Andriessen's Theatre of the World conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw

Album title:
Theatre of the World
Leigh Melrose, Lindsay Kesselman, Steven van Watermeulen, Mattijs van de Woerd, Marcel Beekman, Cristina Zavalloni; Los Angeles Philharmonic/Reinbert de Leeuw
Catalogue Number:
BBC Music Magazine

Louis Andriessen has never been one to waste his prodigious intellectual resources on ephemera or the incidental. Since bursting onto the world stage in the 1970s with an ebulliently aggressive, Marx- and bebop-inspired minimalism, his palette has further expanded to embrace a cornucopia of styles; often within the same piece, but seamlessly integrated and focused like a laser on profound questions of humanity. 

Theatre of the World (2015) seems to pick up where La Commedia (2008) – Andriessen’s last, Dantean opera – left off: with grotesque, ironic visions of hell. There is no narrative in the usual sense, but a series of tableaux featuring the Jesuit, Athanasius Kircher (1601-80), whose determination to summarise and link all contemporary knowledge to Catholicism inspired him to equally extraordinary feats of scholarship and charlatanism.

What is truth and what fiction? And what does posterity’s view of Kircher tell us about knowledge itself? This live recording, with an exemplary cast and Los Angeles Philharmonic on brilliant form under conductor Reinbert de Leeuw, captures the gruesome, morbid melancholy of a Faustian pact – but with key glimmers of beauty via the mystic Sor Juana (Cristina Zavalloni); a Mexican 
nun and scholar/poet whom Kircher (Leigh Melrose) finds erotically ‘affecting’.

Sonic gargoyles and cod-science entwine in smoke and mirrors – and multiple languages – as the Boy (Lindsay Kesselman) turns out to be the Devil, and Pope Innocent (Marcel Beekman) a nincompoop. Boogie-woogie witches and a cheesy romance lend cruel, 
parodic twists to a penetrating scrutiny of art and reason. 

Steph Power

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