James Conlon

Franz Schreker: Die Gezeichneten "The Stigmatized"

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The operas of Franz Schreker were extraordinarily popular in Germany during the Weimar Republic, and he is said to have been at one time the most-performed living German opera composer except for Richard Strauss. The rise of fascism put the brakes on his career (he was half-Jewish), and he died a broken man in 1934. Die Gezeichneten (The Stigmatized) was completed in 1918. The libretto, written by Schreker himself in full Expressionist-Decadent mode, lies somewhere between The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, including as a plot element a grotto on a mysterious island where orgies are performed. Although the opera was frequently performed in Germany, this sort of thing was anathema in uptight America, and the 2010 Los Angeles Opera performance from which this album is drawn was the first of any Schreker opera in North America. Will it lead to a Schreker revival? Maybe. The opera's language is perhaps a step beyond Strauss, with bitonal passages and other almost-atonal clashes, but here also an essential tunefulness that fits the themes of seduction involved in the story. German-Italian Wagner soprano Anja Kampe in the lead role of Carlotta has just the right voice for this combination, and in general conductor James Conlon keeps things moving along, although there has been criticism that he went too far in shaving down the gigantic orchestra Schreker intended. It seems likely that a German director in the 1920s, seeking to adapt the work for a smaller theater, would have been untroubled by the sound Conlon achieved. The live recorded sound is quite clear, and this can be recommended for devotees of late-stage post-Romantic German opera.

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