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Paul Dessau: Lanzelot

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Paul Dessau’s opera Lanzelot was one of the most significant and elaborate operas to be premiered in the GDR – a political fairy tale of the people who would rather live under the protection of a tyrant than dare try true freedom. More than half a century after its East Berlin premiere (1969), Dessau’s magnum opus is released on CD for the first time in an exemplary recording by the Deutsches Nationaltheater and the Staatskapelle Weimar as well as the Theater Erfurt.more

Paul Dessau’s opera Lanzelot was one of the most significant and elaborate operas to be premiered in the GDR – a political fairy tale of the people who would rather live under the protection of a tyrant than dare try true freedom. More than half a century after its East Berlin premiere (1969), Dessau’s magnum opus is released on CD for the first time in an exemplary recording by the Deutsches Nationaltheater and the Staatskapelle Weimar as well as the Theater Erfurt.

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CD 1 von 2 (01:16:07)

Paul Dessau Lanzelot (01:36) Staatskapelle Weimar | Dominik Beykirch

Steinzeitsiedlung am See (01:39)
"Da kommt der Medizinmann" (04:53)
Feuer. Der See kocht (04:05)
Wald im Jugendstil (02:22)
Zwischenspiel (00:46)
"Wann wird dieses Volk sich endlich selbst regieren!"" (03:05)
"Exzellenz. Vor Ihnen ein gramgebeugter Patriot" (03:31)
Haus Charlesmagne (01:18)
"He! Kater!" (03:00)
"Junger Mann" (02:44)
Zwischenspiel (00:23)
"Fünf Jahre zu Fuß von hier" (03:28)
"Ein Revolutionär. Wie lästig" (01:41)
Zwischenspiel (00:55)
Haus Charlesmagne (01:53)
"Großer Drache! Ihr Archivar..." (03:00)
"Der Kampf ist morgen" (02:01)
"Glücklich die Stadt, die einen Drachen hat" (02:45)
Zwischenspiel (00:40)
Intermezzo. Drache im Schaukelstuhl (01:20)
"Wenn Exzellenz zu gestatten geruhn..." (01:44)
"Wir stellen zweitens die Ermordung des Nemeischen Löwen dar..." (01:22)
"Das Verbrechen, welchem zum Opfer fiel die Lernäische Hydra..." (02:36)
"Viertens lenken wir Ihre Aufmerksamkeit auf ein Beispiel subversiver Tätigkeit..." (01:57)
Zwischenspiel (01:17)
"Achtung. Exzellenz tauchen über den Vorbergen auf" (01:34)
"Lanzelot! Ich bin es..." (02:44)
"Könnt ich dich töten tausendmal" (01:26)
"Willst du mich heiraten, Elsa?" (02:00)
"Soll ich töten, den ich liebe?" (02:16)

CD 2 von 2 (53:14)

Paul Dessau Lanzelot, Bild 9 (05:20) Oleksandr Pushniak | Staatskapelle Weimar | Dominik Beykirch

Stadt. Nacht. Ballett-Pantomime (01:19)
"Ich bin allein" (01:37)
"Herr Lanzelot. Schramm. Kunst und Antiken" (01:02)
"Herr Lanzelot, wir und die vor uns kamen..." (02:00)
"Freunde, ich bitte sich kurz zu fassen" (01:33)
"Herr Lanzelot, in der fünfzigsten Generation..." (01:09)
"Wer wagt es?" (02:07)
"Und so etwas wird Oberarchivar" (00:52)
"Neues vom Himmel?" (01:19)
Der Kampf. Himmel (01:36)
Stadt. Volk. Regen von Drachenköpfen (01:09)
"Dradra hat keinen Kopf mehr" (00:54)
"Gib mir meinen Sohn wieder..." (01:07)
"Er wollte das Gefängnis aufschließen" (01:18)
"Lanzelot? Lebt er?" (02:11)

Paul Dessau Lanzelot, Bild 14 (03:45) Máté Sólyom-Nagy | Staatskapelle Weimar | Dominik Beykirch

