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Bernhard LANG (b. 1957)
I hate Mozart (2006) [126:15]
Adriano Morado (conductor) – Florian Boesch (baritone); Grace Moor (diva) – Dagmar Schellenberger (soprano); Simona Chodovska (soprano) – Andrea Lauren Brown (soprano); Frankiska Zimmer (mezzo)– Salome Kammer (mezzo); Johannes Weiner (tenor) – Mathias Zachariassen (tenor); Ludwig Zellinsky (agent) – David Pittman-Jennings (baritone); General Manager – Rupert Bergheim (baritone)
Klangforum Wien
Vokalensemble NOVA/Johannes Kalitzke
Michael Sturminger (stage director)
Renate Martin and Andreas Donhauser (set design and costume)
Kurt Schony (lighting design)
Hamid Reza Tavakoli (video)
rec: live, 8, 10, 12 November 2006, Theater an der Wien, Vienna
COL LEGNO WWE20277  [64:15 + 62:00] plus [126:15]


Experience Classicsonline

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 fast-paced libretto.

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.

Sturminger’s libretto, 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 Grace Moor.

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 little gem.

Robert Hugill


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