Anti-nazi Till Eulenspiegel opera on stage


This 2018 classical music video says about itself:

Jan van Gilse – Thijl (1940)

Jan Pieter Hendrik van Gilse (Rotterdam, 1881 – Oegstgeest, 1944)

Thijl, dramatic legend in a prologue, three acts and an epilogue on a libretto by Hendrik Lindt (1940)

This summer (2018), a new performance of Thijl is staged in Soest, the Netherlands. For more information, see www.thijl2018.nl.

Parts:

Overture (0:00)
Act I (1:27)
Act II (1:02:43)
Act III (2:00:45)
Epilogue (2:45:49)

Recording of the World Premiere on June 5, 1980 at the Circustheater, Scheveningen (as part of the Holland Festival)

After that first time, the opera would not be on stage again. Until this year. It is said to be the biggest Dutch opera ever written.

Performers:

John Bröcheler – Thijl
Guus Hoekman – Lamme Goedzak
Thea van der Putten – Nele
Peter van der Bilt – De Uil [the owl, symbol of jester/freedom fighter Thijl]/ Balladezanger
Amsterdams Philharmonisch Orkest Nederlands Operakoor
Conductor: Anton Kersjes

Images:

I have included images relating to Van Gilse’s life, and the tropes that underlie this opera (aside from the story of Thijl Uilenspiegel, obviously). The first act contains photographs from the places where Van Gilse lived and worked: Berlin, Utrecht, and Leiden (Oegstgeest). The second act shows scenes from the conquest of Den Briel by the Watergeuzen, a band of marine marauders in the service of the Dutch uprising against the Spanish in the 16th Century, a motive often exploited in the name of Dutch nationalism. The third act and epilogue, finally, illustrates the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War, a strong undercurrent in Van Gilse’s final works (Thijl and the “Rotterdam” cantata).

The hero of this opera is Till Eulenspiegel, a ‘fool‘/jester known from 16th century German stories. Under the 16th century Dutch name Thyl Ulenspiegel (modern Dutch: Tijl Uilenspiegel), 19th century Belgian author Charles De Coster made him famous as a freedom fighter against 16th century Spanish absolute monarchical rule in the Low Countries, born in Damme town.

20th century Belgian author Hugo Claus wrote a theatre play based on De Coster’s Ulenspiegel book. Van Gilse’s opera is based on De Coster’s book as well.

Translated from the site about the 2018 performance of Thijl:

Thijl takes place at the beginning of the Eighty Years’ War. Thijl emerges as an enthusiastic but naive idealist. In an exuberant mood, Thijl sings on the Damme market a satirical song in which he ridicules the Spanish ruler Philip II and the pope. A collaborator betrays him, hoping to claim Thijl’s legacy share as a reward. Thijl escapes, but his father is caught instead.

The execution of his father drives Thijl towards resistance ….

The musical creator of Thijl was an idealist in heart and soul. Just like Thijl, he opposed injustice and unfreedom wherever he could. Jan van Gilse (1881-1944) started his musical career in Germany, but in the Netherlands he became conductor of the Utrechts Stedelijk Orkest and director of the Utrecht conservatory. …

Thijl’s theme can not be seen separately from Jan van Gilse’s personal struggle for free speech and against the intolerant society that the Nazis aimed at. Van Gilse left Germany in 1933, following the election victory of Hitler. When the war broke out in the Netherlands and the Germans took over the government, Van Gilse took the lead in resistance. …

Van Gilse, who had not appeared in public since the 1941 general ban on Jews visiting public places, had to go into hiding. From his hiding addresses he remained one of the leaders of the artists’ resistance, and together with his son Janric set up the resistance magazine De Vrije Kunstenaar, which appeared in a monthly edition of 3,000 copies. Both sons of Van Gilse were executed for their resistance, and Van Gilse did not survive the war either. He died in 1944. …

The opera Thijl was Van Gilse’s last work. He completed it in 1941, and dedicated it to “To the fighters for justice and freedom.” He took the handwritten score with him to all his hiding addresses. Shortly before his death, his wife Ada van Gilse added at his request: “.. and to my boys who lost their lives for this justice”.

