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Zemlinsky, Eine Florentinische Tragödie and Der Zwerg: Soloists, Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla. Coro A.A.Teatro Maestranza. Conductor: Pedro Halffter.Teatro de la Maestranza de Sevilla. 29.5.2008 (JMI)

Production from Oper Frankfurt.


Direction: Udo Samel
Sets: Tobias Hoheisel
Costumes: Eva Dessecker (Tragödie) Tobias Hoheisel (Zwerg)
Lighting: Joachim Klein


Florentinische Tragödie:

Simone: James Johnson
Bianca: Karolina Gumos
Guido: Robert Künzli

Der Zwerg:

Zwerg: Peter Marsh
Clara: Astrid Weber
Ghita: Sonja Mühleck
Don Estoban: Jürgen Freier

Together with Don Giovanni last month, the other interesting title of the Seville season was this double bill by Zemlinsky, a composer  now recovering the important position that he should always  have had in the history of music. First of all he was banned by the Nazi regime, like other composers of so-called “degenerate music” and later forgotten after the fashion for serial music. Zemlinsky did not become fully recognised until the 80s, and  based in this double bill, I hope that these produtions will  soon will be followed by others like “Die Kreidekreis” and “Konig Kandaules”. The Dwarf or The Infant’s Birthday seems to me a very important opera, more so than the Florentine Tragedy. It has taken a very long time to arrive to Spain, since this performance was the premiere in this country, takes place 86 years after the work’s premiere in Cologne. After listening to this music I get the feeling that Zemlinsky and Schreker are actually great composers, unjustly neglected by the great opera houses. It was a very good idea for Teatro Maestranza to stage these works.

The production by Udo Samel comes from Frankfurt, where it was premiered two years ago. Although the libretto locates the action of The Tragedy in a very precise time period, nobody can really hope that a modern production from a German theater will  respectful that, these days. So Signoria’s Florence is moved to modern the 1940s. Apart from that there is nothing particularly remarkable in this simple production, besides the absurd change to the end of the opera, which removes any kind of ambiguity from it, and which is  very important. When  Simone strangles Guido, his unfaithful wife  says to him “I didn’t know you were so strong” and Simone reples “I didn’t  know you were so beautiful” , while they kiss each other. Not here though. After singing these phrases, Bianca stabs Simone. This is a  gratuitous “originality”, running counter to the libretto and the composer’s intentions. . In The Dwarf the action also changes the time placement, although the Meninas appear in a kind of masked ball. This  production works rather  better and Udo Samel is much more faithful to the original text.

Musical direction was in the hands of the Artistic and musical Director of the theater, Pedro Halffter. I had the impression that Halffter had dedicated  more time and enthusiasm to The Dwarf, as the music for the Tragedy felt merely. Things changed got better in the second half and Halffter seemed to love this opera, transmitting conviction and brilliance to both his orchestra and the audience. His interpretation was much more in line with his remarkable Der Ferne Klang from last year or his recent Krenek  Orpheus at the Teatro Real.

In the Florentine Tragedy the trio of singers was headed by American baritone James Johnson, who was a good Simone. Karoline Gumos was a reasonable Bianca and Robert Künzli offered the most interesting voice of the three, although he is not an outstanding character actor.

The Dwarf himself was a substitution at  the eleventh hour, who saved the production in an outstanding way. The original tenor announce was Peter Bronder, but sudden illness forced him to cancel. The substitute was Peter Marsh, familiar with this production in Frankfurt, where sang it this season. He was very moving on stage and he was a very good replacement but  during the performance I kept thinking what a great interpreter of this role a younger Graham Clark would have been. The child Clara was Astrid Weber, who sang  Der Ferne Klang in this theatre. She was not so good as on the previous occasion. Ghita was the mezzo soprano Sonja Mühlech, a better actress than singer, while Don Estoban  was the veteran Jürgen Freier, who did a good job. Among the servants the best by far was Marta Ubieta, improving each day.

The public was more enthusiastic with The Dwarf than for The Tragedy and the  most applause went to Peter Marsh and Pedro Halffter.

José M Irurzun

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