The State Opera of Lower Saxony in Hannover certainly is among the most creative and adventurous opera theatres in Germany taking pride in presenting a carefully structured and thought through program for many years by now. Not only is the programming ensuring the encounter of the audience with exciting new opera compositions and alternative scenic realizations, in addition the singers are so carefully chosen for the upcoming productions that even a rarely performed, rather exotic opus like Henze’s The English Cat (Die Englische Katze) can exclusively be cast with members of the theater’s residing singers.
Henze composed The English Cat in 1983 for Schwetzinger Festspiele in Germany taking responsibility for the scenic realization as well which he later dismissed as a bad idea being too close to his own creation at that very point in time. Many of his followers criticized Henze for converting to a conservative and musically traditional work after his leftist statements in his prior compositions for the stage. Henze himself made a remark not being totally happy with the opera at the end. He didn’t really know why, however, hinted that the difference between British and German humor might have been unsurmountable at the end and would finally inhibit a balanced and completely satisfying opera.
As for the Hannover production these doubts are unnecessary. The opera company with exclusively own singers, the precise and sensitive directorship of Dagmar Schlingmann and the superb conducting of Mark Rohde, who guided the The State Orchestra of Lower Saxony brilliantly through the unknown delicacies of the score, gave a master performance of a comedy constantly changing perspectives on the stage and musically, leaving the audience on uncertain grounds as how to think about and perceive human ethics, or better bigotry in most cases. The use of twelve-tone music and traditional lyric structure also contributes to the dazzling atmosphere. The precise timing of music and performance followed the old British comedy tradition and was well understood and appreciated by the German audience.
The sets by Sabine Mader and the costumes by Ellen Hofmann as well as the lighting by Susanne Reinhardt contributed to the success of the performance.
The singers staged their roles as if they perform Henze on an everyday basis. The demanding coloraturas of Minette (Ania Vegry) shifted into the smoothest sounds in the duet with his part time lover Tom, perfectly sung and performed by Matthias Winckhler. Great impact made Sung-Keun Park as the elderly Lord Puff and Daniel Eggert as Arnold. Besides stupendous singing Julia Sitkovetsky gave the mouse Louise with the most entertaining acting as (potentially) soon again victim of the murderers of their family. The remaining roles were very more than adequately performed.
The complete cast had an enormous joy to let their animal instincts come through and have fun themselves. It is one of the major achievements of the director’s concept not to show humans in animal masks, but instead show (almost) real people in their hardly controlled animalistic behavior.
The audience enjoyed the performance tremendously. Each and every singer, the conductor, director and team as well as the orchestra were applauded with many “bravi”.
The English most like will not make it to the core repertory of the opera houses any time soon, the more should the interested opera lover find his way to Hannover soon to experience another successful and enjoyable opera event in the capital of this Norther German State.
Hans Werner Henze: The English Cat (in German: Die Englische Katze)
Niedersächsische Staatsoper Hannover, Germany
Premiere November 26, 2016