This 2017 music video shows a performance in Utrecht city of the song from Thijl ‘Slaet op den Trommele’.

Review of Thijl: here.

New York City exhibit examines the creation of Verdi’s last two operas: here.

Dutch opera director not to USA because of Trump


This video says about itself:

21 August 2015

Take a behind the scenes look at the Nederlandse Reisopera (Dutch Touring Opera) production of Orphée et Eurydice.

In just one day, the Source Four® LED Series 2 Lustr® luminaries with asymmetric Source Four LED CYC adapters were rigged and focused, lit the show, and were derigged.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Director Nicolas Mansfield of the Dutch Touring Opera company from Enschede will not travel to the United States for now. He disagrees with the Trump policies and therefore will stay as a matter of principle out of the country.

“As long as Muslims are not welcome there, I do not feel welcome,” Mansfield told RTV Oost broadcasting organisation. The artistic director had plans to visit an operatic convention in Dallas in May, but has canceled the trip. …

“I will not bring one euro of Dutch tax money to the US as long as that man will be in power,” Mansfield says.

New opera on World War I butchery


This video series from Wales is about the new opera In Parenthesis.

By David Nicholson in Britain:

Superb commemoration of Somme slaughter

Thursday 19th May 2016

In Parenthesis
Millennium Centre, Cardiff
4/5

NEW operas are rare events and even rarer are ones that are as good as In Parenthesis.

Eagerly anticipated, it’s being staged both to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Welsh National Opera and mark the centenary of the slaughter at the Battle of the Somme.

Iain Bell’s moving and visceral new opera about the great war, based on Welsh poet David Jones’s epic poem, is an ambitious project, with WNO director David Pountney, Emma Jenkins and David Antrobus’s libretto combining to brilliant effect with Bell’s music.

Through the eyes of tenor Andrew Bidlack’s Private John Ball, we watch a band of Welsh soldiers embark for France, journey to the horror of the trenches and perish in the final bloody battle at Mametz Wood.

Under the assured direction of David Pountney, aided by set designer Robert Innes Hopkins, this is a brilliantly staged production that captures the terror and claustrophobic atmosphere of a troop ship and the trenches of northern France.

But, as ever with the WNO, it is the sublime choral singing that pulls all the strands together. They are a perfect match for the drama of the reckless death of young men, in which Mark Le Brocq as a convincingly gruff sergeant and George Humphreys as a sensitive and caring young lieutenant take the acting honours.

The cafe scene before the men move off to the Somme is a thrilling highlight as the brilliant Welsh song Sosban Fach is sung with all the power at the disposal of the WNO.

The mythic return to the earth of the slaughtered band of Royal Welsh Fusiliers is touchingly realised by the nymphs who haunt Mametz Wood.

It’s a superb rendition by the women’s chorus who, dressed in an abundance of foliage and twigs, return the torn and bloodied bodies of Ball’s fallen comrades to the earth. Their heavenly singing moved many of the opening night audience to tears.

In Parenthesis ticks every box when it comes to music, acting and production values, though whether Bell’s opera will still be performed in years to come is the real acid test.

But this is a production to go and see now. As a sensitive, moving and visceral portrayal of the horror of war, it is a superb evening of pure theatre.

At the Millennium Centre until June 3, then tours until July 1, box office: wno.org.uk.

Opera about Holocaust in New York City


This video from the USA is called Houston Grand Opera’s “The Passenger“.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

By Fred Mazelis in the USA:

The Passenger depicts the Holocaust and its aftermath in opera form

25 July 2014

Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s 1968 opera The Passenger recently had its New York premiere as part of the annual Lincoln Center Festival. The performances showed that this challenging work, dealing with the Holocaust and its aftermath, deserves a permanent place in the operatic repertoire.

