Vienna pre­mieres new opera on rise of far-right in Europe

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Kuwait Times - - Lifestyle Music -

orld pre­mieres are some­thing of a rar­ity at the Vienna State Opera, but prepa­ra­tions are un­der­way this week for the first per­for­mance of a new piece tack­ling the refugee cri­sis and the rise of far­right pop­ulism in Europe. It has been more then eight years since the State Opera, one of the world’s most im­por­tant mu­sic the­atres, com­mis­sioned and pre­miered a brand new work.

The 44-year-old Aus­trian com­poser Jo­hannes Maria Staud says be­ing asked to write an opera for such a pres­ti­gious house was “in­vig­o­rat­ing”. “It re­ally fo­cuses the mind,” he told AFP. Staud has al­ready writ­ten two op­eras and his third, “Die Wei­den” (The Wil­lows), is be­ing pre­miered yes­ter­day. The 135-minute work, scored for huge or­ches­tra and live elec­tron­ics, is based on a short story by Bri­tish hor­ror writer Al­ger­non Black­wood and the novel “Heart of Dark­ness” by Bri­tish writer, Joseph Con­rad.

The li­bretto, by Ger­man poet Durs Gru­en­bein, tells of a pair of young lovers, Lea and Peter, who go on a ca­noe trip into the coun­try of Peter’s child­hood. The fur­ther they pad­dle into a re­gion whose in­hab­i­tants view ev­ery­thing for­eign with sus­pi­cion, the fiercer the ten­sions be­tween the two of them be­come.

No time for es­capism

In a joint in­ter­view with AFP, both the com­poser and the li­bret­tist said they could not have fore­seen the cur­rent global political sit­u­a­tion when they re­ceived the com­mis­sion four or five years ago. “But we knew even then that now was not the time to write an es­capist piece,” Staud said. He said he found it “deeply alarm­ing” that a far-right pop­ulist party, such as Aus­tria’s an­tiIs­lam, anti-im­mi­gra­tion Free­dom Party (FPOe), should be in gov­ern­ment in a west­ern democ­racy.

Gru­en­bein noted that at the time they be­gan work on the piece, “there was al­ready a lot of de­bate about mi­gra­tion. Peo­ple were al­ready us­ing terms such as ‘streams of refugees’.” But the pair of artists could not have an­tic­i­pated “this spi­ral of ha­tred, the re­sent­ment, the un­sayable be­com­ing sayable”, Staud said. Gru­en­bein in­sisted “Die Wei­den” was not in­tended as “a piece of political the­ory” with which to lec­ture the au­di­ence from a soap­box. “It wasn’t a nar­ra­tive that we went look­ing for. It was al­ready there, all around us,” he said, while Staud felt he was driven by an al­most “ex­is­ten­tial” need to write it.

Quot­ing Wag­ner

Nei­ther was it the two men’s in­ten­tion to be con­tro­ver­sial, “even if we know that the piece will di­vide” Vienna’s cul­tur­ally con­ser­va­tive au­di­ences, Staud said. “We’re not look­ing to drive an­other wedge be­tween peo­ple. Be­cause it’s pre­cisely a wedge that the pop­ulists are seek­ing to drive through the whole of so­ci­ety.” None­the­less, a feel­ing of out­rage over to­day’s pol­i­tics was a key fac­tor in the cre­ative im­pulse, he said. It was the first time he had ever used mu­si­cal quo­ta­tions from an­other com­poser, in this case Richard Wag­ner, in any of his works, Staud added.

Wag­ner was “the cen­tral fixed star of Ger­many’s dark ro­man­ti­cism” and “a great com­poser”. But even though Wag­ner was also was “an artist from whom I dis­tance my­self in many points”-par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to his anti-Semitism-Staud also felt the need to reap­pro­pri­ate him from far-right, Nazi and iden­ti­tar­ian thinkers. “We’re tak­ing back how we in­ter­pret Wag­ner and what his mu­sic means to us,” Staud said.

“Die Wei­den” will re­ceive an ini­tial run of five per­for­mances and is be­ing re­vived next sea­son. The stag­ing is by Ger­man direc­tor, An­drea Moses, with Ger­man con­duc­tor and con­tem­po­rary mu­sic spe­cial­ist, Ingo Met­z­macher, in the pit.—AFP

Aus­trian com­poser, Jo­hannes Maria Staud, left, and his li­bret­tist Ger­man poet Durs Gru­en­bein talk about Staud’s new piece ti­tled ‘Die Wei­den’ (The Wil­lows) dur­ing an in­ter­view with AFP at the State Opera House (Staat­sopera) in Vienna, Aus­tria. — AFP

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