The world premiere of Bernhard Lang’s Golem at Mannheim

Contemporary operas often adapt works of literature or ancient myths, with which audiences might be reasonably familiar. This can take care of the narrative dimension, allowing composers to concentrate on exploiting their musical creativity and devising a score which reflects what for them are key themes in the chosen subject. For his new work, commissioned by the Mannheim Opera, Bernhard Lang selected the Golem legend which he must have thought was sufficiently well known. He wanted it to serve as vehicle for exploring the crisis of identity in an individual, between the rational human being and his other “self” existing in dreams and fantasy, and how that identity is affected by the technological world in which we live. His collaborator Peter Missotten became responsible not only for the libretto but also for the production, most importantly a video film which he claims, more than the text, provided the framework basis for the piece.

An interesting idea, and indeed the visual dimension to the staging was impressive. A glass hut-like structure in which the rational self of the principal protagonist is enclosed, contrasting with oblique glass structures around which the other self moves and meets the characters which feature in the fantasy. The music too was accessible and cohered well with the visual. But the fundamental fact remains that what happens on the stage and what is sing or spoken must be comprehensible, if the audience is to engage with the work and in this respect Der Golem was a failure, as indicated by the polite, muted applause at the end. It was difficult to understand what the different characters represented and what was the import of their actions. Ideas by themselves do not communicate without a sufficient grasp of the narrative. The soloists, chorus and orchestra all performed well; sad that the return for their efforts was not greater.