Werner HENZE (b.1926) Der junge Lord – opera in two acts (1965)
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
Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin/Christoph
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 ARTS2072398 [136:00]
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.
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