Vienna State Opera Offers Stylish Production of Hindemith’s Wonderful Cardillac

AustriaAustria  Hindemith, Cardillac: Soloists, Vienna State Opera Chorus (chorus master: Thomas Lang), Orchestra and Stage Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, Michael Boder (conductor). Vienna State Opera, 22.6.2015 (MB)

Picture of Tomasz Konieczny as Cardillac Photo credit to Wiener Staatsoper/Michael Pöhn.

Cardillac – Tomasz Konieczny
Daughter – Angela Denoke
Officer – Herbert Lippert
Gold Dealer – Wolfgang Bankl
Cavalier – Matthias Klink
Lady – Olga Bezsmertna
Police Officer – Alexandru Moisiuc


Sven-Eric Bechtolf (director)
Rolf Glittenberg (set designs)
Marianne Glittenberg (costumes)
Jürgen Hoffmann (lighting)

Is there at present any more unfashionable composer than Hindemith? Tippett perhaps runs him close, but I can think of no one else. Little has changed in that respect since I lamented this situation upon the Paris Opéra’s 2008 revival of Cardillac by André Engel. It is all the more welcome, then, that Vienna should not only stage but keep in its repertoire this wonderful opera, here given, as seems generally now to be the case, in its original, three-act form rather than Hindemith’s 1952 four-act revision for Zurich. (We miss, then, the performance within a performance of numbers from Lully’s Phaëton and the greater, post-Mathis der Maler sympathy accorded to Cardillac as artist.)

Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s staging is probably the best I have seen from him. I opened my Paris review – bear in mind this was still the Gérard Mortier era of blessed memory – by saying, ‘Perhaps only Paris could turn in so stylish a production of the terminally unfashionable Hindemith.’ Bechtolf does not do so badly either, his stylisation fitting and lightly questioning the work too. The crowd scenes in particular benefit from carefully clockwork choreography, as if responding to the large timepiece (surely a more general nod to ETA Hoffmann, author of the original short story, Das Fräulein von Scuderi), and the black-and-white, top-hatted designs. The crowd both acts as a mob and retains, perhaps intensifies, its weirdness: not inappropriate for a Neue Sachlichkeit treatment of a German Romantic story. Sexual congress is again both plausible and stylishly removed from the merely representational. The realm of the master goldsmith himself offers powerful visual contrast – gold as much the order of the day here as in a later Schoenbergian orgy – and yet retains quirky, choreographed connection, as the action passes between different worlds. The work of Rolf and Marianne Gilttenberg as designers is very well fitted as frame and incitement to the exaggerated and musically-conceived, or at the very least musically-consistent, movement that ensues.

For Hindemith’s motoric, extremely anti-Romantic conceptions of Bach – think of the Kammermusik transformed into opera – rightly came to the forefront here of our musico-dramatic attention. There were times, especially during the first act – all three acts were given, wisely, without an interval – when I missed the final degree of dry precision from the orchestral playing, but in general, Michael Boder’s conducting impressed, especially his handling – and the orchestra’s execution – of climaxes. Moreover, a relative relaxation of anti-Romanticism arguably held its own rewards, in preparing the way for the Officer’s compassion and, perhaps, whetting the appetite for a hearing of that later Zurich version. The Vienna State Opera Chorus’s contribution was excellent throughout, a credit to its chorus master, Thomas Lang.

Tomasz Konieczny offered a properly complex portrayal of Cardillac, permitting us to be torn between horror at his murderous narcissism, unable to permit his masterpiece to be owned by another, and his strange, increasing dignity as a craftsman. Vocal and stage presence were communicated as one. Angela Denoke, also Cardillac’s daughter in that Paris revival, gave quite the best performance I have heard from her in some time: lyrical and ever-meaningful verbally. As ever, she acted the role with passion and commitment. Herbert Lippert’s Officer struggled a little too often with Hindemith’s demands, but shared that sense of dramatic commitment. Olga Bezsmertna’s Lady showed true star quality. A member of the Vienna ensemble, she had me wishing her role offered more for her to sing. Wolfgang Bankl, Matthias Klink, and Alexandru Moisiuc all convinced in their roles. More Hindemith, then, please – in Vienna, but elsewhere too.

Mark Berry

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