, October 2006
With characters like The Scarlet Beast, Hatred, Despondency, and (my own personal favorite) The Great Whore, how can you not love an opera like Antikrist? Langgaard was one sick puppy, and posterity can only be glad of that fact. Among his other quirks of character, he married a woman he hated in order to please his mother, walked out of the church immediately after the ceremony, and (evidently) never slept with his bride. But he also never left her. All of that was in the future when he was working on Antikrist in his early 20s, but the tension between the self-mortification, repressed but intense eroticism, and the need to affirm traditional spiritual values, makes for an explosive artistic mixture. The music takes Strauss' Salome as its starting point, but turns into something wholly original and no less gorgeous along the way to its hopeful apotheosis.
The story, to the extent the work has one, is simple: God gives the Antikrist a few days to wreak havoc on a sinful world, and the actual opera consists of a series of vignettes in which the minions of the Antikrist give vent to their various forms of nastiness. Essentially a morality play viewed from a modern angle, there isn't much action, and order is restored in the end. But the libretto is basically incomprehensible (no, that isn't a bad translation from the Danish that you are reading), and it's the music that tells that tale; not much actually happens on stage. So although the theatrical production presented at the same time as this recording was made (also available from Dacapo on DVD) did successfully realize the piece as a mesmerizing dramatic experience, it's easy to understand why many listeners will simply want to enjoy the music and leave it at that.
For make no mistake, considered purely as music, this is stunning. As with the live DVD, the performance is extraordinary and extremely well engineered to boot. There are some very fine Danish opera singers out there, including Camilla Nylund and Anna-Margrethe Dahl, both of whom made such a positive impression in Dacapo's recording of Ruder's A Handmaid's Tale--but then there are absolutely no weak links in the cast. Having made this recording in connection with live performances, all of the singers sound completely comfortable with what in fact are far from conventional parts. The orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard plays magnificently, and if you didn't get the DVD, or even if you did but want to hear the music in even more opulent sound, then this hybrid SACD is certainly the way to go. Antikrist had to wait decades for its first performance, and decades more for one truly worthy of Langgaard's warped genius; but the wait has certainly been worth it.