, April 2017
The score is extreme, raucous and eclectic: the orchestral palette derives from Götterdämmerung; screaming Mahlerian marches depict Spanish brutality; and allusions to La damnation de Faust remind us that we are witnessing a literal hell on earth. The opera’s strident anti-Catholic stance will be problematic for many, as it became for Braunfels himself: following his own conversion to Catholicism in 1918, he discouraged further performances and it was not heard again until 2011, after the score, believed lost, was discovered in the Stuttgart Staatstheater’s archives.
This film of Roland Schwab’s staging, in the vast space of Linz’s Tabakfabrik during the 2014 International Bruckner Festival, marks its first appearance on DVD. Schwab reimagines it as a Mad Max-style apocalyptic thriller, with Catholics in bike gear and post-punk Protestants hunting each other down through a bombed-out landscape of burning cars and oil drums. The end is chilling: Protestant rebels don leathers stripped from Spanish corpses; oppressors and oppressed have become indistinguishable.
Musically, it’s impressive. Conductor Martin Sieghart admirably sustains the dramatic tension—no mean feat given that the score’s volatility leaves little room for repose. The singing can be raw round the edges, though vocal beauty ultimately has no place here. Marc Horus makes a charismatic, tireless Till, unnervingly sliding towards fanaticism as Christa Ratzenböck’s Nele is first enthralled, then increasingly bewildered by him. Best of all is Joachim Goltz, truly terrifying as the Eichmann-like Provost, icily carrying out the orders of the unseen masters who control him. It’s uncomfortable, provocative stuff, to be watched when you’re feeling strong. © 2017 Gramophone