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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Picture Format: NTSC · 16:9 anamorphic
Sound Formats: PCM Stereo · Dolby Digital 5.1 · DTS 5.1
Region Code: 0
Subtitles: English, German, French
Booklet Notes: English, German, French
Running Time: 143 mins
The full title of Hans Werner Henze’s latest (and, he says, last) opera is The Hoopoe and the Triumph of Filial Love. Writing his own German libretto, Henze takes a Syrian fairy tale and develops it into an eclectic romp. While his title suggests a sequel to Fidelio, the main connection is to Die Zauberflöte, with Le rossignol, Tristan und Isolde, and La cenerentola thrown in. Confused yet? Like The Magic Flute, this is a serious, strongly moral tale set in
often-comic terms, but in this case, the two elements refuse to blend. The Old Man, a grand vizier sitting sentinel atop a cage-like tower, has lost his great love, a golden bird that fled when he attempted to possess it. He has sent his three sons on a long and dangerous quest to recover it; he finally grasps the enormity of sacrificing them to his personal whim. The two elder sons are villains, but Kasim is a pure soul. He meets his personal Demon along the way, and his goodness turns it into a devoted companion. Kasim finds Badi’at—his Pamina—captive to the tyrant Dijab, a role mixing Pasha Selim and Sarastro that is both spoken and sung at the bottom of the bass register. Kasim and Badi’at undergo a series of adventures (tests?), which include an anticipation of a Liebestod. Rescued by The Demon, they return the (silent) mechanical bird to Kasim’s father. The wicked brothers are exposed and condemned, but Badi’at pleads for their forgiveness, “an amnesty to celebrate our wedding.” All’s well that ends well, but does it? The Old Man and Badi’at are left scanning the horizon for Kasim’s return from yet another errand of mercy.
The music is less eclectic than the text, although one can hear occasional hints of Pétrouchka and Le sacre, along with touches of minimalism. L’upupa is also less complex than much of Henze’s œuvre, with simple vocal lines tailored to each character. Badi’at gets a few lyrical passages, Kasim’s music is noble and direct, and The Demon wails of its fate; the three join in a variety of duets and trios. The Old Man has a rather singsong bass line. The wicked brothers are a male alto and a baritone, their music scattered as wildly as their evil high jinks. The chorus has only an occasional line. The accompaniment is quite simple and brassy, while interludes during the many scene changes utilize the orchestra more fully, including a variety of percussion and at one point an overbearing organ.
The major roles are beautifully handled. Matthias Goerne’s sonorous baritone projects Kasim’s noble character strongly, while his physical appearance—a huge, strong man—is used to portray both innocence and guilelessness. Kasim is a clumsy, inexperienced wooer, but Badi’at sees through to his real character and loves him for it, even while pleading that he be careful not to break her bones in his passionate embraces. He is also able to lift her as easily and almost as gracefully as a ballet dancer when the action calls for it. Tenor John Mark Ainsley creates the most memorable character, the preening, whining, emotional, sensitive yet self-centered Demon, who cries out as Kasim applies a Band-Aid to a wound and yet becomes an angel of mercy. Not being human, The Demon is entrusted with the line “No wolf, no tiger, no viper knows such malice and deception as burns in men’s hearts.” Intentionally or not, Ainsley bears a striking resemblance to a younger Henze. Soprano Aiken appears late and has less to do, but she is always at least satisfactory, as is everyone else. The two brothers labor to be funny amid their evil shenanigans. Alto Axel Köhler portrays the simple-minded, childish one, yet he is made to look like a tough hoodlum, which would be more in character for his brutish, scheming sibling, sung by baritone Anton Scharinger. Conductor Markus Stenz leads the orchestra in a precise manner, but the video does not allow us to gauge how much he is responsible for the on-stage drama, or the lack of it.
Dieter Dorn’s direction keeps everything and everyone at arm’s length, reflexively observing themselves and their actions; this is certainly true to Henze’s text. Jürgen Rose’s staging is fully in sync with the direction; a great arch fills the proscenium; atop sits the cage-like cell from which the old man observes and comments. The actions of 14 scenes take place under the arch. A thrilling moment comes when The Demon prepares to fly Kasim off to strange lands, its paltry wings suddenly expanding to fill the arch. Another visually effective touch has Kasim discovering the sleeping Badi’at inside a giant red poppy. The ubiquitous Brian Large directs the video production; his camera often takes us beyond the arch for close-ups, but each scene opens and returns to full stage and to the arch. The camera leads us into the pit of the Kleines Festspielhaus for the interludes, but its single location and unvarying shot let us see only the conductor and a small portion of the orchestra. The Vienna Philharmonic executes everything to perfection; is it just my imagination that its members give off a puzzled air: “Why are we doing this?”
Video and audio quality are all that could be desired. Picture format is NTSC 16:9 anamorphic. The disc format is listed as DVD 9, but I don’t know what that means. As is becoming common, after the powers that be paid a lot of lawyers fees and engineering expenses to develop the concept and techniques of exclusive region codes, this one is zero (worldwide). A simple main menu leads to root menus for choosing among 13 chapters (including final credits), subtitles (English, French, German, or none), and audio format (PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, or DTS 5.1). No extras are provided.
James H. North, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
L'upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe by Hans Werner Henze
Matthias Goerne (Baritone),
Alfred Muff (Baritone),
John Mark Ainsley (Tenor)
Vienna State Opera Chorus,
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Date of Recording: 8/2003
Venue: Kleines Festpielhaus, Salzburg
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
A splendid performance of an engaging and delight November 17, 2012
By John Plant (Head of Jeddore, NS) See All My Reviews
"Henze's last opera, a delightful and moving fantasy about filial love, romantic love and friendship in an Arabian setting, receives an amazingly inventive, beautiful, and absorbing staging in this Salzburg production. In the opening scenes, the dense atonality of the vocal writing may discourage some listeners, but if you persevere you will be amply rewarded: the most lyrical passages occur during the second half of the opera, and they're well worth waiting for. Dieter Korn's staging, and Jurgen Rose's utterly magical sets, frame a performance with no weak links. Particularly striking are Goerne's Kasim, the fabled youngest son - his clumsy open-heartedness is endearingly portrayed, and his beautifully burnished baritone is a joy to hear; and tenor John Mark Ainsley, whose performance in the demanding role of the Demon is mercurial, scintillating, and ultimately very moving. This is an opera clearly written from the heart, consistently engaging, personal and deeply felt. Henze's libretto is brilliant and profound. The subtle, prismatic, gorgeous orchestral writing is in the more than capable hands of the Vienna Philharmonic. This is a must for anyone interested in contemporary opera."