De Materie, Louis Andriessen, directed by Heiner Goebbels and Peter Rundel.
August 15, Kraftzentrale, Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord. Repeat .: 22, 23, 24/8.
Review by Frits van der Waa (published in Dutch in De Volkskrant, Monday, 18 August)
De Materie, Part II Hadewijch, Photo (c) Wonge Bergmann
What have zeppelins to do with the seventeenth-century naval industry, or a flock of sheep with a sonnet by the Dutch poet Willem Kloos? Nothing at all. Nevertheless, the intuitive choices director Heiner Goebbels has made in his staging of Louis Andriessen’s De Materie Copper are convincing. Goebbels, himself a composer, in a way adopts the approach of Andriessen himself, who in 1989 in this four-part piece of music theatre succeeded in connecting the most diverse musical, literary and philosophical elements in a balanced way.
On the first day of the Ruhtriennale, the six-week festival that is led by Goebbels, he treated his audience to a memorable performance. Apart from the first series of performances directed by Robert Wilson at the Dutch Opera De Materie never has been performed in staged form again, up to now. Especially in musical terms, a lot of water has passed under the bridge in those years: the performance by the Ensemble Modern Orchestra and solo and choral singers, conducted by Peter Rundel and enhanced by an excellent sound projection, transcends the already respectable level of previous performances in its rhythmic precision, homogeneity and especially in the blending of the sound colors. In addition, the Duisburg Kraftzentrale with its oversized dimensions turns out to be prove a perfect venue for the "terrible symphony orchestra" that Andriessen had in mind when creeating this work.
De Materie can be seen as an opera in which ideas rather than characters occupy the stage, as a symphony with singing protagonists or as an essay on the relationship between exact thinking, artistic intuition and human emotion: there is no doubt, though, that this work, with its vast architecture, extended arcs, and a musical substance encompassing minimal and maxinmal idioms, requires a form of dramatization, even though it holds its own as 'pure' music as well. It is remarkable that Wilson's visualization twenty-five years ago, mainly made us of a frontal plane, like a shadow play, whereas Goebbels literally goes in-depth. Astounding is the moment in the third part, De Stijl, where in the distance at the back of the hall, two dancers appear, looking so small that they,for a moment, seem little puppets. And in the very part where Wilson introduced a solo piano, moving from left to right across the stage, Goebbels, at first unnoticably, manages to shift the complete orchestra gradually to the rear and back - a technical achievement thatis almost as inexplicable as the invisible guiding hand that herds the sheep across the plaing field.
With the exception of that swinging third part, in which three luminous discs, decked in Mondrian colors, provide a lively visual play, circling in the air, Goebbels' staging, albeit spectacular, shows marked restraint. In the second part, with the mystic Hadewych as the centralfigure, the minute variations in imagery are almost static. Evgeniya Sotnikova sings the Middle Dutch very convincingly, and tenor Robin Trischler is just as proficient in his delivery of the old-fashioned wordings of the early atomic theorist Gorlaeus. The eight singers of ChorWerk Ruhr are a perfect fit for Andriessens chanted harmonies.
From the relentless hammering in the first part to the serene bell sounds in the fourth, that burgeon to a grand crescendo, Goebels’s staging emphasizes that De Materie is a work of international scope and substance, a magnum opus that Andriessen actually has not surpassed in the intervening years, especially where it comes to the balance between rigor and playfulness, between form and content - a balance that, incidentally, just as twenty-five years ago, is disrupted by the recited monologue by Madame Curie that makes the impression of an an uncomfortable vacuum after all that went before. Inexplicable that a composer who knows so much about the power of music eventually gave primacy to the infinitely weaker force of the spoken word.