OP0387. JONNY SPIELT AUF (Krenek), recorded 1991. w. Lothar Zagrosek Cond. Leipzig Gewandhausorchester & Opera Ensemble; Krister St Hill, Heinz Kruse, Alessandra Marc, Michael Kraus, Marita Posselt, Erwin Noack, Martin Petzold, Dieter Scholz, Dieter Schwartner, Matthias Weichert, etc. 2-London 436 631, Slipcase Edition w. Elaborate 127pp. Libretto-Brochure. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 028943663120
“Krenek always resisted the description of JONNY SPIELT AUF as a 'jazz opera'. In part, no doubt, he was reacting against the charges of opportunism already being levelled against him as he changed, seemingly as rapidly as he changed his clothes, from atonality to neo-classicism, through JONNY to a seemingly neo-romantic phase and on to serialism, post-serialism and a late involvement with electronic music. The reasons for these changes have been insufficiently studied. The serial phase, for example, coincides with the rise of Nazism and Krenek's despairing realization that he had no future in Europe. To arrive in America with a suitcase full of 12-tone scores and a reputation as the author of JONNY SPIELT AUF, an opera that New York had found distasteful and almost unstageable because its title-role is black and amoral, hardly looks like opportunism.
And JONNY is something far more interesting than a cynical ride to success (50 productions in its first year!) on the band-wagon set rolling by Milhaud's LA CREATION DU MONDE. It uses jazz, but does not try to absorb it into a unified language. Indeed it's quite important for the plot that jazz should be treated as an exotic import, however liberating, since the opera's real central character, as K.renek insisted, is not the jazz fiddler Jonny but the arche typally middle-European composer Max, at least a partial self-portrait. Max, who feels at home only amid glaciers (Ibsen would have recognized the symbolism), is partially thawed by his love for a singer, Anita, but achieves real wholeness only when he emerges from his ivory (or ice) tower and takes control of his own future. Jonny's theft of a valuable violin from the worldly virtuoso Daniello, a symbolic theft from a dying culture by a vital one, is the secondary plot, for all that it provides the pretext for most of the opera's more sensational scenes.
The great merit of this recording, derived from a revival at the Leipzig Opera House where JONNY had its triumphant premiere, is that it devotes as much care to 'Max's' music as to Jonny's. Treat the work as a 'jazz opera' and its non-jazz scenes (the majority) risk sounding thin by comparison. In fact Krenek's own idiom is a curious but effective blend of lyricism, sounding pre- rather than post-Wagnerian, with harmonies that often render that lyricism ambiguous. But it is the lyrical quality that unifies the opera's two worlds, that and a crisp use of rhythmic motif. The famous blues, the tangoduet, the uproarious final scene (heralded, as the score stipulated, by all the alarm bells in the theatre going off), with its culminating image of Jonny astride a station clock that has turned into a revolving globe, leading the entire Old World to the New with his irresistible dance - all these have immense vigour under Zagrosek's alert direction. But the song from Max's opera, mocked as it is in the notorious scene on the glacier where he hears his own music, booming from the public address system of a hotel in the valley below, 'vanquished' by Jonny's: that, too (Alessandra Marc's voluptuous singing of it withstands even the distortion of the loudspeaker), has its own memorability and allure; so does the long duet scene in which Anita teaches Max what is missing from his philosophy (‘at every moment be yourself, be wholly yourself’), with its finely arching melodies.
The cast is uniformly excellent though Kruse lacks the Tauberish glamour that Krenek no doubt had in mind for Max. St Hill is an immensely likable Pied Piper of a Jonny, Posselt a pretty soubrettish Yvonne (the Despina of the piece) and Kraus an ample-voiced, overbearing Daniello. The recording ensures that you won't miss the swanee whistle and the flexatone, and provides enjoyable sound effects to stand in for the car-chase and the steam locomotive that were as much a part of the Opera's newsworthiness as its jazz elements. I was expecting period fun; JONNY SPIELT AUF is a good deal more than that, and the case for investigating the music of Krenek's subsequent six decades of creative life now seems compelling.”
- GRAMOPHONE, April, 1993