Die Bürgschaft (opera)

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Die Bürgschaft
Opera by Kurt Weill
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2005-0119, Kurt Weill.jpg
The composer in 1932
Translation The Pledge
Librettist Caspar Neher
Language German
Based on Der afrikanische Rechtspruch
by Johann Gottfried Herder
Premiere 10 March 1932 (1932-03-10)
Städtische Oper, Berlin

Die Bürgschaft (The Pledge) is an opera in three acts by Kurt Weill. Caspar Neher wrote the German libretto after the parable Der afrikanische Rechtspruch (The African Verdict) by Johann Gottfried Herder. Composed from August to October 1931, it was premiered on 10 March 1932 at the Städtische Oper in Berlin, Germany.

Intent[edit]

The opera dates from the years immediately prior to Weill's emigration to the United States. Representing "the summation of Weill's career as an opera composer in Europe,"[1] it provides insight into the compositional path that Weill might have followed had he stayed in Europe.[2] Die Bürgschaft is an opera of broad ambition and scope, far more somber in tone than Weill's prior works for the stage.[2] The work is in part the result of Weill's growing distance from Brecht during work on Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, leading the composer to turn to stage designer Caspar Neher, his longtime collaborator as a stage director, for the libretto.[3] Die Bürgschaft is, further, a product of its political climate, dubbed by Weill an opera that "attempts to adopt a position on matters that concern us all," and one of multiple Weill stage works of this period "addressing the problem of moral responsibility within a crumbling culture given over to greed, power, and inhumanity."[3] As Weill wrote in reaction to a review of the opera's premiere, "the job of opera today consists in reaching out beyond the fate of private individuals towards universality."[1] In addition to its sobriety and political undertones, Die Bürgschaft is a musical turning point for Weill. Weill characterized it as "a return to real music-making."[3] Multiple scholars have noted its departure from the "number opera" formula of works such as The Threepenny Opera and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in exchange for a more continuous sound, as well as a minimizing of satire and irony.[1][2][3] Certain of these scholars have also noted influences ranging from Handel and Verdi in its oratorio-like features to a detached and unemotional character indebted to Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex.[1][3]

Die Bürgschaft concerns the rise to power of a money-driven dictatorship, bringing with it greed and destruction. The plot bears clear parallels with the rise of Nazism in Germany at the time, but as suggested above it also acts as a larger social parable dealing with man's role in society.[2] Indeed, the source for Herder's tale Der afrikanische Rechtspruch, on which Neher's libretto was based, is the "Bava Metzia" section of the Talmud. Interpreted accordingly, the social parable of Die Bürgschaft is the covenant of rabbinical teaching: the bonds between men, between men and their community, and between forces within the community of men such as the law, the state, and the government.[3]

Performance history[edit]

After its 1932 Berlin premiere (directed by Carl Ebert), Die Bürgschaft was produced in two additional German cities in 1932, Wiesbaden and Düsseldorf (12 April 1932; directed by Walter Bruno Iltz (de), conductor: Jascha Horenstein), before political events led to its removal from the German stage.[3] After two radio revivals of heavily edited, if not mutilated, versions of the opera in 1957 and 1980, respectively, the original version was performed with the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam choir and conducted by Jean-Marie ten Velden in February 1987 in the Paradiso concert hall, Amsterdam;[4] and by the Bielefeld Opera conducted by Rainer Koch and Geoffrey Moull in 1998.[3] One German critic noted of the Bielefeld production that "all the intendants of Germany's top-ranking opera houses should be required to attend a performance."[3] Soon after, the original version received its American premiere, and first recording, at the 1999 Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, under Julius Rudel.[3] Music critic for The Wall Street Journal, Heidi Waleson, wrote of the opera, in a review the Spoleto Festival production, that Die Bürgschaft is "a stunning work that knits together Weill's intense social and political concerns with compositional skill and invention of the highest order."[3]

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere cast, 10 March 1932
(Conductor: Fritz Stiedry)
Johann Mattes, a cattle dealer in the town of Urb baritone Hans Eduard Wochinz ('Hans Reinmar')
Anna Mattes, Johann's wife mezzo-soprano Lotte Lenya
David Orth, a grain dealer in the town of Urb bass Wilhelm Rode
Jakob Orth, David's son tenor Henk Noort
Luise Mattes, Johann & Anna's daughter soprano Irene Eisinger
The judge of Urb tenor
The town crier tenor
Ellis, the commissar tenor
Gang of three creditors/highwaymen/blackmailers/agents tenor, baritone, bass
Alto solo alto

Recordings[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d Stephen Hinton: "Die Bürgschaft", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed 13 November 2007)>.
  2. ^ a b c d Die Bürgschaft at AllMusic. Retrieved 13 November 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kim H. Kowalke: "Kurt Weill's Die Bürgschaft", Liner Notes to the EMI Classics 2000 Recording of Die Bürgschaft (2000).
  4. ^ Concerten van 1980 tot 1990, VU-koor

Sources