Saturday, March 16, 2019

Damien Pass in "Jakob Lenz" at Festival le Balcon

Damien Pass
Australian barihunk Damien Pass (whose birthday is today), is taking on the role of Oberlin in Wolfgang Rihm's one act chamber opera Jakob Lenz at the Festival le Balcon at the Athénée Théâtre Louis-Jouvet in Paris. The title role is being sung by Vincent Vantyghem, as regular with Maxime Pascal’s contemporary Ensemble Le Balcon. Vantyghem has also sung the role at the Dialogues Festival in Salzburg. 

The opera runs through March 29th and tickets are available online

The opera was first performed at the Hamburg Staatsoper in 1979 with the late English baritone Richard Salter in the title role. It has subsequently been performed at the Wiener Festwochen and at Oper Stuttgart with Georg Nigl, Teatro Comunale di Bolgna with Tomas Möwes, Theater Bielefeld with Evgueniy Alexiev and at the English National Opera with Andrew Shore. 

The opera Jakob Lenz is based on the novella "Lenz" by Georg Büchner which deals with an incident in the life of the German poet. Lenz, who along with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, formed the “Sturm und Drang” (Storm and Stress) movement in German literature which made German authors the cultural leaders of Europe during the 18th century. 

Jakob Lenz at the Athénée Théâtre (Photo: © Le Balcon)

The source of Büchner's material comes from the diaries of the social reformer and priest Johann Friedrich Oberlin, which detail the activities of his house guest, who was clearly suffering from mental illness at the time.  The suicidal poet stayed with Oberlin in a small village in the Vosges Mountains near the German-French border in the hope of recovering from his depression.

Büchner's opening pages describing the mountain landscape and hinting at Lenz's inner state with the single sentence "he did not feel at all tired, only it sometimes annoyed him that he could not walk on his hands instead of his feet" are reduced to a stage direction, but the rest of the libretto roughly follows Büchner's outline. A key element of the libretto deals with his trauma around the death of a small child whom was he was unable to resuscitate.

At the end of Lenz's life he lived with Goethe's brother-in-law, Johann Georg Schlosser, where he lived in poverty.  After years of increasingly poor physical health and debilitating mental problems, Lenz died on the streets of Moscow 1792.

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