« »

2007-6, Zürich, Szenen aus Goethes Faust

Szenen aus Goethes Faust


Composer : Robert Schumann
Librettist : Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Venue and Dates : Zürich Opernhaus
24, 26, 28, 30 June 2007
Conductor : Franz Welser-Möst
Directors : Hermann Nitsch and Andreas Zimmermann
Sets : Hermann Nitsch
Lighting : Martin Gebhardt
Choir : Ernst Raffelsberger
Performers :

Faust/Dr Marianus : Simon Keenlyside
Mephistopheles/Böser Geist : Günther Groissböck
Gretchen/Poenitentium : Malin Hartelius
Marthe/Mater gloriosa : Kismara Pessatti
Ariel/Pater Ecstaticus : Roberto Sacc�
Pater Profundus : Reinhard Mayr
Pater Seraphicus : Ruben Drole
Sorge/Sopran-Solo : Eva Liebau
Not/Magna Pecatrix : Martina Welschenbach
Mangel/Mulier Samaritana : Liliana Nikiteanu
Schuld/Maria Aegyptiaca : Katharina Peetz
Zurich Opera House Choir and Orchestra

Notes : Click here for some audio and video clips of this production from the Zurich Opera House: http://www.opernhaus.ch/d/spielplan/spielplan_detail.php?vorstellID=10319871
The links are on the right hand side under the thumbnail photos. Performed in Zurich
in April as a concert performance: Click here for details

Click here to read some personal impressions of of this production very kindly written for us by Milena Svec Goetschi

From the Zürich Opernhaus Newsletter.

Translated by Ursula Turecek

June and July-Highlights at the Opernhaus Zurich

Robert Schumann’s “Scenes from Goethe’s Faust” rank for musical director Franz Welser-Möst, who will be in charge of this first night, among the most consummate pieces that Schumann composed, from the outer as well as from the inner demands. That the oratorio yet is to be heard only rarely in concert halls is certainly due to its extensive cast that requires two choirs and a boys choir in addition to 11 soloists. The idea to stage this work is obvious in that Schumann had conceived his Faust-Scenes as an opera first and refrained from it only in the course of the work. Without a continuous thread of action the work divides into three sections the first of which is devoted to Gretchen’s tragedy; the second connects the beginning and the end of Faust’s earthly quest with Ariel’s “Sunrise”, the entrance of the four grey crones and his death. In the third section Faust’s transfiguration follows. The production lies in the hands of Hermann Nitsch and Andreas Zimmermann. Hermann Nitsch will illustrate these mock Stations of the Cross scenically. He achieved fame by his “Orgien-Mysterien-Theater” [“orgy-mystery-theatre”], a venture that assumes the idea of a “Gesamtkunstwerk”, including painting, architecture and music and aims at a catharsis based on Greek mysteric feasts. Simon Keenlyside as Faust, Malin Hartelius as Gretchen, Günther Groissböck as Mephistopheles and Roberto Saccà as Ariel lead the soloists’ ensemble.

Photo Gallery (partly Courtesy of Zurich Opera)


A compilation of quotes about Simon’s Faust from various reviews, very kindly translated by Petra Habeth: Full translation will appear soon

  • “…he outshines all other singers”
  • “…his stage presence and charisma do not leave him, even standing on stage in his pants”
  • “…he plays to his strengths as a Lied-singer”
  • “…the Briton feels apparently uncomfortable in the different nightgowns but he sings with warmth and litheness”
  • “… with an (accent free) strength of language and variety of expression which no other baritone at present will be able to reproduce”
  • “…ideally cast, perfect diction and with a variety of vocal possibilities”

Die Welt, 26 June 2007 (Manuel Brug)

