Désirée Rancatore; Brandon Jovanovich; James Johnson; Martin Gantner; Los Angeles Opera; James Conlon
ArtHaus Musik 101 529
“Trust the text!” – this much repeated, often ignored theatrical incantation proves its wisdom in the Braunfels opera The Birds. Too frequently, composers, directors and producers think that the play’s strength is not nearly enough for its success. Hence, we are frequently left scratching our heads. Just a few seasons ago, the Stratford Festival staged the almost 2,500 year old play by Aristophanes in a truly bizarre fashion that led my seat companion to call it “Sesame Street on acid.” Fortunately, Walter Braunfels was a man of tradition. While the Viennese School was transforming music of the early 20th century with their atonal experiments, Braunfels fully embraced German Romanticism. When The Birds premiered in 1920, none other than Bruno Walter conducted and lavished extreme praise on the work and its author. Alas, Walter Braunfels, as one of Germany’s assimilated Jews, stood no chance against the regime that emerged in the 1930s. His brutal dismissal and almost complete purge of his works from the public realm, was not overturned in the composer’s lifetime and the first post WWII production of The Birds took place in 1971, seventeen years after his death.
In this production for the Los Angeles Opera, both conductor James Conlon and the stage director, Darko Tresnjak, treat Braunfels’ work with the same respect he had shown for Aristophanes. By playing up to its Romantic tradition and easy charm, the best of Braunfels the composer and Braunfels the author is on display. The strong cast, especially Désirée Rancatore as Nightingale and Brandon Jovanovich as Good Hope, only emphasize the reasons why Braunfels’ return to the stage, while long overdue, is much appreciated.