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Zimmermann: Die Soldaten / Kontarsky, Ebbecke, Shade, Vargas, Cochran

Zimmermann / Shade / Vargas / Ebbecke
Release Date: 11/15/2011 
Label:  Teldec   Catalog #: 667080  
Composer:  Bernd Alois Zimmermann
Performer:  Klaus HirteNancy ShadeRaymond WolanskyMark Munkittrick,   ... 
Conductor:  Bernhard Kontarsky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart State OrchestraStuttgart State Theater Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The cruelty and stupidity of military men might seem an eminently proper subject for a modern opera. An opera in modern style combining such a topic with an element of romantic tragedy has less obvious appeal, and when it is based, not on a contemporary, tailor-made libretto, but on a drama as challenging and idiosyncratic as J.M.R. Lenz's Die Soldaten (1775), the task becomes still more formidable. Bernd Alois Zimmermann, himself a complex and ultimately tragic figure, tackled it in his first and only complete opera, and the result has been regularly performed in Germany, including a production at Stuttgart in the 1980s from which this studio recording derives.

Die Soldaten was begun in 1958, when Zimmeririann was 40, and
Read more completed two years later, but it was not staged until 1965, after extensive revision. Lenz was admired by Bflchner, the author of Wozzeck, and Zimmermann's music can be thought of as intensifying the expressionistic idiom of Berg's opera. Yet the greatness of Wozzeck stems from its unsparing portrayal of human tragedy, while the problem with Die Soldaten is its obsession with inhumanity. Berg achieves a perfect balance between forcefulness of expression and control of form: Zimmermann seems merely extravagant. Rightly convinced of the profound seriousness of his subject-matter, he failed to appreciate that economy and understatement can often be more effective transmitters of stark dramatic truth than sustained and extreme intensity. It may indeed be the case that only the sardonic detachment of a Weill or an Eisler could give Die Soldalen's mix of themes convincing dramatic life in the later twentieth century. Like Aribert Reimann in a more recent ultraexpressionist opera, Lear, Zimmermann seems unable to stand back, and the music's ideas are overwhelmed by its emotionalism.

If the expressionist clamour of Die Soldaten were totally unrelieved, it would bean unbearable disaster. In Act 3 Zimmermann does at least attempt a contrasting gentleness, a lyricism that allows some sense of positive human values to emerge. His medium is, of all things, a trio for female voices, and it would serve its purpose far more effectively did it not become over-heated so rapidly, leaving even singers as expert and dedicated as those in this performance straining and strident.Die Soldaten is an extremely visual opera, requiring a split set for its two principal locations. Collage-technique is prominent, and the multimedia display of Act 4 scene 1, with its three cinema-screens, comes across as little more than chaotic babel when heard but not seen. The recording wisely makes no attempt at extravagant spatial effects, and the conductor achieves miracles of co-ordination and textural clarification, aided by singers who on the whole are as strong musically as they are dramatically. Die So/dozen cannot simply be dismissed as a period piece, a monument to the extravagant, idealistic 1960s. But it is a problem piece, with a challenging subject which the composer lacked the experience and judgement to convert into an appropriately monumental piece of music theatre.

-- A.W., Gramophone [7/1991] Reviewing original release
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Works on This Recording

Die Soldaten by Bernd Alois Zimmermann
Performer:  Klaus Hirte (Baritone), Nancy Shade (Soprano), Raymond Wolansky (Baritone),
Mark Munkittrick (Bass), Milagro Vargas (Alto), William Cochran (Tenor),
Michael Ebbecke (Baritone), Urszula Koszut (Soprano)
Conductor:  Bernhard Kontarsky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart State Orchestra,  Stuttgart State Theater Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1958-1964 

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