Moses und Aron, Schoenberg’s unfinished opera, shows two major segments of the Exodus story. Moses, hearing the voice of God, knows he must convince the Jewish slaves of Egypt to believe in the One and Only God and follow him from their oppressors. However, Moses has a stutter and knows he cannot possibly sway the people to his cause. So God sends him his brother Aron and enlightens him to act as his voice. The first act shows Aron giving voice to Moses’ and God’s words and bringing the children of Israel to him. Act II jumps in time to after the Israelites left their bonds. They await the laws Moses has promised to bring them from the mountaintop. However, he is gone too long and in his absence Aron allows the Israelites to return to idol worshipping and blasphemy.
The Welsh National Opera’s production of Moses und Aron inexplicably tries to modernize this biblical tale by setting the first act in what appears to be a conference room and the performers in modern dress. The second act takes the same set, slightly altered, and remakes it into a semblance of a movie theatre. The opera itself is challenging and difficult for a beginner opera viewer. The movements are not familiar and the low, jarring tones are intriguing to the ear, but not always melodic. However, the difficulty of the piece is not off-putting. What makes the production a challenge to watch is its lack of energy and movement. For the first act almost nothing occurs on the stage besides standing, staggering and singing. When the people enter the stage it is in a mass crowd that barely moves. Consequently, it is nearly impossible to distinguish who is singing, and the lack of blocking and lighting to highlight the singer do not help.
The second act shows improvement as the lights dim and shift to reflect the growing unrest. The stage also seems to imply that the idol the people falsely worship is the cinema, which seems a bit of an unfair accusation against cinema. (Admittedly, as a film studies MA student I might have some bias). The orgy of lust and anger is a bit stilted and comical on an opera stage – which I do not believe is the intention of the production. Overall, I found the production beautiful to listen to, yet visually unappealing. A modern setting with no purpose is laziness and with a storyline that might be obscure to an audience not versed in Jewish biblical history, the staging needs excitement to bring an audience in.