LA Opera's production of Franz Schreker's Die Gezeichneten (The Stigmatized, among other possible translations) marks the first performances of the once popular work in the Western Hemisphere. Part of LAO's Recovered Voices programming, which showcases Entartete Musik and its composers, they've once again, as they did with Zemlinsky's The Dwarf, put forth a work that deserves to be heard widely. Since there is no Recovered Voices slot on the schedule for next season, one can only hope the program is on hiatus while LA Opera gets itself on more stable financial footing. Programming like this is vital and important and LAO seems to be the only large company in the Western Hemisphere with any interest in it at all.

The question around such specialized programming is whether or not it's a novelty. In the case of The Broken Jug and The Birds, I would say yes, and I really don't care if I never heard either work again. However, in the case of The Dwarf and The Stigmatized, which share a single request by Zemlinsky ("Write me the tragedy of an ugly man") in their origin, the answer is a definite no. The fact that these two operas haven't been seen in the U.S. until LAO premiered them, while piffle like Puccini's La Rondine or Delibes' Lakme are regularly performed, is a kind of tragedy in its own right.

In the lecture before the performance I attended on April 18th, conductor James Conlon, who had given the orchestra a thorough workout the previous day in Gotterdammerung, said the plot was as convoluted as Trovatore times ten and we should pay more attention to the music than the goings on onstage. But what happens onstage is quite lurid and it's easy understand why Die Gezeichneten was very popular when it first arrived. Lurid like an Otto Dix painting, the story drips with decadence. Sitting in the front row however, prevented me from paying too much attention to the surtitles above me and focus on the music I did, since I don't understand German. Still, having read the synopsis a couple of times, and a cast that clearly articulated every word so that I easily caught the cognates, I didn't miss much by looking up every few minutes just to see where we were.

Musically, Schreker is operating in R. Strauss territory with occasional forays into Puccini's realm. What an oddity it is to hear something that sounds like it comes from Act 1 of Boheme sung in German. With passages that can't help remind the listener or Salome or even Rosenkavalier, without sounding like a copycat, Schreker's music- and his story, packs a potent wallop.
As Alviano Salvago, Robert Brubaker, who has performed the role in Europe in a production available on dvd, sung with clarity and conviction as he disappeared into the role of the insecure, noble disfigured cripple. In a word, Brubaker is sensational in this role. Anja Kampe, who disappointed me the last time I heard her in LAO's Die Walkure, was much better here, giving depth and nuance to the troubled, confused artist Carlotta Nardi. The rest of the cast was strong, with James Johnson as the morally indifferent Duke and Martin Gantner as the slimy, self-serving Count Vitelozzo standing out. I also spotted a couple of former Merola alumni in smaller roles.
The staging, by Ian Judge, was confined by the severely raked platform of Gotterdammerung, but Judge made the most of it with evocative lighting, well-executed scenes and fantastic use of projections. It didn't hurt that everyone in the cast acted their parts as well as they sang them.
Conlon, for the second time in as many days, put the orchestra through their paces as they delivered a solid three plus hours of exquisite music. There are two more performances left, and discounted tickets are available on Goldstar. You'd be foolish to miss this, though it's definitely rough stuff- leave the little ones at home- there's a very graphic rape scene and the plot involves the abduction of young girls who are used as fodder at orgies by the rich inhabitants of Genoa. Who says opera is stuffy?
Photos by Robert Millard