On Tuesday the HERALD offered its readers valuable background written by Cristiana Visan on the Colón´s Latin American première of one of the most complex Twentieth Century operas: Bernd Alois Zimmermann´s "Die Soldaten" ("The Soldiers"). She included statements by Darío Lopérfido, Artistic Director of the Colón; Baldur Brönnimann, conductor; and Pablo Maritano, régisseur.
This reviewer was at the première that same day; the hand programme also has interesting reflexions by Brönnimann and Maritano. On the present article I will assume that you read Visan and won´t repeat facts.
First, it´s worth stressing that its presentation was an audacious bet by Lopérfido; it is also the only première of the operatic subscription series. Discarding the utopic original wishes of the composer (it was never done), the revised work nevertheless needs the full resources of an important opera house.
My reference is the DVD of Stuttgart Opera´s 1989 staging by Harry Kupfer, conducted by Bernhard Kontarsky. Although their stage is smaller than the Colón´s, the set by Wolf Münzner was built on three tiers permitting when required the simultaneity of three different actions. And his costumes accorded with the original ambience of the Lenz text, written in 1776, so the Countess, e.g., is dressed as in those Pre-Revolutionary times an aristocrat was, with a big hoop-skirt.
Zimmermann has conserved the stilted, ceremonious aspects of the Lenz text. For we are still in the Ancien Régime and forms were kept, even in battle. That´s why Kupfer (an avantgarde régisseur) respected dressing codes: because they agree with the words. Maritano, as so many nowadays, transports us to Zimmermann´s time, and that way the text clashes with what we see.
Mind you, those decadent years pictured by Lenz nurtured snake eggs that would mature shortly after. He was part of the Sturm und Drang movement and he saw the future, as Büchner did years later in his "Woyzeck". It isn´t irrelevant to know that Lenz died insane and Zimmermann committed suicide. It´s worth mentioning that Wolfgang Rihm wrote "Lenz", an interesting chamber opera on the writer´s final period; we saw it at the San Martín some years ago. And that Manfred Gurlitt, a neglected composer, wrote his own "Wozzeck" (1926) and "Die Soldaten"! (1930).
Of course, Berg´s "Wozzeck" was a great influence on Zimmermann, and there are several parallels (homages, in fact) between what may be the most important opera of the Twentieth Century and "Die Soldaten"., although they are also very contrasting: Berg wrote a social drama, Zimmermann a dystopic indictment of the brutal human race. He made me think of the Resnais film in which Henri Laborit insisted on the influence of the reptilian part of our brain; for evolution is very slow, it is still there and leads to unspeakable acts.
Half a century has elapsed since "Die Soldaten" was premièred. It retains its power to shock and impact, but it doesn´t move as "Wozzeck" does. Strange, Marie is the main female role in both. Musically, "Die Soldaten" is fully dodecaphonic, whilst most of "Wozzeck" isn´t; both are based on formal structures that are only apparent to the studious scholar. In "Die Soldaten" the brutality is much more explicit and the search for effect is evident.
In this opera the soldiers are all beasts; only one voice admonishes them: Eisenhardt, the Padre, tells them: "if these girls are whores it is because you made them so". Marie´s sister, Charlotte, warns her against Desportes, but isn´t helped by their father, nor Stolzius´s mother. However, I don´t find Marie innocent; she is coquettish and is easily conquered by Desportes.
The vocality is often quite unpleasant and badly written, with constant unnecessary jumps and absurd insistence on the highest range. There´s very little lyricism. The main musical quality is the handling of the huge orchestra with domineering percussion, and the ability to superimpose as much as three simultaneous vocal monologues and dialogues, each with a different rhythm. Also some moments of spatiality. And the pandemonium of the great soldier scene really stuns.
Brönnimann worked hard and after weeks of intensive rehearsals got very good results from orchestra and stage. However, there was a snafu: in the scene between the Countess and her son something went wrong (tenor or conductor) and the scene had to restart. The six foreign singers made their local debut. Susanne Elmark was an admirable Marie; she looks the part and has the vocal agility to vanquish the highest range. And she acts with intensity.
Tom Randle (Desportes) was taxed by the tremendous demands but did well. Frode Olsen (Wesener, Marie´s father) showed authority and a solid bass-baritone. Leigh Melrose was an anguished Stolzius and Julia Riley an adequate Charlotte. Only Noemí Nadelmann was below par as the Countess, her voice alarmingly frayed.
Apart from Santiago Ballerini´s sole intervention as the son of the Countess (perhaps not his fault), the Argentines were remarkably good, especially Gustavo Gibert (Eisenhardt), Alejandro Meerapfel (Captain Mary) and Eugenia Fuente (Stolzius´ mother). Nazareth Aufe managed with well-placed voice the extremely high range of Captain Pirzel. In the picture were Virginia Correa Dupuy (Wesener´s Mother), Luciano Garay (Captain Haudy) and Christian De Marco (Colonel Obrist).
I agree with Lopérfido: "Enrique Bordolini has built a great iron structure: it is a formidable stage design". It has some resemblance to what
All in all, a necessary venture and an experience to have, though you need strong nerves. Some traditional members of the audience left in the interval, but most stayed and applauded enthusiastically at the end.
For Buenos Aires Herald