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Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, May 2009

Henze’s Der junge Lord was splendidly performed at Berlin’s Deutsche Opera in 1968. The, singing is excellent (Edith Mathis, Barry McDaniel, Loren Driscoll et al.) and Christoph von Dohnányi’s conducting seems expert. The production is sumptuous. The opera is a devastating look at the stultifying atmosphere of a small German town, where an English nobleman (a silent role) shows up, to great acclaim by the town administrators, but alienates the “better society” by refusing to socialize. Painful cries are heard from his palace; the town officials try to find out what is happening, but the nobleman’s secretary (McDaniel) explains that his nephew, the young Lord (Driscoll), has arrived to finish his education and is being caned to encourage him to learn German. When he speaks well enough, the nobleman will invite the better element in the town (the ones whose company he spurned) to a big party. When everyone shows up for the party, the town’s most eligible young lady (Mathis) is attracted to the young Lord, whose behavior becomes more eccentric by the minute. To the guests’s dismay, the young Lord is eventually revealed as a circus ape at the end of the opera. Henze provides a glistening score, complete with terrific dance music (for the party scene). Good sound (stereo only) and video.

Chris Mullins
Opera Today, March 2009

Like a hallucinogenic sugar cube, this Medici Arts DVD of Hans Werner Henze’s Der junge Lord, with libretto by Ingeborg Bachmann, will take viewers on a wild ride and really put it to the system. The opera premiered in 1965; this filmed version dates from 1968. Although the story takes place in a bourgeois German town in the 19th century, the cast might as well be in bell bottoms and paisley. Henze and Bachmann take over two hours to tell the story of the mysterious Sir Edgar, who excites a status-crazed German town when he visits. A party designed to present Sir Edgar’s son, the young lord of the title, sets the stage for the supposedly shocking climax. After the hypocritical elites of the town have excused the strange behavior of the young lord, they recoil in shock as the finely dressed young man goes, pardon the expression, ape-excrement crazy, at which point Sir Edgar steps in to reveal that this “son” is actually an ape who has been taught how to “ape” the manners of society. Wow! Crazy, man, far out.
Der junge Lord plays, then, like an over-extended Twilight Zone episode in one of Serling’s rare and not notably funny forays into humor. That isn’t necessarily dismissive criticism, however, and though this DVD can’t elicit a general recommendation from your reviewer, its merits shouldn’t be dismissed either.

Of primary value is Henze’s score, which skips and frolics with macabre glee, not unlike the ape-lord himself at the ball in his honor. Although far from sweet and lyrical, Henze’s music adopts tonality almost to mock the conservative, conventional society of the story. Through sharp, disruptive rhythms and kaleidoscopic orchestration, Henze manages to give the impression of edgier music than he has actually composed. No tunes may lodge in listeners’ memories, but Henze’s energetic imagination holds the attention. With Christoph von Dohnányi’s expert leadership, the Deutsche Oper Berlin forces play like crazed apes themselves.

Gustav Rudolf Sellner staged and directed the production, and it manages the rare feat of retaining a theatrical perspective while making good use of the camera. The actors/singers perform to a recorded soundtrack, following Sellner’s precise direction, almost choreographic in its flow and ease. Bachmann’s libretto, basically didactic, doesn’t really care to properly characterize any of the roles, but the performers try their best. Somehow both at the center of the story and extraneous to it are a young couple in love, sung by Edith Mathis and Donald Grobe. Mathis in particular manages some very difficult music while maintaining beauty of tone. Sir Edgar is a silent role, with Barry McDaniel as his secretary serving as a properly unctuous spokesperson. In the title role, Loren Driscoll also must cope with some challenging vocal lines, especially in the off-camera scene where the lord/ape is being tortured during his German lesson. Driscoll’s contorted posture and manic dancing do make the final scene almost worth the long wait to reach it.

Almost. In the end, Der junge Lord probably qualifies more as a fascinating artifact of its time than a successful opera. Those who still tune into the occasional Twilight Zone marathon and wonder how many of the shows could have been the basis for an opera should check this curiosity out.

