Dramaturg Dorothea Hartmann spoke with director Christof Loy.

In thrall to Eros in the human voice

After a break lasting over 90 years, Christof Loy brings a new production of Korngold’s “Heliane’s Miracle” to the Bismarckstraße venue

“Heliane’s Miracle” was taken up by 12 stages in the German-speaking area immediately following its world premiere in 1927. Yet a few years later the opera had vanished from programmes and slipped from public memory – right up until today, that is. What happened?
Christof Loy: The main reason was that the Nazi regime had slapped a ban on Korngold and all other Jewish composers, preventing them from working. The prohibition also affected the biggest work rivalling Korngold’s piece at the time – Ernst Krenek’s “Jonny spielt auf”, a work that was much more of a hit with audiences than “Heliane”. And with moves afoot after World War II to rehabilitate the composers of so-called “degenerate music”, Korngold had a hard time of it. If you ask me, there was a lack of appreciation of the mystical level and the religiosity of the work. Early in the opera you already have the spheric sounds of the prelude heralding a godhead-based universe. Disillusioned post-war society was perhaps unable and unwilling to grapple with these difficult themes.

You proposed this work to the Deutsche Oper Berlin, a work that hasn’t been performed for decades. Is this the right time?
Loy: I don’t find works that deal with God so difficult. I believe in an element or being that establishes order. And I think it’s worth our while to seek out such a figure. And yes, maybe it is right for the times we live in, when people are hankering for spirituality and religiosity.

And is Berlin the right place?
Loy: You need a stage and an auditorium of a certain size to accommodate Korngold’s huge score and the full impact of the music. And it makes sense to be putting on the opera here because of the Deutsche Oper’s specific history of works mounted: “Heliane” actually had three premieres in 1927/28 – first in Hamburg, then in Vienna, then at the Städtische Oper Berlin, today’s Deutsche Oper. And in Berlin, an oft prosaic and unpolished city today, maybe it’s interesting to ponder on issues like “love”, “loving thy neighbour” and “com-passion”.

At first glance “Heliane’s Miracle” appears to be a straightforward love triangle. In the middle we have Heliane, the wife of a ruler who is incapable of love. And then we have a nameless “outsider” on whom Heliane bestows her love. What is it about the story that catches your interest?
Loy: The most obvious conflict has to do with a man, in this case the despot, not being able to deal with the fact that his wife has broken her vows. Ok, we can relate to that. But when Heliane defends her love for the stranger in the full glare of publicity, she’s crossing a Rubicon where traditional concepts of love, loyalty and sexuality are concerned. The work invites us to question the very core of our moral codes. Heliane herself is at a loss to explain the shift that has taken place within her. She has stripped bare in front of the stranger, so it totally looks like they’ve just had sex. But for Heliane it’s different: for her it was “love” on a number of levels. Love as a spiritual experience. Love as a Christian deed: you gift yourself to another person. Love as a sharing of the suffering of a condemned man. And love articulated in sensuality and the erotic. Heliane is fully aware that she is being called upon in court to plead guilty or not guilty. And she realises the inadequacy of our concepts of guilt, innocence and morality.

Christof Loy about Korngold's masterpiece: Watch the Video.
 

“Heliane’s Miracle” was written for the great singers of the 1920s. Lotte Lehmann sang the title role in Vienna. The parts are considered physically hard to sing. What challenges are you up against?
Loy: The singers have to be fully cognizant of what they are capable of, both in the forte region and in the subtleties of piano. These are very physically demanding roles. And at the same time they have to act the part in a convincing way, not let the dramatic performance get submerged in the effort required to sing it.

In 1927 critics were drawing attention to the “luxuriation of the singing” in this opera. Korngold was pushing the late-romantic style to its limits and again planting the singers’ voices at centre stage – at a time when most composers had stopped doing that.
Loy: In the parts of Heliane and the stranger there is a kind of sublimation of Eros going on by way of the singing. We are in the thrall of the eros of the human voice and shriven by the auditory experience. The singing in this opera has something narcotic about it. There is a growing yearning for it never to stop. At key moments of the opera – in Heliane’s aria or the closing duet between Heliane and the stranger – we’re all wishing for it to go on and on forever.

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Newsletter

30
NOV

On 1 December, it's that time again. Our already traditional Advent calendar welcomes you with free admission. Members of the Deutsche Oper Berlin ensembles look forward to shortening the days until Christmas Eve with personalised musical programmes in which you will hear Christmas classics as well as absolute rarities, perhaps never heard before. Just come by and experience our artists up close.

Our Advent Foyer Programme
Enjoy our chamber concerts from Monday to Friday, from 5.00 p.m. to approx. 5.25 p.m., in the rank foyer on the right. Should there be any deviations in the venue or time, you will find a note in the overview. Admission is free.


1 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
Dietmar Schwarz reads "The Snow Queen"

2 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Parquet Foyer
The Little Chorus of the Children's Chorus sings Christmas carols

5 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
Old Russian Romances with Maria Motolygina

6 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Parquet Foyer
Father Christmas comes to visit - together with Elisa Verzier

7 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Parquet Foyer
"Ding Dong! Merrily on High" - A concert with the VoiceChangers

8 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Parquet Foyer
Caroling together with the brass band

9 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
"Beyond the Snow Queen" - Songs by Samuel Penderbayne and others
with Alexandra Ionis, Attilio Glaser and Henriette Zahn

12 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
Songs and Arias with Sua Jo and Kyle Miller

13 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
Daniel Nicholson sings and presents

14 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
Ralph Vaughan Williams' "The House of Life"
with Dean Murphy and Elda Laro

15 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
"Four Hands" - Piano Music
with John Parr and Christopher White

16 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Tischlerei
South American Songs with Jorge Puerta

19 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Tischlerei
English and Polish Songs
with Maire Therese Carmack, Artur Garbas and Manon Gerhardt

20 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
"Christmas Carols for Two Tenors”
with Kieran Carrel and Thomas Cilluffo

21 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
Chamber music with members of the orchestra

22 December 2022 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
"L'ange et l'enfant" - On the occasion of César Franck's 200th birthday
with Andrea Schwarzbach and Christian Zacker

23 December 2022 | 4.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
Brahms songs with Arianna Manganello
Please note the earlier start: 4.00 p.m.


All further information in the respective daily door on our homepage

Raffles at the weekends
Because an Advent calendar is of course also filled at weekends and on Christmas Eve, you will find online raffles on our homepage on Saturdays and Sundays as well as on 24 December. We would like to take this opportunity to thank cooperation partners such as NAXOS and the Yorck cinema group.