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Hans Werner Henze

Publisher: Chester Music

Gisela! oder: die merk- und denkwürdigen Wege des Glücks (2010)
commissioned by Semperoper Dresden and ruhr 2010
Text Writer
Hans Werner Henze, Christian Lehnert, Michael Kerstan
Chester Music Ltd
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
1 Hour 10 Minutes
Soprano, Baritone, Tenor, Bass, Baritone, Mezzo
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Programme Note
Hans Werner Henze Gisela! oder: die merk- und denkwürdigen Wege des Glücks (2010)

Gisela, a young student of art history from the city of Oberhausen, visits Naples with her boyfriend Hanspeter and a group of superficial and arrogant students. They attend a commedia dell’arte performance in a folk theatre and Gisela is fascinated by the young actor Gennario who plays the role of Pulcinella. Gisela and Gennario encounter each other the next day and fall in love. They plan to flee from Naples and the group. Hanspeter, who had planned to propose to Gisela at a restaurant, hears that she has fled to Germany with Gennario.
Having arrived at the railway station of Oberhausen, Gisela and Gennario have nowhere to stay. Sitting on a bank, Gisela falls asleep and has a series of nightmare dreams. Suddenly Hanspeter and his friends appear and attack the couple. During the fight we see in the background Mount Vesuvius exploding and pouring its lava on stage.

Score preview:

Vocal score

...decamped in a dingy car park on the outskirts of Gladbeck. Unlikely spot for the unveiling of the latest work by one of Europe's greatest living composers - or maybe not. ...the determined stylistic hodge-podge, the unmistakable bouts of angularity softened by human, self-effacing lyricism. ..Bach fugues arranged for a sardonic-sounding ensemble including double-bass, saxophone and xylophone. Henze's message seems to be about our relationships with one another and with our cultural fairytales, so this cheeky pastiche of Bach is fitting.
Kate Molleson, Opera,01/12/2010
Flexibly, freely and naturally, one scene emerges from another. Old Henze plays transparently with colors as if the entirety was orchestrating itself. The little solo parts unfold lightly and intimately. They do not want to impose. There are countless beautiful, little flowers on the slopes of a mountain called Henze. When he lets a cello solo wallow out from amid the dense concentration of brass, it does not even have a hint of scene-threatening kitsch; it is an autarkic line — a major chord after a percussion orgy is a major chord and not a reversion to tonal. He leaves this to another. For Gisela’s dream visions, Henze arranged three organ trio sonatas from Johann Sebastian Bach — celesta, vibraphone, and occasional brass that is unreal, shimmering over shades of double bass and kettledrum. Bach, take over! This is no longer mere citation. It is a deeply moving step back into music history — where Henze himself has long had a place.
Volker Hagedorn, Die Zeit,30/09/2010
With Gisela!, his latest opera, 84-year-old Hans Werner Henze has created a commedia dell’arte for young people, a profound reflection on the nature of home with a feather-light touch. Having spent most of his life in Italy, he has a lot to say about southern sensuality as viewed through Germanic eyes, and he says it here with wit and delicacy. Chorus, orchestra, dance, theatre and film combine to great effect in this Ruhrtriennale production. Henze’s gentle tale of love and confusion is acted out by a vast young cast from the Ruhr valley, deftly directed by Pierre Audi. The work’s gossamer textures, fine orchestration, sweet harmonies, clever counterpoint and myriad references to the past show that Henze is still well in control of his craft.
Shirley Apthorp, Financial Times,29/09/2010
Nevertheless, the spirit of old sonnets and madrigals floats in the space. The treasures of Henze’s orchestration arise again and again from pristine major or minor chords that dissolve into bewitching textiles of sound. Henze still writes with a light perfume that pervades the room slowly, now finer than ever. Occasionally we experience little percussion concerts that soon give way again to the orchestral lyric. Very melodious sound and vocal song hum, and when night breaks on the lovers, the English horn cannot be left out. For the scene with Gisela’s three exciting, experience-packed dreams, Henze reworked three organ trios from old Bach, like he did once before with Monteverdi’s “Ulisse” for Salzburg — coloration of lines through sound magic from synthesizer to contrabassoon. That is a pleasant surprise, but it strengthens the impression that we are not dealing with a reinvention of the modern here. Who expected anything different? And is that so bad?
Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung,28/09/2010
Henze wrote a clear, mood-painting score. He assigns the chorus a commentary function, as in ancient classical theater. At one point, he allows the chorus to come in, in a ghostly, humming manner. Shrill wind instruments signal disaster. Orchestral blows accompany decisive twists and turns on stage. But there are also beautiful, anxious string passages that accompany the romantic feelings of the lovers. In the dream sequences, Henze uses a variation on a Bach fugue that slowly, timorously distorts itself in the organ, harp and xylophone. At times the orchestral part is transparent, almost laconic; at times it is brilliantly beautiful. Henze calls “Gisela” a musical theater piece because the acting element is just as important as the musical element. The piece alludes to the Commedia dell’arte, and director Pierre Audi expands this stylistic device with modern electronics. At the end, images erupt with the force of Vesuvius. Pierre Audi does not read a happy ending in the final tones of the bright major key. Gisela and Gennaro are together – in the dream? And where does the future lead? Open questions.
Edda Breski, Westfaelischer Anzeiger,27/09/2010
With “Gisela”, Hans Werner Henze succeeded in creating a fleet-footed, modern fairy tale without ballast for musical theater. An illustrious audience celebrated the Ruhrtriennale’s première in the Maschinenhalle Gladbeck-Zweckel with sizable applause and ovations for the composer. “Gisela” is an 84-year-old’s legacy to youth, a glorification of the playful joviality of the comedy of life and the power of fantasy. This alone is capable of relocating Vesuvius to Oberhausen where it spits fire and black ash. Shrewd and with a shot of irony, Henze and his librettists Michael Kerstan and Christian Lehnert combine Italian and German color with the turbulence of youth seeking happiness.
Bernd Aulich, Neue Westfaelische,27/09/2010
The composer’s early, personal decision to trade Germany for Italy seems to have been lifted to the level of allegory here — perhaps didactic play and fairytale at once, like Henze’s own creative, fortunate life. The story tells lightly and ironically of German-Italian yearning, as well as of Italian cliché. And social critique, as poetic as it is nightmarish, is effortlessly interspersed with vehemence, clearness, refinement, and innocence. Despite all its artifice, Henze’s theater music sounds simple and honestly sentimental. It is not a music of pathos, but of empathy for the young ones. He wants to open up a space for them and encourage them to take their lives into their own hands. Even in this music — which Henze once more demanded from the fragile body with the alert, perceptive spirit — the effortless, virtuoso hand with which he illuminates the tempestuously changing situations of the little opera is astonishing. The melody sounds full of rolling sentiment, the whole rhythmically animated through a motley display in the color spectrum of the orchestra with piano, celesta, harp and a multitude of percussion instruments. The listener feels Henze’s not yet extinguished fire, the desire to create and take action. He always did want to “be where the people are”. The elaborately intonated, a cappella madrigal pieces are jewels in a class of their own. They are sonnets that stand for the artificiality of art and for the reflexivity of emotions. Reprieve from the rousing plot.
Wolfgang Schreiber, Sueddeutsche Zeitung,27/09/2010
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