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Die Soldaten – The Horses are Saddled and the Premiere is About to Take Place

20 AUG 2012

published in: Opera

Die Soldaten (Photo: Ruth Walz)
The last opera premiere of this Festival summer will be Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten. The piece about an abandoned woman was considered unperformable for a long time, and even today it is considered an extremely challenging work. Its twelve-tone music stands for a modern form of opera; thus, learning and rehearsing it demands a lot of strength and endurance. Ingo Metzmacher, the music director for the production, describes one especially challenging scene, the famous dream scene, in which 20 protagonists sing simultaneously, as follows: “Because it is so extremely difficult, the solution used to be to record it and then play back the tape in performance. I wanted to do it live, so in rehearsal with all those involved, I built up this passage very calmly, starting with only text and rhythm. You simply cannot sing this material five times in a row. Actually, you can only sing it once. … It was like bungee-jumping or something like that for all of us. You have to throw yourself into it; you can’t invest just 95% in singing it.”*

Even if Metzmacher does not share the opinion that the piece is unperformable, he has to admit that this might be the most intense rehearsal period he has ever experienced. The most difficult part about Zimmermann’s music is the extreme tessitura of the vocal parts. The orchestra changes all the time between extremely high and extremely low notes. “All the 88 notes which a piano’s keyboard comprises are used several times in this work,” Ingo Metzmacher explains. Originally, the work was designed in such a way that it would have required six conductors for one performance. In order to make it easier to stage, however, Zimmermann was cajoled into combining the seven different layers of tempo through bar lines. However, the work has remained a special challenge. Metzmacher on the emotionality of the piece: “The problem for everybody, including myself, is that we have to master the technical difficulties to such an extent that we can let go a bit.” Alvis Hermanis has also spoken about the time he required to get accustomed to Zimmermann’s tonal idiom. This is also true of the musicians and singers, who have to use their voices in extremely acrobatic ways.

Additional excitement is caused by some new colleagues on stage: several Noriker horses from Kuchl. Even if the four-legged protagonists have been listening to Zimmermann’s music for weeks in their stables and have been prepared as well as possible, the situation is unusual for all those involved. After only four rehearsals with the horses, Monday, August 20, will see the premiere.

You can purchase tickets for this extraordinary opera production at the Felsenreitschule by clicking here.

*Some of the information and the quotations in the text were taken from an interview in the Salzburger Nachrichten which journalist Erika Pichler conducted with Ingo Metzmacher.