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Jakob Lenz review at Hampstead London

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English National Opera’s first co-production with the Hampstead Theatre offers a chamber opera that has been widely performed since its premiere in Hamburg in 1979. Its composer, the prolific Wolfgang Rihm, who turned 60 last month, was just 25 when he wrote it.

The narrative covers a period of three weeks in the life of the 18th century German writer when he was losing his reason, never to regain it; meanwhile he was taken in by Oberlin, a rural Lutheran pastor who tries to help him but eventually gives up. Oberlin’s own account of the episode was turned into the novella by Georg Buchner on which the opera itself is based.

The result is a dark and troubling 75 minutes, illumined by the dedicated portrayal of the title role by the remarkable Andrew Shore who, in the opening ten minutes alone, has to throw himself twice into the reed-surrounded lake strikingly recreated in Annemarie Wood’s set. Vocally as well as physically, Shore’s performance is a tour de force, ably seconded by Jonathan Best as the concerned Oberlin, Richard Roberts as Lenz’s foppish playwright friend Kaufmann, and Suzy Cooper as Lenz’s beloved Friederike – a silent role slotted into the production by director Sam Brown to clarify one of the causes of Lenz’s obsessive ravings.

Throughout, Brown’s work is conscientious, while conductor Alex Ingram draws a secure musical performance from the accompanying ensemble. But, ultimately, Rihm’s score disappoints, too much of it passing by without registering strongly or providing real continuity. It’s the one crucial factor in the evening that is less than first-rate.

Production Information

Hampstead, London, April 17-27

Wolfgang Rihm
Alex Ingram
Sam Brown
English National Opera, Hampstead Theatre
Andrew Shore, Jonathan Best, Richard Roberts, Suzy Cooper
Running time
1hr 15mins

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