In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Hamburg State Opera cooperated with Polyphon and NDR to make a series of thirteen films for television of assorted operas. They are all available as a boxed set called Cult Operas of the 1970s but one or two of them are also available separately. One such is a 1968 recording of Weber’s Der Freischütz. It was directed for film/TV by Rolf Liebermann and recorded in the studio using the HSO’s stage production. I think the action is lip synched to a pre-recorded soundtrack (normal practice at the time) but I’m not sure.
The New American Art Song is a CD of, unsurprisingly, American art songs. Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch is accompanied by the composers in four contrasting sets. The first set is Quiet Lives by Ricky Ian Gordon; eight songs setting texts by various poets. The music is tonal with occasional elements of minimalism but overall a bit of a retro “piano lounge” feel that didn’t particularly excite me.
Second up were two songs, Of Gods and Cats, by Jake Heggie to texts by Gavin Geoffrey Gillard. These are sly, witty, jazzy and much more contemporary sounding. Much more musically inventive too. It’s easy to see why Heggie is in the upper tier of contemporary American composers. The disc also has a bonus Heggie song; a setting of Browning’s Grow Old Along With Me, that I really liked.
In 2010 Berg’s Wozzeck was produced in Russia for the first time since 1927. The production, at the Bolshoi, was directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov. Few people familiar with his work will be surprised to learn that Tcherniakov does not see Wozzeck as a down trodden and impoverished soldier. In fact he doesn’t see him as downtrodden and impoverished at all (unlike, say Calixto Bieito who transplants the action to a chemical plant but leaves the power relationships pretty much intact). Rather, Wozzeck is a sort of 21st century salaryman leading a life of modest prosperity but crushing boredom with Marie and their son in a city inhabited entirely by other such families. What’s missing is anything that resembles sensation or “life”.
In 1970 Rolf Liebermann took the assembled forces of the Hamburg State Opera down to a castle in South Germany and made a film of Berg’s Wozzeck. The production is pretty literal. It’s set in Austria in the late 19th century and everything plays out very literally per the libretto but it’s far from being a routine or dull reading. A combination of brilliant conducting, slightly over the top acting, pointing up the Expressionist elements in the music and really good cinematography make this a very tense, creepy and claustrophobic experience. It’s simultaneously rather repellent and hard to watch and deeply engaging. Continue reading →