Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Orient Espresso

Way back in June, our friend Sam Shirakawa was in Wuppetal for:

New Production
12 June 2011

An idea for a quiz game question occurred to me during the intermission of a recent performance in Wuppertal of Unerhofft in Kairo or Unexpectedly in Cairo or L’Incontro Improvviso or The Sudden Encounter. This 18th century comic stage work has had a number of titles and authors, but only one composer. Is he

(a) Mozart
(b) Salieri
(c) Haydn
(d) Glück

If you know the answer, you’re a smarty-pants and a wretched human being. If you picked Glück, you’re right. But only partly. Glück composed a revue entitled La Rencontre, whose libretto became the basis for the text for Unverhofft in Kairo or L’Incontro Improvviso. If you couldn’t even hazard a guess, collect 200 Euros, but do not pass Go.

Among the links that connect all the composers on this list, apart from the period in which they lived, is their interest in the Middle East and matters “Oriental.” What prompted this fascination has been a matter of intense research for over a hundred years, and the interest has surged in our time, especially since 9/11.

Jakob-Peter Messer’s production for Wupperthal amounts to the first known mounting of the German translation (which reportedly was carried out for a production in Bratislava close to the time of the world premiere in 1775), even if he substitutes some of the recitatives with dialogue spoken in Turkish, accompanied in lieu of a harpsichord by a lute-like instrument called Ud.

The so-called dramma giocosa per musica is arguably one of the modern musical comedy’s earliest direct ancestors. Its plot concerns a young prince who arrives in Cairo (didn’t you know that Cairo was once a big city in Turkey? Or something like that...) He is looking for his long lost sweetheart, who has been kidnapped. Will he find her? Of course, he will. But not before a round of arias, duets, terzets and strange twists of plot take place.

Banu Böke, who sings the Princess Rezia, helped translate some of the material into Turkish. A worthy successor to Leila Gencer is long overdue, and Baku could well step into the late great soprano’s shoes. Nothing about her Arabella a few months ago indicated that she has the coloratura equipment for Zerbinetta or the Queen of the Night, but her jawsy delivery of “Or vicina a te” suggested that she also possesses the potential for a wide range of revival-worthy gems from the 18th and 19th century.

Christian Sturm’s appealing stage presence and lean, bright tenor are ideally suited vocally for Rezia’s beloved Ali, Prince of Basra. He apparently specializes in pre-Romantic music, but his voice has size and shows signs of darkening, which may augur a leap into bel canto. Dorothea Brandt, who sang Zdenka successfully earlier this season at Wupperthal, showed a different and equally remarkable side of her talents as Rezia’s slave Balkis. Others in the strong cast included Miriam Scholz as Dardane, Rezia’s confidante, and Boris Leisenheimer as the servant Osmin.

Tobias Deutschmann conducted and had his hands full keeping some of the ensemble numbers on the beat.

If your answer to the multiple-choice quiz was Haydn, you win a no-expenses paid 2-week vacation to Cairo. The Arab Spring is lasting longer than usual this year, so it may be a good time to go.

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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