Friday, July 18

Die Soldaten

Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s 1965 opera “Die Soldaten,” the story of a woman’s degradation at the hands of a series of heartless soldiers, has a prelude of such stupefying intensity that it stands for the moment as the ne plus ultra. The full orchestra sustains an enormous dissonance spread out over many octaves. Beneath it, the timpani pound out, “in iron rhythm,” the note D—perhaps a nod backward to “Don Giovanni.” The onslaught returns several times as the prelude unfolds, though it periodically gives way to a frenzy of competing voices: the trumpets tangle in independent rhythms, violins buzz around maniacally in their upper registers, the timpani repeatedly fall out of synch with the principal one-two pulse. The music is at once hyper-organized and deranged, a death machine that leaves chaos in its wake . . .

Before the music started, we were seated in bleachers, which rested on wheels at one end of an array of railroad tracks. When Steven Sloane, the conductor, gave the downbeat, the apparatus began gliding slowly across the vast expanse of the Armory’s Drill Hall. Five minutes later, we came to a halt at the far end of the space, more than two hundred feet away. As we moved, we passed the writhing orchestra, which was positioned on risers to the left; it was a bit like taking a hot-air-balloon ride over a volcanic eruption. [more]

-- Alex Ross "Infernal Opera" The New Yorker July 21, 2008
via Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise

I visited the preparations for this performance about a year ago in Bochum, an industrial town in the Ruhr valley of Germany. The town’s former steel foundries closed down one by one throughout the post-war decades, and the vast, empty hangers and steel buildings are being converted into cultural spaces, mainly for performance. I was there to perform in a former foundry, and the old gas power plant, Jahrhunderthalle (or, Hundred Year Hall) was being refitted for a production of Die Soldaten . . .

Given the shape of the hall, I suspect that the production team decided that an unconventional staging would work best. As one can surmise, building a stage at only one end of this massive building leaves much of the audience ridiculously far away. So, in keeping with Zimmerman’s dream of “total theater,” the team employed an innovative alternative. They built a ramp that ran the entire length of the space, and at one end there was bleacher seating on either side. In front of the bleachers were rails, and the idea was to move the audience alongside the runway and the action would take place in stages. The German government subsidizes theater with massive grants, and the public has grown accustomed to weird, massive, innovative productions — but this one was rare even in that world.

This staging was recreated in the Park Avenue Armory here in New York. [more]

-- David Byrne Modern Music - Die Soldaten
via The Standing Room


Iron Tongue of Midnight Compares and Contrasts

Sylvia Plachy's photographs: David Pountney’s staging of "Die Soldaten" slideshow

Bernd Alois Zimmermann

Bernd Alois Zimmermann at UbuWeb : Sound

David Pountney lecture: The Future of Opera (2000)

Sylvia Plachy at lensculture