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Hans Werner Henze's L'Upupa

available at Amazon
Hans Werner Henze, L'Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe, Matthias Goerne, Laura Aikin, Salzburg Festival, 2003 (released on DVD in March 2005)
After a long career in operatic theaters, German composer Hans Werner Henze reportedly created his final opera, in the summer of 2003, for the Salzburg Festival: L'Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (Upupa, or the triumph of filial love). This summer, that opera was produced at the Opéra de Lyon from June 24 to July 2. Last March, a DVD of the original Salzburg production was released, which arrived last week from Netflix in the Ionarts mail box. After spending some time watching it, I can say with great confidence that I want to go to the Salzburg Festival one of these years, because it's a beautiful production. Also, Matthias Goerne has a wonderful voice, as Jens has written in his assessments of his recordings (Schumann songs and Beethoven/Schubert).

Also on Ionarts:

Summer Opera: Henze's L'Upupa (July 22, 2005)

From Goerne to His Distant Beloved (July 18, 2005)

Matthias Goerne in Schumann Songs (February 20, 2005)

Philip Glass World Premiere and Matthias Goerne (January 21, 2005)
The libretto, written by the composer himself, is a strange story synthesized from Arabic tales and other sources. The huppoe, the mysterious golden bird of the title, is the source of all the trouble. (The hoopoe's place in mythology is well established. King Solomon discovered the existence of the Queen of Sheba through the hoopoe and communicated with her by tying messages to its wing.) When the bird suddenly stops visiting Al Radshi, the Grand Vizier of Manda, his obsession with the bird leads him to send his three sons on a voyage of initiation. The worthiest of them, Al Kasim (Matthias Goerne), meets his demon, the spirit who will guide, transport, and protect him. Although he complains a lot, the Demon (played by tenor John Mark Ainsley, although Henze designed the role for English tenor Ian Bostridge) sticks by Al Kasim through each successive test.

The score is intricate and gorgeous, calling for a large ensemble heavy on winds and tinkling sounds, including two harps, two pianos, celesta, five percussionists on bells and Chinese instruments. The orchestration is mostly quite delicate, however, focusing more on transparent color than on thickness of sound. Henze also uses taped sounds of beating wings and bird calls, which evoke the mythological bird much better than the mechanized one in a cage used in this production.

Henze may be out of the opera business, but he continues to compose, having recently premiered a new work for orchestra, Cinq messages pour la Reine de Saba, commissioned by Radio France. That piece recycles some unused fragments for L'Upupa. Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra will premiere another new orchestral work, Sebastian im Traum (based on the poem of the same name by Georg Trakl), this December.

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