Lanzelot allein (03:45)
Saal im Präsidenten-Palais. Hochzeitstafel (01:03)
Präsidentenmusik (00:33)
"Ruhmreicher, der mit starker Hand..." (00:35)
"Ich danke euch, meine Lieben" (02:10)
"Bürger. Bevölkerung. Volk. Freunde" (03:37)
"Elsa, deine Hand" (01:37)
"Papa, wer ist Lanzelot?" (01:10)
"Ich komm auf die Stunde..." (01:47)
"Es ist soweit..." (00:30)
"Du bist gekommen" (01:00)
"Ich weiß alles über dich..." (01:01)
"Wie mach ich Menschen jetzt aus diesen Puppen..." (02:26)
"Alles Gebundne befreit unser Fest..." (02:09)

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​Music history encompasses masterpieces which are simply forgotten for a while before being rediscovered in a later era when they act as a mirror of current sensitivities: prominent examples include Mozart's La clemenza di Tito, Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony" or Erich Wolfgang Korngold's opera Die tote Stadt. The reasons for such oblivion are manifold - in the case of Paul Dessau's fairy-tale opera Lanzelot, they are almost certainly political. This also has to do with the fact that Dessau (1894-1979), the son of a Jewish tobacconist from Hamburg, settled in the Soviet occupation zone after exile during the Second World War and lived until his death as a politically loyal but also thoroughly dissident citizen of the GDR.
Through his collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, at the age of sixty Dessau discovered music theatre for himself, whose sole raison d'être, according to him, was to fulfil a political didactic role. Twice he set texts by Brecht to music; for his third opera he turned to the fairy tale The Dragon by the Soviet author Evgeny Schwartz, which the playwright Heiner Müller, alongside Ginka Tcholakova, adapted for him, creating the libretto for Lanzelot. The plot is so controversial that even the original was banned under Stalin. A dragon who liberated the people from cholera a very long time ago now heads up a totalitarian regime, but is loved by his people as he guarantees them order and materialistic wellbeing. The appearance of the self-proclaimed libertarian hero Lancelot triggers resistance among the citizens; in the end, the question emerges as to whether the people are really ready for revolution.
Surprisingly, the material did not meet with resistance from the GDR authorities at the premiere at the (East) Berlin State Opera in December 1969; the production by Ruth Berghaus, Dessau's wife, was restrained in its political statement. Yet Dessau's music was among the most modern and provocative that was permitted in the GDR at the time. The demands on the soloists, chorus and orchestra are colossal, a richly equipped percussion section provides punch, and the composer also makes use of recordings to be played in the auditorium. Nowhere in his oeuvre does Dessau offer up a greater variety of musical styles; from baroque concerto grosso and romantic parodies to agitprop music and modern sounds, he pulls out all the stops. With its plurality of musical styles and its appeal to muster enough courage for true freedom, Lanzelot is the East German counterpart to the equally ambitious "total theatre" piece Die Soldaten by Bernd Alois Zimmermann.
Lanzelot only saw three productions during Dessau's lifetime, then the piece disappeared from the stage, and a recording was never made. Only fifty years after the premiere did the Deutsches Nationaltheater and the Staatskapelle Weimar as well as the Theater Erfurt dare to take on the challenges of this opera once again. In late 2019, Lanzelot was performed in Weimar in a production by Peter Konwitschny and directed by Dominik Beykirch; unfortunately, the planned subsequent run at Erfurt was thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This edited live recording proves the power of Paul Dessau's music and message, which still makes it burningly relevant today, three decades after the end of the Cold War.

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Nov 25, 2022
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Dessau's 'Bild 5. Fernsehraum' from the opera Lanzelot was added to the iTunes and Apple Music Playlist 'Neu in: Klassische Musik' in Germany and other countries (#52/100)
Nov 23, 2022
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Wiederentdeckung des Jahres - 2020 - Paul Dessau: Lanzelot
Nov 22, 2022
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The album 'Paul Dessau: Lanzelot' was pitched for different Curated Classical Playlists
Nov 22, 2022
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Dessau's 'Bild 5. Zwischenspiel' from the opera Lanzelot was pitched for different Curated Classical Playlists
Nov 22, 2022
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Dessau's 'Bild 8. Stadt' from the opera Lanzelot was pitched for different Curated Classical Playlists
Nov 10, 2022
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Dessau's 'Bild 5. Fernsehraum' from the opera Lanzelot was pitched for different Curated Classical Playlists
Oct 25, 2022
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Dessau's 'Bild 7. Zwischenspiel' from the opera Lanzelot was pitched for different Curated Classical Playlists

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