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16.6.07

New Opera Notes: Hindemith

Hearing more of the Hindemith operas -- any of them, actually, when you live in a land of conservative opera like Washington -- would be fine by me. His 1921 Sancta Susanna gets produced very rarely by adventurous companies: the only recent one mentioned here was at La Scala in 2005. The scandalous photograph shown here is from a recent production at the Opernhaus Köln in 2001. The New York Philharmonic gave its first-ever performance of this opera, in a concert version, this month, and we have Riccardo Muti to blame (or thank). Martin Bernheimer sounded bemused in his review (Muti/Sancta Susanna, Avery Fisher Hall, New York, June 11) for the Financial Times:

Talk about musical exhumation. Riccardo Muti, an Italian maestro revered for his patrician civility, returned to the New York Philharmonic on Thursday and brought with him a rather horrific example of arcane Germanic expressionism. The vehicle, never performed by this orchestra and seldom performed anywhere, was Paul Hindemith’s opera Sancta Susanna, a youthful indiscretion dating back to 1921. It turned out to be shamelessly, heroically sleazy, yet often fascinating, a psychosexual period piece dabbling in sacrilegious Grand Guignol. The score seethes eerily for 25 minutes with taut post-Straussian ardour, while the lip-smacking text by August Stramm graphically explores dark doings at a sinister cloister. The protagonist is a chronically repressed nun who, one moon-drunk night, rips the loincloth from a huge crucifix, nakedly embraces the Jesus figure, recoils from a symbolic spider and ecstatically begs to be buried alive amid stones and brick. No, this isn’t The Sound of Music.
Hee hee. Other reviews, which do not lead with the Hindemith (Lang Lang also played the Emperor Concerto), were by Allan Kozinn (Tortoise Meets Hare at Lincoln Center, June 9) for the New York Times, Jay Nordlinger (A Triple Threat, June 11) for the New York Sun, and David Patrick Stearns (A super-hair team-up: Muti and Lang Lang, June 9) for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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