Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder sung by the Chorus of the Dutch National Opera and the Kammerchor des Chorforum Essen

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Schoenberg
WORKS: Gurre-Lieder
PERFORMER: Burkhard Fritz, Emily Magee, Anna Larsson, Markus Marquardt, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Sunnyi Melles; Chorus of the Dutch National Opera/Thomas Feller; Kammerchor des Chorforum Essen/Alexander Eberle; Netherlands Philhamonic Orchestra/Marc Abrecht; dir. Pierre Audi (Amsterdam, 2014)


Given its Wagnerian antecedents, it seems surprising that Schoenberg’s early, hyper-Romantic song-cycle-cum-oratorio-cum-music-drama Gurre-Lieder had apparently never been staged before this spectacular Dutch National Opera production. Presumably the vast orchestra required precluded all but the largest theatres, while the work’s leisurely, un-operatic pacing presents a real challenge to the inventiveness of any stage director.

This, Pierre Audi partly attempts to meet by having such characters as Klaus the Fool, and the Speaker, who feature rather late in the score, wandering about the stage from the start. But he cannot avoid an excess of Lear-like staggering and tearing off of garments for his long suffering protagonist King Waldemar. Some of Audi’s symbolism, as he gradually moves the subtext of his staging from fin de siècle decadence via First World War horror to a premonition of a fascist future is also puzzling – such as the giant fish head that appears in the background of the night-hunt sequence. Still, this is a compelling staging with many striking images.

Under Marc Albrecht’s magisterial sway, the musical performance is also comparable with fine recent recordings of the score by Marcus Stenz (Hyperion) and Edward Gardner (Chandos). Burkhard Fritz is tireless in the physical and vocal demands of the role of Waldemar, the chilling sound and appearance of Anna Larsson’s Wood Dove as she announces the murder of Waldemar’s illicit lover Tove from an upper gallery of Christof Hetzer’s elaborate set is a high point, and even in their most elaborate ghost-army manoeuvrings, the Dutch National Opera Chorus deliver Schoenberg’s elaborate part-writing with astonishing clarity. The Netherlands Philharmonic’s playing is caught in opulent, detailed and spacious sound, and the whole production presents a formidable challenge to any opera house contemplating an alternative staging.


Bayan Northcott