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Zemlinsky's last opera, King Candaules, was left in unfinished short score and completed by Antony Beaumont for a 1996 Hamburg première. The Volksoper introduced the work to Vienna some five months later and won for it a distinguished prize as Best Production of the Season. Hans Neuenfels directs the André Gide based scenario as a very Freudian affair. No hint of repressed sexuality is undelivered from the analyst's couch of his interpretation. You want homoeroticism (oh -- you didn't?), you've got it. You want pointers to racism and misogyny (yes you did -- you are in denial), you've got it. You've also got the silent presence on stage of Zemlinsky himself (onetime musical director of this very house) wandering forlornly with music stand or battered suitcase, inspecting the action, blowing a farewell kiss of exile or extinction to the audience. It's bizarre in the usual way of 'director's opera' but it's gripping too.

Wicus Slabbert as the fisherman, Gyges, with the courtiers of Candaules and one-hell-of-a-catch! Photo © Volksoper Wien/Reinhard Werner
Wicus Slabbert as the fisherman, Gyges, with the courtiers of Candaules and one-hell-of-a-catch! Photo © Volksoper Wien/Reinhard Werner

The musical language hovers somewhere around the territory of Romantic Schoenberg -- a Tristanesque vocabulary that knows the grammar of Gurre-Lieder. It's a fascinating score that's well handled by the orchestra (brass especially) under the direction of Peter Rundel. The story of a ruler who wants his boyhood chum (and something more than that in this production) -- now a lowly fisherman -- to sleep with his queen aided by a magic, invisible-making, ring found in a golden carp is the kind of symbolic blancmange that wobbles at least half-way towards Neuenfels' hothouse interpretation.

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Copyright © 28 November 2004 David Wilkins, Eastbourne UK

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