Notes and Editorial Reviews
Directed for Stage by Nikolaus Lehnhoff
Picture Format: NTSC · 16:9 anamorphic
Sound Formats: PCM Stereo · Dolby Digital 5.1 · DTS 5.1
Region Code: 0 (all)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish
Booklet Notes: English German, French
Running Time: 137 mins
R E V I E W S
Schreker’s opera is set in Renaissance Genoa, but it’s only an ostensible location. The work is about the emotions of its people, and especially those of its hero, Alviano Salvago. So while this production overlays a German Expressionistic aesthetic on Die Gezeichneten, realism doesn’t suffer. The opera was never about external reality; nor was its content, doubly
Schreker’s, as he wrote both music and words. The costuming, stage design, and direction will take some getting used to, but this is a production that in the end does justice to the composer’s excellent efforts.
Lehnhoff’s direction isn’t conventional. Instead of possessing a hump, which makes him an ugly outsider among his fellow Genoese, Salvago is here given to crossdressing in private. His friends, a bunch of dissipated aristocrats who use Salvago’s private island for orgies with middle class women (here portrayed as prepubescent girls), mostly reveal sexual overtones in their appearances. Every named character wears black, save Salvago— you should excuse the pun—who, towards the end, wears white: black leather for the aristocrats, black dominos and capes for the celebration scene. The set itself is a broken and eroding female statue, sprawling at length across the stage’s nearly 130 feet. No papier-mâché effort, this, as sections of it are repeatedly used by cast members playing out their scenes. Only in act III is a new element added to the mix, when—in order to simulate the celebration scene—an enormous tiered backdrop like a series of opera boxes, slate blue without and burning orange-brown within, appears for the use of the aristocrats. After so much intimacy (and it feels intimate despite the huge, crumbling statue, so well-directed is each scene), the sudden reversion to public rejoicing and its physical equivalent has a brilliant effect—like so many looming elements of darkness waiting to swoop down on the unfortunate Salvago.
The blatant suggestion of sexual aberration works in general, given the miasma Schreker deliberately projected on Genoa as a deliberate projection of his own time. I’m not quite sure it always works in detail in this production, however. In the original setting, Salvago remains blissfully ignorant of his friends’ sexual escapades on his island, because he never goes there, and that’s reasonable enough. But Salvago’s crossdressing friends are coiffured to suggest they could trade fashion tips with Elton John. Why, then, should he fear public exposure when those closest to him openly share some aspect of it?
That noted, this remains an impressive staging of Die Gezeichneten, and a brave one in light of the overwhelming triumph of fourth-wall-removed “naturalism” in the last hundred years. It adds an element of visual fever to one of Schreker’s finest scores, and furnishes a suitable artistic counterpoint to his coruscating orchestration.
The cast is generally strong, though Brubaker’s virtuosic performance is compromised occasionally by minor difficulty in the upper register. Schwanewilms gives 120 percent in her energy and portrayal, while Volle’s dark voice is extremely impressive. All the singers of the largest to the smallest roles were obviously coached extensively in their parts. Nagano conducts a reading of great definition and commitment.
The camerawork, alas, is only average, which is to say, it’s good of its type, but clearly wasn’t arranged through an elaborate shooting script before filming. There are too many instances of the image following a minor activity on stage while interest is elsewhere, or of a close-up or medium shot being applied when the long shot or a deep-angled one would have been more appropriate at that moment. Really, a production that’s as distinctive as this one deserved something more atmospheric and closer in intent to Lehnhoff’s work.
The picture format is 16:9 anamorphic, while PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS 5.1 sound formats are offered. You also have a choice of English, German, French, and Spanish subtitles. There are no extra features, aside for some written comments on the production. There isn’t even a written synopsis, much less a context-setting essay on the European arts in the first couple of decades of the 20th century. That won’t stop fans of Schreker, of course, nor should it. This is one production where the stage director’s editorializing was faithfully done in the spirit of both the period and the composer, with excellent results.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Die Gezeichneten by Franz Schreker
Wolfgang Schöne (Bass),
Michael Volle (Baritone),
Robert Hale (Baritone),
Anne Schwanewilms (Soprano),
Robert Brubaker (Tenor)
Berlin Deutsches Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1913-1915; Vienna, Austria
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