Shachar Lavi, Anna Hybiner, Christopher Diffey, Magid El-Bauhra; Nationaltheater-Orchester Mannheim/Alan Pierson
Oehms OC 994 85:35 mins (2 discs)
Wedekind’s controversial play Spring Awakening (1891) broke new ground in tackling sex-related abuses suffered by teenagers in an oppressive fin de siècle society. German-American composer Hans Thomalla sees parallels today and omits all adult characters for Dark Spring, focusing on mental health and the difficulty youngsters experience in articulating hopelessness and alienation.
Wendla, Ilse, Melchior and Moritz face existential crises brought on by a toxic performance culture encompassing sex, friendship and academia. Thomalla explores each of their voices in song (lyrics by Joshua Clover), through harrowing events including rape, physical violence and suicide. The cast’s performances are sterling, and the subtly wrought score, given a committed performance by the 11-piece Nationaltheatre-Orchester Mannheim under Alan Pierson, mixes American song, gently propulsive minimalism, electronics and avant-garde extended techniques to effect. Yet the results are strangely cold and un-engaging.
In song after song, the teenagers repeat over and over their inner contradictions and struggles to find meaning, the music often slow-paced and perhaps itself intended to reflect their traumatised disassociation. Ultimately, however, they become cyphers for their condition rather than red-blooded characters about whom we care.