Oper von Gerd
Musikalische Leitung: Wolfgang
Müller-Salow Regie: Frank Hilbrich Bühne: Hugo
Gretler Kostüme: Ines Rastig Dramaturgie: Ute Haferburg
Chor: Wolfgang Müller-Salow Mit: Vojtech Alicca;
Rita Anton; Alberto Fasulo; Johannes M. Kösters; Brigitte Kuster;
Elisabeth Rolli; Annette Stricker; Miriam Timme; Chor des luzernertheater,
For an English speaker it is not easy to write about
this opera, receiving its first performances in Switzerland, but important
to do so.
Gerd Kühr (b.1952) studied in Salzburg
and later with Hans Werner Henze. A 'portrait concert' was devoted to
him in the Salzburg Festival 2000, and he is now composer in residence
to the Vienna Symphony Chamber Orchestra. Stallerhof,
composed in 1988 and premiered at the Munich Biennale, is the first
of Kühr's three operas, and shows remarkable dramatic flair. It
has been shown widely in Germany and Austria and this is its first production
a little further afield.
I chanced at Lucerne upon Stallerhof, based
upon a dialect play that caused a furore in 1972 because of its stark
and shocking treatment of taboo subject matter, and saw it without foreknowledge
or preparation. Normally text is important to me. I like to 'do my homework'
with libretti and I am a strong supporter of surtitles in the opera
house, even for opera in English. I have however never been less troubled
than on this occasion by my inability to follow the words of a complex,
many layered opera in a foreign language.
Franz-Xaver Kroetz 's Stallerhof deals
with stunted emotions in a dysfunctional, impoverished rural home. A
small farmer is unable to relate to his wife, nor can either of them
do so in any positive way to their 14 yr old mentally retarded daughter,
Beppi. The central characters are Sepp (Johannes Kosters), a lonely
and sexually frustrated seasonal worker, who rapes and befriends Beppi
(Elisabeth Rolli), their developing mutual friendship showing the only
tenderness on display. That illicit relationship is, of course, doomed.
The girl's pregnancy leads to Sepp's eviction from
the household and to Beppi's father killing Sepp's dog (his only steady
companion) as a warning in case he should show up again. Murder of the
bastard baby, and even that of the erring girl herself, is considered.
An abortion is prepared, but the mother finds the procedure too distasteful
to complete and father muses that he had always wanted a son - -. There
is a vein of fantasy alongside this sordid reality.
The final scene has Beppi's pregnancy going to term
and delivery, with the child/mother calling for Mama, just as does the
naughty child at the end of Ravel's L'enfant et les sortileges.
With translation assistance, I was able to fill in
the background afterwards. The author Kroetz explains that Stallerhof
is about people whose problems lie so far back and are so entrenched
that they can no longer be expressed in words. For the introverted characters
of his imagination, language is not that important. We are to observe
their demeanour and body language. For the most part a Society which
takes no account of such people, and leaves them in their silence, is
to blame. They always busy themselves with something; 'work therapy'
has reconciled them to being virtually 'deaf and dumb' emotionally.
Kroetz believes the way people walk & behave is
just as important in theatre as dialogue; 'silences have the character
of truth'. Despite this, the language of his protagonists, with their
limited vocabulary, is precise; they express themselves in a local dialect,
a closed language (in the opera the Bayern dialect is replaced by normal
Kroetz's Stallerhof is a work about inability
to communicate, which opens space for music. Gerd Kühr's
music serves the function of expressing the feelings and situations
in which people find themselves. With a fairly large chamber orchestra
he provides a rich tapestry of colours and motives. There is expressionist
music, which brings to mind. the inarticulacy and exploitation suffered
by Wosseck. The Lucerne staging also reminded me of the stylised
settings and abusive family relationships seen in the presentation of
the Huddersfield Festival. Stallerhof is an opera of comparable
calibre to those.
Despite her misery and harsh treatment, Peppi's naïve,
melancholy innocence is given a certain brightness with solo violin,
flute and harp. Sepp has a bass clarinet as orchestral alter-ego. Their
emerging closeness is reflected by exchanging flute for alto flute,
and bass clarinet for alto clarinet, bringing the tones closer whilst
keeping the voices intact. Both these key characters are depicted sympathetically.
Life has hardened Sepp into a state of resignation. He has hard traits,
which must not be erased, but he is not a monster or sadist; his music
is dark. Beppi's parents are less strongly characterised and not so
clearly represented thematically, an oboe relates to the father and
a recurring rhythmic sequence for the mother.
In Frank Hilbrich's striking and economical
staging the four protagonists are often locked in separate, sparsely
furnished compartments and, additionally, there is a chorus of three
characters dressed identically as nuns, who punctuate the main action
and represent the Ten Commandments, which are comprehensively broken
by all these damaged people. The production is riveting, with admirable
acting and singing, most notably Elisabeth Rolli's depiction
of the damaged daughter, childlike and unaware of the significance of
life around her. The Lucerne Symphony Orchestra under Wolfgang
Müller-Salow gives a thoroughly assured account of the complex
It was brave to mount Stallerhof in a small
city like Lucerne, with minimal publicity and apologetic box office
staff who warned us that it is 'modern'! The emphasis in the UK on new
British commissions, new composers and premieres can lead to the disappearance
of worthier candidates for international recognition; operas, like good
wines and whiskies, may need time to mature and settle before travelling.
Eighteen months ago I wrote about the 1998 recording
of the Swedish composer Carl Unander-Scharin's opera The
King of Fools (1995-96), which deals with treatment and recovery
from seemingly incurable schizophrenia, "Do not be put off by a subject
which might seem unappealing. This is a wonderful conception, marvellously
realised, absorbing throughout and moving too - once heard, never forgotten.
It should be considered seriously for UK production, maybe at the Huddersfield
or Almeida festivals?"
I would say exactly the same of Stallerhof,
and urge that this portable production should be brought to one of those
same festivals or, possibly, to the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio
in London. Stallerhof deserves now to be seen outside central
Stallerhof plays at Lucerne
Theatre until 12 January 2002 and is available on CD, conducted
by the composer, on Universal MA 445 305-2
Peter Grahame Woolf