Music and Vision homepage Cadenza Programme Note Library - Programme Notes by Mike Wheeler

 

<<  -- 3 --  David Wilkins    DISTURBINGLY INSINUATING

-------------------------------

Because of Cerha's close relationship with the compositions of Alban Berg (he was responsible for completing the 3 Act version of Lulu), much has been made of the similarities and connections between Der Riese and Wozzeck. They are certainly there in the music, most especially in the series of orchestral interludes that intersperse the action. But Hampson does not consider this a useful line of enquiry: 'I haven't spent a lot of time dealing with the Wozzeck issue. I wouldn't find it any help. We get to experience more of the comings and goings of his (the Giant's) "outsiderness" than we do with Wozzeck and he is a much more harmless person. There's a kind of Rake's Progress in there somewhere ... except that Cerha has written for a Götterdämmerung orchestra!' Janácek's is another voice that echoes fleetingly across some sections of the score.

Diana Damrau as Imelda in Cerha's 'Der Riese vom Steinfeld'. Photo: Axel Zeininger
Diana Damrau as Imelda in Cerha's 'Der Riese vom Steinfeld'. Photo: Axel Zeininger

It isn't, of course, a one-man show, and other performers deserve some of the laurels. Diana Damrau deals remarkably well with the strange and complex musical intervals of her role as the infatuated young woman. Heinz Zednik doubles the parts of the Rabbi and Kaiser Wilhelm with utter commitment and a penetrating but never less than welcome voice. The mother-figure of Michelle Breedt carries a weight of confused loyalties. Michael Boder conducts the responsive orchestra with detailed insight as well as concern for stage / pit balance. Jurgen Flimm's direction is sometimes overly static -- pity, for example, the group of Vienna Boy Choristers in their green blazers, all in a line without much idea of what to do. On other occasions -- the encounters of the Giant and his mother spring to mind -- the simplicity is both very effective and unostentatiously moving.

Michelle Breedt as Mother Anja and Branko Samarovski as The Composer. Photo: Axel Zeininger
Michelle Breedt as Mother Anja and Branko Samarovski as The Composer. Photo: Axel Zeininger

In the end, success or failure of Der Riese productions will always depend on the Giant himself. It's difficult to imagine who might bring more grudging power or bewildered pathos to the part than Thomas Hampson. He says that he hopes that the work gets further productions because he 'would love to see what someone else does with it'. For him, 'the challenge of the piece is your determination to create the role'. It seems that, for the moment at least, that challenge has been well met. I, too, hope that we get other opportunities to examine the lasting importance of this disturbingly insinuating opera.

Diana Damrau as Imelda and Thomas Hampson as The Giant. Photo: Axel Zeininger
Diana Damrau as Imelda and Thomas Hampson as The Giant. Photo: Axel Zeininger

Der Riese vom Steinfeld is revived at the Vienna State Opera, 5-15 September 2002.

Copyright © 1 September 2002 David Wilkins, Eastbourne, Sussex, UK

-------

THOMAS HAMPSON'S WEBSITE

VIENNA STATE OPERA

 << Music & Vision home                  Lorraine McAslan >>