Relay of Weinberger’s Frühlingsstürme
Preferring the real thing, I have hitherto avoided live streaming from opera houses and indeed have also eschewed radio and television broadcasts and even DVDs and CDs. However, the current privations have forced me to rethink this policy and so yesterday evening I watched the Komische Oper’s current production of Jaromir Weinberger’s Frühlingsstürme made available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NM6EYDhgQLg
I chose this, rather than more famous works, not only because of my interest in operatic rarities. There was also the fact that, having attended a most enjoyable performance of Weinberger’s Schwanda the Bagpiper a few years ago in Görlitz, I have been looking out in vain for other works by this composer who was popular in the interwar years but who is today little known. Schwanda was, internationally, the most often performed Czech comic opera after Smetana, and has appeared in all recent editions of Kobbé. His other pieces have not fared so well but, as the relay from Berlin demonstrates, the operetta Frühlingsstürme deserves a place on the perimeter of the repertory. It was a misfortune that its premiere took place only ten days before the Nazis seized power. Given Weinberger’s Jewish origins, further performances were, of course, banned and that must have contributed to the work’s future neglect.
While much of the score is written in a conventional – but attractive – operetta style, the music has interesting features. The harmonic language is in places modernist and the fact that the piece is set in Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese war is the excuse for some Eastern motifs and timbres. The plot may have familiar romantic and political intrigues, but its resolution is not a straightforward happy ending, forcing the audience to reflect more than is usual in operetta on the nature of love relationships.
Unsurprisingly, these characteristics were much to the fore in Barrie Kosky’s admirable production. It was pacy, slick ad colourful (costumes Dina Ehm) and sensibly, in the abstract box-like decors of Klaus Grünberg, dispensed with any attempt at a naturalistic setting. While on the face of it acceding to operetta convention in its movements, it avoided cliché by parodying this convention, deliberately generating kitsch, so that, for example, the dancing routines could have emerged from a Busby Berkeley Hollywood musical. And the comic antics of the elderly commander of the Russian army wooing the beautiful widow Pavloska and of the German journalist assuming disguises to infiltrate the camp and elicit military secrets are saved from banality by insisting on caricature in a commedia del arte fashion.
A first rate cast added to the pleasure. As the heroine Lydia, soprano Vera-Lotte Boecker combined an attractive stage presence with some lovely, creamy sounds, particularly in the higher register. The plangent tenor of Tansel Akseybeck is exactly right for this repertory and his portrayal of Lydia’s Japanese lover, who is eventually abandoned by her, had a sufficiently sharp edge to give depth to the character. In the non-singing role of the commander, Stefan Kurt made much of the text and his physical gestures were adeptly timed. As the frisky young lovers, Dominik Köninger and Alma Sadé maintained the comic pace without impairing their vocal contributions. The Canadian conductor Jordan De Sousa imbued the performance with energy but also held back his forces to create some dramatic tension when this was called for.
So have I been converted to relays from opera houses to the domestic small screen? Not quite. I miss, in particular, the spatial sense of the theatre which enables me better to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of the decors and the physical movements on stage. But faute de mieux …