Anne Ozorio
MusicWeb International, February 2009

This is a classic. The audio recording of this production has been around for a long time. This is the first release on modern DVD. It’s surprising that there aren’t any other recordings on the market as Der junge Lord is an established part of the repertoire in Europe, and perhaps the most popular of Henze’s many operas.

Musically, Der junge Lord is very fine indeed. Its simplicity belies intricately detailed construction. Henze writes cross-currents, not as layers but more like diagonally dissecting counterpoint. There are intersections, even moments of harmony, but Henze is using abstract music to reflect the tensions in the narrative. Being the master he is, it’s done with such finesse that a listener really has to pay attention, particularly to the entr’actes in which the music outlines what is to happen. This is one weakness of DVD where it’s assumed we need something to look at all the time. Solve the problem by closing your eyes and simply listen.

This sophisticated concept of multi-directional writing applies specially well in ensemble. In the first act people are strolling around the promenade in different directions, snippets of conversation operating with little connection. Their lives are purposeless, meandering. The Baronin holds a tea party where her music dominates, her guests singing variations of her themes because they’re trying to copy her. When she and the townsfolk turn against the strange English Lord who moves into town, Henze’s contrapuntal skills come to the fore. The mob scenes are well constructed: individual voices at cross-purposes building up to a seething mass. Particularly wonderful are the children’s choruses, voices too young and too pure to know violence, yet destined to lose their innocence. The children who sing angelically will go on to beat up the Lord’s messenger boy because he’s “Moorish”, African, alien.

Henze’s musical structure reflects the narrative perfectly. The action takes place in a complacent provincial town where people are desperate to conform and copy their social superiors. The Baronin is a woman who married a Duke and travelled to France, the epitome of refinement where people conform to what they think they “ought” to do for social status. Thus the Baronin, a woman who married well—“who has travelled!”, her guests whisper in awe. Tinkling their porcelain tea cups, they pop out phrases in French to show how they, too have savoir faire.

Into this claustrophobic society comes the English Lord, Lord Edgar. He’s a mysterious figure, fabulously wealthy but a wanderer, who’s travelled even more than the Baronin. Among his retinue are the Moorish messenger, dressed in gold and satin, and a strange Creole called Begonia (Vera Little) who cooks delicious sweetmeats but has a tragic past. When the locals turn against a visiting Italian circus, the Lord takes them into his own home. On the audio there’s a detail I’d previously missed, a tiny moment of peace among the turmoil. On film, the Lord makes eye contact with a circus monkey. It’s over in a flash, but don’t forget.

Screams are heard from the Lord’s mansion, so he has it announced that there will be a fancy dress ball, where the locals will be introduced to “Lord Barrat”, Lord Edgar’s nephew. The banquet is elaborate and there’s dancing. The Baronin wants her ward Luise to marry Lord Barrat, so they are paired off. But there’s something odd about Lord Barrat. Unsuspecting, the guests imitate his crude, mechanical movements and aren’t even upset when he starts to play the trumpet, madly - Henze’s scoring of this part is savagely witty. Then, suddenly the Lord rips off his clothes, his hair and even his face. He’s an ape!

The libretto is by Ingeborg Bachmann, Henze’s closest friend and muse. Her writing is tight, terse, to the point. Henze follows her syntax closely: the combination of words and music precise.

The film supplies levels of detail which expand the narrative very well. For example, the young Lord, Lord Edgar’s Secretary—who does all the talking for him—and Wilhelm, the student Luise is in love with, all sport bizarre side-burns and have their hair dyed in psychedelic shades of orange. What has Lord Edgar been up to, and for how long? It’s implicit, not obvious, part of the tantalizing mystery that haunts the opera.

Yet again, Henze is subtle, leading us into the intrigue gently. The first Act is taken up with the conventional love affair between Luise and Wilhelm—stock lovers are typical plot devices in sentimental operetta. Unsuspecting audiences might be lulled as Henze’s writing, though very modern, isn’t “scary”. Luise and Wilhelm are to Der junge Lord what the cartoon lovers are in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein a few years later. Even the Frankenstein connection isn’t far fetched as we see with the ape-turned-Lord.

