Berlin's State Opera NY Times

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lennygoran
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Berlin's State Opera NY Times

Post by lennygoran » Fri Dec 08, 2017 7:55 pm

Some great photos at the site! Regards, Len

Berlin’s State Opera Has Served Kings, Presidents and Dictators. Now What?

By CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM DEC. 8, 2017


BERLIN — Since its founding, the Berlin State Opera has lived through a monarchy, two republics and two dictatorships. It is used to strong leaders. On Thursday, when the institution celebrated its 275th birthday with a concert in its newly renovated theater on this city’s central Unter den Linden boulevard, it did so against the backdrop of a new situation: political limbo.

In a welcome address made from the stage, the opera house’s director, Jürgen Flimm, alluded to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s inability to form a governing coalition since her party’s meager victory in the elections held in October. Still, he quipped, things seemed to be working just fine.

“One barely notices that we don’t have a government,” he said.

One thing working very well indeed is the music-making of the State Opera’s orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin. In works by Mendelssohn, Boulez and Richard Strauss, the ensemble’s music director, Daniel Barenboim — who also holds the same position in the opera house — drew a burnished and vigorous sound from the orchestra and playing that was confident and free.


Muddled logistics and ballooning costs have plagued the house’s seven-year renovation process, which is still ongoing, though it is now sufficiently advanced to allow for this weekend’s performances of new productions of Humperdinck’s “Hänsel und Gretel” and Monteverdi’s “L’Incoronazione di Poppea.” But the State Opera’s return home to a modernized building will boost Mr. Barenboim’s efforts to shape this crucial company.

For most of its history, the Berlin State Opera (which has changed names a few times) was inextricably linked to the center of German power. Its founder, the musically inclined ruler Frederick the Great, was involved in the casting and costumes for some productions. He even wrote some arias, and the librettos for two operas, “Silla” and “Montezuma.”

For the Nazis, the house became an important showcase of German cultural might; when it was destroyed by Allied bombers, its rebuilding became a matter of political urgency. After the war — rebuilt once more after a second bombing — it lent prestige to the leadership of the German Democratic Republic.


After reunification, the opera house had to adjust to the pressures of competition in a reunified Berlin, in which it was suddenly one of several major musical institutions. The German constitution stipulates that culture comes under the jurisdiction of state governments, and the state of Berlin has often been one of the less wealthy.

Misha Aster, the author of a history of the opera house, said in a phone interview that the loss of national patronage still smarts. “With a very short exception from 1945 to ’49 the Staatsoper was always attached to the central government of Germany or of Prussia,” he said, using the company’s German name.

In East Germany, the Berliner Staatskapelle, the State Opera’s house band, had been the nation’s best-paid orchestra; in the Federal Republic, its salaries ranked 23rd. It was Daniel Barenboim, who has been in charge since 1992, who pushed successive chancellors for federal funds to make the ensemble competitive. (For the next two seasons, he has secured a pledge of 10 million euros, or about $12 million, from the federal government for opera in Berlin.)

Thursday’s program featured music by three composer-conductors who were intimately associated with the opera and its orchestra. Mr. Barenboim opened with a filigree reading of the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” With fleet and crisp playing, the strings created a delicate, airy texture that seemed to breathe easily in the renovated hall. (Seated on the far side under an overhanging balcony, I could assess only with difficulty the new room’s acoustics, which were made more resonant by the addition of a sound-reflecting gallery at the top of the raised cupola.)

The concert ended with a seething account of Richard Strauss’s “Ein Heldenleben,” a tone poem about a hero battling powerful adversaries. Strauss led the orchestra in the years leading up to its first identity crisis, the revolution of 1918, which cost the institution its royal title and patronage and forced it to create a new sense of itself in the artistically and socially volatile years of the Weimar Republic. The performance on Nov. 7, 1918, of his opera “Salome” was the last one given under the monarchy.

Mr. Barenboim created vivid focal planes, contrasting the specificity of the deeply personal violin solos, rendered with juicy tone by Jiyoon Lee, and the billowing, dark-edged playing of the full ensemble. There are orchestras that play with more precision: Here and there an entrance was frayed, an ornament rendered with subtly smudged contours. But the effect overall was free and vivid, with a certain panache well-suited to this late Romantic work.

At the heart of the evening’s program were Boulez’s five “Notations” for orchestra. These scintillating studies in orchestral color are based on piano miniatures the composer wrote in 1945, when the State Opera lay in ruins in the Soviet-occupied sector of the city. Boulez returned to them decades later, using them as seeds for orchestral pieces of sometimes overwhelming sonic beauty. These are works of enormous textural complexity, with string sections broken up into a multitude of individual voices and a packed cockpit of percussion instruments.

Mr. Barenboim, who has been a passionate advocate of Boulez’s music, conducted with a keen ear for opulent tone colors but for, above all, the gradations in between, the way a sandy chord blooms and brightens, or a glittery liquid line gathers force. The conductor’s friendship with Boulez, a firebrand of 20th-century modernism who died in 2016, is also enshrined in the new Frank Gehry-designed chamber music hall that opened here earlier this year. Mr. Barenboim, who raised the funds for and shaped the design of the oval hall, named it after Boulez.

The Pierre Boulez Saal is now part of a veritable campus of interconnected institutions that bear Mr. Barenboim’s imprint. Nearby is also the Barenboim-Said Academy, a college combining musical and humanistic education for students from the Middle East and an outgrowth of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra founded by Mr. Barenboim and the cultural critic Edward Said. And members of the Staatskapelle are involved in a “musical kindergarten,” which Barenboim founded in order to seed a new generation of musicians and listeners.

With his bullish idealism, Mr. Barenboim is putting a stamp on the State Opera and its satellite organizations that increasingly defines a large segment of Berlin’s cultural identity in his own image.

“He crafted an identity for the opera around his own artistic values — and his social values as well,” Mr. Aster said. “His legacy is the identification of the Staatsoper for the last 25 years, crafting a sense of the Staatsoper without state.”



https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/08/arts ... ction&_r=0

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