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Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, December 2011

Very different but just as thrilling, this visually and musically splendid Moses is an ideal way into the work for first-timers, as well as a fascinating alternative for those who know the work. © MusicWeb International



Kurt Moses
American Record Guide, March 2011

Duesing gives a marvelous performance…Chorus and orchestra are excellent…

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.



James H. North
Fanfare, March 2011

Bochum is a city in the Ruhr, nestled between Essen and Dortmund. Jahrhunderthalle Bochum is a gigantic industrial building—remnants of the power plant of a former steel works—into which at least three theaters have been built. This one consists of two stepped tiers of seats facing each other, with a meter-wide space between them. Moses appears seated in the audience as he pleads with God (three female and three male voices) not to make him His prophet. Dressed in a dark suit, he makes his way slowly down to that narrow space, stripping to his undershorts as he goes. This raised a warning flag, but the production is by no means Eurotrash, and his near-naked self comes to seem appropriate, his body as bare and as vulnerable as his mind and his soul. As Aron arrives, the two tiers of seats slowly slide apart, revealing a performing space adjustable for each scene. There are no sets and few props: Moses’ rod, the golden calf, a stage-wide paper sheet upon which the commandments are inscribed, plus two images screened on a temporarily lowered scrim. The cast is dressed as ordinary people of today, all in dark blues, grays, and black. Lighting is stark, brilliant yet subtle. Camera angles include looking straight down from above, the dark chorus a swirling corps de ballet against a white stage.

I have started with all this visual detail because it lies at the heart of this production, which strips the drama to bare essentials, paying far less attention to the music. Andreas Conrad sings winningly, with color and clarity, but the acting of both principals takes precedence; his Aron, an uncertain human open to all influences—from God, Moses, and/or his people—is a sympathetic figure. At one point, he seems to ask himself, without words: Am I responsible for all this? I was only trying to help my people. Dale Duesing—one of the finest baritones of his day—proves to be a great actor as well, using his potent delivery and expressive face and body to depict Moses’s rock-solid convictions, his mind torn by his inability to communicate his vision to his people or even to his brother. There is little question as to which side Schoenberg is on.

The orchestra—placed on a raised platform somewhere in this confusingly structured theater—is a surprisingly minor contributor, at times visibly present but distantly heard. The Bochum Symphony offers no challenge to the Vienna State Opera Orchestra on Daniele Gatti’s Arthaus DVD or the Amsterdam Concertgebouw on Deutsche Grammophon CDs. The choral singing is a bit shrill and unclear; the chorus achieves a high level of acting, individually and in flowing group movement. The sacrifice and orgy are meant to be shocking scenes—otherwise they make no contribution to this drama—so it’s not surprising that today’s directors go all out in that direction. Four naked women appear, are ogled by the women in the chorus, and then disappear among the crowd of men. When the scrum breaks, the four women lie dead, bathed in blood. The chorus then strips (it looks as though individuals were given a choice as to just how far each would go) and joins in the orgy, bloodying one and all. Yes, this shocks, but it does fit, and it makes its point.

The two acts for which music exists are performed without pause, at least on the video. No attempt is made to express the text for act III, which Schoenberg approved for performance. Thus the opera ends with Moses bewailing “O word, thou word that I lack,” rather than the argument of act III, in which Moses emerges victorious.

The NTSC video (16:9) is as clear as any I have seen; the sound (PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, or DTS 5.1) is equally so. Subtitles come in German, French, or English (in which Schoenberg’s Aron acquires a second “a,” triggering his triskaidekaphobia). Trailers for four other EuroArts DVDs are included: a Don Giovanni (Bertrand Billy/Vienna Philharmonic), Henze’s L’Upupa, Pftzner’s Palestrina, and Haydn’s Orlando Paladino. As I have never subscribed to the belief that Moses und Aron is Schoenberg’s masterpiece, I prefer this powerfully dramatic production over others that better attend to the music.



Arlo McKinnon
Opera News, January 2011

The roots of the opera Moses und Aron lie in a personal incident of 1921, in which Arnold Schoenberg—at the time a convert to Protestantism—was forced to leave a resort because he was identified as a Jew. This initiated a period of identity crisis for Schoenberg, and shortly thereafter he began work on his play Der Biblische Weg (The Biblical Way), in which the protagonist Max Aruns (note the name’s similarity to Moses und Aron), modeled after Theodor Herzl (the founder of modern Zionism), confronts Europe’s growing anti-Semitism. Out of this work sprang the connections to the story of Moses as extrapolated by Schoenberg in the opera. Although left unfinished at the time of his death, Moses und Aron is generally regarded as Schoenberg’s finest work.

