Boris Blacher’s Nachtschwalbe in Leipzig

Boris Blacher was a prominent German composer in the period immediately following the Second World War but his works appear now largely to be ignored. So the Leipzig Opera showed enterprise in mounting the short chamber opera Die Nachtschwalbe. It was doubtless influenced by the fact that a tent outside the theatre is temporarily housing performances while improvements are undertaken for the main stage, and this venue could easily be converted into a Berlin cabaret-dance hall, the setting for the piece. The work can best be described as a romantic thriller: the heroine involved with a criminal is arrested and the investigating police officer eventually turns out to be the father who had irresponsibly abandoned her. Although predominantly realistic in style, the work also has a poetic dimension, the eponymous night bird flying in and out to symbolise a happier past and to awaken the conscience of the father as well as that of the young criminal.

Dating from 1947, the opera is very much of its period: a society seeking emotional and material relief from the gloom and deprivation of a defeated and deprived Germany; the younger generation trying to understand and come to terms with the guilt of their elders. Although the presentation of the opera in an authentic setting was engaging and the individual roles were well characterised and sung, it was not entirely successful. This was partly a consequence of Blacher’s score which, while superficially attractive in its jazz-inspired style, contains insufficient variety, the regular rhythmic pulse becoming tiresome. And partly because the dance hall environment and atmosphere did not lend itself to the work’s more serious dimension, the symbolism and poetry of the flashbacks not being able to rise above the realistic detail. Still, an interesting revival in Leipzig of a work first performed there.