A Masterfully Played and Sung Moses und Aron

SpainSpain Schönberg: Moses und Aron, Teatro Real Orchestra and Chorus, Lothar Koenigs (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 9.6.2016 (JMI)

Moses und Aron. © Javier del Real.
Moses und Aron. © Javier del Real.

New production in coproduction with Opéra National de Paris
Direction: Romeo Castellucci
Sets, costumes and lighting: Romeo Castellucci

Moses: Albert Dohmen
Aaron: John Graham Hall
Priest: Andreas Hörl
Invalid: Catherine Wyn-Rogers

Moses und Aron is back at Teatro Real, four years after it was first performed here. Then it was offered in a concert version with guest orchestra and chorus, while now it is done in a staged performance with the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Real. The final result was excellent, especially in terms of the music, and with an interesting production as well.

Arnold Schoenberg, one of the great representatives of twelve-tone music, died in 1951 and this, his last opera, was first done in concert form three years later in Hamburg. The first full staging took place in Zurich in 1957. It’s not an opera that has entered the main repertoire, and its appearances in the programs of the big opera houses are few. In fact, I consider it to be more a staged cantata than a true opera.

The work is really unfinished musically: Schoenberg never composed the third act, although he did write the libretto for it. In that unfinished act we would have witnessed the victory of Moses (representing idealism) over Aaron (action). In fact, the entire opera revolves around the inability of Moses to get the chosen people to accept this new invisible God, a task that he transfers to his brother.

Anecdotally, Schönberg appears to have removed the second “a” of Aaron to avoid having thirteen letters in the title of the opera.

Four years ago Gerard Mortier presented the opera with the Orchestra of Baden-Baden Freiburg and the Europa Chor Akademie. The great triumph of this performance is due to the orchestra and chorus of Teatro Real. Few opera houses have ensembles that can handle this extremely difficult score, but Teatro Real did a brilliant job. After listening to their chorus, one has to pay tribute to Gerard Mortier for hiring Andres Maspero as chorus master: things could not be better. Obviously, without an outstanding conductor like Lothar Koenigs, the musical result would not have been the same.

The production was premiered last October in Paris, and the director, Romeo Castellucci, also designed the sets, costumes and lighting. It isn’t easy to create a staging that holds the viewer’s interest with a symphonic-choral work like Moses und Aron. Mr. Castellucci presents a very minimalist stage, with a few props to serve the action, and he uses interesting symbols to narrate the plot. The production is always attractive, except for the appearance of the now famous huge bull and the naked girl. Perhaps the best part of the show is the lighting, which is exemplary in the first part of the opera.

Vocally, the real protagonists of the work are the Jewish people, who are played by the chorus. There are only two major characters – Moses and Aaron – and the first mainly declaims his part, while Aron has a very complicated tessitura. Moses was played by Albert Dohmen, who was always convincing, declaring his position with great inner strength in a voice that was better projected than at times in the past. English tenor John Graham Hall was a remarkable Aron on stage, and quite tight in vocal terms.

In the secondary characters Andreas Hörl did well as the Priest, and Catherine Wyn-Rogers was serviceable as the Invalid.

José M. Irurzun

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