Translated by Ursula Turecek

Artist Hermann Nitsch puts Schumann’s “Faust-Scenes” onto the operatic stage in Zurich Lukewarm summer of Goethe-love The pig had its big entrance early on. The scene in the cathedral from Goethe’s “Faust I” of course, set by Robert Schumann.  But actually for Hermann Nitsch, the Austrian Master of Mysteries, the Lord of dead animals, blood and mesentery who was anointed a Classic with his own museum recently, one pig is insufficient. And it never gets really anti-clerically orgiastic, even blasphemous with the disembowelled swine that is video broadcast on two screens, nor can it become so. Because it is from plastic. As the guts and other bowels are from silicone. Again and again they are stuffed in and doused with that “special juice” [1 – see footnotes] artificial blood, to guck out and plop afterwards. In the Zurich Opera house’s foyer the studio explains proudly its production and use in an impressive installation. There is even a heart to get your hands on. Sure enough, it is more concrete but lacking mystery as much as the actions that happen in the pit and on the stage. In the context of the festival at the end of the season, Alexander Pereira’s wonderful fairground booth shows – crammed among Mozart for Children, Zandonai’s verismo-tearjerker “Francesca da Rimini” and the Alban Berg Quartet – “Szenen aus Goethes Faust” that certainly has never seen the light of a stage before but was meant for it by its creator: Robert Schumann’s rarity for chorus, orchestra and soloists, is full of pain, does not add up to an entireness, flashes with many beautiful, mildly Nazarene details, and is not opera and not oratorio but not cantata either. Benjamin Britten and Claudio Abbado had a great love for this compositional impossibility that is so completely romantic a fragment, and plies more the “quirky inedibility” (Thomas Mann) of the second part of “Faust” than Gretchen’s popular tragedy which is exploited for the operatic stage willingly and often. And Franz Welser-Möst appreciates it very much too. This became clear in the cantilevered, shadily engraved chorus parts for the little ones and for the grown-ups, rehearsed excellently by Ernst Raffelsberger. The orchestra finally played together, also in many subtle, brightly gleaming moments. But there were to be found much too many beamless, even blind passages, imprecisions. Schumann’s instrumentation which is difficult to handle had a tendency to sound slightly jejune, furry; the sound was often plain, dutiful at best. The scene did not absorb this. Certainly nobody had expected suddenly groundbreaking “Regietheater” by old Hermann Nitsch who has aged as an honourable “aktionist” [2]. Years ago in Massenet’s Salome opera “Herodiade” he had made a little artificial blood pour onto white canvasses and flow there at the Vienna State Opera. But we would have wished for this rare Schumann-Goethe, visualised together with Andreas Zimmermann, to be more grubby, daring. With more pig, after all! Instead of Lake Züri de Luxe. So we witnessed disbelievingly a cultivated haemoptysis as a nostalgically harmless, completely aseptic Nitsch-reminiscence to the summer of love. Goethe on dope, where you let the sun shine in joyfully and scuttle in blissful choral ecstasy – partly in a loose striped dress, partly in a little skin-coloured dress. And we discovered: Meanwhile there is a graphic computer in Nitsch’s castle in Prinzendorf. With it you can create trendy TV-test patterns, make circles open and close bubblingly or load advertisement photos of Wachau, Veltliner or squiggly baroque buildings and copy them one over the other on three canvasses filling a stage. More staged chromatics than Faust. In any case regarding the aesthetics, an anthrophosophers’ ticket to Dornach [3] is absolutely compatible with the efforts for a complete “Faust” in Goethe’s name. Characters did not really take place in these static seven scenes in three parts, interrupted by much too long scene-changing intervals, a hotchpotch of unctuous “Zauberflöte”-stiltedness and a TV-preacher’s hosanna. So the singers concentrated on their real thing. Marlin Hartelius, whose formerly tender soprano disintegrates more and more into its components, as Gretchen dressed in black moved [the audience] to pity at the forestage. Robert Saccà hung as Ariel with trumpeting tenor in the chords in front of a photographic wallpaper-cosmos and competently handled his “fliwatüt” [4] as Pater Profundus in a pending position. Eva Liebau beautified even Sorrow with her vocal glimmer. Günther Groissböck’s fasciated Mephisto had at the most the visual charm of a soft toy, but he sang with a balmily flexible, exactly channelled sonorous bass. And Simon Keenlyside! When he did not have to be washed or soaked in blood, eternally dressed or undressed, laid onto the cross or onto barrows, rise to the skies or back again, then this, the most intelligent of baritones at present, became almost casual, but with high concentration to every detail and living more than up to his reputation: He flaunted vocally while simultaneously and emphatically dissecting the text. Dr. Faustus superstar, facing his mission almost as a monk. But the most beautiful scene happened simultaneously and parallel to the palely lukewarm performance in the auditorium. There, Hermann Nitsch’s baroque figure was enthroned above all with a gentle smile like a benevolent Godfather with an accurately cropped full beard, first in the proscenium box left centre, then in the director’s box, and blessed his latest creation in thought. [1] This is after a quote from Faust “Blut ist ein ganz besondrer Saft” – Blood is a very special juice. [2] What counted for the “Aktionist” group of artists was the process of creation, not the result – for Nitsch his „orgies“ were the art, when he disembowelled animals and bathed in their blood, the bloody clothes then shown were only reminders of this aktionism. [3] Anthroposophy is a philosophy founded by the Austrian Rudolf Steiner, and the centre for people who follow him is in Dornach in Switzerland [4] A type of helicopter from a puppet series on TV for children called “Robbi, Tobbi und das Fliwatüt”

