Rihm: Die Eroberung von Mexico

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WORKS: Die Eroberung von Mexico
PERFORMER: Richard Salter, Renate Behle, Carmen Fugiss, Susanne Otto, Peter Kollek; Hamburg State Opera Chorus, Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra/Ingo Metzmacher
Wolfgang Rihm’s latest work for the stage was unveiled in Hamburg a year ago. It seemed then, and now on disc too, one of the most vivid pieces of music theatre of the last decade, a magnificent fusion of Rihm’s dramatic and musical gifts in a score of immense range and lyric power. Die Eroberung von Mexico (The Conquest of Mexico) deals with the arrival in the New World of Cortez and his conquistadores. The destruction of the Aztec civilisation is crystallised in the confrontation between Cortez and the Aztec god-king Montezuma at the heart of Rihm’s work. The libretto is based upon a scenario by Artaud, but typically Rihm has grafted on material drawn from the poetry of Octavio Paz and Mexican folklore. He sets it all to music of great sweep and imagination, full of thrilling orchestral and choral effects, with sensuous lyrical lines and fiercely challenging climaxes.


This performance was recorded during the Hamburg run, with splendid singing, especially from Richard Salter as Cortez and the soprano Renate Behle as Montezuma. It has the theatrical advantage of immediacy, and the disadvantage of indifferent sound, with intermittant background buzzes and hums. The shortcomings are minor, though. In Rihm’s already distinguished output Die Eroberung von Mexico surely now takes pride of place. Andrew Clements