Libretto by Martina Winkel
Kepler: Martin Achrainer
Cassandra McConnell (soprano 1)
Karen Robertson (soprano 2)
Katerina Hebelkova (mezzo)
Pedro Velázquez Díaz (tenor)
Seho Chang (baritone)
Florian Spiess (bass)
Soloists and Chorus of the Landestheater Linz,
Bruckner Orchester Linz/Dennis Russell Davies
Stage Director/Production and Set Design by Peter Missotten
Costume Design by Karel Van Laere
Video Director: Felix Breisach
rec. live, 4, 11 October 2009, Landestheater Linz, Austria
Picture format 16:9, NTSC; Sound format LPCM stereo, Dolby Digital
5.0; Region Code 0 (Worldwide); subtitles: EN, DE.
ORANGE MOUNTAIN OM5004
Philip Glass’s latest opera is about Johannes Kepler, the mathematician,
astronomer and astrologer who lived in Germany from 1571 to
1630. The DVD has no booklet or liner-notes, so I’ve copied
the synopsis from Philip Glass’s web site (which, except for
the first six words, was copied from Wikipedia):
A portrait opera on the life of German mathematician, astronomer,
and astrologer, and a key figure in the 17th century scientific
revolution. He is best known for his eponymous laws of planetary
motion, codified by later astronomers based on his works Astronomia
nova, Harmonices Mundi, and Epitomoe of Copernican Astronomy.
These works provided the foundation for Newton's theory of universal
This opera is sung in German and Latin, which is an oddity.
But the music is certainly familiar; Glass hasn’t changed much
since the 1980s, and the musical clichés that he invented back
then are heard here reused in yet another context. There are
certainly many beautiful moments of orchestral coloring, well
presented by Dennis Russell Davies, but the three-note brass
chords, the monotonous vocals, the two-note rhythmic figures,
and the arpeggiated winds all hark back to Glass’s works from
around the time of The Photographer and Koyaanisqatsi,
in the early 1980s.
Even the staging seems dated; it has that once-hip Robert Wilson-esque
style of little movement, stark scenery, dark lighting and ridiculous
Kraftwerk-like costumes. Granted, the rotating circular section
of the stage is interesting, and the sets get more complicated
as the opera goes on, making it look like an X Files episode
near the end. It must have been a bit disturbing for the singers,
though, to have to turn in circles as they do, but this provides
movement even when the singers are static.
Also, the singers are all wearing tiny flesh-colored mics on
their foreheads. I don’t know why this was necessary; most operas
are well recorded with mics above the stage. When there are
close-ups, you can see these mics, and they look a bit foolish.
There is, nevertheless, some very good singing in this opera
when the soloists get their parts without the choir - though
the choir is very good too. But the libretto is risible. Taking
just one bit which I picked at random, when one of the sopranos
sings: What now, if the Earth evaporates into the ether?
Where does the matter leak? What remains from the burning of
a meteor? Don’t you see that every day huge woods do burn? Why
do the ocean’s tides follow the motion of celestial bodies?
I find it hard to be moved in any way. Perhaps it sounds
better in Latin. On the other hand one doesn’t listen to or
watch operas for their libretti; one really goes for the music.
Yet again, my appreciation for early Philip Glass music has
led me to explore a recent work of his which has disappointed
me. I’ve reviewed several Glass releases in recent years, and
none of them has stood out very much compared to the originality
of his earlier works. Having seen a number of Glass productions
- starting with the 1982 revival of Einstein on the Beach
- and having followed his music over the years, it seems
that Glass has become a producer of clones of his own works,
and has not made many changes in his musical language. Steve
Reich, the composer most often cited with Glass when talking
about minimalism, has changed a lot since his early works -
composed around the same time as Glass’ earliest music - but
Glass seems stuck on a formula that satisfies those looking
for more of the same. If you are a fan of Glass’s more recent
works - or pretty much anything he’s composed in the last thirty
years - you’ll certainly like this opera. It is visually interesting,
though the staging is a bit clichéd, and the music is what you’d
from previous months Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the
discs reviewed. details We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to
which you refer.