Vox specatricis, 25. 6. 2007 (Chantal Steiner)

Translated by Ursula Turecek

Szenen aus Goethes Faust, 24.06.2007, Zurich Plays of colours Yesterday’s festival first night presented on stage Robert Schumann’s “Szenen aus Faust” which had already been performed in concert at the Thonhalle on Easter Monday. A work that is neither oratorio nor opera but confines itself to „Scenes“. The realisation works in concert better than on the operatic stage. The Opera House had engaged a duo for the production: the Swiss actor and director Andreas Zimmermann and the former enfant terrible and now established “actions”-artist Herbert [sic!] Nitsch. They staged the work using coloured projections. To do them justice you would have to sit in the stalls – again!; from the amphitheatre you can hardly judge them. Personally I found colouring of stage and costumes appealing. The lighting was exceptional at times, the direction of the characters very static, the direction of the chorus like in ancient Greece. But the projections were distracting at times because they changed too often – and the falling of the curtain after each scene (at least before the interval) was extremely annoying. The audience began to chatter and every time you were brought back to reality brutally. And the disembowelling of the pig??? In the magazine it is written: “Andreas Zimmermann attached importance to the fact that the evisceration of a dead animal, a pig in this case, that had been planned first in video clips only, also was included live into the action. Only in this way could a connection with the ‘Faust’-story be created.” Well, I simply cannot follow him in that. For me it was only a clumsy reminiscence of Nitsch’s other oeuvre (who by the way regretted that “for hygienic reasons, the power of social taboos and the limits of disgust” no real pig was shown at the Opera House). Since the 60ies we have got used to many things so that the slaughtering of the pig did not cause much excitation. But the constant ripple of the stage blood does impair the musical reception quite badly. Musically the performance was a treat. This began in the pit where Franz Welser-Möst explored the score most splendidly, wove a transparent carpet of sound and stimulated the orchestra that was in optimal form to supreme achievements. It is worth while to discover this work that Schumann composed from the end to the beginning, and as a drama of redemption (some knowledge of Goethe’s “Faust” are of advantage for the understanding). Particularly when you have such terrific protagonists as currently at the Opera House. Although the ensemble of singers is excellent, Simon Keenlyside eclipses everyone. The English baritone has an excellent diction at his disposal and has command of every nuance in language and singing. His voice has almost inexhaustible reserves, he can sing to the softest piano in falsetto or with the chest voice and also resort to dramatic outbursts. He is also in a very good shape which allows him to be drawn up into the drawing floor and down again hanging on a cross, or to sing with a boy on his arm. Günther Groissböck as Mephisto/Böser Geist [evil spirit] / Pater Profundus is a convincing antagonist. His sonorous bass that never found any limits, his excellent diction and his figure could win over the audience very much for him. Incomprehensible why the Opera House lets such a brilliant young singer go. In any case he does not feature in next year’s ensemble….. Roberto Saccà as Ariel (singing mostly in airy heights – presumably the audience would not have known otherwise that Ariel is an angel…) and Pater Ecstaticus was better by far than at the Tonhalle on Easter Monday. With his perfectly employed tenor, a radiant height, a good middle range and a stupendous phrasing that sent me into raptures again and again he fitted into the great squad of singers seamlessly. Malin Hartelius (Gretchen/Una Poenitentium) captivated with sensibility and much feeling, and she made the best of her means. But I would have wished for a less light soprano for the role. From among the also very homogeneous ensemble of the many underparts it was particularly Eva Liebau (Sorge [sorrow] and solo-soprano) who stood out. Her bell-like, silvery soprano paired with the force of her acting are always a pleasure. And last but not least we must wind a little wreath for the Opera House’s chorus (reinforced by the supplementary chorus, the youth chorus and the children’s chorus). They mastered the difficult part brilliantly. Much applause for all – even Herbert Nitsch was applauded benevolently (maybe he was helped by the „bonus of age“). Conclusion: As this work is performed very rarely: absolutely go there! But in a new scheduling I would prefer the concert version (or at least a staging that does not need to rebuild the stage with the curtain down. This should have to be feasible technically!).