Weinberg, born in Warsaw in 1919, narrowly escaped the Nazi invasion of Poland, arriving in the Soviet Union before his 20th birthday. His parents and younger sister were sent to the Lodz Ghetto and later perished in a concentration camp. Weinberg, who lived the remaining 56 years of his life in the USSR, was a prolific composer of symphonies, string quartets, operas and film music. Among his film scores was that for the award-winning The Cranes Are Flying.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg

(Interestingly, one of Weinberg’s cousins, following the Russian Revolution, was the secretary of the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Baku Soviet commune and was executed by counterrevolutionary forces in September 1918 along with the other 26 Baku commissars.)

In eight scenes over two acts, The Passenger tells the story of a prosperous German couple in the early 1960s, Liese and Walter, who have embarked on an ocean voyage to Brazil, where the husband, a West German diplomat, is to take up a new post.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

In the midst of what should be a time of satisfaction and happy anticipation, however, Liese observes a mysterious passenger onboard, and becomes convinced that this is in fact Marta, who as a young Polish woman was an inmate of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Liese was an Auschwitz guard, something she has tried to leave behind and suppress psychologically, and has never even spoken about to her husband.

The opera, with a libretto by Alexander Medvedev and music by Weinberg, then compellingly develops the theme of the Holocaust and its aftermath. The action takes place on two levels, both in its staging and in its time frame. The upper level is the ship itself, including Liese and Walter’s private cabin. Stairs lead to a lower level, the concentration camp barracks and the railroad tracks leading to the camp. The scenes alternate, forcefully depicting the memories that increasingly haunt Liese as the story progresses.

We are soon introduced to Marta as a young concentration camp inmate. Her fellow prisoners include Tadeusz, Marta’s beloved, whom she finds after a separation of two years. Liese is the only character that appears on both levels of the opera, with the events of nearly 20 years earlier clearly seared into her memory. In her role as a camp guard, she threatens and taunts the prisoners, and in particular tries to take advantage of Marta and Tadeusz’s relationship for her own purposes.

The work explores the issue of the aftermath of the Holocaust, for both victims and perpetrators. The Passenger is set in the early 1960s, in the midst of the postwar economic boom in Germany, and also in the shadow of the Eichmann trial in Israel, which brought the issue of the Holocaust and its architects before a new generation of Germans as well as to a global audience. A generation of young people in Germany, as elsewhere, were radicalized by the war in Vietnam in particular as the 1960s unfolded and attempted to come to terms as well with their own traumatic national history. This was the period that saw the publication of some of the best-known novels of German writers such as Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll, as well as the first films of Rainer Maria Fassbinder, Volker Schlöndorff and others.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

The historical issues are deliberately not spelled out in The Passenger. The story is presented without even settling the issue of whether the mysterious woman is in fact Marta, or perhaps only the vivid reflection of Liese’s guilty conscience.

The opera also does not portray Liese as a kind of stand-in for Germany as a whole, a symbol of collective guilt. It does, however, show the impossibility of ignoring the past. It raises the inevitable issues of the causes of the descent into barbarism. The portrayal of both the younger and middle-aged Liese suggests the self-satisfied layer of the middle class that finds itself, under definite social and political conditions, capable of the most monstrous crimes.

The opera is based on a novel by a Polish concentration camp survivor, Zofia Posmysz. Posmysz, alive and well at the age of 90, has been involved in the belated production of the opera, and appeared at the New York premiere.

Arrested as a young girl because of an association with an anti-Nazi group, Posmysz spent three years as a prisoner. Some years later, as a journalist on assignment in Paris, she thought she saw someone who had been a guard at Auschwitz. This episode led first to a radio play, which was later turned into a novel, in which the relationship is reversed, with a conscience-stricken former guard believing she has glimpsed a former inmate.

The novel became enormously popular in Poland. This was a time of political ferment following the working class protests in Poznan in 1956. The book was turned into a film— Passenger (1963)—by the talented young Polish director Andrzej Munk (Man on the Tracks, 1956), completed by colleagues after Munk’s untimely death in an auto accident in 1961. Somewhat later, Weinberg’s close friend and colleague Dmitri Shostakovich urged him to consider a project based on the novel.

