OP0434. ANTIGONAE, recorded 1961, w.Leitner Cond. Bayerischen Staatsoper Enesmble; Inge Borkh, Claudia Hellmann, Carlos Alexander, Gerhard Stolze, Fritz Uhl, Ernst Haefliger, Kim Borg, etc. (Germany) 3-DG 437 721, w.Elaborate Libretto-Brochure. Final Sealed Copy! - 028943772129
"If ever a composer could be said to have fallen out of favor, it is Carl Orff. Orff, who died in 1982 at the age of 86, has suffered under two stigmas. He came to artistic maturity with CARMINA BURANA in 1937. The work celebrates medieval Germany, and its brashness, athleticism and splashy popular appeal made it a favorite in Nazi Germany, where Orff remained throughout the war. Still, he was hardly a fervent follower of Hitler, and his operas of 1939, DER MOND, and 1943, DIE KLUGE, seem now to be shot through with veiled antifascist allusions. In any case, Orff's experimentalism could not fully express itself until after the war. And here he encountered his second stigma: he did not play by the rules of the aggressively modernist composers who emerged in central Europe after Nazism, eager to make up for lost time.
Orff's preference for simple, blocklike harmonies, driving rhythms and bold orchestral colors had a philosophical basis. He believed in music as an art that could communicate not only to children, who, he thought, had innate musical gifts, but also to adults in a fragmented modern society. His spectacles were attempts to rediscover roots, ancient traditions that could have meaning today.
Greek tragedy was central to his search, as it has been to nearly all efforts to revitalize Western music theater over the last 500 years. ANTIGONAE is a literal setting of Friedrich Holderlin's German translation of Sophocles' drama. For Orff, ANTIGONAE needed no modernization, just restoration, to bring back its full, elemental power. Of course, any restoration is an act of modernization, however inadvertent. What Orff did in ANTIGONAE was to set the words as cadenced chanting. The music is scored for opera singers, but they are asked to act, to invest recitativelike declamation with theatrical life. This score is part of a diverse 20th-century effort to rethink the relation of words and music in opera, from Schonberg's speech-song to Richard Strauss' ruminations in CAPRICCIO, from the word-inspired musical phrasing of Janacek and Steve Reich to the musical atmosphere behind Ariane Mnouchkine's staging of the ORESTEIA cycle.
Orff's restorative ideal determined his musical accompaniment: a huge orchestra dominated by percussion but also including pianos, winds and double basses. Mostly, this elephantine ensemble patters along discreetly. But at climactic moments, in the choruses and in Antigonae's great monologue at the end of Act III, O grave, thou bridal bed, it breaks forth in measured cataclysmic onslaughts.
The Deutsche Grammophon version [is] preferable for the ANTIGONAE neophyte. Recorded in 1961 in Orff's hometown of Munich under his supervision, it offers more placid conducting from Ferdinand Leitner, more operatic singing, and sound quality that socks home the visceral power of the instrumentation. Inge Borkh, a dramatic soprano, is a sovereign, steely Antigonae, and though some other characters (Carlos Alexander's hollow Creon, Gerhard Stolze's whiny Watchman) are inferior to their Salzburg counterparts, the overall impact goes a long way toward restoring Orff's tattered reputation.
- John Rockwell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 6 June, 1993