Excerpt from a review by George Loomis, International Herald Tribune, July 3, 2007


In Zurich, the musical essence of Goethe’s ‘Faust’

“Faust Scenes” has long commanded the attention of conductors who recognize its sublime beauty. Now in a direct challenge to those who question Schumann’s ability as a dramatist, the Zurich Opera House has mounted “Faust Scenes” in a staged version by Hermann Nitsch, the Viennese “Actionist,” whose Orgy Mystery Theater specialized in ritualistic performances featuring group sex and the slaughter of live animals. Nitsch did not reveal Schumann to be a spellbinding storyteller. But he gave every reason to look beyond the dictates of conventional drama and discover a work that seeks not to retell Goethe’s plot but, as the conductor Franz Welser-Möst observes in a program note, to capture the drama’s essence. Perhaps least successful are the initial scenes, musically rewarding though they are, which tell of Gretchen’s seduction and abandonment. And Nitsch’s decision to accompany the Cathedral Scene with his trademark disemboweling of a swine (not a real one, but it looks real enough) didn’t tip the balance. Schumann’s principal concern instead was with the more philosophical Part II of “Faust” (just as Mahler was drawn to Part II in his Eighth Symphony), and especially its theme of death and redemption. The work emerged as overwhelming in its life-affirming choral ensembles. And Faust’s deeply moving death scene, where the optimism with which he meets his end represents a triumph over Mephisto, is balanced later by his spiritual rebirth as Doctor Marianus, an episode equally exquisite musically. Even the spirit of poor Gretchen lives on in the final chorus extolling the Eternal Feminine. The Christian implications are not overlooked, for Nitsch, rather unsettlingly, shows characters strapped to crosses. But it was truly inspired for him to remember that Goethe wrote “Zur Farbenlehre,” a treatise on the theory of color. Working with Andreas Zimmermann, with lighting by Martin Gebhardt, Nitsch had the stage radiant with projections of colors in solid bars and concentric circles; costumes were equally vibrant. The concluding portion was like witnessing the joyous final moments of “The Magic Flute” spread over a much longer time frame. In his first new production since being named music director of the Vienna Staatsoper, the house’s general music director, Welser-Möst, led a magnificent performance in what was a surely a labor of love, with a splendid contribution from the chorus. Simon Keenlyside was in superlative form in the dual role of Faust/Doctor Marianus, his fine baritone often ringing out energetically yet always phrased with an artistry that underscored the essential oneness of Schumann’s writing for voice here and in his Lieder. Malin Hertelius’s soprano was perhaps a little on the dark side for Gretchen, but she nicely conveyed the girl’s fragility. She was touching in the “he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not” episode and later in the Cathedral Scene as she faces forces beyond her control. Günther Groissböck intoned Mephisto’s lines with a menacing, powerfully resonant bass and reappeared with equal effectiveness in the benign guise of Pater Profundus. Eva Liebau’s soprano served nicely for another of Faust’s nemeses, Worry. And the tenor Roberto Saccà sang handsomely as Ariel and Pater Ecstaticus. “Faust Scenes” was given within the framework of the Zurich Festival, which runs through July 8 and includes performances of all the Schumann symphonies and concertos at the Tonhalle. As a further demonstration of the Zurich Opera’s faith in Schumann’s dramatic compositions, it promises a new production of “Genoveva” next season, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting.

