|Jakob Lenz (Andrew Shore), Pastor Oberlin|
Sam Brown (director)
Annemarie Woods (designs)
Guy Hoare (lighting)
Anjali Mehra (choreography)
Members of the Orchestra of the English National Opera
Alexander Ingram (conductor)
This co-production between ENO and Hampstead Theatre, supported by ENO’s Contemporary Opera Group and the English National Opera Trust, marked a welcome second British staging, the first for a generation, for Wolfgang Rihm’s chamber opera, Jakob Lenz. It is, sadly, a reminder of quite how parochial much of this country’s musical, especially operatic, life has become, though ENO is certainly doing its bit at the moment, with Detlev Glanert’s Caligula due to be staged at the Coliseum next month. There remains, of course, a persistently pressing need for several more runs of La traviata and La bohème. Enough of that, however; let us give thanks for a company willing to demonstrate some degree of commitment to the work of contemporary composers who do not happen to be British. (And for a reminder of a truly enlightened Intendant, uninterested in nationalistic considerations, click here, forwarding to 2:10 if necessary, though it is well worth listening to what comes before, once the sound adjusts.)
Rihm is, of course, a major figure in contemporary opera, though I have only seen one work of his staged previously, Das Gehege in Munich. Jakob Lenz, his second opera, was first staged in Hamburg in 1979, following quickly upon a Mannheim staging for his first opera, Faust und Yorick, in 1977. Set to a libretto by Michael Fröhling, based of course upon Büchner’s novella, it treats with the troubled poet’s visit to the Vosges in 1778. Arriving at the house of Pastor Oberlin, Lenz suffers hallucinations relating to Friederike Brion, whom Goethe has abandoned but who is still in love with him. (Friederike is here played on stage, but she has no lines.) Christoph Kaufmann, friend of Lenz and a poet himself, tries unsuccessfully to persuade Lenz to return to his family. Lenz discovers the body of a dead Friederike, not Brion, but a girl from a neighbouring village, though he thinks them one and the same; he tries – and fails – to resurrect her. As his condition deteriorates, Oberlin and Kaufmann abandon him.
|Lenz, Oberlin, and Kaufmann (Richard Roberts)|
|Lenz and Friederike (Suzy Cooper)|
Shore’s Lenz was a powerful portrayal, occasional spread at the top of the range more than compensated for by dramatic truth. He held the stage throughout, and rightly received warm applause. Jonathan Best ably evoked a concerned if ultimately impotent Oberlin, whilst Richard Roberts, if a little hamstrung by the bizarrely caricatured foppery of Kaufmann, impressed vocally too. The Voices – two sopranos, two mezzos, two basses – haunted and disoriented, though the children’s intonation was at times problematical. Alexander Ingram led an incisive account, with Members of the ENO Orchestra on splendid form. The Hampstead Theatre acoustic is perhaps not ideal, but then one can say that of many venues.