World premiere of Jüri Reinvere’s Opera “Minona” about Beethoven's Daughter

Estonian composer Jüri Reinvere was commissioned by Theater Regensburg to compose a work for the Beethoven anniversary year 2020. The result was an opera entitled "Minona". The premiere is to take place at the beginning of the 250th anniversary year on January 25, 2020 in Regensburg.
The subject of the opera is Minona von Stackelberg (1813-1897) who was born and died in Vienna but spent more than twenty years of her youth in Reval, Jüri Reinvere’s birthplace now named Tallinn. There is good evidence, but no certain proof, that she was the daughter of Ludwig van Beethoven and Josephine von Stackelberg, his presumed "Immortal Beloved". Reinvere began work on the opera in January 2018 and consulted with the researchers at Beethovenhaus Bonn and began discussions with internationally renowned Beethoven experts who had studied Minona's fate for decades. In the summer of 2019, he gained access to documents in Estonian archives that had been untouched for almost sixty years and long been inaccessible to Beethoven researchers.
We asked Jüri Reinvere about his opera "Minona":

Why is the moving but also controversial life story of Minona von Stackelberg so well suited to an opera?

Reinvere: Minona von Stackelberg was a child whose birth was most untimely. She burst into the midst of a marriage crisis between the presumed "Immortal Beloved" of Ludwig van Beethoven – exactly during those weeks when the famous letter was written – and her husband; the spouses had already separated. Read backwards, the name becomes "Anonim" (anonymous). Those attempting a biography of her mother, Josephine von Stackelberg, née Brunswick, widowed Deym, encounter a woman slipping more and more away from a life of her own. For years she felt a passion so strong for Beethoven that her female relatives had to keep her away from him. Beethoven was just as passionately in love with her. She had married a man who made her life and those of her children a living hell. Minona was thrust into the shattered biography of her parents: first raised by her mother's sister, then abducted by her father, raised in strict pietism, growing up with virtually no social contact. After the death of her parents, she was largely destitute, dependent on the help of others. She never had the means to start her own family but had a strong inclination towards music. And when she was almost sixty, she learned of the passionate love between her mother and Beethoven through letters from Josephine's estate. Having been involved in many legal disputes between her father and her mother's family as a child and teenager, she would have been painfully aware of how catastrophic her parents' marriage had been and surmised that Christoph von Stackelberg could in no way have been her father. Her existence was not planned and she could not have been certain about her origins. At the same time, this woman’s fate sounds out a counter-narrative to the "Song of Songs" sung in "Fidelio", Beethoven’s only opera. The idealization of marriage in art, which was apparently a life theme for Beethoven, contrasts tragically with the existential disaster of real life.

What kind of study sources did you pursue in preparation of this piece?

Reinvere: Initially, I read the research literature. The quest to find the addressee of Beethoven's letter to the "Immortal Beloved" is a category of Beethoven research in its own right, now conducted very professionally with forensic methods. For almost forty years, Josephine von Stackelberg (along with Antonie Brentano) has been considered the most likely addressee of this unusual confession of love. As a result of watermark investigations, this letter can now be dated July 6-7, 1812 - almost exactly nine months before the birth of Minona von Stackelberg on April 9, 1813. The evidence of the research gathered suggests very strongly that Beethoven could have been Minona's father, even in the absence of definitive evidence. I have also consulted the Beethoven House in Bonn to improve my own reading of the specialist literature. Later I visited the archives of the Baltic knighthood in Tallinn and Tartu. Minona, born in Vienna, grew up in my hometown of Tallinn.  I made astonishing finds in Tartu. The files have not been examined since about 1960 and are virtually unknown to Beethoven research. In these documents, one finds Austrian regional court seizure orders the Brunswick family had issued against Christoph von Stackelberg; declarations of guardianship by Baltic nobles for Minona and Maria von Stackelberg; receipts which Minona and Marie had to sign in order to receive their inheritance shares from the estate of their maternal grandmother and half-sister. There are requests from Minona to Tsar Nicholas I for legal assistance at the time she takes on her father's inheritance. And one finds memoirs of one of Christoph von Stackelberg's pupils, which also provide an outline of the circumstances under which Minona grew up.
The presumed daughter of Beethoven led a rather cautious life. What do you suspect caused this behaviour?

Reinvere: In her early childhood, she was not at all reserved. Therese von Brunswick, her aunt, describes her as taller than her siblings, stronger and more robust, that she ordered them around and was dubbed "the governess". Only in Reval, as Tallinn was then called, did she undergo a transformation. She is said to have lived extremely quietly and fled from society into a world of private lessons and piano playing. The memories I found in Tartu speak of flowers in a hidden garden that never blossomed. When her father died, she was almost thirty years old. By that time, she was an old maid, penniless and unmarried. She was dependent on an aunt in Hungary (a sister of her mother) and then on a friendly family who took her into their household. She was never one for making great leaps. Self-determination was confined within narrow limits. And I strongly suspect that Christoph von Stackelberg's strictly pietistic, fanatical upbringing had broken her inwardly

What story does this work tell and what musical colours did you choose, especially in relation to the title character?

Reinvere: It will be a story about hope. About the hope that a child who should not be born will enter this world after all. And about hope that is conjured up in music without it being fulfilled in life. It is the story of women who forced to assert themselves alongside two men, both of whom in their own way are ruthless rigorists – Beethoven in his idealism, Stackelberg in his pietism. Musically, it will become a drama of intimacy, of violence arising from closeness, from supposedly tender affection. The double role of the young Josephine and the young Minona in particular will be very demanding. The orchestra will become a resonating space for mental and interpersonal conflicts, but also a vision of that ideal world of hope.

Theater Regensburg
Jüri Reinvere,
Opera "Minona"
(Production: Hendrik Müller)
Opera Choir and Philharmonic Orchestra
Regensburg; Conductor: Chin-Chao Lin)

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