Göteborg Opera © Ingmar Jernberg
Göteborg Opera
© Ingmar Jernberg

Fairy tales, folk tales and myths share the operatic billing in Göteborg next season. Starting with concert performances of Daphne to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss, Göteborg Opera presents a lively new season in which firm favourites of the repertoire are joined by new works and some imaginatively paired double bills. Fairy tales are represented by Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella) and the company’s first ever production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. Daphne, who is transfigured into a laurel tree at the end of Strauss’ sumptuous opera, covers the mythic, while John Adams’ A Flowering Tree is based on an Indian folk tale.

Stephen Langridge © Mats Bäcker
Stephen Langridge
© Mats Bäcker

New artistic director Stephen Langridge opens the season with a production of Le nozze di Figaro, with class conflict and revolutionary rumblings transported to Franco’s Spain. Bachtrack caught up with Langridge to ask him about the rationale behind the new season.

MP: Your season contains two double bills. Why have you paired Pergolesi’s La serva padrona and Menotti’s The Telephone together (under the title For love, please hold)?

SL: These are two delightful operas to tour the region, both dealing with the same theme: engagement and marriage, and the absurdities arising when class and technology intervene in human affairs. We want to present small-scale opera around our region – and these two also relate thematically to the main house production this autumn: Le nozze di Figaro.

MP: David Radok pairs Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung which are “to be linked to one another as a whole piece”. Does this mean that Schoenberg’s woman is meant to be Judit?

SL: Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung are pieces which would not have been written without the work of the early psychoanalytical movement and the developing understanding of the complexity of the human subconscious. Radok is interested in drawing these pieces together into one experience where each piece raises questions about the other. Putting the pieces together provoke narrative questions – is the Woman in Erwartung one of Bluebeard’s wives? Is the (possibly imaginary) body in Erwartung Bluebeard? – but beyond that, these operas explore the idea of male and female from different perspectives which in turn question our own relationships and the possibility of understanding and knowledge of ourselves and each other.

Interior of Göteborg Opera House
Interior of Göteborg Opera House

MP: Katharina Thoma is directing the company’s first ever staging of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, to be set in the present day. Are modern productions well received by Göteborg audiences? By setting a fairy tale in the present day, is Thoma trying to draw on the darker side of the story?

SL: I think Katharina wants to tell the story in a clear and immediate way, a way which is accessible to a child who has never seen an opera before, or an adult who is interested in the dark underbelly of this folk tale as explored through the almost Wagnerian music of Humperdink. As to whether the audience receives productions in modern costume well… the Göteborg audience recognizes good work and appreciates new ideas. They are thankfully not an audience who insists that all productions should look like the photo on their CD booklet.

MP: Several of your operas for the coming season are performed in Swedish, while others are given in the original language. What governs your decisions as to which languages operas are performed in? Are there sections of your audience which prefer Swedish translation?

SL: The question is how best to communicate each particular opera. We have surtitles above the mainstage to translate the words as they are sung, so the story is accessible to most people. But on tour without a surtitle board it may be best to sing in the vernacular; or on the mainstage when there will be many children in the audience, as with our Hansel och Greta, perhaps it is best to sing in Swedish.

John Adams' A Flowering Tree © Chicago Theatre Opera | Liz Lauren
John Adams' A Flowering Tree
© Chicago Theatre Opera | Liz Lauren

MP: Some of your operas cast ‘house soloists’ in main roles. What are the strengths in having a ‘house system’ in a company?

SL: We are very proud of our resident company. They represent the soul of the company and its continuance. Many of our principals have their own international careers, but still it is good for the company, and I believe for the audience, to present a healthy mix of resident artists and guests.

MP: John Adams’ opera A Flowering Tree has its Scandinavian première at Göteborg next season. Has Göteborg staged any Adams before? Why choose this particular Adams opera?

SL: A Flowering Tree will be the first John Adams’ opera staged in Göteborg. Adams is one of the most important opera composers of our time. The reason for playing this opera in particular? It is, quite simply, an incredibly beautiful and moving piece of music theatre, in a magical production by Nicola Raab. It also fits well into some themes for the year – it is interesting, for instance, to see Sellars’ and Adams’ take on the idea of metamorphosis, specifically a woman who transforms herself into a tree. Our audience will have seen Strauss’ Daphne, another woman who turns into a tree earlier in the season; they will have thought about the idea of the forest in Hansel och Greta, and can reflect on the way each composer is drawn to explore the relationship of humanity and Nature.

 

Adams’ operas feature prominently around the globe next season – The Death of Klinghoffer, Nixon in China and The Gospel According to the Other Mary all play at leading opera houses – and A Flowering Tree should be one of the highlights of an intriguing Göteborg season.