Egk’s Peer Gynt at Braunschweig

Werner Egk’s operatic version of Peer Gynt is, as demonstrated by the recent performance at the Braunschweig Staatstheater, a highly effective work. Eclectic musically, with affinities to Kurt Weill, Richard Strauss and Paul Hindemith, it is easy on the ear and captures well the themes of Ibsen’s original. I think I can guess why it is not better known. The piece was favoured by Hitler and Goebbels and, although in the post-war period Egk was not condemned in any of the denazification processes, suspicions of him remain, particularly outside Germany. And within Germany his avoidance of modernism has not, in recent years, endeared him to the cognoscenti. A great pity for the Braunschweig performance provided a very satisfying evening of music theatre. It was helped by Dietrich Hilsdorf’s production. He and his designers Dieter Richter and Renate Schmitzer are veterans whose work is justifiably highly regarded in (shall we say) the second division of German opera houses. The settings – black austerity for the Norwegian village; glitzy carefree licentiousness for the trolls, and bourgeois luxury for the rich Republic – were thoroughly convincing, apart from an occasional lapse into bad taste, for example an impersonation of Angela Merkel. The work requires a substantial number of competent soloists, a demand comfortably met by the largely home-based team. Peter Bording was a tireless and moving Peer, Cornelia Zink a lyrical and homely Solveig, while Moran Abouloff and Arthur Shen trilled appropriately as the two main trolls. Conductor Christopher Hein assured an idiomatic reading of the score.