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Schreker: Die Gezeichneten [DVD] 
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Nikolaus Lehnhoff's production of Franz Schreker's three-act opera, recorded live at the opening of the Salzburg Festival in 2005. Kent Nagano leads the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, with soloists including Anne Schwanewilms, Robert Brubaker, Robert Hale and Michael Volle.
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Like Zemlinsky and Korngold, Schreker had Jewish origins and his career was largely derailed by the rise of antisemitism under the Nazis. His music subsequently sunk into a long period of obscurity, not helped by his early death aged 55 in 1934. However, Schreker's reputation has been gradually improving over the last couple of decades and it is excellent that Euroarts have released this performance of "Die Gezeichneten", recorded at the Salzburg Festival in 2005.
The first thing to say is that the opera receives a sumptuous and evocative performance by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Kent Nagano. Incidentally, the same orchestra performed in the Decca recording under Zagrosek in the 1990s, and that recording, like this one, was sponsored by ZDF. (Perhaps there is someone in the German television company who is a Schreker fan.) If anything, Nagano's performance is even more impressive than the Zagrosek one. I also thought the performances of the American tenor Robert Brubaker and the German soprano Anne Schwanewilms were excellent. Their performance of the duet between Alviano and Carlotta at the end of Act 1 is exquisitely beautiful.
What the booklet note neglects to mention is that this staging involves a cut version of the opera. Some 4 minutes is missing from Act 1 and over 20 minutes from the first half of Act 3.Read more ›
Why must euro-producers meddle so. The music and the libretto talk of enchanting grottos, golden sunsets and other idealised sumptuous visuals. But what do we see? A vast fallen Grecian statue and what looks like the exterior of the Colisseum. Everyone is dressed in mourning - sci-fi black vinyl garments like something out of Dune - and all the men have ludicrous long blonde Teutonic hair. I do believe the setting is meant to be 16th Century Genoa.
It doesn't make much sense to buy a DVD and then play it with your eyes shut, so it must be the better option to get a CD of Die Gezeichneten. The singing and orchestral accompaniment are delicious, but the production is just too drab to watch more than once.
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By the end of the 12 minute prelude I was down to 4 stars. Alviano, the main protagonist of this fascinating opera, is alone on stage for the 12 minutes, making himself up and wearing woman's clothes, (close-up, wide shot, close-up, wide shot....), but at least the music didn't drag! (Nagano, as on his recent 'Le Coq d'Or' DVD, on terrific form). Comparing timings for several identical sections on the CD and DVD, Nagano is quite 'spacious', but comparing the total timing, I found that the Decca CD set has 25 minutes more music, - (The Act I Prelude for example: Nagano 12 minutes, Zagrosek 10), so the actual cuts may total 30 minutes or more, given the latter's generally faster speeds. Also the complete 'pantomime' section in Act III is cut....come on Salzburg, you can afford it!
Quite a bit of 'sub-plot' is missing, and in the main part of Act II when Carlotta is supposedly painting the 'hideous humpback' Alviano, which is what causes her to fall in love with him, there is nary an easel in sight, - instead she is slowly removing all the feminine items of apparel from him until he is left wearing a body stocking, - (any of her sung references to how Alviano should be posing also subject to cuts).
There's no space here to recount the plot, but the same set serves all three acts, quite adequately for the first two, but for Act III which takes place on Alviano's island, in a grotto after an orgy, well, 'here we are again!' The orgy is over, but I think I'll look for my orgies elsewhere, thanks. (Whoever is the main Salzburg body-stocking retailer has probably taken a very comfortable early retirement!)
I'm a great admirer of Lehnhoff's Janacek DVDs from Glyndebourne, but although this isn't one of those 'Konzept' productions that blindly ignores the music, it's symptomatic that when Alviano, looking more and more like Elton John in his baggy, shiny white, modern suit, kills his rival, it's with a revolver. And for an opera in part about the 'artist's place in society', the choral contributions from the Genoese crowd have been reduced to a minimum.
Wonderful music, beautifully played, crisp 16:9 pictures, good singing from most if not all the cast, - by all means try it, - but listen to the Decca CD set (from their 'Entartete Musik' series), and let your imagination do the rest.
First off I read the comments posted regarding the cutting of around twenty minutes of the score. I gather that most of cuts are instrumental and given Schreker's great mastery of orchestration it is a pity that these cuts were made. Additionally I would have preferred a more conventional representation. I usually have enjoyed Lenhoff's productions of Lohengrin and Parsifal, but the libretto of the opera under consideration is not a model of clarity given the changes made, e.g., Salvago's cross dressing. On the basis of one viewing I see no sense other than it gives the artist something to do.
The vocal line is not one that Schreker is inspired to invest much in the way of melody although repeated viewings may change my feeling in this area. Even Richard Strauss at his most arid moments brought more to his operas than Schreker, while they both share a mastery of opulence and orchestral beauty. Of course the story is not one that would appeal to Strauss, but I think his (Schreker's) inability to come up with some vocally memorable "tunes" will keep this opera from ever entering the repertoire of most companies; hence, a festival such as Salzburg will probably remain its sole venue. Perhaps Munich or Berlin would also consider it.
I confess that one of the main reasons I was intersted in acquiring the set for was for Schwanewilms; her recording of the View Letze Lieder is quite beautiful. Alas Schreker has not given her any moments of transcendent beauty, but then that is a fault he shares with the remainder of the artists, all of whom are superior singing actors.
Even though DVD's have been with us a short time, it is now quite easy to end up of multiples of many works, and I am guilty already of this. I am interested in hearing other works from composers (for whatever reason) who have been given short shrift from opera houses and recording companies and the DVD is an ideal medium of enlarging the experience of seeing works that one has only read about--many times as only a footnote. For this reason I would probably invest in a DVD of Der Ferne Klang.