Schönberg and Puccini as a combination
Arnold Schönberg’s music drama “The Happy Hand” and Giacomo Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” bring desperate artists and a money-hungry family to the stage of the Mainfranken Theater
The cryptic inner workings of an artist eaten away by self-hatred here; the comedy, told with marvelous sarcasm, about a duped money-greedy family clan. The dense, gloomy sound of an avant-garde work on the one hand, indulgent, beautiful opera sounds on the other: Arnold Schönberg’s musical drama “The Happy Hand” and Giacomo Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” hardly seem to be combinable in one evening.
It is all the more fascinating that director Benjamin Prins and General Music Director Enrico Calesso at the Mainfranken Theater Würzburg succeeded in a genuinely ingenious way to combine the two works into a single narrative and even let the two very different compositions slide into one another without a break. In the end, why not? After all, they came into being within a decade, and the two composers of the early modern era held each other in high esteem.
The Dreispartenhaus started the new season with a double evening in the Blue Hall theater factory. For the first time in more than a year, the entire opera ensemble could be experienced again – and the Würzburg Philharmonic Orchestra was finally able to inaugurate the orchestra pit in the alternative venue in Dürrbachau.
Yes, the 20 minutes at Schönberg are exhausting. It’s not because of the music, on the contrary. This is surprisingly captivating in the radically streamlined transcription for baritone and chamber ensemble by Eberhard Kloke, which was premiered by Schönberg’s orchestral composition. Extremely dense, concise, oppressive and downright overflowing, Calesso and his orchestra tell in the music of those most secret wishes, fears and gloomy longings that the nameless protagonist actually wants to hide. Three female voices and three male voices from the off whir like nightmarish visions through the room. “Only the music could satisfy me, but the music betrayed me,” the words slide across the set. The way baritone Kosma Ranuer embodies the sufferer comes close, and through the demanding role he sings himself believably.
Rather, it is exhausting that as a viewer you can hardly escape the relentless staging of Benjamin Prins, want to look the other way and still stare mesmerized at the brutal figures with leather masks, which arise from the soul and the ego crisis of the artist, beat him, torture him sexually to chop off his hand and let the blood spurt out. The three characters are filming all of this with cameras in real time. Schönberg himself described his work as “a drama of the disturbed love affair”, as can be experienced in all drastic proportions in Würzburg.
It is great that Enrico Calesso and his orchestra succeed in combining the two works as if from one piece. Of course you know when Schönberg ends and when Puccini begins. But nowhere does a break arise – and it becomes clear how much shimmering, how much richness of timbres there is in Schönberg’s work beyond twelve-tone music; and how much modern, how much contemporary musical drama can be found in the Puccini opera at the same time. This is where Calesso comes in. He wanted to do justice to Puccini as a great composer of the 20th century, he says. That works, without question.
And the smooth transition also succeeds because the story is told directly. Perhaps Schoenberg’s nameless person was actually Buoso Donati, who had just died and was cursed by relatives. Because instead of them, according to the will, he leaves the land, the house, the mills and the mule to the church. Pascal Seibicke, who is also responsible for the costumes, does not change the set design. But light now illuminates the room as bright as day and wakes it and the audience out of their nightmares. Furthermore, the protagonists move in an artist’s apartment, which alludes to the homosexuality of its recently deceased owner in the wall-high painting, a statue and small pictures. Perhaps that is why Buoso was a family outsider and wrote that little family-friendly will in revenge. In order to get hold of the inheritance, the greedy family calls the crook Gianni Schicchi, forges a macabre plan with him and in the end falls for the clever trickster themselves. Wonderfully entertaining, part two of the double evening lets you breathe a sigh of relief, lean back and enjoy: The plot drives fine sarcasm, the ensemble is extremely happy to play, the music is magical – and at the end there is even a happy ending.
Kosma Ranuer can now be seen in the role of Gianni Schicchi, with a twinkle in his eye he sings his way through his role, the mischievous, sly in eyes and voice. Akiho Tsujii, as Schicchi’s daughter, sings the often heard “O mio babbino caro” – with childlike charm, beautifully elegant, magically tender and far beyond anyone’s exaggeration, ensures the most beautiful moment of the evening, garnished with bravo calls and applause from the scene Pathos.
Actually, all singers have their stage moments – Barbara Schöller as cousin Zita, for example, when her voice drifts into smoky outrage, David Hieronimi as a shaky clan elder, Hiroe Ito as a screeching domestic servant or Roberto Ortiz as a passionate hot spur with a beaming tenor. In other roles: Mathew Habib, Silke Evers, Igor Tsarkov, Hinrich Horn, Marzia Marzo / Anne Pennisi, Taiyu Uchiyama, Jakob Mack, Paul Henrik Schulte and Tobias Germeshausen.
The fact that “Gianni Schicchi” fits perfectly into the Dante Alighieri year on the 700th anniversary of the death of the great poet should only be mentioned in passing, in whose “Divine Comedy” the protagonist can be found in the eighth circle of hell.