Zimmerman: Die Soldaten

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Zimmerman
LABELS: EuroArts
ALBUM TITLE: Die Soldaten
WORKS: Die Soldaten
PERFORMER: Alfred Muff, Laura Aikin, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, Tomasz Konieczny etc.
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 2072588; Blu-ray: 2072584

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The tragic tale of Marie’s descent into prostitution after being seduced, and then passed down the ranks, by an aristocratic officer, Zimmermann’s 1965 opera is an icon of Germany’s post-war avant-garde. Its daunting demands – multiple acting spaces, three film screens, pre-recorded tape, huge percussion-heavy orchestra plus jazz combo, large cast, complex polystylistic textures and forbiddingly angular vocal writing – have recently rendered it more talked about than seen (the only other DVD, on Arthaus, dates from 1989). Sadly, though strikingly theatrical, this 2012 Salzburg staging is about as faithful to Zimmermann’s dramatic intentions as the soldiers are to their women.

Its biggest plus is its venue: the many simultaneous scenes, tricky to realise behind a conventional proscenium arch, here unfold in panoramic counterpoint on the 40m-wide expanse of Salzburg’s Felsenreitschule stage, whose equine past (as the former archiepiscopal stables) prompts much of the imagery, not least a horseback parade of half-dressed prostitutes that reflects the soldiers’ craving for flesh of all kinds. The space also enables a genuine theatrical coup when, just before Marie’s ‘fall’, a stunt-double tightrope-walks across it in a visual metaphor for her moral balancing act between chastity and surrender.

However, in substituting projections of explicit pornographic photos of naked women for Zimmermann’s specified audio-visual collages of marching men, Hermanis subverts a savage serialist satire on German militarism into a more generalised attack on men’s sexual objectification of women: a ‘freak show’ of disfigured male faces even seems to spell out the crude message that all men are monsters.

Such crudity is perhaps apt for a work whose aural impact, however intellectually complex its musical processes, is one of almost unrelieved cacophony. It must be ungrateful music to sing, it certainly is to listen to, yet the sheer commitment of the huge ensemble cast (with Laura Aiken, Tomasz Konieczny and Daniel Brenna as the pivotal love-triangle) and the unstinting efforts of the Vienna Philharmonic under modernist maestro Ingo Metzmacher ensure that Zimmermann’s musical rage comes through loud and clear.

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Mark Pappenheim