Von Einem: Der Besuch der Alten Dame

By Ashman, Mike | Gramophone, June 2018 | Go to article overview

Von Einem: Der Besuch der Alten Dame


Ashman, Mike, Gramophone


Von Einem (R)

Der Besuch der alten Dame

Christa Ludwig mez       Claire Zachanassian
Eberhard Waechter bar             Alfred III
Heinz Zednik fen                      Butler
Hans Beirer ten                        Mayor
Manfred Jungwirth bass                Priest
Hans Hotter bass-bar                 Teacher
Chorus and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera /Horst Stein

Orfeo (M) (2) C9301821 (123' * ADD)

Recorded live, May 23,1971

Includes synopsis

In the late 1950s or '60s, if you were studying for A level, the tragicomedy The Visit of the Old Lady by the Swiss writer Friedrich Diirrenmatt may well have been the first contemporary play in German that you read. A slightly surreal, progressively more frightening plot has the titular heroine Claire Zachanassian (a catch-all of the rich-man names Zaharoff, Onassis and Gulbenkian) returning in her now millionaire old age to seek revenge on the little town of Giillen (the name means 'liquid manure'), where she was made pregnant and an outcast as a young girl. The man responsible was her lover, local shopkeeper and would-be mayor Alfred Ill. Claire will gift the town and its inhabitants 'a billion' to recover their failing economy if they will have Ill killed and let her take him away in the coffin she has brought with her.

This classic moral dilemma (spoiler alert) has the townfolk yielding to their basest instincts, like German literature's other satirical targets of the economic 'miracle' of the time. The Swiss-born Austrian Gottfried von Einem (whose centenary falls this year) wanted it to put alongside his other classic takeovers of Biichner and Kafka. After some wrangling Diirrenmatt agreed and volunteered a libretto himself, a verbally faithful yet compressed version of his play. At the start of the 1970s the composer's potential cast list carefully matched, experience--and age-wise, the leading artist roster of the Vienna State Opera. It could provide a star vehicle for Christa Ludwig (touchingly keen to point out in a note of her own here that she was then nowhere near Zachanassian's age) and parts of substance for Eberhard Waechter as her victim Alfred and Hans Hotter as the Teacher. …

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