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Opera Review (LA): The Stigmatized by Franz Schreker at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

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The papers are full of the buzz about the Ring Cycle, the first in LA Opera history, costing over $30 million. Three complete Rings will commence on May 29th and finish June 26th. Hopefully thousands more will see the Archim Freyer creation, as controversial as it is. My favorite series in the LA Opera repertoire is the annual Recovered Voices opera series, chosen by Maestro Conlon to highlight music banned by the Nazis and to reintroduce it to contemporary audiences. Included in this magnificent series has been The Dwarf by Alexander Zemlinksky (U.S. Premiere), The Broken Jug by Viktor Ullmann (West Coast Premiere), Mahagonny by Kurt Weill, and this year, The Stigmatized, a premiere in this hemisphere, by Franz Schreker.

Schreker’s opera was a revelation to me. I have never heard of his music but was stunned by its intensity and beauty. For me, his music succeeds in doing what Wagner had set out to do, write rapturous music to move the senses. Because Wagner is so long (The Ring is over 19 hours), one can get swept along by the music as well as be bored to tears. Schreker’s The Stigmatized never let up and was intense and kept me involved for the entire opera.

The story is about a hunchback who has created an island of beauty and pleasure but has denied himself the right to visit it. Meanwhile his fellow aristocrats have turned the island into a place of decadence and lustful fantasy. Women of rank have been disappearing and are kidnapped to the island to give pleasure to these men. Then the Stigmatized one, Alviano Salvago, sung stirringly by Robert Brubaker, falls in love with an artist, Carlotta Nardi, a powerful Anja Kampe. The scene of seduction between them is the best in the opera and absolutely riveting. They end up going to the island where the atmosphere seduces her as do the lustful advances of Tamare (Martin Gantner) who ends up chiding Salvago for not taken advantage of his chance at sex with Carlotta. Carlotta dies, having been raped, but calls for her rapist in her last breath, as Salvago is blamed for all the kidnappings and deaths and crawls off the set.

The music is very lush and rushes you along into the action as the feelings intensify and sex drive are awakened. I think Schreker is trying to make a comment about how things escalate out of hand when there is intolerance involved. The Stigmatized played at LA Opera in rep with Gotterdammerung and ended on April 24. Unfortunately, due to budget restraints and the over-spending on The Ring, there will be no Recovered Voices on next year's program. A real shame for the company and for Los Angeles.

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