May I just also mention here (because I really think we have perhaps neglected this a little in our discussions about the production) how wonderful I thought these performances were musically. There was so much that impressed me. I loved the way Peter Tantsits sang with such agility and grew so imperceptibly from a little boy both playful and traumatised to a passionate young man; and way Michael Leibundgut seemed able to convince us that he could be both father and devil; and the impassioned Eva of Anu Komsi, her tortured journey into madness and the way her voice pierced like a laser through the choir in those huge opening chords of Act 3. And the warmth of Merve Kazokoglu's basset horn, which sounded like it really could have been the breath of the Earth itself, and the menace of Stephen Menotti's trombone, shattering and formidable. And then, naturally, Paul Hübner on trumpet. Wow. How does anyone manage to do all of that, to bring so much of both heaven and earth, of libido and life and loneliness out of the trumpet? And huge praise to the dancers and the way they each gave the characters both the bodily and the extra-bodily life that Stockhausen envisaged. And the choir. And the orchestra. And Ansi Verwey on piano. And let us not forget the one who held it all together, balanced it, brought it all to us so seamlessly integrated with the UNSICHTBARE CHÖRE and the instrumental Tonband, and let us hear Michael and his Star-maiden circling around us in the sky, and Luzifer darting in all directions as he scorned Michael and us too - Kathinka Pasveer who not only managed the sound projection but steered the artists through every step, every bar, of the music for a whole year leading up to these performances. There really was a lot to be thankful for!
Oh and of course Rolf Romei (re my previous post). How could I forget him, especially when he whispered those wonderful lines from VISION, and softly sang of his love for humanity, in a way that even now makes me a little teary.
This has been a fascinating and thoughtful discussion that I thoroughly enjoyed to read. Thank you all!
I am glad that Ian highlighted the enormous quality of the musical performance. It is unfortunate that Thomas, as his impressions in his opening post suggest, did not manage to fully appreciate it, since apparently he was too distracted from the music by the scenic and dramatic aspects of the production. Contrary to his impressions, I found the musical performance as good as, and sometimes even better than, the ones on the Stockhausen Verlag CDs which obviously are the sole recorded reference so far. The singing was just phenomenal, and I preferred the clarity of diction of the soprano in the Basel production. The two Michael vocalists were impressive throughout, as was the bass as Father and Luzifer. The live choir in FESTIVAL sang with precision and impact. The orchestra seemed excellent, as did basset-horn player and trombonist. Only the small band in the GREETING playing in the Foyer, consisting of local students, was a bit imprecise, but I found the performance on Sunday already a big improvement over the one on Saturday.
Paul Hübner on trumpet was a sensation. Earlier this year I met a composer/trumpeter in NYC; while he had also played the intricate Berio Sequenza for trumpet, he said that Stockhausen was too difficult for him to play. When I asked him about Markus Stockhausen he simply answered that he is an exceptional trumpeter. But I have heard even Markus make mistakes in excerpts of MICHAEL'S JOURNEY during the Stockhausen summer courses. Paul Huebner played to near perfection live. There was a slight glitch in the entrance formula of MICHAEL'S JOURNEY in the Sunday performance, and a minor mistake in FESTIVAL in the Saturday performance, but other than that the playing seemed virtually flawless. Not just that, he played the difficult trumpet parts with an ease and subtle sophistication of tone that had my jaw just drop. To hear such sublime level of playing in a live situation was almost unbelievable. I talked with Kathinka during one of the breaks about his performance, and she was just as impressed as I was.
The sound projection under Kathinka's direction was excellent. All the amplification and mixing of tapes into the live parts seemed virtually perfect, regardless of my seating position in the hall -- rows 15 and 8 in the Saturday performance, and row 2 on Sunday (a riveting experience to sit so close to the performers). In a conversation during a break, Kathinka raved about the sound installation in the hall and the mixing technology (she also made some highly positive comments in the program booklet, where he says that finally the technology had arrived that Stockhausen dreamed of, but did not have at his disposal in the Eighties). She said she also had local help for the sound projection from 5 experts, including ones at at Basel conservatory, who she thought were excellent. Some people present at the Covent Garden production in 1985 had complained in an internet discussion about the speakers surrounding the audience blaring the tape of INVISIBLE CHOIRS into their ears; apparently they were seated too close to the speakers. There were none of those problems in Basel since the speakers were hung up high.
