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#HF11 Playing with Nietzsche's moustache in opera fantasy by Wolfgang Rihm

An opera based on texts by Nietzsche, and then start with loud laughter and main character N trying to catch two water nymphs. Wait a minute, that's Wagner! Well, at Wagner's Rheingold involves three Rhine daughters, but the similarity is too great to be coincidental. And neither is this one, but in the first minutes of Wolfgang Rihm's Dionysos is much more going on. Here is a composer at work who not only plays with text and music, but also with centuries of cultural history and knows how to add jokes to it. It is to get intoxicated.

Photo: Ruth Walz



In 1868, Wagner and Nietzsche met for the first time, and Nietzsche was immediately very impressed by Wagner's charm and versatility. He enthusiastically threw himself into the theoretical writings of 'his master', in which Wagner contrasted music as the mother of Greek tragedy with theoretical man. In his music dramas, Wagner wants to make room again for the Dionysian primal forces, in order to arrive at the 'Gesamtkunstwerk' to come, that mythical 'work of art of the future'. This culminated with Wagner in the megalomaniacal Der Ring des Nibelungen, but by then Nietzsche had dropped out. With the same fervour with which he first admired Wagner, he now fought him. Especially all those heavy German notes had to suffer.

And hear: what is Rihm doing in that opening scene so reminiscent of Wagner? High woodwinds, light strings, a piano and damn, harps, celeste and no, are those steel drums? You can't get much further from Wagner. Or as conductor Ingo Metzmacher writes: "This could be a lot of fun!" And fun it will be, because the game element hidden in the first ten minutes remains present for two hours, even when we hear passages reminiscent of Bach or Richard Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten.

The element of play is also emphatic in the sets by visual artist Jonathan Meese and the direction of Pierre Audi. When N is besieged by Ariadne, N flees up the mountain that has suddenly emerged from Nietzsche's moustache and tries to row away. In vain, of course. It goes on and on: if you look closely, you will be short of eyes, everywhere Nietzsche's moustache pops up in Meese's imagery. Grim the play gets too; still slightly ironic in the brothel scene, but downright gripping in the penultimate scene where Apollo peels off N's skin.

Needless to say: Dionysos is no ordinary opera, but what Rihm calls an "opera fantasy", a series of tableaux that together form the journey to madness or total intoxication. Not for nothing did Rihm make use of Nietzsche's fragmentary Dionysos-Dithyraben: "I believe that nothing is more destructive to musical theatre than a perfect literary text." It actually ends with something that could still best be described as redemption. Again very Wagnerian, but again Rihm paints with totally different sounds. The game doesn't stop there. Was this all a dream or the true work of art of the future?

Wolfgang Rihm - Dionysos. De Nederlandse Opera, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Capella Amsterdam, soloists conducted by Ingo Metzmacher. Seen: 8 June, Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam

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Henri Drost

Henri Drost (1970) studied Dutch and American Studies in Utrecht. Sold CDs and books for years, then became a communications consultant. Writes for among others GPD magazines, Metro, LOS!, De Roskam, 8weekly, Mania, hetiskoers and Cultureel Persbureau/De Dodo about everything, but if possible about music (theatre) and sports. Other specialisms: figures, the United States and healthcare. Listens to Waits and Webern, Wagner and Dylan and pretty much everything in between.View Author posts

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