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Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, November 2006

While DVDs fall outside the purview of the CROCKS Newsletter, this one is so exceptional that we couldn't help bringing it to your attention. Franz Schreker (1878-1934) was at the height of his creative powers when he wrote both the music and libretto for Die Gezeichneten. As the album notes points out, the title might best be translated as "those who are marked out, or branded, by fate." Written when German Expressionism was in full bloom, it's a bizarre tale that's pretty far out even by today's standards, because it includes (at least in this production) such sexually charged subjects as transvestism and child abuse. In fact the last act takes place on an island of earthly delights which may call to mind those tales of debauchery supposedly perpetrated by Tiberius at his palace on the isle of Capri. But rather than going into any more details about the plot, suffice it to say you'll have to see (and hear) it to believe it. In the last analysis though, it's the music that reigns supreme and makes the case for this being the composer's crowning achievement. Like many pieces written towards the very end of the romantic era, it requires a huge orchestra, which Shrecker handles with consummate skill. In many respects it represents one of the last dying gasps of romanticism with all the brilliance and finality of a supernova. The composer's use of chromaticism is so extreme that at times the music almost sounds atonal, but every now and then he creates meltingly beautiful harmonically complex modulations that'll make your hair stand on end. This release, which was taped at the Salzburger Festspiele last year, has deservedly gotten rave reviews on all counts. The singing is superb with English, French, German or Spanish subtitles an option. The choral and orchestral accompaniment couldn't be better and would seem to indicate that conductor Kent Nagano must have a great fondness for this score. The sets, costumes and lighting create an Expressionist atmosphere of almost terrifying proportions, and must be some of the most imaginative yet to appear in a DVD opera. In spite of the fact that this was a live performance, the sound is demonstration quality and offered in PCM(2), Dolby(5.1) or DTS(5.1). The latter format will knock your sox off and all audiophiles should take note. By the way, the audience is very well behaved and must have been just as transfixed by this production as you'll be. It's just too bad that Schreker, whose music was branded as “Entartete” ("Degenerate") by the Nazis, isn't around to see this glorious vindication of it!



Marc Geelhoed
Time Out Chicago, October 2006

For the more adventurous, there's Franz Schreker's 1918 opera Die Gezeichneten (The Branded) (EuroArts). Filmed at the 2005 Salzburg Festival, the set is an enormous statue that's fallen down, with the characters clambering over it. The title refers to artists—outsiders metaphorically branded by fate. The main character, Alviano Salvago (Robert Brubaker), is a hunchback and artist. Director Nikolaus Lehnhoff ditches the hunchback idea, and makes Salvago a transvestite. Schreker's lush, Wagnerian score is almost more disturbing than the master's.




Bradley Bambarger
Newark Star-Ledger, October 2006

The profusion of classical DVDs gives music lovers the chance to experience operas that few beyond European festival audiences are able to see in the flesh.

One of those artists branded as "degenerate" by the Nazis, Austrian composer Franz Schreker was virtually stressed to death two days before his 46th birthday in 1934. He was an ideal target: a Jewish progressive with a theatrical fascination for the erotic in art. Thanks to a 1994 CD recording in Decca's priceless "Entartete Musik" series, "Die Gezeichneten" is Schreker's best-known opera; this DVD documents a rare production at last summer's Salzburg Festival.

The idea for "Die Gezeichneten" came from Schreker's fellow composer Alexander Zemlinsky, scarred by Alma Mahler's rejection of his looks. The title translates roughly as "the stigmatized," with the composer's own libretto telling a tragic tale of Alviano, a hunchbacked noble in old Genoa. Craving beauty, he creates a garden of art on a remote island for his aristocratic friends, but they use it as a site for sexual crimes for which Alviano is wrongly blamed. He is also rejected by an alluring painter, Carlotta; despite an initial fascination for him, she gives in to her yearnings for the lead rogue.

Schreker's post-Romantic score -- darkly languorous melodies, super-saturated harmonies, obsessively detailed orchestration -- fully evokes the cruel side of desire. Yet it may seem over the top to some ears, as his piling on of one climax after another makes Wagner and Richard Strauss seem like masters of restraint. Kent Nagano's German orchestra plays the heavy, fragrant music in surround sound, with the 12-minute prelude enough to make one feel as if suffocated by exotic flowers.

The dream-like sets are shot voluptuously, although shadows reinforce Alviano's loneliness and ruination. As Alviano, Robert Brubaker is great, both sympathetic and strange. Annee Schwanewilms, as Carlotta, is aptly cold and distant, even as she rises to Schreker's extreme vocal demands. As lurid as it was in 1918, "Die Gezeichneten" leaves a viewer with a sad, sickly feeling -- which was surely the idea.



Marc Geelhoed
Time Out Chicago, October 2006

For the more adventurous, there's Franz Schreker's 1918 opera Die Gezeichneten (The Branded) (EuroArts). Filmed at the 2005 Salzburg Festival, the set is an enormous statue that's fallen down, with the characters clambering over it. The title refers to artists—outsiders metaphorically branded by fate. The main character, Alviano Salvago (Robert Brubaker), is a hunchback and artist. Director Nikolaus Lehnhoff ditches the hunchback idea, and makes Salvago a transvestite. Schreker's lush, Wagnerian score is almost more disturbing than the master's.






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10:29:37 PM, 23 September 2014
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