SCHOENBERG Moses und Aron
At least my colleague David Patrick Stearns will be pleased. He eagerly anticipated the release of this film in his Collection piece (8/16) and, in many different ways, it doesn’t disappoint. The musical standards are of an exceptionally high order, starting with the chorus of the Paris Opéra. Discreet instrumental doubling of some parts aids both execution and comprehension from the outset. To really belt out 12 note canon and exclamation requires prodigious levels of confidence and preparation; to do it in pitch black and blinding light is something else.
After an uningratiating start, John Graham-Hall does more than cope with Aron’s punishing tessitura: more accurate and agile than Thomas Moser in Vienna for Reto Nickler’s production (Arthaus, 8/07), he forms a vividly directed double act with Thomas Johannes Mayer, who pitches much of his Sprechstimme. The effect is not only gratifying, in that more of what Schoenberg actually wrote is audible, but it brings a warm humanity to their scenes as brothers who can’t help finishing each other’s sentences even while talking at cross purposes.
Other fine English singers are involved, though you will be hard pressed to identify most of them as they emerge from, and are just as rapidly absorbed within, the heat of battle: musical, theological, theatrical. So: we need to talk about the show. Act 1 takes place in mist behind a blurring gauze from which Aron’s transforming symbols of God made manifest (a missile, radioactive isotopes and a phial of blood) emerge with awful, gradual recognition. God is very present, even if no one can find him. There, in a nutshell, is the story of Moses.
As in his Brussels Parsifal (filmed for DVD, 2/14) and his Munich Tannhäuser (not yet), Romeo Castellucci brings live animals and the most subtle use of video into play. Previous of his own theatre pieces put the stuff of life (light, water, body fluids and waste) at the service of rituals such as the Dante-inspired Inferno and Paradiso (on YouTube and unmissable). Here it’s blood and tape as carriers of memory – and ink, our liquid of language. Everyone is covered in the stuff during the course of Act 2, including the Golden Calf himself, a magnificent Charolais bull. In the pit, Philippe Jordan performs miracles of his own in bringing tremendous éclat to the ritual dances of Act 2, where Schoenberg was surely saying to his West Coast neighbour Stravinsky, anything you can do …