What Happened to the Enlightenment?

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Pamina meets the Queen of the Night © Svetlana Loboff/OnP

I don’t want to live in a world where the political agenda is dictated by ideology, populism, superstition or religious dogmatism. I don’t want to be governed by politicians guided by their emotions, their so-called “instincts” or their beliefs. I consider rationalism as the foundation of democracy and the state of law. Anything else will lead to autocratic forms of government or worse. And I am afraid of an evolution where haters repudiate, abuse of or physically attack what they call “the elites”, social, economical or scientific experts. People do not become suspect or evil because they have a higher education. Much to the contrary. But what happened to rationalism? What happened to the Enlightenment?

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Lust and Guilt and the Ghosts of the Past

Paul and Marietta. © Stefan Bremer, Finnish National Opera

A man in love. A man mourning his deceased wife. Paul and Marie. Paul has transformed his house into a shrine with pictures and other souvenirs of Marie and is completely absorbed by his memories of her. Frank, Paul’s friend, tries to reason with his him, to make him overcome his sorrow – and fails. Paul feels erotically attracted to another woman, the dancer Marietta, which he confuses with Marie, at the same time he feels guilt. Then his fantasies take control of him, and he sees the ghost of Marie stepping out of her portrait and he believes that a song sung by Marietta is actually performed by Marie.

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Oriental Delights Anticipating Mozart’s Operas

“Zanaide” performed in Bad Lauchstädt. © Gert Mothes

Oriental exotics and intrigue, power struggles, impossible love, betrayal and reconciliation – those ingredients have tempted librettists and opera composers alike. How they dealt with it, had very much to do with the conventions of the time, the taste of the audience, and the availability of good singers. When Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, made his debut in London,  he was appalled by the lack of good singers, and though the King’s Theatre asked him in 1762 to write two operas, he initially refused. However, after the audition of several singers, he agreed, and in 1763, he presented an opera that had long been forgotten, and that I have discovered myself only very recently: Zanaida.

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Rusalka caught between fantasy and reality

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The nymphs. © Eléna Bauer/Opéra de Paris

April 2015: I am at the Opéra Bastille in Paris and the final curtain on Antonin Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka”, Op. 114 has just fallen. An exhilarating experience. I remember I left the opera in a kind of trance, perpetuated at least for some time by a glass of wine at the opera restaurant. The magnitude of the performance, directed by Robert Carsen and conducted by Jakub Hrusa, probably was the main reason why I never resolved myself to write a post about it even though I had one scheduled for autumn 2015. I was worried that the unique impression of music, the acting and the stage design would dwarf anything I would feel when listening to a mere recording and prevent me from rendering justice to Dvorak’s work (the casting is available here).

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