Franz Schreker Die Gezeichneten from the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher, easily the most rewarding full performance ever. Metzmacher gets Schreker – revealing his modernity and originality. There are many kinds of "modern". The idea that 20th-century music can only be atonal/tonal, or dissonant /romantic, is nonsense, a notion compounded by audiences who don't actually listen, but think through preconception. Schreker was a highly original composer, very much a man attuned to the creative ferment of his time, fuelled as it was by new ideas and social change. Die Gezeichneten flows from the same Zeitgeist that produced Freud, Expressionism, modern art and literature. In the libretto, Schreker makes a wry dig at Puccini and Strauss, meaning, I think, Johann rather than Richard, for Die Gezeichneten has a lot in common with Die Frau ohne Schatten. Both operas, written at the same time and premiered within a year of each other, explore the nature of creative art through a lens of morbid psychology, which is a theme which runs through much of Schreker's work. Directed by Kryzsztof Warlikowski, this production is musically sensitive and well informed, and also connects the opera to other currents in art and society in its time. This Die Gezeichneten goes a long way to restoring Schreker's true status in cultural history.
Metzmacher conducts the Vorspiel so the surging pulse heaves, as if propelled by ocean tides. Salvago's Elysium is an island, as isolated as the man himself, surrounded by currents beyond his control. The moon controls tides. The image of the moon appears in the libretto, intensified by musical figures that describe darkness and flickering light. To the Greeks, the moon symbolized Athena, the goddess of art. For Goethe, the moon symbolized chastity, inspired by his patroness, the Duchess of Weimar. As the Vorspeil proceeds, we see Salvago (John Daszak) , his head covered by a bag, looking towards an orb of white light that dominates the darkened stage. Later, when Carlotta (Catherine Nagelstad) is seduced, the orb turns red (as described in the text).
Die Frau ohne Schatten territory, or rather the world of surreal symbolism that fascinated a generation familiar with Classical antiquity, discovering psychology and Jungian archetypes. Clips of silent movies appear behind the action. Scenes from Der Golem, and Frankenstein, where a "monster" shows tenderness to a little girl, then scenes from The Phantom of the Opera and Nosferatu where the "monster" isn't benign. Thus Warlikowski makes connections between Die Gezeichneten and other Schreker operas, with other cultural memes which confront sexuality and fear.
Warlikowski doesn't need to show Carlotta with paintbrush and easel. Her painting exists in her soul. Does she love her creation more than reality? Why does he pull back, paralyzed with inhibition, when his wildest dreams come true as she declares her love ? Why does she, too, pull back on the eve of their wedding ? Does she intuit that their relationship will be sterile due to his inhibitions ? Does she respond to Tamaro because he's sexual, or because he has the courage Salvago lacks? Christopher Maltman, as Tamaro, is a hunk. Salvago lives in his head, while Tamaro lives in his body. He doesn't like mirrors because they make him face himself. But can he escape? Warlikowski's staging (sets by Malgorzala Szczesniak) hints as what is not said. Mirrors, often distorted, appear now and again, sometimes as physical mirrors, sometimes as subsidiary characters like Mattuccia (Heike Grotzinger) and Pietro (Dean Power), usually roles so small they don't get attention, but which exist for a reason. Salvago isn't the only person trapped in games in the guise of service to others. A wonderful touch - Metzmacher himself is glimpsed on stage from time to time, reflected in the mirrors.
In this production, Salvago's spoken monologue is included, which makes a difference since it shows how he reflects on his own condition though he can't break out of it. Though he didn't rape women, he is morally culpable by making the violence possible,. Extremely moving, especially since Daszak delivered it with great dignity.
Schreker writes an angelus into the music before the party. Angels appear on stage, but angels dressed in nude suits. They (male and female) are supposed to resemble showgirls but they dance so deftly en pointe that they're clearly ballet dancers with great technique. The wedding guests are prissy: they don't like nakedness but sex is all around. Later a voluptuous stripper bumps and grinds beside Salvago, who doesn't notice. Either he's too uptight or he can't see the beauty beneath her poundage. Eventually, like so many others before her in this production, she ends up inert, in a display case, unused.
Die Gezeichneten, skilfully blended together, Warlikowski's silent movie clips and business suits extend what is already in the opera, though few productions come as close to its true spirit. Altogether, the finest Die Gezeichneten that I can imagine, full of detail and sensitive to music and meaning. Bayerische Staatsoper productions don't usually make it to DVD, but the audio recording to get is the one on right HERE. Lothar Zagrosek, DSO Berlin from the Decca Entartete Musik series, which is the benchmark reference. Outstanding, and even Matthias Goerne (aged 26) in a minor role.
Please see my other articles on Schreker, Braunfels and others (including Strauss), and on silent film and Weimar.