Monika Rittershaus

Die Gezeichneten (The Stigmatized)

Reviewer's Rating

It is barely believable how political decisions can ban a cultural masterpiece from the mind of a society for almost a full century. Owing to his Jewish heritage and the mostly radical topics he mostly addressed in his works, Schreker’s “Die Gezeichneten” got deformed as “degenerated” by the German National Socialist regime, which despite a successful world premier in 1918 and 66 subsequent performances, banned it in 1933. The opera was rediscovered towards the end of the 20th century.

Beauty, ugliness, reality, fiction, all come together in this piece, and in middle of all this we find a disfigured and ugly nobleman who is seeking for aesthetic perfection by creating his own translucent world: the Elysium. The decadence of a society and not least his own eccentric desire for unconditional love lead to an end in neurosis and superposition of reality and fiction.

For a director, such a piece can be seen as one of the biggest challenges of a career, and so it’s more likely for a director to drift away from the core of all the action by overwhelming the audience with oversized stages and all sorts of technical tools. Fortunately for the success of this evening, Barry Kosky and his set designer Rufus Didwiszus chose a sober room where they let Schreker’s music narrate for itself, which was a huge part of the final success of the evening. It’s rare that a composer can transfer an atmosphere, a reaction, or a whole psychological condition in his music as well as Schreker. From the first note, the Philharmonia Zurich under Vladimir Jurowski created such a rich and wonderful sound that captured the audience and made them perceive every action on stage as even more intense as already in Kosky’s staging. This type of music runs danger to easily sound to heavy and thick. Jurowski still somehow managed to find the perfect contrast between dynamics despite the very dry acoustic of the quite small Zurich Opera House. The orchestra showed the required agility as well as immense rhythmical flexibility, which gave a very stable ground to Kosky’s convincing interpretation. It’s once again those little theatrical subtleties of his work that made relations and actions between the protagonists so fascinating for the audience. For example, at first sight protagonist Alviano doesn’t seem very different to the rest of the society until you notice that his hands are completely missing. Therefore he is never able to experience pure physical satisfaction, and as Kosky puts him into a room filled with sculptures, the audience gets to experience his full desire, optically, by looking at Alviano, unable to physically perceive the antique bodies – Brilliant!

Oper Zürich – Die Gezeichneten – 2018/19
© Monika Rittershaus

Such a piece of course demands enormous musical and theatrical qualities from a singer. John Daszak gives a huge amount of physical dedication to the especially difficult role of Alviano Salvago. His voice managed itself through the role, which is always set at the transitional register to the head voice. And even when in the last act of the opera a note didn’t come out as perfect, it still added some extra shade to the character – Ovations. Catherine Naglestad’s voice has grown a lot in the last few years and even though she could easily been heard over the orchestra she also managed the wonderful pianissimo passages of her role Carlotta, the artist for whom Alviano becomes a muse whose love is only valid until the completion of her artwork. Thomas Johannes Mayer’s elegant baritone fitted the role of Tamare perfectly and Christopher Purves (Antoniotto Adorno) convinced with a superb technique. Albert Pesendorfer left a very lasting impression as Lodovico Nardi.

“Die Gezeichneten” by Franz Schreker is one of the most mysterious and drastic pieces of the 20th century at the Zurich Opera in a stunning rendition. Definitely worth a visit.