Iconic Productions: Recovered Voices

“History is not only made by ‘its big names,’ its warrior kings, dictators and most famous artists, but by the collective action of all those artists who lived in a given era.” – James Conlon

<em>The Broken Jug</em> (2007); Photo: Robert Millard

The Broken Jug (2007); Photo: Robert Millard

In 2006, LA Opera inaugurated a series entitled “Recovered Voices,” dedicated to showcasing works by composers whose voices were silenced by the rise of the Nazi regime. Maestro James Conlon spearheaded the effort to stage these works (with generous support from philanthropist Marilyn Ziering, who serves as one of five vice-chairmen on the LA Opera board) including Viktor Ullmann’s The Broken Jug and Alexander Zemlinsky’s The Dwarf.

In Maestro Conlon’s words:

“The music of Alexander Zemlinsky and Viktor Ullmann remained buried for decades in the wake of the destruction caused by the totalitarian Nazi regime. Dozens of composers and thousands of compositions are still largely unknown to lovers of classical music and opera. One of the glories of western civilization, the German classical music tradition, experienced the most terrible upheaval in its history by the genocide of the Nazi regime. In an ironic paradox of history, by proclaiming themselves as a master race and attempting to impose this on the rest of the world, they marched to folly and dealt the most self-destructive blow possible to their own proud culture. In trying to ‘purify’ their society, they tore at its heart and soul. They murdered some of their greatest talent, forced others to flee, and scorched the earth of the precious milieu that had nurtured this great culture.

The composers whose music was banned were a diverse group: some were celebrated in their own time, alongside others who struggled for recognition and livelihood. They were the avant-garde, the conservatives, the serial composers and those who rejected them. There were those who flirted with jazz, cabaret and popular music and those who were musical elitists. Many were closely acquainted and were lifelong friends. Others competed and disliked each other; still others were completely isolated from the main stream. What unites them under the heading of ‘Recovered Voices’ is the fate of their music. Most of it died with them and remained buried in neglect, some for half a century.

By creating a double-bill of The Broken Jug (Der zerbrochene Krug, a literal condensation of a German classic written by Heinrich von Kleist in 1808) and The Dwarf (Der Zwerg, loosely based on a short story by Oscar Wilde entitled The Birthday of the Infanta, finalized in 1891), we bring together the music of two generations, the master and the assistant.”

Inspired by LA Opera’s groundbreaking Recovered Voices series, the Colburn School created the Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices . The program is made possible by a generous grant from Marilyn Ziering, who is producing today’s concert at the American Jewish University, a world premiere of the dramatic oratorio Circular 14: The Apotheosis of Aristides by composer Neely Bruce, featuring LA Opera artists. (Click here for more information.)

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