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Hans Werner HENZE (b.1926)
Der junge Lord – opera in two acts (1965)
Edith Mathis (soprano) – Luise; Donald Grobe (tenor) – Wilhelm; Barry McDaniel, (tenor) - Lord Edgar’s secretary; Vera Little (mezzo) – Begonia; Margarete Ast (mezzo) - Baronin Grünwiesel; Bella Jasper (soprano) – Ida; Manfred Röhrl (baritone) – Burgermeister; Loren Driscoll (tenor) - The young Lord; Gitta Mikes (mezzo) - Frau von Hufnagel; Lisa Otto (soprano) - Frau Oberjustizrat Hasentreffer; Ivan Sardi (baritone) - Oberjustizrat Hasentreffer; Ernst Krukowski (baritone) - Ökonomierat Scharf; Helmut Krebs (tenor) - Professor von Mucker; Otto Graf - Lord Edgar
Schöneberger Sängerknäben
Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin/Christoph von Dohnányi,
Gustav Rudolf Sellner (stage director)
Ernst Wild (film director)
rec. Deutsche Oper Berlin, 1968
Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish
Booklet notes: English, German, French
MEDICI ARTS 2072398 [136:00]
Experience Classicsonline

This is a classic. The audio recording of this production has been around for a long time. This is the first release on modern DVD. It’s surprising that there aren’t any other recordings on the market as Der junge Lord is an established part of the repertoire in Europe, and perhaps the most popular of Henze’s many operas.
 
Musically, Der junge Lord is very fine indeed. It’s simplicity belies intricately detailed construction. Henze writes cross-currents, not as layers but more like diagonally dissecting counterpoint. There are intersections, even moments of harmony, but Henze is using abstract music to reflect the tensions in the narrative. Being the master he is, it’s done with such finesse that a listener really has to pay attention, particularly to the entr’actes in which the music outlines what is to happen. This is one weakness of DVD where it’s assumed we need something to look at all the time. Solve the problem by closing your eyes and simply listen.
 
This sophisticated concept of multi-directional writing applies specially well in ensemble. In the first act people are strolling around the promenade in different directions, snippets of conversation operating with little connection. Their lives are purposeless, meandering. The Baronin holds a tea party where her music dominates, her guests singing variations of her themes because they’re trying to copy her. When she and the townsfolk turn against the strange English Lord who moves into town, Henze’s contrapuntal skills come to the fore. The mob scenes are well constructed: individual voices at cross-purposes building up to a seething mass. Particularly wonderful are the children’s choruses, voices too young and too pure to know violence, yet destined to lose their innocence. The children who sing angelically will go on to beat up the Lord’s messenger boy because he’s “Moorish”, African, alien.
 
Henze’s musical structure reflects the narrative perfectly. The action takes place in a complacent provincial town where people are desperate to conform and copy their social superiors. The Baronin is a woman who married a Duke and travelled to France, the epitome of refinement where people conform to what they think they “ought” to do for social status. Thus the Baronin, a woman who married well - “who has travelled!”, her guests whisper in awe. Tinkling their porcelain tea cups, they pop out phrases in French to show how they, too have savoir faire.
 
Into this claustrophobic society comes the English Lord, Lord Edgar. He’s a mysterious figure, fabulously wealthy but a wanderer, who’s travelled even more than the Baronin. Among his retinue are the Moorish messenger, dressed in gold and satin, and a strange Creole called Begonia (Vera Little) who cooks delicious sweetmeats but has a tragic past. When the locals turn against a visiting Italian circus, the Lord takes them into his own home. On the audio there’s a detail I‘d previously missed, a tiny moment of peace among the turmoil. On film, the Lord makes eye contact with a circus monkey. It’s over in a flash, but don’t forget.
 
Screams are heard from the Lord’s mansion, so he has it announced that there will be a fancy dress ball, where the locals will be introduced to “Lord Barrat”, Lord Edgar’s nephew. The banquet is elaborate and there’s dancing. The Baronin wants her ward Luise to marry Lord Barrat, so they are paired off. But there’s something odd about Lord Barrat. Unsuspecting, the guests imitate his crude, mechanical movements and aren’t even upset when he starts to play the trumpet, madly - Henze’s scoring of this part is savagely witty. Then, suddenly the Lord rips off his clothes, his hair and even his face. He’s an ape!
 
The libretto is by Ingeborg Bachmann, Henze’s closest friend and muse. Her writing is tight, terse, to the point. Henze follows her syntax closely: the combination of words and music precise.
 
The film supplies levels of detail which expand the narrative very well. For example, the young Lord, Lord Edgar’s Secretary - who does all the talking for him - and Wilhelm, the student Luise is in love with, all sport bizarre side-burns and have their hair dyed in psychedelic shades of orange. What has Lord Edgar been up to, and for how long? It’s implicit, not obvious, part of the tantalizing mystery that haunts the opera.
 
Yet again, Henze is subtle, leading us into the intrigue gently. The first Act is taken up with the conventional love affair between Luise and Wilhelm – stock lovers are typical plot devices in sentimental operetta. Unsuspecting audiences might be lulled as Henze’s writing, though very modern, isn’t “scary”. Luise and Wilhelm are to Der junge Lord what the cartoon lovers are in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein a few years later. Even the Frankenstein connection isn’t far fetched as we see with the ape-turned-Lord.
 
Edith Mathis positively glows. She’s photogenic, the sort of person “cameras love”. Her singing is perfectly well judged, sweet but not sickly. She balances a bizarre helmet-like wig on her head which seems to have a life of its own – also a concept in keeping with the plot. Donald Grob’s Wilhelm is well prepared too, as is Barry McDaniel’s Secretary – a mix of malevolence and elegance, insidiously sung. The vignette roles are very strongly cast, too. Margarete Ast’s Baronin and the whole group of town officials, led by Manfred Röhrl, are excellent, and individual. Even poor Lord Barrat, who gets to sing only a few pathetic phrases, does so with an angelic high tenor almost as high as the boys in the children’s chorus.
 
This film is well made and enhances the audio experience sensitively. A pity that the colours seem faded, giving a dated look to what was once probably quite spectacular. Perhaps one day there’ll be a new version. This opera deserves it. There have been several acclaimed productions over the years so it’s time a new film was made. Until then, it’s good to have this DVD to supplement the audio.
 
Anne Ozorio
 

 


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