Manfred Trojahn – Orest – Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Marc Albrecht (2013)
DSF 5.0 Surround DSD64/2.82MHz | Time – 01:16:04 minutes | 9,01 GB | Genre: Classical
Official Digital Download – Source: nativeDSDmusic | Digital Booklet | © Challenge Records / Northstar Recordings
Recorded: 3 and 16 December 2011 at the Audio-Visual department of The Amsterdam Music Theatre
Orest, the opera by the German composer Manfred Trojahn, was written for the Netherlands Opera. The world premiere took place in Amsterdam, amid spectacular splashes of gore and commensurate splatters of sound, in December 2011 and this recording was made during those performances. The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Marc Albrecht, and the title role of Orestes is sung by the celebrated German baritone Dietrich Henschel with Rosemary Joshua as Helen.
Manfred Trojahn’s Orest is a music theatre work in six scenes set to the composer’s own libretto. This 2011 premiere production by Netherlands Opera was directed by Katie Mitchell with set designs by Giles Cadle. Netherlands Opera commissioned Trojahn’s sixth opera to finish a series that focused on the House of Atreus, rounding off the cycle of violence by adding the murder of Helen of Troy to the carnage surrounding Iphigenie, Idomeneo and Elektra. Trojahn’s libretto is based on Euripides and the narrative follows the Greek story closely. The subject matter, with its myriad musical and literary allusions, seems to have steered the composer towards a harmonic language more rooted in the past than he might otherwise have adopted. Certainly Richard Strauss’s influence is amply audible.
A more unsettling, horrid, beautiful, theatrical 76 minutes could hardly be imagined than this extraordinary new opera premiered in Amsterdam back in 2011. Loosely based on Euripides’s Orestes , Manfred Trojahn’s own libretto condenses the drama into seven scenes, starting two weeks after Orest has killed his mother, Clytaemnestra. Driven half mad by his visions of her and of the god Apollo, Orest awaits his judgment from the men of Argos, whether he is to be stoned to death or imprisoned for life. With his sister urging him to murder their narcissistic aunt, Helena, Orest’s journey is one of guilt and fraternal duty. After the brutal murder of Helena, Orest’s vision of the god Apollo helps him to resolve his struggle to overcome the revenge and violence that defines him. It ends with him seeking a future with his cousin Hermione, but despite the queasy note of hope, the ending is as frightening as that of Strauss’s final bars of Elektra , making this extraordinary new opera a perfectly valid companion piece to that seminal work.
A huge battery of different vocal techniques are combined by Trojahn to convey the fraught narrative, yet none of the writing feels arbitrary, and the opera’s compactness gives this bloody, dysfunctional take a wonderfully clenched claustrophobic feel. Trojahn continues the noble line from Strauss and Berg, via Henze and Reimann, in a career that studiously avoided the German avant-garde movement. Trojahn forges a path that, although brutal and Modernist, retains its close ties with past 20th-century operas and, tellingly, he is modest about his aims: “basically doing what composers of opera have always done. Telling stories about us, today!”
A hideous scream opens the opera (a grisly premonition of the scream that is to follow from Helena) before a frenzy of whispering of “Orest.” These Furies are, for Trojahn, the ravings inside Orest’s head, rather than actual beings. Their hideous motif concludes the opera, creating a very uneasy vote of confidence for Orest and Hermione’s future. Orest’s music is fraught and text-driven, yet has fine moments of introspection, especially in scene four’s wonderful duet between brother and sister, and an obvious glance back at Strauss’s work. Strauss, too would have been proud of the violent, carnal intermezzo that hurls the listener into the stratospherically high writing for Helena and Hermione. In fact, the whole piece is very well constructed, with a clear use and place for each of the many ideas that Trojahn displays.
The cast (with some big names) is uniformly excellent. In such an ungratefully declamatory role as Orest, Dietrich Henschel proves unburstable and maintains his beautiful tone most of the time, something even his mighty predecessor Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau couldn’t always do in similarly stark material. The lovely, flinty brightness of Rosemary Joshua’s Helena complements the equally girlish Hermione of Romy Patrick. The gods Apollo and Dionysos are beautifully characterized by tenor Finnur Bjarnason, while Sarah Castle is a very formidable Elektra. Likewise, I can’t think of anyone better than the 20th-century music specialist Marc Albrecht for bringing this mercurial, angular writing to life.
Without a score to check, all I can say is how involved and unclinical it feels as a performance. Sound is full and well balanced and, given the lack of applause or stage noise, there has clearly been some clever patching of the live sessions. Annoying, given the lavish digibook presentation, that the German libretto is printed without translation, especially when we are given English and Dutch for the otherwise fine notes and bios. Still, that really is a minor quibble on such a punchy, arresting release as this. Perhaps a DVD will surface with subtitles, so that we can witness Katie Mitchell’s production. By turns horrid and beautiful, unsettling and serene, Orest for once really does earn those overused adjectives: visceral and astonishing. –Barnaby Rayfield, FANFARE
Manfred Trojahn (b.1949)
Orest (World premiere, Amsterdam 2011)
Commissioned by De Nederlandse Opera
Libretto: Manfred Trojahn
 Szene 1 (Frauenstimmen, Orest, Apollo/Dionysos) 17:44
 Szene 2 (Helena, Elektra, Hermione) 12:43
 Szene 3 (Menelaos, Orest, Frauenstimmen, Elektra) 10:56
 Szene 4 (Orest, Elektra) 9:51
 Intermezzo 1:32
 Szene 5 (Hermione, Helena, Elektra) 11:20
 Szene 6 (Acht Männer von Argos, Menelaos, Elektra, Orest, Dionysos/Apollo, Frauenstimmen, Hermione) 11:58
Orest – Dietrich Henschel
Elektra – Sarah Castle
Hermione – Romy Petrick
Helena – Rosemary Joshua
Apollo/Dionysos – Finnur Bjarnason
Menelaos – Johannes Chum
Vocal Ensemble Of The Chorus Of De Nederlandse Opera
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Marc Albrecht – Conductor