Overall, DONNERSTAG in Basel was an unforgettable experience on the musical level.
Yet it was unforgettable also on the level of production. Yes, it had its shortcomings, but as others have expressed, it was a touching experience in many ways and it was well thought out, even if in a sense one-dimensional. The imagery was very strong. Overall I tend to be in the camp of Bernard, Adorjan, Ian, Sven, Alain and others on the production. Fortunately they have stated their position in depth and in an eloquent and multi-faceted manner, so no reason for me to repeat anything here. Let me just add that I found it to make MUSICAL sense to have EXAMEN play in a mental facility; I had always wondered about the desperate singing of Michael in this scene and it seemed to fit naturally in this setting. To me it suggests that Lydia Steier had developed part of her vision from listening to this music, and then extended it to the subsequent acts.
As for her trying to be true to the work, I would like to highlight some of her comments, after having been asked in a conversation, about the INORI gestures in the program booklet, which also provide a clue as to why she chose the interpretation that she did:
"Es ist sehr spezifisch, was Stockhausen dort vorschreibt. Man kann diese Gesten nicht weglassen, sie gehören zur Partitur. Aber man muss einen Weg finden, sie nicht dekorativ aussehen zu lassen und ihnen einen Kontext geben, der in der Psychologie der Figuren begründet ist. Die Herausforderung, die sich grundsätzlich stellt, wenn man Stockhausen inszeniert, ist, das alles dort sehr friedvoll, himmelartig und verklärt erscheint, unberührt von menschlicher Psychologie. Ich glaube aber an das Gesetz der Kontraste: Wo viel Licht ist, da ist auch viel Schatten. Und wer nach Erleuchtung sucht oder sich nach Momenten der Erhabenheit sehnt, der hat oft Schmerzhaftes erlebt. Dies trifft auch auf <<Donnerstag>> zu: Dort findet zu Beginn innerhalb einer Familie ein Trauma statt, das der Ursprung für alles andere im Stück ist. Man muss diesen Schmerz sehen, um den Figuren folgen zu können. Und mann muss die vielen dunklen Momente in diesem Stück zeigen, damit sein Licht heller leuchten kann."
Translation (mine): "What Stockhausen prescribes is very specific. You cannot leave out these gestures, they are part of the score. Yet you need to find a way of not having them look merely decorative, and of giving them a context that is grounded in the psychology of the characters. The challenge that arises in principle anytime you enact Stockhausen is that there appears to be everything peaceful, heaven-like and transfigured, untouched by human psychology. Yet I believe in the law of contrasts. In the presence of much light there is also a lot of shadow. And someone who searches for enlightenment or longs for moments of sublimeness often has had painful experiences. This also applies to <<Donnerstag>>: there you have at the beginning a trauma happening within a family, which is the origin of everything else in the piece. You have to see this pain in order to be able to follow the characters. And you have to show the many dark moments in this piece so that its light can shine more brightly."
In her own way, Lydia Steier seems to understand that ultimately it is about LIGHT.
The conflicts about the "Werktreue" of the DONNERSTAG in Basel seems not to be over yet. On September 20th, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that the Stockhausen-Stiftung wants to stop the idea of a DONNERSTAG livestream planned to take place on sonostream.tv from the upcoming performances. The reason seems to be the critical attitude of Kathinka Pasveer and Suzanne Stephens towards Lydia Steier's interpretation. The FAZ speaks about an upcome conflict about whether the livestream is part of the contract between the Basel opera and the Stockhausen-Stftung or not. Let's see what will happen...
