What is the best independence speech

The somewhat different opera magazine. Passionate and independent.


Schreker's last opera was on February 21, 2020 The blacksmith of GhentPremiere in Ghent (previous performances in Antwerp). The play was new to me, but not, as I was amazed to find out during the preparation, the plot. The story (which Schreker took from the Flemish legends Charles de Costers) of the smart blacksmith who enters into a pact with the devil, but has three wishes free as a reward for good deeds, with which he outwits the messengers of hell, I got into the Swiss as a child Alpen told in almost exactly the same way - right down to the apron that the blacksmith throws into the sky past the suspicious Peter and quickly sits on it. Except that this is not the end for Schreker and the blacksmith is only admitted to paradise by Saint Joseph after weighing up his good and bad deeds. The wanderlust of sagas and legends should not be underestimated.

The trigger for the composer's search for a different, “folksy” opera subject was a wandering Kasperl theater in northern Italy in 1929, which mixed the classic Kasperl prototypes with daily allusions. Even with de Coster the story has an exact historical location - Smee, the blacksmith, fought against the Spanish occupiers in the 80 Years War. The misery in what is now Belgium, which has remained Spanish, drives him into the devil's pact - after an intrigue by his competitor Slimbroek, the Spanish customers stay away completely. The executioner Jakob Hessels and the cruel former governor Duke Alba act as messengers of hell. It is obvious that for Schreker in the year 1932 the Spanish oppressors were not just historical figures without reference to the present.

Director and set designer Ersan Mondtag takes this multi-layer system of the plant into account. The popular theater level is served by the colorful, gender-typical elements, freely distributing costumes by Josa Marx, the clear, often slightly exaggerated leadership and the stage of the first two acts (collaboration: Manuela Illera), which is dominated by a rotating structure with a tunnel in the middle that shows on one side walkable house fronts - Ghent, of course - and on the other a huge devil who is about to devour a baby.

It all works fine, apart from a few strange details (like the absence of a forge and the moment Smee urinates down on Alba). In Act 3, Smee now wears a long white beard. On the way to the afterlife, he swaps his white suit, decorated with red braids and buttons, for a black and gold parade uniform (which definitely confirms the white suit as a uniform) and suddenly resembles Leopold II. The afterlife has the shape of an art museum with African paintings. Here Mondtag draws the link from the situation of Flanders under Spain to the colonial power Belgium, which now (brief memory) does not deal with the Congolese subjects any better. The choir, partly in European, partly in African clothing, listens to a five-minute (probably original) Congolese independence speech, in which the sufferings of the colonial era are remembered. It's a long break in the music - but it's also supposed to cause discomfort. Now one also understands why the baby Jesus was dark-skinned in the first act. There is silence in the hall, the way the audience deals with the unrepentant sheet of their own history demands respect.

The production stimulates thought about guilt and dealing with the weaker, but does not show a flat dichotomy between good and bad. So begins and ends the evening Astarte, the third messenger of Hell, like all diabolical figures of fiery red skin, and through this bracket becomes the narrator of the story. Vuvu Mpofu in a spotted dress and with twisted antelope horns is therefore not an evil figure per se - deities of conquered cultures have always been demonized by the winners. She has the freely soaring, radiant soprano that the high-lying part, and the scenic authority that the enhanced structure of the character requires. In other words: fabulous all around, a stroke of luck for the cast!

Leigh Melrose as Smee and the less insightful, but also never completely unsympathetic Hallodri-Leopold prevents the third act from becoming a purely didactic piece. With his mercurial humor, his ready-to-jump elegance, he is clearly the center of the action, a Filou with courage. However, he is not a blacksmith, a man from the people for a moment - that remains a small caveat. His generosity towards the incognito passing holy family comes as the downside of his cockiness a little unexpected, but then convinces. Only the beginning of the 3rd act didn't work out for me - it didn't seem really serious, nor was it enough to ironize a hero death scene, the comedy remained a bit fake in my eyes. Anyway, there are so many other things that are good and right. His fresh-sounding cavalier baritone, confidently led and voiced, fits the spirited Smee exactly; after the first few minutes the diction became really good. One or two passages are uncomfortably low for him, but the voice feels comfortable in the dramatic and exuberant excursions into the heights. Kai Rüütel gives his (also rather upper-class) wife a profile, often plagued with Smee, but not to be beaten. Even if she bitches and curses (deliciously), her generous mezzo doesn't get pointed; she sings her two prayers simply and with emotion. Particularly remembered is the end of the first prayer, accompanied by a deep metal, where pious wishes seamlessly transition into “let Slimbroek end on the dung heap” - Schreker consciously retains the religious tone, and Rüütel adheres to it with great effect. Daniel Arnaldos as Smees right hand man Flipke in a Spanish oval hoop skirt becomes gay from act to act until he teams up with the reconciled competitor Slimbroek in front of the sky, and generally brings momentum to the action. With a supple, lyrical tenor, the young ensemble member elegantly leads the Geusenlied of the 2nd and the drinking song of the 3rd act. Slimbroek, a vicious competitor in Act 1, disappears until the end of Act 3 - where Smee runs a pub in front of the gates of heaven, which are closed to him, and quickly reconciles with the former enemy. Michael J. Scott brings a line into the character, sings it rather aggressively - let's hope that this is due to the characterization, the highs sung under pressure sounded throatier than usual. As usual (and as with the vast majority of the cast), his diction is very solid. Nabil Suliman has a little more accent than the cynical Hessels, but confidently leads his baritone to tenoral heights; Leon Košavić equips the brutal Alba with a potent bass baritone. Ivan Thirion gives St. Joseph vocal and scenic authority, which he spices with refreshingly dry humor, both during the Incognito visit and during Smee's assessment at the end - stunning! For once the Virgin Mary remains inconspicuous, after all, Chia-Fen Wu sings it with a warm soprano without any false sensitivity. After all, Justin Hopkins is a great class as the age-old grouchy African (!) Peter with a magnificent brazen bass who, despite all the comedy, never seems cliché. The squire (Erik Dello), the tenor solo (Stephan Adriaens) and the three noblemen (especially the sonorous bass by Onno Pels, but also Thierry Vallier and Simon Schmidt) are eager to listen to and understand them reasonably well, the choir (Jan Schweiger) and the children's choir (Hendrik Derolez) gives Schreker a lot to do, and they thank it with a rich sound, decent diction and staging.

Schreker's “Schmied von Gent” at the Opera Vlaanderen / scene / photo as well as Augustijns above

The new GMD of the Opera Vlaanderen stands at the podium, the horrific Alejo Pérez, and spreads the richness of this work in which the composer breaks new ground. The wind instruments dominate the sound over long stretches, the orchestration is more chamber music than im Distant sound or the Signed, polyphonic structures such as fugue and passacaglia are sometimes amazingly reminiscent of Hindemith or Shostakovichs that were created at the same time Lady Macbeth. Janáček doesn't seem far to me either. He uses the "usual" floating, sensual Schreker style (so much on the subject of simple division into good and bad) for the appearance of the Astarte and for paradise. He also uses funny quotes - for the Spaniards and Slimbroek the flea waltz sounds like, in Smee's death scene I think I heard the beginning of the Lenskij aria. The holy family does not come on stage to religious sounds, but to an orientalizing pastoral.

The production will also be seen in Mannheim in the future. The direction concept and the Smee-König equation may not work out completely, but not simply showing the play as a harmless puppet theater is undoubtedly true to Schreker's intentions. Samuel Zinsly