“Review: Bernarda Albas Haus Opera in Gelsenkirchen”

Bernarda Alba Haus, régie de Dietrich W. Hilsdorf © 2023 by Karl & Monika Forster

Gelsenkirchen, Saturday, May 6, 2023.

Great hall of the Musiktheater im Revier (MiR) in Gelsenkirchen. ”Bernarda Albas Haus” (The House of Bernarda Alba’), opera in three acts by Aribert Reimann, based on the homonymous drama by Federico García Lorca in the German translation by Enrique Beck, world premiered on October 30, 2000 at the Nationaltheater in Mannheim. Régie Dietrich W. Hilsdorf. Set design Dieter Richter. Nicola Reichert costumes. Video Gregor Eisenmann. Lighting: Mario Turco. Cast: Bernarda Alba (Almuth Herbst), María Josefa: (Matilde Großmann), Angustias (Lina Hoffmann), Magdalena (Bele Kumberger), Amelia (Margot Genet*), Martirio (Soyoon Lee*), Adela (Katherine Allen), La Poncia (Sabine Hogrefe), Maid (Anke Sieloff). *Member of the Opera Studio NRW (Nordrhein-Westfalen). MiR Opera Choir, prepared by Alexander Eberle. MiR extras. Neue Philharmonie Westfalen Orchestra. Director Johannes Harneit. With the support of the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia within the framework of the 2022 Fund for the New Musical Theater. 80% of the capacity.


The most difficult thing is not knowing history, but knowing how to tell it, and Dietrich Hilsdorf He does it wonderfully in this excellent setting. Bernarda Albas Haus (Bernarda Alba’s house), opera in three acts Aribert Reimannwith the extraordinary musical direction of Johannes Harneitpremiered to effusive ovations in the big hall of the audacious Music theater in the Gelsenkirchen district (MiR), heart of the Ruhr area.

Black Spain, whose shadow is darker today than ever (see Castilla y León, as well as Andalusia, governed by ultra-conservatives and neo-fascists), is set in this piece in the period immediately before the Civil waron August 19, 1936, when Federico Garcia Lorca he was assassinated by the general’s supporters Francisco Francowhich had already seized power.

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With atmospheric and dramatic music that works through the passage of time, no matter from which perspective you look at it, the unified setting (Dieter Richter) of this surreal Spain offers a vision of the sterile room of the maids and the noble hall of the house of the Alba; in the center a balcony on which a Immaculate Conception of the Baroque painter Bartolome Esteban Murillo.

In this gloomy setting, Bernarda Alba (Almuth Herbst), widowed for the second time, imposes a dictatorial regime. To her mother, María Josefa (impressive in her role, Mechthild Grossman), weak-minded and clairvoyant, has already locked her up. The music here sounds like an imposition, very close to the suffering of the characters.

Bernarda Alba’s house de Reiman is a great opera – and very hard at the same time. It leaves the public in suspense throughout its two hours and 15 minutes, without a break. As strong as the historic world premiere of Lorca’s work was at the time in May 1945 at the Teatro Avenida in Buenos Aires, directed by Daisy Xirguwho took her to Montevideo for the first time in August of that same year.


Perhaps, having experienced the defeat of Nazism firsthand, Germans like Reimann and Hilsdorf are capable of better accepting history than the Spaniards themselves, who have not yet sufficiently processed theirs (the Franco dictatorship died in bed in 1975, not under Allied bombs of World War II, 1939-1945).

What a job the progressive forces still have ahead of them in that country! It is enough to have witnessed days gone by the embarrassing and anachronistic scenes of the Spanish neo-fascists, waving their arms raised the exhumation of the remains of the founder of the Phalanx, Jose Antonio Primo de Riverain the mausoleum of Cuelgamuros Valleyto be transferred to the San Isidro cemetery in Madrid.

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After the death of her second husband, a Falangist, Bernarda forces all family members to mourn for eight years and locks them up at home. Five daughters, a maid and the octogenarian mother abide by strict tradition, repressing needs and longings and having to watch the family cohesion increasingly disintegrate as they head inexorably towards disaster.


Aribert Reimann has developed a sonorous language for the austere and implacable atmosphere of Lorca’s drama, loaded with dark symbolism and so closely imbricated with the text that he makes of Bernarda Alba’s house a paradigmatic example of the power of musical theater, released now, 20 years after the last performance of this masterpiece.

Bernarda runs a strict regimen, because she wants to protect her five adult daughters from the outside world, especially the world of men, at all costs. So that the façade of family honor remains intact and nothing unpleasant comes out.

Inside the house, however, many things happen, because there is the young Pepe el Romano -invisible to the public- who makes the heads of three sisters spin. Hilsdorf brings the growing tensions within the family to the point with skilful direction of the characters.

Almuth Herbst, in the role of the impulsive Bernarda, and Sabine Hogrefe, like the old maid who talks behind her back, make strong counterparts. the young soyoon lee gives Martirio a special profile in his fragility and childish malice. His light voice, which leads to dizzying heights, is also impressive.

hyperexpressive singing

The musical realization is excellent, although the mostly ecstatic, exalted and hyper-expressive tones of the singers also take their toll on the public in the long run. The frequent transition from singing to speaking voice is charming.

Distinctive orchestral instrumentation of 10 woodwinds, including five different clarinets, including a double bass clarinet, seven brass, (four) prepared pianos, and 12 cellos, under the skillful direction of Johannes Harnite, brings mesmerizing instrumental colors to life. The composer works exclusively with families of instruments, bringing out the family dynamic in the orchestra pit.

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Thus, the five different clarinets appear as a musical translation of the daughters. His interventions reveal the five perspectives of the sisters and take to the extreme the polyphony of a family that, despite all the sound diversity, remains in the family nucleus.


These are sounds that are captured as snapshots. Sixty-four years after completing the score, Aribert Reimann takes up Lorca’s family and social conflicts and creates a clear and insightful composition that takes up the documentary character of the text. He works on it in a concrete and filigree way, arranging it himself and deciding the words of the libretto with the support of the pianist. Axel Bauni.

From there, he creates a music with jumps at extreme intervals and the constant change between singing and spoken text, which underscores the surreal and nightmarish events in the Alba house. As in Lorca’s drama, in Reimann’s play men are not given prominence: at the beginning, before the orchestra plays and the singers come on stage, four Falangists play cards while the body of the dead man is exposed with the casket is open, and only the male chorus makes a brief appearance, but remains invisible to the public.

The focus is on women and their voices. In the process, he gives a wide variety of vocal subjects their own realm of development. María Josefa, as the only speaking role, does not follow a prescribed rhythm, rather it is the orchestra that has to follow her speaking style.

2023-05-19 06:01:19
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