The experience of seeing Gurre-Leider in a staged production is new. The absurdity of the content is not so fully conveyed in simple audio sound, nor indeed in concert performance. So, it is a phenomenon to be explored. Does this performance enrich, as other presentational forms not quite. Where it does not it distracts but leaves the viewer thinking about the characterisation. Dutch Opera production are usually provoking and innovative. This production certainly has these characteristics. It needs some effort to come to terms with. It will probably be more fully enjoyed after more watching.
What a wonderful idea to stage this marvellous and incredibly fascinating work. The music is beyond praise with its details and emotional surge, and the stageing is original and illustrative. Everyone is singing at their best, and the change of the speaker from a man to a woman works most effectively. If you are not aquainted with this indeed breathtaking music, please buy this version. It all makes sense, and the scenography is simple yet powerful, and when you reach the finale and the sunrise chorus, you have to be of stone not to have tears in your eyes.
Gurre-Lieder is a cantata – intended to be performed in concert. Here it is staged, apparently for the first time ever. It’s not easy to stage, as it’s not a “dramatic” work – there’s no action, just a series of solo narratives. So here the staging is more about displaying the characters in some kind of appropriate setting, rather than trying to contrive any action. For example, the murder of Tove is still only described by the Wood Dove – we don’t get to see it (although there are bloodstains).
The whole performance takes place within an outer framework of a ruined building, with various different bits of scenery appearing in the centre of the stage as the work progresses. The period is approximately that of the work’s creation, ie 1900-1911. At the start, King Waldemar and Tove appear on a large bed, and during the first few sections, they either sing from the bed, or wander around the stage in their night-clothes. During the first orchestral interlude, two small white-painted rooms appear. The Wood Dove sings most of her song in one of them, whilst Waldemar grieves in the other, which is covered in bloodstains – so presumably the scene of Tove’s murder. The Wood Dove is dressed in a very severe black dress with large black wings – more like the Angel of Death than a dove – but it’s a very striking image. The brief Part 2 takes place in a graveyard, then Part 3 in a bar. Waldemar’s men are presented as having risen from the dead, so their costumes are from an earlier period – I’d say mid-19th century. It’s all fairly straightforward, although there are a couple of oddities. Klaus-Narr is dressed all in white, including white face make-up, and is attached to a large white balloon. Also, during his section, a gigantic fish appears. He sings about eels coming on shore, but this is no eel – it reminded me of the Terror Fish in “Stingray”! To be honest, I’m not sure that the staging adds much insight to Gurre-Lieder, but I enjoyed it and I would have to say that it’s a lot more interesting than looking at a bunch of people in evening dress singing from behind music stands.
Musically it’s terrific. The cast is one of the strongest I have ever heard in this work. The part of Waldemar is very taxing, but Burkhard Fritz makes it sound almost easy. Emily Magee is a radiant Tove and Anna Larsson majestic as the Wood Dove. The chorus and orchestra are both superb. My only reservation is that the balance tends to prefer the orchestra over the singers which means that they sometimes get a bit swamped.
The sound and pictures are superb. Technical details: LPCM 2.0ch 48kHz/24-bit and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1ch 48kHz.
I really enjoyed this and recommend it wholeheartedly. At the time of writing, the only other Gurre-Lieder available on DVD is a concert performance by the BRSO under Mariss Jansons. I thought the quality of singing was better on the new version and also felt that the staging is a plus. The BRSO DVD doesn’t have any subtitles, which is somewhat irritating in such a “wordy” work.
Note that this release is also available on blu-ray, although for some reason Amazon is currently only listing the DVD. My review is actually of the blu-ray, which I bought elsewhere.