Website Deutschlandradio Kultur, 24. 6. 2007 (Bernhard Doppler) http://www.dradio.de/dkultur/sendungen/fazit/639515/

Translated by Ursula Turecek

Opera as village mass Hermann Nitsch stages Robert Schumann’s “Szenen aus Goethes Faust” No trace of a scandal when the Viennese “actionist” artist Hermann Nitsch, who with public slaughters, blasphemous crucifixions and ecstatic blood showerings of naked, tied up bodies attracted angry aggressions again and again, stages an opera! It is true, the applause dripped a little diffidently between the respective scenes at first but at the final applause Nitsch, looking a little like Godfather in childrens’ books now with his huge beard, is given a friendly greeting by the Zurich first night audience that usually hoots gladly. What has happened here? Vienna’s scandal-accompanied “aktionismus” from the 60ies where the painters changed from panels into reality – “red” not as a colour but experienced, sensually perceptible blood! – has not only arrived at the museum currently but is even re-enacted at the theatre now. But the pig that is slaughtered on stage is only a copy at the Zurich Opernhaus, and its bowels, kidneys and liver that are disembowelled and filled in again, are only theatre plastic and the blood is red theatre blood. To interest Hermann Nitsch in directing Robert Schumann’s “Szenen aus Goethes Faust” makes sense from the dramaturgical point of view. Schumann calls his work “scenes”, it is certainly operatic but still more an oratorio, a “secular” oratorio – conductor Franz Welser-Möst establishes a connection with concert pieces like Mahler’s “Lied von der Erde” – but mainly a ritual of salvation. Schumann proceeds in his “Szenen” which he adopts literally from Goethe, mainly from Faust II and its generally painted transfiguration at the end. Three steps of sublimation are presented till the “Chorus mysticus” announces ecstatically in the finale “Das Unbeschreibliche hier ist’s getan, das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns hinan!” [“The indescribable is done here, the eternally female draws us upwards!”]. Within this parameter by Schumann and Goethe, Hermann Nitsch can re-enact his lifework, the OMT (= “orgy-mystery-theatre”) he developed at his castle in Prinzendorf in Lower Austria, at the theatre. A completely empty stage, on the floor only marks like those for fields in a gymnasium, is visible, but on the canvas that completes the stage a rapid change of colours and overlapping video projections: abstract but also representional – mostly photos of autumn leaves, village elders and grapes. The operatic characters in front of this are not dressed up individually but all of them wear priestly mass vestments that are simultaneously smocks in Nitsch’s philosophy. Three times Faust is elevated, three times his garments – besmirched with a sacrificial animal’s blood in the Gretchenscene – are changed ritualistically, three times his body is cleaned from women and strapped onto a cross. All of this is not far away from religious folklore and sacral kitsch, especially in the military assembly of the chorus and its processions. After all Nitsch abstains from psychological direction of the characters! At times you smile about banal things: the black and white plastic buckets that are available at the slaughtering, or the competent grips at the strapping onto and from the crosses: The priestesses make you think of assisting nurses in the operating theatre. But the chorus’s shaven heads do not prove the membership in a sworn in sect looking for existential experiences in Nitsch orgy, the bald heads are theatre wigs; the orgy-mystery is a theatrical fake! With which we are back at the conservative operatic audience: the overall work of art opera as a surrogate religion. So Nitsch’s concept did play to Schumann’s idea of a ritual of salvation inspired by Goethe, but less so to his music; for his actions captured the attention too much. Therefore the orchestra of the Zurich Opera was most interesting in the overture when the curtain was closed and Franz Welser-Möst opened with Beethoven-like pathos and frayed out [the music] impressively and in a modern, subtly nervy way afterwards. Also imposing were the many chorusses (Ernst Raffelsberger) and impressive some soloists like Eva Liebau as Sorge [sorrow] for example – but what particularly made one prick up one’s ears was Simon Keenlyside as Faust. He captivated the attention with all kinds of brilliant vocal changes. When Keenlyside with a child in his arm – possibly the Christ child – takes leave of the world completely tender, completely refined, because the “Spur von seinen Erdentagen” [“trace of his days on earth”] cannot perish in “Äonen” [“aeons”], “it”, the salvation, is “vollbracht” [“done”] – not by Nitsch but by the voice of a singer.

