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SCHOENBERG: Von Heute auf Morgen

spacer Geller, Visentin; Nigl, Schulz; Orchestra del Teatro la Fenice, Inbal. Production: Homoki. Dynamic 33638, 60 mins., subtitled

VonHeuteDVD

Von Heute auf Morgen, Arnold Schoenberg's hour-long, one-act opera from 1929, is surely one of the few extant atonal comedies and, incidentally, the first twelve-tone opera. (Wozzeck, which was completed in 1922, is frequently dissonant but not strictly dodecaphonic.) In the story, a married couple returns home from a party. The husband is smitten with a glamorous old school friend of his wife's, while the wife is giddy because of the attention lavished on her by a famous singer in attendance. The couple proceeds to explore the phenomenon of surface attraction; the wife, abandoning her domestic drabness, changes into an elegant dress and adopts the manner of a "modern," emancipated woman who attracts men effortlessly and embraces superficial pleasures. The husband is transfixed by this newly transformed creature, who beguiles him further by suggesting that they follow through on their fantasies of switching partners. When faced with the reality of this scenario, however, they realize how much they need each other and return to their overly familiar but comfortable everyday lives. That which seems momentarily fashionable is actually fleeting, they realize; it will last only "von heute auf morgen" — from today until tomorrow. Only true love is permanent.

This is not pretty music, and there are no catchy tunes. But Schoenberg, as anyone who has seen or heard Moses und Aron knows, is an exceptionally capable musical dramatist. One becomes accustomed to the astringent harmonic language fairly quickly, accepting the Sprechgesang of the vocal lines as expressively heightened speech. The aggressive, skillfully pictorial orchestration punctuates and illustrates the drama with marvelous acuity. After a while, it's amazing how well the music seems to support the telling of the story, in spite of the relentless dissonance. Much of the credit, of course, goes to Schoenberg's wife, Gertrud, who wrote the continuously absorbing, surprisingly contemporary libretto under the pseudonym Max Blonda. It certainly makes one wonder what life was like chez Schoenberg. 

As the married couple, Brigitte Geller and Georg Nigl are outstanding. They demonstrate total mastery of the difficult musical idiom, and they come off as adept actors in a compelling domestic comedy-drama. They spar, reproach, bait and tease each other, roll their eyes and throw up their hands in exasperation, but in the end it's clear how much they love and need each other. Geller is especially entertaining when she is decked out in her glamorous wig and slinky dress, and her husband starts fawning over her with newly rekindled passion: she's simultaneously amused, gratified and put off by how easily manipulated men are. Nigl, for his part, is quite hilarious as he lunges for his wife, suddenly overcome with desire merely because she has changed clothes and attitude. Both are obviously stage veterans, very comfortable in their bodies amid all the shenanigans. 

Sonia Visentin and Mathias Schulz make vital supporting appearances as the old friend and the singer, objects of the married couple's respective fantasies. Conductor Eliahu Inbal exploits the coloristic and rhythmic variety of the score with maximum expertise. Director Andreas Homoki's staging is rambunctious and true-to-life. This is definitely an opera that needs to be seen, not just heard, and it's hard to imagine a better performance of this thorny but charming work than this one. spacer

JOSHUA ROSENBLUM

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Current Issue: December 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 6