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Certainly Lenz (1977-8) is a tour-de-force for its central character, the volatile and unstable 18th century Romantic poet, who is on stage virtually throughout the opera, lurching from crisis to crisis, often engaged in long monologues (or exchanges throughout which, in his distractedness, Lenz pays scant attention to his interlocutors). Knit up in himself and bordering on insanity, he visualises his own demise, that of his geliebte, Friederike (here a sort of femme fatale with an influence on him not unlike that of the three figures in Tales of Hoffmann; ultimately Lenz comes to believe he is her murderer), and interacts with the outside spiritual 'forces' (his Geister, or as he and the chorus put it, his 'chimaera', which buffet and vex him until, straitjacketed by exhausted medics, he finally yields to their call and succumbs.

A barrel of fun: Johannes Kösters in the title role of Wolfgang Rihm's opera 'Jakob Lenz', based on the play by Georg Büchner

'It's something I wrote so long ago, I've forgotten it', Lenz raves halfway through; and one might suspect Rihm feels something of the same about his opera. If the opera, for all its music theatre tautness -- and several wonderful orchestral interludes apart -- has its longueurs, it is because of the relentlesslness -- perhaps rechristened relenzlessness -- with which Lenz dwells on his obsessions with the artist's sacrosanctity, entitlement, and self-expectations.

Given his preoccupations at the time -- Hölderlin, Nietzsche, Rilke, Rimbaud (they should have let him loose on Christopher Smart and John Clare), some of this seems to reflect the composer's own youthful obsessions and aspirations, albeit with Rihm's librettist, Michael Fröhling, and Büchner's play, Lenz (anticipatory, as always, of both fin-de-siecle realism and early 20th Century Expressionism; as the programme note explained, it was Max Reinhardt who rediscovered Büchner; Bernd Alois Zimmermann's opera Die Soldaten is based on a play by Lenz himself) as intermediaries.

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Copyright © 10 March 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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