Edith Mathis positively glows. She’s photogenic, the sort of person “cameras love”. Her singing is perfectly well judged, sweet but not sickly. She balances a bizarre helmet-like wig on her head which seems to have a life of its own—also a concept in keeping with the plot. Donald Grob’s Wilhelm is well prepared too, as is Barry McDaniel’s Secretary—a mix of malevolence and elegance, insidiously sung. The vignette roles are very strongly cast, too. Margarete Ast’s Baronin and the whole group of town officials, led by Manfred Röhrl, are excellent, and individual. Even poor Lord Barrat, who gets to sing only a few pathetic phrases, does so with an angelic high tenor almost as high as the boys in the children’s chorus.

This film is well made and enhances the audio experience sensitively. A pity that the colours seem faded, giving a dated look to what was once probably quite spectacular. Perhaps one day there’ll be a new version. This opera deserves it. There have been several acclaimed productions over the years so it’s time a new film was made. Until then, it’s good to have this DVD to supplement the audio.

David Shengold
Opera News, January 2009

Medici's release presents a splendid 1968 Deutsche Oper Berlin color film of Hans Werner Henze's Der Junge Lord (The Young Lord), which had its premiere there under Christoph von Dohnányi's baton in 1965. It preserves the fluid original production by Gustav Rudolf Sellner in Filippo Sanjust's truly striking period decor, plus nearly the entire cast performing roles they created. It makes available an enjoyable work by Henze, whose innovative, musically-strong stage works have gone largely neglected in New York—though Julius Rudel brought this particular two-act social satire to New York City Opera in 1973, with Kenneth Riegel as the secretly simian Lord Barrat and Rudolf Bing (no less) as his mute “uncle” Sir Edgar.

Ingeborg Bachmann's libretto, drawn from a parable by Wilhelm Hauff, falls somewhere between the world of Albert Herring and the darker fabulist comic tragedies of Dürrenmatt. In the Biedermeier bourgeois milieu of imaginary Hülsdorf-Gotha, visiting Briton Sir Edgar passes off a circus ape trained to speak as his nephew, exposing the hypocrisy of the city's snobbish society. Henze's highly allusive score knowingly reworks and parodies elements from Mozart through modernism. Never “difficult” listening, its intricate ensembles require the precision and flexibility Dohnányi's forces demonstrate.

Tenors Donald Grobe and Loren Driscoll and lyric baritone Barry McDaniel—gifted and versatile American artists—all had fleeting Met careers in Bing's later years but enjoyed long prominence in leading German theaters. Grobe brings clear timbre, dynamic control and impressive sideburns to the student Wilhelm. Consummate performer McDaniel, heard too rarely on commercial recordings, excels as Sir Edgar's unctuous secretary. The handsome Driscoll gives a virtuoso performance, physically and vocally, as the disguised ape.

As the aristocratic ward Luise—initially Wilhelm's beloved-from-afar before she falls hard for Lord Barrat—distinguished Swiss soprano Edith Mathis shows a lovely timbre darker than most Mozartean lyrics, plus considerable stage charm. Contralto Vera Little (best known as Gaea in Karl Böhm's Daphne) was one of several international-class African-American singers to build European careers free of the strictures of postwar American racism. Not that Sir Edgar's Jamaican housekeeper Begonia here is free of European stereotyping: she alternates pidgin German and English and sips from a rum flask upon entering. But Little gives a spirited, vocally bracing performance.

Deutsche Oper commanded impressive casting resources, including singers unknown to international audiences such as plushly comic bass Manfred Röhrl, here the pompous Mayor. Bella Jasper is lovely as Ida, Luise's confidante. In the estimable Central European ensemble tradition, renowned veteran singers capably fill smaller parts: distinguished Bach specialist Helmut Krebs and Günther Treptow (a Met Tristan) are among the character tenors, while erstwhile Despina Lisa Otto registers amusingly as the Chief Magistrate's wife. The capable Margarete Ast replaces creatrix Patricia Johnson, who is sensational on Deutsche Grammophon's audio recording, as the formidable Baroness Grünwiesel.

Marion Vera Forster's accompanying booklet essay—even read in translation—provides a short vacation in High Teutonic Dramaturgland. But Henze's opera is worthwhile fun.

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12:22:48 AM, 5 October 2015
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