Classical Music

Hans Thomalla, Dark Spring, New Music Opera Today


Opera in the New Music zone can be an economically precarious venture and so relatively rare in the main. But of course when it is good we simply must pay it some definite mind, or so I think. I’ve covered some wonderful ones on these pages, check in the search box for them. And though I am a little late covering this one today, it is another one we need to study and appreciate, to my mind.

Hans Thomalla’s opera Dark Spring (OEHMS Classical OC994 2CDs) clocks in at about 90 minutes. It premiered in 2020. Happily the recorded version has been out for a time and I have had the good fortune to have received a copy for listening. It is “Postmodern” in its tonality and post-Romantic songish presence, with some repetition but not much. Interestingly the relative reticence makes its use all the more powerful. 

It is about four students in the grip of an extraordinary amount of stress, in the battle to achieve academically in a highly competitive world, and so too in this world to perform romantically-sexually in the same circumstances. The emphasis is on the character’s experience of the feelings such situations entail. Stagnation against the extreme difficulty of self-realization in this world causes all four characters to grapple continually with the uneasy feelings that result. In this way we have a sort of deep psychology of things here, movingly so. Opportunity feels more like importunity and despair. To proceed at times with an attitude yet without a set of encouraging beliefs does little to ameliorate the strain of intense striving, and in the thick of it all, things build to expressive monotony and self or other-directed aggression.

We go to school so that we might be examined, goes one of the libretto musings, and that is what it all is about, competition for its own sake largely, and so there arises stress as a divider, a separation, a marking off, a denial of access.

The opera invites and then rewards your attentiveness with something that feels unique and original, that wears easy on the ears over time with ritualistic and lyrically tense then lax states that rivet you with great strength through a music far from the simplistic excesses of some of the lesser Minimalism in the last few decades. 

It is characterized by a fine sense of inventiveness throughout, nothing banal here! The cast of singers Shachar Lavi, Anna Hybiner, Christopher Diffey and Magid El-Bushra give the English libretto a passionate yet uber-musical reading while the Nationaltheater-Orchestrer under Alan Pierson give us a very winning first performance that satisfies and brings it all into our orbit with grace and charm. A hearty molto-bravo I give this without hesitation, It may well be a new masterpiece in opera today, one of the really original and captivating things I have heard in the last few years.

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