Hans Werner Henze Gogo no Eiko Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

An opera that has been resuscitated and restored to new life.

Michael Quinn 2009

Second time around, Henze’s adaptation of Yukio Mishima’s Gogo no Eiko (more familiarly known in the West as The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea) gets disconcertingly closer to the savage madness and mayhem of the cult 1963 novel.

The work’s first incarnation, as Das verrante Meer, met with a decidedly mixed response at its Berlin premiere in 1990. For its revival at the Salzburg Festival in 2006, a new Japanese translation of Hans-Ulrich Treichel’s libretto was commissioned, the title changed and around 20 minutes of new music added.

This live recording of that production showcases a much tightened, more idiomatically alert work that benefits from Gerd Albrecht’s taut and tempered conducting and the coruscatingly poetic playing of the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI. Added authenticity comes from a young and largely Japanese cast.

The music bristles with brutalist percussion, strings that startle and slice, and clenched-fist brass that foreground the hypnotic menace of Mishima’s disturbing dream-like narrative with a muscularity that is all the more remarkable coming from the then 80-year-old composer.

Albrecht picks his way through the dark, dense, lowering atmospherics with a keen concern for detail, treating the music like a turbulent tone poem shot through and scarred in a series of orchestral interludes with shards of dislocating lyricism blurred by dissonant wind harmonies.

Particularly effective is Albrecht’s controlled way with the expansive thematic commentaries, his framing of Henze’s otherwise alluring colourings offering a pointedly poetic context that comes blazingly into its own at the work’s precipitous climax.

Vocal performances all resist unnecessary over-statement and the recorded sound (complete with some audience noise) is well framed and sufficiently dramatic. Information about the singers is conspicuously absent in the accompanying booklet and a synopsis offers only a passing substitution for a libretto, but this remains a vivid example of an opera that has been resuscitated and restored to new life.

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