For me the report of the FAZ was very interesting. For, on the same page there was a review of a new production of Beethoven's Fidelio, in which the stage director changed the plot in a way that now the opera was converted into a therapy-session for Leonore, a "trauma-therapy". When I read this I thought: Isn't that similar to what happened with Stockhausen in Basel? It seems somehow "Zeitgeist", the inability or unwillingness to encounter reality beyond the Ego, to deal, in the case of Beethoven, with ideals as freedom or the reality of unconditional virtue - and in the case of Stockhausen with cosmic and religious forces. The psychological questions of Lydia Steier, that Albrecht cited in his contribution, are an indication for that. For me it is a signum of quality when a production is able to go beyond "Zeitgeist", not to repeat that over and over again. But, we all know: Quality is rare. And the willingness to confront oneself with motives beyond the common, is rare. Stockhausen always had this willingness, and so, I feel, it is a tragedy when a work of his is so reduced to common sense. But, the works will bear that, also Beethoven will survive... But, when you sit in the opera house and are confronted with an interpretation like this, that thought does not really comfort you... But in a situation like this it is obviously wise, to concentrate on musical quality as Albrecht rightly did!
I do hope this live stream is able to go ahead, in spite of reported information regarding discomfort around the contract to broadcast this staged production.
Having seen the Basel production twice, I think a wider audience deserves to have access, and somewhere an archival recording needs to be preserved. I admire and love the curation of Stockhausen's legacy by the Stockhausen Verlag and Foundation, and I respect their wish to continue the kind of standards the composer exemplified. It is of course easy to imagine Stockhausen himself would have considered abandoning a project if collaborators became obstructive to his vision. But. in this case it would be a mistake to enact posthumous censorship in the name of respect. Works, like children, grow up, and one day may even leave home! The legacy of large scale theatrical works relies on collaboration in production, and additional perspectives, layers of creativity and even irony are to be expected, as with all opera performance. Even 'authentic' productions will lead to disagreement between the talented people involved. The original productions are part of performance tradition, but are always at a temporal distance. That's why we must access essays about the music, via programme booklets or even Wikipedia, and experience any new staging as a gift without fear. This is to allow the performing arts to live on, including the treasured works of Shakespeare, Mozart, Samuel Becket and Stockhausen. Even without the previous knowledge, experience and adoration I have for Donnerstag Aus Licht, the Basel production would, I think, be hugely satisfactory, not least because the original spiritual, religious and formal beauty is all still there, to be experienced, unextinguished by the new commentary, slight of hand, additional or ephemeral concerns in the present staging. I certainly don't think it is fair to say that Stockhausen's meaning was in any way inverted at Theatre Basel. The layer of gentle parody can live happily alongside the existing humour and irony in Stockhausen's libretto. Metaphor never obstructed the moving quality of high art before, indeed it can magnify it. Some original details were missing, as observed in this thread, but for a contemporary production of a work of genius, Basel's achievement of Donnerstag Aus Licht should be allowed to be seen as a stream.
Well, as someone who has just arrived in Basel this afternoon, coming here from Australia now for the second time to see these performances of DONNERSTAG aus LICHT, I guess it's pretty obvious how I personally feel about the value of it being seen. And so of course I am also hopeful that this opportunity will extend to others, too, through the streaming. But I also understand and respect the differing views that others have, too. I've probably posted more than my fair share on that issue in this thread already, so I won't go over it again now - but I do hope I can get a chance to catch up some of you throughout this week. I will be going to all three performances, so it would wonderful to continue the discussion face to face!
I feel that it could be useful to have a discussion-forum on the music of Stockhausen. There are so many people from all over the world, young and old, learned and eager to get into contact with this musical world: musicologists, composers, musicians, music lovers; people who plan concerts - who write books or have to give lectures and so on. So there should be much stuff, many ideas that we can share. And when we have open questions, there may be people who studied just that and could give a hint or a stimulus.
A problem might be the English language, but i feel that is the only possibility that many people who are interested can participate. And we can exercise tolerance to mistakes!