A Colourful Combination – Erwartung and Hagith at Teatro Colón

ArgentinaArgentina Schoenerg, Erwartung and Szymanowski, Hagith: Soloists,Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Colón. Conductor:Baldur Brönnimann, Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. 24.7.2012. (JSJ)


Director/set/lighting/costume: Pedro Pablo García Caffi


Ella: Elena Nebera


Director: Michal Znaniecki
Sets: Luigi Scoglio
Costumes: Michal Znaniecki, Joanna Medynska
Lighting: Bogumil Palewicz
Chorus: Peter Burian


Old King: Hans Schöpflin
Young King: Enrique Folger
Hagith: Ewa Biegas
Priest: Aleksander Teliga
Doctor: Luciano Garay
Servant: Federico Moore


Pedro Pablo García Caffi’s setting of Erwartung (Photo Teatro Colón).

The Teatro Colón’s 20th century “tour de force” this season – which has included Golijov’s St Mark Passion (strictly 21st century as premiered in 2000) and Enescu’s Oedipe – has culminated with what are probably the least performed of them, at least one of them, Schoenberg’s Ewartung and Szymanowski’s Hagith.

Despite the proximity of their composition – Erwartung in 1909 and Hagith in 1913 (and both premiering in the 1920s) – these two works could hardly be more different, either in concept or musically, with perhaps the only common thread being “love”.

Erwartung is generally regarded as one of Schoenberg’s most important works and is in the form of a monologue (for a soprano) in four continuous scenes lasting about 30 minutes. Musically the work is atonal, with apparently no material once stated returning, and reflects the anguish and changing emotions of the woman, Ella, as she searches for her lover in a wood, first mistaking a tree trunk for a body then finding him dead before reflecting on what she should do with her life and then disappearing into the depth of the forest.

Hagith (Ewa Biegas) rejects the advances of the Old King (Hans Schöpflin) in
Michal Znaniecki’s production of Hagith (Photo Teatro Colón).

Hagith, on the other hand, is very much a story, being based on the Biblical story of David and Solomon in the first chapter of the first Book of Kings. The Old King is dying and only Hagith’s love will rejuvenate him, but she is in love with the Young King and refuses, resulting in the death of the Old King and she ordered stoned to death, with the Young King arriving too late to save her. Stylistically the work has been compared to Strauss’s Salome but at least for this reviewer it pointed more towards Debussy and Stravinsky, whose influences Szymanowski was to develop in later works.

The contrasts between these works were very apparent in these stagings – and coincidentally, both had character changes. Evelyn Herlitzius, due to debut at the Colón and as Ella in a staged production, was called away by the failing health of her mother just days before the opening, to be replaced by the experienced Russian soprano Elena Nebera, while in Hagith, local tenor Enrique Folger replaced German Christian Baumgärtel as the Young King.

Teatro Colón director general Pedro Pablo García Caffi took on the staging of Erwartung and with minimal abstract scenic elements created the sense of a dense forest in which it would be easy to get lost. In contrast Hagith was given a more traditional production by Polish producer Michal Znaniecki, appearing similar (if not identical) to his original 2006 Wroclaw Opera production (which is available on DVD).

Elena Nebera was a convincing Ella with remarkable fluidity, both of voice and in movement. In Hagith Ewa Biegas was outstanding as the protagonist, with German Hans Schöpflin a strong Old King and Folger equally so as the Young King, while Aleksander Teliga made for an imposing Priest and Luciano Garay a notable Doctor.

Baldur Brönnimann, whose last appearance at the Teatro Colón was with Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre, showed his skill with the complexity and colours of this music. As Erwartung is more commonly performed in concert, and as Hagith has been performed barely a handful of times, the chances of having the opportunity to see these works again especially in this combination is slight, making this in all likelihood a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Jonathan Spencer Jones