Composer Krzysztof Penderecki passed away recently at his home in Poland, aged 86. As a tribute to the legacy left by one of the world’s foremost composers, Hamburg State Opera have made their original production of Penderecki’s The Devils of Loudun available to stream on demand for free from 13 April. This world premiere production from 1969 is part of a series of videos from the era of the legendary intendant Rolf Liebermann that the theatre is offering during its present shutdown. It was directed by Konrad Swinarski with costume and stage design by Lidia and Jerzy Skarzynski, and conducted by Henryk Czyz.
The opera is set in the small French town of Loudun, a showplace for sensational occurrences in 1633-34 that were extensively documented and gained renown around Europe, regarded with a mix of fervent repulsion and voyeurism. Urbain Grandier, the village priest of Loudun, was accused in 1633 of having bewitched the nuns, above all Prioress Jeanne of the newly founded Ursuline-Cloister. Under torture he admitted to regretting his lapsed lifestyle and having had relationships with two women – one of whom expected a child from him – but refused steadfastly to confess to his “Devil’s Work” despite “proofs” of the same. In the summer of 1634 he was burned at the stake. For years afterwards the obsessions of the nuns occupied doctors and exorcists, the events ending only as Cardinal Richelieu withdrew his financial support of the cloister.
Krzysztof Penderecki: The Devils of Loudun – an opera about tolerance
The trial against Urban Grandier was included in François de Pitaval’s collection of famous criminal cases. This source, along with the autobiographical recollections of Prioress Jeanne from 1644, and two reports of the trial from 1634 and 1693, were used by Aldous Huxley in 1952 as the basis for his non-fiction novel, The Devils of Loudun. Eight years later John Whiting dramatised Huxley’s writings, and this was the starting point for Penderecki’s libretto (translated into German by Erich Fried).
For Penderecki, The Devils of Loudun is a work about tolerance and intolerance. Grandier was the victim of political intrigue, where even Jeanne was not really his enemy, but a victim of religious-political fanatics; her erotic neuroses exaggerated by Richelieu’s handiwork into a necessary possession by the Devil. – Wolfram Schwinger
This world premiere production will be available on Hamburg State Opera’s streaming service until 27 April.
+++ After the following story was published, we learned that the concert and live-streaming had to be cancelled as well. +++
On 11 April, the NHK Symphony Orchestra will perform Toshio Hosokawa’s Meditation to the victims of Tsunami (3.11) as part of a livestream concert conducted by Masaru Kumakura. The concert has been organised to replace the orchestra’s scheduled public performance in response to ongoing restrictions of COVID-19. Continue reading “Work of the Week – Toshio Hosokawa: Meditation to the victims of Tsunami (3.11)”
Through the myriad compositional styles György Ligeti explored between the 1940s and the 2000s, the composer’s strict focus on form and instrumentation always remained at the forefront of his work. Among the best examples of this is undoubtedly his Kammerkonzert (Chamber Concerto) from the middle period of his output. Exactly 50 years ago, on 5 April 1970, Friedrich Cerha and his ensemble ‘die reihe’ premiered the first two movements of this work in Baltimore. The third movement followed shortly after, premiering that May in Vienna, and the concerto’s final movement was first performed the following October in Berlin.
The scoring of Kammerkonzert for thirteen players sits at the midpoint between chamber music and a more symphonic texture. The work is highly varied, encompassing passages of extreme density and contrasting sections where individual instruments emerge from the ensemble with exposed melodic lines reminiscent of Schoenberg and Berg’s expressive twelve-note writing, or of virtuosic cadenzas.
György Ligeti – Kammerkonzert: from failure to standard repertoire
The four-movement work is a concerto in the sense that all 13 players are equal and have virtuoso solo tasks. Rather than frequent changes between soli and tutti, there is constant concerto-like cooperation. The parts always flow simultaneously but use different rhythmic configurations and tempi. […] The world premiere of the completed Chamber Concerto in 1970 was a complete failure. Critics wrote that this work massively fell behind my second string quartet, its predecessor. However, as time went by, more and more ensembles performed it multiple times. Nowadays, it is a standard repertoire work because its instrumentation is very fitting for groups like the Asko ensemble. All these things are impossible to anticipate for a composer. – György Ligeti
In advance of Ligeti’s centenary on 28 May 2023, we invite you to explore his music further. We’ve created an extensive playlist with detailed insights exploring Ligeti’s work – follow the link below to find out more.
