Zemlinksy’s Traumgörge in Hanover
After years of neglect Zemlinsky’s operas have become widely appreciated. Der Zwerg, generally in harness with Eine florentinische Tragödie, has been around since the 1970s. The rediscovery of Der Traumgörge has been more recent, understandably because, although written in 1909 and championed by Gustav Mahler, it was never performed in the composer’s lifetime. The manuscript was found in the archives of the Vienna Staatsoper and was premiered in Nuremburg in 1980. Hanover’s current staging is only the fourth in Germany. And yet it is a striking work, both musically and dramatically. Typical of its period, it focusses on the individual’s need to escape from the real world into the fantasies of dreams and fairy tales. Görge is, in the first act, enticed by a princess to reject the bourgeois society of his village but what he finds, in the second act, is a hostile, aggressive community which is equally alienating. The redemption seems to lie with Gertraud a fellow outcast and together they search for the ideals of nature and tranquillity. But do they find them? The opera ends ambivalently, though in the perceptive production of Johannes von Matuschka it is clear that there is no escape from reality. This, apparently the stage director’s first venture into opera, is successful largely because he does not over-interpret the work, nor fill the stage with irrelevant and distracting activity.
The contrast between the environments of the two acts is impressively realised in Zemlinsky’s score. The social conventionality of the first is reflected in light, humorous Mahlerian passages blending into a predominantly lyrical mood; the violence and intolerance of the second finds expression in chromaticism and harsh rhythmic chords. Mark Rohde and his orchestra offered a restrained, sensitive account of the first act, enabling them to let loose in the second to powerful effect. The piece makes great demands on the two principal singers, requiring voices of heroic, Wagnerian strength. In Robert Künzli and Kelly God, the Hanover ensemble possessed what was necessary: he with his unblemished steely tenor; she with her powerful soprano, yet capable of delicate phrasing. Initially I had reservations about their dramatic characterisation: he had the appearance of a village Dummkopf; she a sturdy Hausfrau. As such, they seemed to fall short of the romantic pair implied by the text and music. But I then came to realise that this could have been deliberate. They are us – ordinary people – who may dream of an ideal relationship as beautiful human beings, but never escape the disillusion that that can never be the case.