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Alfred Schnittke’s Opera “Gesualdo” revived in Vienna

Alfred Schnittke’s opera in seven scenes, a prologue and an epilogue entitled “Gesualdo,” to a libretto by Richard Bletschacher, is to be revived at the Vienna State Opera. The premiere will take place on 22 December 2004, two days before Christmas Eve.

With his second opera, Schnittke has produced something that goes deeper than many works recently premiered. An almost unbearable sadness looms over this work. There is no rebellion against death, but rather a mixture of fateful occurrences and of unbearable pain which will also cut wounds into the flesh of the listener.

“Gesualdo” is the story of the Renaissance Prince composer who kills his lively wife, her lovers and finally – in a fit of madness – even his own child. Schnittke’s opera concentrates the plot into a liturgy of death which follows an inner, inescapable logic with inexorable consistency, like a passion play. Therein lies the strength of the libretto, which lends a strong unity to the variety of the scenes.

Schnittke’s music, with its mixture of clarity and brash expressivity, more closely approaches the material with the means of absolute rather than operatic music. The libretto requires rapid change of scenes, thus corresponding to the symphonic “sweep” of the music which Schnittke must have had in mind from the beginning.

Further performances at the Vienna State Opera: 26 and 29 December 2004.