Weinberg’s music is impressive, as we have had occasion to note in the past. It reflects his lifelong association with Shostakovich, whom he first met in 1943, when he was only 23 years old and Shostakovich himself was 13 years older. Highly dissonant at times, the score remains tonal and emotionally involving. The composer is especially effective in combining and alternating several styles while still adhering to a distinctive musical language.

The influence of Shostakovich is clear, but the music is not derivative. Weinberg depicts the growing apprehension and panic of Liese, the concern of her husband for his career prospects, and above all the suffering and heroism of the prisoners. The music is at times anguished, jazz-influenced in its depiction of some of the shipboard activities, and briefly but strongly lyrical in the reunion of Marta and Tadeusz.

If there is one major weakness, it is in the vocal writing itself. In an opera, this is of course an issue that can’t be overlooked. There were times, especially in the opera’s first act, when an emphasis on orchestral writing, and an imbalance between the orchestra and performers, tended to detract from the dramatic action. The second act was more affecting, especially the exchanges between Marta, Tadeusz and Liese.

Both Marta and Tadeusz resist Liese’s attempts to enlist their cooperation, even though it will mean their deaths. A high point of this act, and the climax of the entire opera, comes when Tadeusz, a violinist, is commanded to play the camp commandant’s favorite waltz, and instead defiantly performs the famous Bach Chaconne from the Second Partita for Violin, before being led off to his death.

Weinberg’s orchestration is masterful. Strings and winds are joined by powerful writing for the brass section, and above all, a percussion section that includes almost every imaginable instrument, including timpani, triangle, tambourine, whip, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, bells and glockenspiel.

The Houston Grand Opera production was also striking. Director David Pountney was responsible for the English translation of the libretto. The opera, originally presented in Austria in 2010, was staged in Houston last winter, and it is the Houston production, including the orchestra under Patrick Summers, that was brought to New York for three performances. The opera was first presented in Moscow in concert version in 2006, nearly 40 years after it was written.

The New York performances took place in the historic Park Avenue Armory, in a building dating to 1880 and for decades the headquarters of the 7th New York Militia Regiment, which had fought in the Civil War. The huge vaulted space of the Drill Hall, at the center of this building, is a music venue unlike any other in New York. The size of the space made some amplification of the voices necessary, a rare occurrence in the opera world. In this case it was carried off in so understated and effective a fashion that some listeners would not even have been aware of it. Although the opera was sung in English, the use of supertitles was also effective, as was the unusual placement of the orchestra, to the side of the two-tiered set.

The singers were uniformly excellent, particularly soprano Melody Moore as Marta. Tadeusz was sung by Morgan Smith, Katya by Kelly Kaduce, Liese by mezzo soprano Michelle Breedt and Walter by tenor Joseph Kaiser.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg is one of the “lost composers” of the twentieth century. Strictly speaking, he is not of the generation that came of age musically between the imperialist world wars, or whose career was interrupted by the rise of fascism during those decades, including some promising composers who perished in the Holocaust. Although Weinberg was younger and had a full musical career, the environment in which he worked was shaped by the tragedies of this era.

In connection with the belated appearance of The Passenger, little has been said about why it languished in obscurity for decades. Shostakovich was enormously taken by the work, but for reasons that were not spelled out, it was not staged, although many other works of Weinberg were regularly performed in the Soviet Union.

The Stalinist regime, which still used a heavy hand in cultural matters in this period, may have decided that an opera that focused on concentration camps and dealt with Polish victims did not mesh with its own continuous efforts to build up nationalist feelings. The authorities decreed that emphasis had always to be placed on the Russian and Soviet toll in the war, which of course was massive, to the exclusion of others. It was for this reason that Shostakovich encountered such official opposition to his 13th Symphony, subtitled “Babi Yar,” dedicated to the Jewish victims of Nazi extermination at this site in Kiev.

Weinberg’s life was shaped in no small part by horrific Nazi barbarism on the one hand, and the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution on the other. While he and many others found refuge in the Soviet Union, they also confronted the regime of the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy, which used anti-Semitism for its own purposes.