Review from “Leporello” – a broadcast of the Bavarian Radio “B4 Klassik”, 25. 6. 2007 (Gabriela Kaegi)

Transcribed and translated by Ursula Turecek

What may director Alexander Pereira have thought and above all hoped for when he assigned the staging of Schumann’s “Faust-scenes” to the Viennese “actionist” Hermann Nitsch. A miracle? Or maybe rather a tangible scandal. Nitsch who in his home directs sacrificial processions with ritual slaughter of animals at his orgy-mystery-theatre, had to promise the director that he would not have real blood flow on stage. This he observed. Even so a pig, artificial after all, is slashed, from which deceitfully real artificial bowels filled with artificial faeces well up, theatre blood flows and finally everything is stuffed back into the artificial animal belly by people dressed in white. Although is looks rather disgusting and above all sounds disgusting, you have to praise the studio for this precise work. With this “sow action” Gretchen prays in front at the cathedral, kneels and repents, while Mephisto is standing next to her and slaughters her with words. [Short musical extract Malin Hartelius and Günther Groissböck in “Scene in the cathedral”] No, there is no connection between the sow and Gretchen, between her nascent child and the piggish bowels. Nitsch does not want to illustrate a story, no more than Schumann, but he wants to liberate people from repression, he says, to create intensity with pictures like this, this is his mission. In Zürich this was not successful. Too big the compromises, too arbitrary the video projections with dyed subjects of grapes and gardens and mountain peaks, too striking the ever recurring symbolism of the cross, too ridiculous the whole settings. At times you believed yourself in an anthroposophic performance of “Faust” from the 50ies. However, what the Opera House summoned up regarding the singers, most of them from the ensemble, was not bad at all.  Malin Hartelius was touching in Gretchen’s chant, Günther Groissböck a vocally impressive Mephisto although this role got its teeth quite pulled with Schumann, and finally, altogether wonderful, Simon Keenlyside as Faust. Physically relaxed but always present, he smoothed out the staging’s often jolty transitions, amazed again and again with his dancing abilities, not to mention his vocal performance that offered everything from velvety, tender piano heights to gripping forte while he is interested first and foremost in a clear diction. [Short musical extract SK singing THE words from Faust – it’s what the whole play is about: “Möcht ich zum Augenblicke sagen: Verweile doch, du bist so schön!” – “I would say to the moment: Stay, thou art so beautiful!”] Franz Welser-Möst who deals with this score for the second time within the last few months, is certainly serious about Schumann’s music but he did not really penetrate into the depth, everything is too clean, too polished and at the decisive moment the brass abandoned him. Then the hope for a „magic moment“ really was gone.

Uwe Schweikert / opernwelt /  August 2007

translation will follow as soon as possible

“...Überragend die Solisten, allen voran Simon Keenlyside als ebenso kraftvoll wie geschmeidig artikulierender Faust und ätherisch milder Doktor Marianus, Günther Groiss­böck mit markanter Stimme und profunder Diktion in diversen Basspartien, Roberto Saccà als tenoral eloquenter Ariel, Malin Hartelius als ergreifendes Gretchen und Eva Liebau, die dem Auftritt der Sorge den nötigen gesanglichen Nachdruck verlieh.

Kaspar Sannemann, oper-aktuell.info

translation will follow as soon as possible

“... Von den Solisten ragte Simon Keenlyside in der äusserst anspruchsvollen Rolle des Faust heraus. Grossartig seine Stimmführung, seine Diktion und auch seine physische Erscheinung. Durch die zahlreichen rituellen Waschungen auf der Bühne kamen seine weiblichen und männlichen Anhänger in den Genuss, den perfekten Body des Starbaritons in wechselnder Unterwäsche zu bewundern. Allerdings stellten sich auch bei ihm im dritten Teil hörbare Ermüdungserscheinungen ein. …”

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment