Why Not 12-Tone Opera?
Few operas I have seen have left as great an impact on me as Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten which I originally saw at City Opera in the early ’90s and just saw again in its current run at the Park Avenue Armory as part of the 2008 Lincoln Center Festival. (There are only two performances left and I’ve heard that the run is practically sold out. When I was there on Wednesday night there was a posse of desperate folks hoping they could wrangle tickets, but if indeed no official tickets are left and you haven’t seen it, join them and hope.)
For all the polemics about what works and what doesn’t work musically in opera, Zimmermann’s relentlessly rigorous and sometimes astringent 12-tone score–with nary a hummable melody for its entire duration–is extraordinarily effective. So much so, I think it should put to rest what to some has seemed like an anti-12-tone cabal in recent years.
Ironically, many folks who are otherwise sympathetic to dodecaphonic musings aid and abet this cabal by being so apologetic about such music, e.g. “it’s difficult, but” etc. Even David Pountney, stage director of the current production of Soldaten claims in an essay published in the program that 12-tone opera never really took off and that there are essentially only three important 12-tone operas: the present work, Berg’s Lulu and Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron. What about Montezuma or the operas of Luigi Dallapiccola?
I love minimalism (Einstein and Satyagraha changed my life and I’ve seen three different productions of Nixon) and am also deeply moved by some neoromantic operas (Vanessa is heart-wrenching). In the world of dramma-per-musica, shouldn’t “by any means necessary” be the only guideline?