This EuroArts DVD presents a live recording of Moses und Aron from the 2009 Ruhrtriennale. Willy Decker directs the opera. His previous involvement with Moses und Aron includes his work on the 2006 production for the Vienna State Opera. Though Decker was forced by health concerns to withdraw from the Vienna project and hand over the directorial reins to Reto Nickler, the production was a terrific success. Here Decker returns to the opera, bringing a very different interpretive vision. Whereas the Vienna production is best characterized as post-modern in its aesthetic, this Bochum production (stage design by Wolfgang) has its foundation much more in the aesthetic of the avant-garde. The entire hall is used in the staging. The seating areas for the audience move, as do the orchestral performance platform and all other stage areas. The effect is that of a grandiose theater-in-the-round, with performers regularly moving through all corners and levels of the room. Clever use is made of film projections, holograms, scrims and the opera’s minimal props. Despite these novelties, Decker’s directorial interpretation of the opera is straightforward and literal, an almost austere retelling of the story. The overall effect is quite powerful and fulfilling.

The great dualities of ideal versus pragmatic, abstract versus concrete, intellect versus emotion, the spoken word versus the song lyric form the crux of this opera, as is most clearly displayed by its two protagonists. Dale Duesing gives an anguished interpretation of the spoken role of Moses. He is very much the reluctant prophet, whose vision of the unexplainable, unperceivable God defies all direct attempts to convey it. Aron, on the other hand, here convincingly portrayed by Andreas Conrad, realizes that he must somehow make this vision accessible to the Jewish people. This is one of the most difficult of all tenor roles, yet Conrad makes it sound natural, winning and at times downright sensuous. The chorus, here the world-class Chor­Werk Ruhr, carries much of the musical weight. Its performance is convincing and masterful. Throughout, Michael Boder conducts the orchestra with a supple, almost understated suavity, which prevents the orchestral element of the score from taking on more weight than is called for.

While this is not in any way a conservative rendition of the opera, it is one that helps present this sterling masterwork in an honest, convincing light. It plays to the opera’s inherent strengths and presents it in an illuminating way that should allow Moses und Aron to gain many new admirers.




Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, December 2010

Let’s be honest: no-one turns to Moses und Aron for a little light relief. It’s hard going, even for those who know it well, and while it has had strong outings on CD from, say, Solti and Boulez, it requires a lot of effort from the listener. It’s one of those works which, more so than most operas, benefits from seeing as well as hearing, so DVD is a perfect format for it and for a work so cerebral and philosophical it is right and proper to see it in a production like that presented here. Schoenberg is a composer I admire rather than love, but I found this DVD an utterly gripping experience that shed new light on this often perplexing score and led me to reassess it as a work that speaks powerfully to us today.

Leaving aside the difficulty (for want of a better word) of its serialist music, the main issue with Moses is that the story is not really what it is “about”. The sequences of narrative, familiar from the book of Exodus, take a back seat to the often intense philosophical discussions that permeate the text. Borne of Schoenberg’s own problems in communicating with his god, the work is essentially about the difficulty of identifying with a concept so infinite and unquantifiable as God. The character of Moses defines God from the outset as being “eternal, omnipresent, invisible, unimaginable”, but Aron and the Israelites are uncomfortable with this undefinable notion—God is often referred to as Moses’ “idea”—and this ultimately leads to the episode with the Golden Calf, the ultimate expression of God as an object. Director Willy Decker puts this dichotomy squarely at the centre of his production. When Aron first meets Moses in the desert, after the episode of the Burning Bush, he uses Moses’ staff as a giant paintbrush to draw images on the floor of the stage, already trying to pin down the indescribable. The Golden Calf itself is projected as an image before the three-dimensional one appears, and when it does Aron and the chorus of Israelites draw, write and scribble all over the calf and the floor surrounding it. Upon descending from the mountain Moses drags a giant sheet of paper on which are written the Ten Commandments; the sheet is then torn to pieces by Moses and the Israelites. Decker’s concept of making concrete the central conflict of the drama is not only helpful to the viewer but it gives us visual themes to follow as the production unfolds and lends it uncanny power.

In fact, Decker’s use of the physical space is a tour-de-force throughout. The opera is performed in what appears to be an enormous warehouse. The audience sit in tiered seating facing one another and, at the beginning, the performers are scattered among the audience. The two banks of seating gradually pull apart so that the action takes place in the midst of the audience, something that must have made the live experience tremendously involving. The orchestra perform on a platform at one end of this space and during the entrance of the Golden Calf the entire orchestra is moved from one end of the stage to the other as the calf is paraded through their midst. Decker spares us none of the violence or degradation of the orgiastic dance around the calf: I don’t remember ever seeing so much nudity or such widespread use of blood on an operatic stage, and the spectacle is at once thrilling and terrifying to watch. The cameras, and there must have been many of them, are in all the right places at once and the DTS sound is fantastic, creating a real sense of space and the movement of the characters within it.

