and a DVD.
Lang’s style is
a collage of different techniques mixing naturalistic dialogue,
sprechstimme, rhythmically repetitive passages, jazz, hip-hop,
electronic treatment of voices as well as out-and-out modernism.
Though Lang sometimes uses the repetition techniques of Californian
minimalism, there is nothing minimal about his material. The
result is dizzying, especially when coupled with Sturminger’s
Lang and Sturminger
seem to have gone out of their way to avoid the sort of play-set-to-music
which passes or often passes for contemporary opera. Instead
they have asked themselves what the combination of words and
music can do, and pushed the envelope. In fact, they have pushed
the envelope so far in so many places that the work at times
appears a little confused about its own identity. But the committed
and vital performance from the soloists and the Klangforum Wien
ensures that everything holds together brilliantly.
which is mainly in German but with excursions into Italian and
English, covers the activities back-stage during a production
of Mozart’s Magic Flute. The span of the opera covers,
in extremely compressed format, the run up to the performance
from auditions to opening night. Besides satirising Austrian
officialdom, Sturminger casts a jaundiced eye on the foibles
of musical practitioners. Prime amongst these is the conductor
Adriano Morado who is fed up with Mozart and who wishes his
mistress, Simona, to sing Pamina rather than his wife, the diva
Along the way, Sturminger’s
21 short scenes manage to cover the gamut of shenanigans and
goings-on. But it would be impossible to follow the plot just
by listening to the CD. Lang’s collage of sound and composition
techniques ensures that the textures of the piece are constantly
shifting, but means that the words are often obscured or inaudible.
The cast all work
very hard, singing and speaking in a variety of languages and
delivering vocal lines which are often expressive but can be
taxing. This is a world away from easy listening burble, but
Lang and Sturminger’s joie de vivre is infectious, as
is that of the cast.
All the singers
are impressive forming a strong ensemble. Not all the voices
are superb, but given a performance with this level of commitment
and vividness, there is little to complain about. Most importantly,
everyone sounds as if they are involved in a drama. Florian
Boesch is immensely impressive as the attractive but narcissistic
and self-obsessed conductor Adriano Morado. Dagmar Schellenberger
is wonderfully bitchy as his wife, the diva Grace Moor, with
Andrea Lauren Brown giving a strong performance as Adriano’s
mistress, the young singer Simona.
Though the booklet
includes the libretto, synopsis, biographies and an introductory
article, its layout makes it a little frustrating. There seems
to be no contents page or index and it is divided by language,
so you cannot listen to the opera whilst viewing the English
and German texts side by side. On the plus side, the libretto
includes the complete stage directions so you have a fair idea
of what is going on. This is highly necessary as the live recording
is very atmospheric and you are constantly wondering what is
happening on stage. The solution to this is, of course, a DVD
and remarkably that is included in the set also.
The DVD presents
the entire opera which represents brilliant value for money.
The sound quality is noticeably different to that of the CD,
probably representing the different effects of the acoustics
in the live balancing of the electronic processing of the voices.
Sturminger’s production is hyper-realistic, providing a stunning
demonstration of the Theater an der Wien’s stage machinery.
This makes it relatively easy to follow the plot which is a
great boon, but there is something in Lang’s music which makes
you long for a more stylised less heavy-handedly realistic style
of production. Having seen the DVD, I found that I far preferred
listening to the CD on its own, populating the visuals with
my imagination. There is something slightly laboured about Sturminger’s
comedy and this is made even more so in his production.
I must confess that
there were moments, particularly on repeat listening, when I
thought that this work was rather too clever for its own good
and rather too pleased with itself. But in a world where contemporary
opera can either be unchallenging or impenetrable, Lang and
Sturminger have come up with a lively and rather off-the-wall