Fuller consideration of these works will follow in a later feature. For the moment, it is worth pointing out the extent to which the Staatsoper Stuttgart has made them something of a speciality over the past decade. The production of Intolleranza 1960 was first staged in 1993, and the present revival was apparently the 28th performance. That of Al gran sole carico damore (1975) ran initially in 1999 and was revived earlier this season. Both operas were thus prepared to a standard that neither can have enjoyed in previous productions. That the Staatsoper has given them this degree of attention, and can still attract virtually full houses on each night, is a tribute both to its programming policy and the successful promotion of this policy to the Stuttgart public.
On the morning of May 20, the Staatsorchester and Lothar Zagrosek juxtaposed music from the beginning and end of Nonos output. Polifonica - Monodia - Ritmica (1951) is his engaging take on the pointillist technique then favoured by the European avant-garde. A Carlo Scarpia (1984) renders the ethereal beauty of his late music through the medium of an orchestra tuned in micro-intervals, in a short but searching memorial. Zagrosek brought out the sensitivity of this music in full measure. Mahlers Fifth Symphony was given a tensile, combative performance worlds-away from the heart-on-sleeve emoting too often substituted for profundity in this work. The lead horn was persuasive in his crucial contribution to the scherzo. Zagrosek, shaping the symphonys wide-ranging tripartite structure with a firm hand, ensured that the triumphant return of the chorale at the finales climax felt like a true culmination, not a grandiose apotheosis.
The evening saw a short but coherent presentation of three of Nonos works involving tape. ... sofferte onde serene ... (1976) is the first overt indication of the change in aesthetic priorities that overtook the composer in the mid-1970s. It was perceptively rendered by Bernhard Wambach in co-ordination with a tape part that sounded transformed in quality from when Pollini performed the work in London. Ricorda cosa ti hanno fatto in Auschwitz (1966) is inevitably more searing listening, but Nonos layering of sound ensures that the experience never becomes oppressive. Likewise in La fabbrica illuminata (1964), where a tape component of graphic reportage is set in relief by the passionate melodic line of the live vocalist - here the excellent Luisa Castellani, familiar to London audiences through her performances of Berio. The recital opened with Wambachs lucid interpretation of Schoenbergs aphoristic Op.19 pieces.
Taken overall, this proved an artistically successful and rewarding undertaking that reaffirmed the creative potency of Nono at all stages in his career. Such a weekend would be welcome in the UK, where the composers importance is often acknowledged but rarely affirmed.
- Richard will be developing his appreciation of Nonos stage works as performed in Stuttgart and discussing Nonos Prometeo which is scheduled for this years Lucerne Festival on August 24 and 25 conducted by Ingo Metzmacher
- An interview with Metzmacher will appear shortly on The Classical Source
- Click hear to read details of a new book on Stuttgart Opera