With almost every opera house and concert hall around the world closed, we focus this week on a recent production of Hans Werner Henze´s opera The Bassarids, currently available for free on the online platform OperaVision. Reviews of Barrie Kosky´s staging and Vladimir Jurowski´s musical direction were splendid so this is a fantastic opportunity to explore the depths of this opera, considered a pinnacle of not only Henze´s dramatic output but of the entire mid-century classicism in opera.
The libretto for The Bassarids, written by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, is based on Euripides’ Bacchae; it tells the story of Pentheus, the new ruler of Thebes, banning the cult of Dionysus before being unwittingly drawn into the revelry by Dionysus himself, disguised as a stranger. Pentheus is eventually killed by his own mother, who has mistaken him for a wild animal, before Dionysus reveals his true identity and demands adoration from the Thebans for his revenge against the tyrant. The one-act opera’s large instrumentation and sophisticated libretto make The Bassarids an ambitious project. With Dionysus and Pentheus embodying two extremes of human existence, there is great potential for reference to the present day.
Today I consider The Bassarids, which I now understand to a far greater degree and hold much dearer than when I was composing the work, to be my most important music theatre work. It is […] still relevant for us, but specifically addresses questions associated with the years around 1968: what is freedom and what is bondage? What is repression, what is revolt and what is revolution? This is all in fact demonstrated, insinuated and suggested by Euripides. The multiplicity and richness of relationships, the tangible sensual relationships between the ancient civilisation of this Archaic period and our time are captured in Auden’s text; Euripides is transposed into our time in a manner which could not have been better achieved with the best possible stage production of the original Greek play, as we are constantly reminded of our distance from a different, long-gone civilisation. – Hans Werner Henze
The video will be available to stream on demand until 13 April and a final performance of the Komische Oper Berlin production is scheduled for 26 June.
photo: © Komische Oper Berlin / Monika Rittershaus
On 21 March, the world premiere of Thierry Pécou’s most recent opera Until the Lions would have been given in Strasbourg at the Opéra National du Rhin. Even though the rehearsals have now been stopped and the premiere been postponed until one of the following seasons due to the COVID-19 crisis, we would nevertheless like to introduce the piece: Marie Jacquot conducts the Orchestre Symphonique de Mulhouse in a production directed and choreographed by Shobana Jeyasingh.
Continue reading “Work of the Week – Thierry Pécou: Until the Lions”
On 15 March, Joseph Haas’ comic opera Die Hochzeit des Jobs returns to the stage for first time in 60 years. The new production will open at the theatre Eduard-won-Winterstein in Annaberg-Buchholz conducted by Naoshi Takahashi. Continue reading “Work of the Week – Joseph Haas: Die Hochzeit des Jobs”
On 8 March, Cologne Opera will perform Johannes Hanke’s children’s opera, The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs. Written between 2011 and 2012 on commission from Staatsoper Hannover, Hanke’s opera has since been performed in Dresden Basel and Munich. This most recent production will be conducted by Rainer Mühlbach.
Continue reading “Work of the Week – Stefan Johannes Hanke: The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs”
On 28 February, Pierre Jalbert’s Ephemeral Objects for cello and piano will receive its world premiere at Middlebury College, Vermont. The new work, which was commissioned by Middlebury Performing Arts Series in celebration of its 100th Anniversary, will be performed by cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han. Continue reading “Work of the Week – Pierre Jalbert: Ephemeral Objects”
Christian Jost’s opera Egmont premieres at Theater an der Wien on 17 February conducted by Michael Boder. The work was commissioned by the theatre for 2020 in celebration of Beethoven’s 250 Anniversary. Keith Warner has created the production for the premiere. Continue reading “Work of the Week – Christian Jost: Egmont”
On 12 February, Pascal Rophé will direct the Orchestre National de Radio France and soloist Alban Gerhardt in the world premiere of Julian Anderson’s Litanies for cello and orchestra as part of the annual Festival Présences. Continue reading “Work of the Week – Julian Anderson: Litanies”