No Wagner without Beethoven

Donald Runnicles is widely considered one of the leading Wagner conductors of our times. Why devote time to Beethoven? Time to correct a misconception, says the Deutsche Oper Berlin’s General Music Director.

Without Beethoven, there would be no Richard Wagner. Beethoven’s influence on the century after him is so comprehensive that it cannot be measured. Beethoven’s music was a reaction to 1789; he set the ideas of the French Revolution to music – liberty, equality, fraternity. When the young Richard Wagner mounted the barricades in Dresden in 1848, about sixty years later, he was fighting for the same ideas, and had long discovered Beethoven as his musical role model.

Many theatres like to draw imaginary boundaries between symphonic music and musical theatre. I refuse to acknowledge that boundary; every orchestra, every piece of music sings – whether there is a singer involved or not. People always perceive a vocal element in music. Music breathes, the audience breathes with us, as a conductor I breathe with a singer, with a pianist, and I always try to make the orchestra sing, whether we are playing a symphony or an opera. In this regard, I approach a Wagner opera exactly as I would a Ninth Symphony.

»Every orchestra, every piece of music sings. It doesn’t matter whether there is a singer involved or not.«

While working on the Ninth, it dawned upon Beethoven that what he wanted to express required human voices, a chorus. So he incorporated Schiller’s »Ode to Joy« into his composition. And in this manner, he opened the symphonic genre – or tore it wide open, in a positive sense. FIDELIO contains worlds upon worlds. This is where ideas were developed, paths forged, enabling later composers, careers and entire genres to crystallize. FIDELIO begins as an opera buffa, then turns into a melodrama and a tone poem, long before Franz Liszt or Richard Strauss came along.

I encounter Beethoven’s ideas all the time, whether in Gustav Mahler or Johannes Brahms. There is a reason why Brahms’ first symphony, which he wrote at the age of 44, is sometimes jestingly called Beethoven’s Tenth. Ludwig van Beethoven, like Johann Sebastian Bach, created musical watersheds. You can divide time into before and after the St. Matthew Passion, before and after the Fifth, before and after FIDELIO. These are all works which were so new at their time that they changed everything that followed in a universal and profound way.

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Newsletter

03
DEC

Today we are giving away 2 x 2 free tickets for the performance of DIE FLEDERMAUS on 31 December 2022 at 7.30 pm. If you would like to take part in the prize draw, please send an e-mail today to marketing@deutscheoperberlin.de with the subject "Das 3. Fensterchen".

In 2018, the curtain rose on a new production of FLEDERMAUS directed by Rolando Villazón. For the busy singer, director, presenter and author, this production was a matter close to his heart, as he was able to play with comic elements in Strauss’ master operetta on the one hand, but also give space to the melancholic and thoughtful on the other. For Strauss's operetta is about cheating, underground parties and the beguiling power of champagne, but also about the description of social facades and above all the abysses that lurk at the back of the bourgeois salon. And because there is always betrayal, partying and drinking, Villazón sets the three acts in three different times and takes the audience on a journey from the 19th century through the 1950s to the future.

It was already a novelty in 1874 at the Theater an der Wien that the waltz king Johann Strauss presented a plot that was not set in mythical faraway places or in fantasy states, but took the upper middle-class salon as its starting point. The bourgeois audience saw itself, with all its conceit, its double standards, grotesquely distorted on stage. The story was not new, of course: Strauß and his collaborator Genée drew on a French tabloid comedy by the Offenbach librettists Meilhac and Halévy, but supplemented it with piquant details. For example, the appearance of the disguised Rosalinde at Prince Orlofsky's ball. In general, the intensification and centring of the plot on the masquerade party with the final homage to alcohol, the general fraternisation and the champagne-loving du-i-du is due to Genée. Otherwise, the farce about cheating has all the ingredients of a good comedy: The rebellious chambermaid, the hidden lover, the self-adulterous but jealous husband and the disguised countess.

Burkhard Ulrich, Hulkar Sabirova, Annika Schlicht, Attilio Glaser, Padraic Rowan, Thomas Lehman, Jörg Schörner, Meechot Marrero, Kathleen Bauer and Ingo Paulick sing and play for you under the musical direction of Yi-Chen Lin.



Closing date: 3 December 2022. The winners will be informed by e-mail on 5 December 2022. The tickets will be sent to you by e-mails. The legal process is excluded.