The performances, both individual and collective, are excellent. Dale Duesing barely sings throughout the whole evening, but his declamatory use of Sprechgesang sets his character apart from the world of those around him and he gives the role a craggy grandeur that is very impressive. Andreas Conrad is rather dark for a tenor and he perhaps isn’t as ideally agile as one would like Aron to be, but he carries plenty of presence and he is a good foil for Duesing. Perhaps the most outstanding performance of the evening, however, comes from the chorus, such a vital part of this work. The demands Schoenberg makes of them are formidable but they rise to them with passionate commitment, be they singing their sordid hymn to the calf or playing the spooky voice of the burning bush at the beginning. They are also fantastic actors and they throw themselves into their collective frenzies, naked or otherwise, with abandon. Piloting the whole ship, Michael Boder ensures that the music never gets out of control and his orchestra play brilliantly.

As far as I can see there is only one other DVD of Moses on the market: Daniele Gatti’s Vienna production. I haven’t seen it, but I was so utterly convinced by this one that I won’t be rushing to acquire it. This is an altogether outstanding release: a thumping, exciting, visceral experience, but a challenge too and something any serious music lover should rise to.



Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, December 2010

Recording of the Month

Let’s be honest: no-one turns to Moses und Aron for a little light relief. It’s hard going, even for those who know it well, and while it has had strong outings on CD from, say, Solti and Boulez, it requires a lot of effort from the listener. It’s one of those works which, more so than most operas, benefits from seeing as well as hearing, so DVD is a perfect format for it and for a work so cerebral and philosophical it is right and proper to see it in a production like that presented here. Schoenberg is a composer I admire rather than love, but I found this DVD an utterly gripping experience that shed new light on this often perplexing score and led me to reassess it as a work that speaks powerfully to us today.

Leaving aside the difficulty (for want of a better word) of its serialist music, the main issue with Moses is that the story is not really what it is “about”. The sequences of narrative, familiar from the book of Exodus, take a back seat to the often intense philosophical discussions that permeate the text. Borne of Schoenberg’s own problems in communicating with his god, the work is essentially about the difficulty of identifying with a concept so infinite and unquantifiable as God. The character of Moses defines God from the outset as being “eternal, omnipresent, invisible, unimaginable”, but Aron and the Israelites are uncomfortable with this undefinable notion—God is often referred to as Moses’ “idea”—and this ultimately leads to the episode with the Golden Calf, the ultimate expression of God as an object. Director Willy Decker puts this dichotomy squarely at the centre of his production. When Aron first meets Moses in the desert, after the episode of the Burning Bush, he uses Moses’ staff as a giant paintbrush to draw images on the floor of the stage, already trying to pin down the indescribable. The Golden Calf itself is projected as an image before the three-dimensional one appears, and when it does Aron and the chorus of Israelites draw, write and scribble all over the calf and the floor surrounding it. Upon descending from the mountain Moses drags a giant sheet of paper on which are written the Ten Commandments; the sheet is then torn to pieces by Moses and the Israelites. Decker’s concept of making concrete the central conflict of the drama is not only helpful to the viewer but it gives us visual themes to follow as the production unfolds and lends it uncanny power.

In fact, Decker’s use of the physical space is a tour-de-force throughout. The opera is performed in what appears to be an enormous warehouse. The audience sit in tiered seating facing one another and, at the beginning, the performers are scattered among the audience. The two banks of seating gradually pull apart so that the action takes place in the midst of the audience, something that must have made the live experience tremendously involving. The orchestra perform on a platform at one end of this space and during the entrance of the Golden Calf the entire orchestra is moved from one end of the stage to the other as the calf is paraded through their midst. Decker spares us none of the violence or degradation of the orgiastic dance around the calf: I don’t remember ever seeing so much nudity or such widespread use of blood on an operatic stage, and the spectacle is at once thrilling and terrifying to watch. The cameras, and there must have been many of them, are in all the right places at once and the DTS sound is fantastic, creating a real sense of space and the movement of the characters within it.

The performances, both individual and collective, are excellent. Dale Duesing barely sings throughout the whole evening, but his declamatory use of Sprechgesang sets his character apart from the world of those around him and he gives the role a craggy grandeur that is very impressive. Andreas Conrad is rather dark for a tenor and he perhaps isn’t as ideally agile as one would like Aron to be, but he carries plenty of presence and he is a good foil for Duesing. Perhaps the most outstanding performance of the evening, however, comes from the chorus, such a vital part of this work. The demands Schoenberg makes of them are formidable but they rise to them with passionate commitment, be they singing their sordid hymn to the calf or playing the spooky voice of the burning bush at the beginning. They are also fantastic actors and they throw themselves into their collective frenzies, naked or otherwise, with abandon. Piloting the whole ship, Michael Boder ensures that the music never gets out of control and his orchestra play brilliantly.

As far as I can see there is only one other DVD of Moses on the market: Daniele Gatti’s Vienna production. I haven’t seen it, but I was so utterly convinced by this one that I won’t be rushing to acquire it. This is an altogether outstanding release: a thumping, exciting, visceral experience, but a challenge too and something any serious music lover should rise to.






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