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Work of the Week – Arnold Schoenberg: Moses und Aron

On 29 September 2018, a new production of Arnold Schoenberg’s celebrated opera Moses and Aron directed by Calixto Bieito opens at the Semperoper Dresden, with John Tomlinson and Lance Ryan in the title roles of Moses and Aron. Alan Gilbert will conduct, before beginning his new post as principal conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in 2019.

Although Schoenberg wrote the libretto for Moses und Aron in three acts, by 1937 he had completed the score for the first two acts only, leaving the final act without music. Much later, the opera was premiered at the Zurich Opera House by conductor Hans Rosbaud on 6 June 1957 without a third act, which was still in need of music. In the last year of his life Schoenberg abandoned his long-held plan to complete the third act, and suggested it should be performed as spoken libretto instead.

Moses and Aron: Two brothers lead their people

While Moses tends his flock, God appears to him and commands him to tell the people of Israel of God’s will and presence, to free Israel from foreign gods and lead them out of slavery. Moses at first feels incapable of carrying out the order, so his brother Aron is placed in command beside him as better able to convey the message of God to the people of Israel.

Schoenberg depicts the contrasting personalities of the two brothers musically through their style of singing: Moses sings almost exclusively in Sprechgesang, whilst Aron is portrayed through lyrical and expressive bel canto. Despite the prominence of the brothers in the story however, the main role of the opera is arguably assigned to the chorus, who are tasked with conveying the deeper meaning of Moses und Aron to the audience.

Moses und Aron is about the impossibility of finding words or images to make sense of life. This impossibility is at the heart of the opera’s tension, but as you listen to the music your ear becomes accustomed to it. This opera is without fault – like “Wozzeck” or “Salome”, it´s a perfect opera, perfect! – Calixto Bieito

Following the premiere on 29 September, four further performances of Moses und Aron will take place from 3-15 October.




© Semperoper Dresden/ Foto: Ludwig Olah