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A new life for another recovered voice: Franz Schreker's 'Der Ferne Klang'

August 9, 2010 |  3:37 pm

Bard Opera
Angelenos who enjoyed Franz Schreker’s “Die Gezeichneten” at LA Opera in April may be curious to know about the composer’s first full-length opera, “Der Ferne Klang,” which finally received its first staging in the United States last week.
2010 marks one hundred years since Schreker completed “Der Ferne Klang” — usually translated as “A Distant Sound” — and this Bard Summerscape production marks the fourth new staging of it to be seen this year.  (The others were in Zurich, Nuremburg and Augsburg.) 

After catching the last of four performances at Bard’s Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on Friday night, it’s easy to see why the opera (which debuted in Frankfurt in 1912) is finding an audience after decades of neglect.  Like his second opera,  Schreker’s earlier score (conducted here by Bard’s own Leon Botstein) for “Klang” features sweeping orchestral color and powerful vocal lines that demand stentorian voices.  Also like “Die Gezeichneten,” “Der Ferne Klang” features a narrative that’s filled with the dark, Schnitzler-esque psychology of fin de siècle Vienna.

But the big difference between the two is that while the plot of “Gezeichneten,” which features scores of sexually obsessed characters and island orgies, makes little dramatic sense (the libretto should be re-dubbed “Ears Wide Shut”), “Der Ferne Klang” is a simpler, thoroughly gripping piece.

Schreker wrote the text to both these operas himself, but the story of “Klang,” about a frustrated composer and his jungmädchen, who both flee their provincial village homes, inspired much more lucid and compelling music drama.  There’s a ravishing, almost scene-length aria for soprano in Act I (set, in Thaddeus Strassberger’s smart staging, inside a silent cinema), a wild orchestral fandango that closes Act II (complete with guitars in an on-stage banda + costumes worthy of a Lady Gaga music video), not to mention a genuinely chilling Act III finale—one that Strassberger tweaks, making it as dramatically satisfying as it is emotionally poignant.

Los Angeles Opera has not announced any further entries in its “Recovered Voices” series, but if the company is looking for a next installment, here is an opera that merits James Conlon’s baton—not to mention a staging that far surpasses some of the lackluster directorial efforts of the series so far.  (When asked, a spokesperson for LA Opera said it is indeed on the wish list of operas to be performed under the “Recovered Voices” umbrella.) 

A century after its premiere and 75 years after death silenced Schreker (and anti-Semitism silenced his music), “Der Ferne Klang” is a work Angelenos deserve to see and hear up close.

-- James C. Taylor

Photo:Yamina Maamar in Franz Schreker's 1912 opera "Der Ferne Klang" ("The Distant Sound") in New York. Credit: Corey Weaver, Bard College.


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