18 and 19 March 2012
Oscar Strasnoy (France/Argentina)
Geschichte world premiere
Further performances: 20 April 2012 Teatros del Canal, Sala verde, Madrid
music Oscar Strasnoy
conductor Titus Selge
countertenor Daniel Gloger, coloratura soprano Sarah Maria Sun, bass Andreas Fischer, mezzosoprano Truike van der Poel, tenor Martin Nagy, baritone Guillermo Anzorena
commissioned by Musik der Jahrhunderte Stuttgart and Musicadhoy Madrid
as aprt of the Project ENPARTS – European Network of Performing Arts
with the support of the Culture Programme of the Europea Commission
The Russian-French-Argentinian composer Oscar Strasnoy (1970) gives his music theater work the title Geschichte (2004) as “Operette a cappella”. Geschichte [history – story] is here a concept with several meanings: It narrates a story in history – and particularly it is considered as a story. Contemporary, narrative music theater with entertaining value and vocal virtuosity. Sung by the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart – the most sought-after experimental vocal ensemble.
The text comes from the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz (1904- 1969). He elaborates in Geschichte the memories of his childhood and adolescence and narrates about the educational methods on a Polish farm on the eve of the First World War. It is – let’s say – a kind of “Polish version” of the movie The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke in music. Only more grotesque, bizarre, comical – and in particular crazier.
It is a setting “around a dining table” with conflicts, torments and maniac habits of the family – totally in line with the “Czechoslovakian constellation”. The macho brother Janusz emulates the exasperated head of the family, the mother suffers from chronic hysteria, the brother Jerzy has an infantilized behavior and the little sister Rena flees towards religious enthusiasm.
The Neue Vocalsolisten are always in search for new music theatre subjects and composers that try to interpret the genre music theatre. It was a lucky chance that the Vocalsolisten met composer Oscar Strasnoy. Oscar Strasnoy – born in 1970 in Buenos Aires – had a scholarship for the Academy Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart in 2001 and 2002. In that period he wrote his Operette a cappella bearing the title Geschichte. The six roles – six members of a noble family, at the core the younger son Witold – were immediately assigned to the six members of the Neue Vocalsolisten. A work that enhances the Neue Vocalsolisten’s consolidated genre of virtuous “vocal chamber music” and emphasizes its direct theatricalism.
The libretto of the composition was written by Galin Stoey – based on fragments of Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1934). In Summer 1939 he was on a journey to Buenos Aires as suddenly the Second World War broke out and so then he lived almost 24 years in Argentina. Gombrowicz wrote nearly all his works during his Argentinian exile. They were then published in Polish from 1950 onwards in Paris and later in Warsaw, too. As Gombrowicz once stated, he always gave his characters the right of individuality and intellectual freedom with no conventionality. Gombrowicz considered ideologies, religious fanaticism and nationalism particularly as repulsive.
Oscar Strasnoy – fascinated by this attitude – took up the literary life topic of Gombrowicz in his composition. Its style is so heterogeneous as the life of the six members in the noble family 3 shortly before the break out of the First World War. This family life is a picture of that time, a picture of a declining social order, in which its characters try to persistently compensate their fears of decline, their helplessness and ignorance with intrigues. The character in which all these tendencies break prismatically is Witold – the alter ego of the author. At a certain point he says: “The world has slipped away from me. It doesn’t love me and I don’t love it – a dull hostility… and if I cannot remove this tension, a wave of terrible events will wash us away.” From the music perspective, this tension of Oscar Strasnoy is represented with fragments of Operette that break in their own sounds.