- A Note from the Editors
The essays in this issue emerged out of a conference held at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the spring of 2010. “Recovered Voices: Staging Suppressed Opera of the Early 20th Century” was convened by Kenneth Reinhard and Robert Elias and sponsored by the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies and the Orel Foundation, an organization founded by James Conlon and dedicated to the promotion of music suppressed, in one way or another, by the Third Reich. The title of the conference and this issue refers to Conlon’s ongoing “Recovered Voices” project at LA Opera, where in recent years he has conducted fully staged productions of operas by Alexander Zemlinsky, Viktor Ullmann, Walter Braunfels, and Franz Schreker. Part of the goal of this project is historical and even ethical: to restore to the repertory works that have been forgotten or little known because of the traumatic effects on European music of the irruption of Nazism in the twentieth century But such historical and ethical reparation will only be completely successful (that is, more than just academic) if accompanied by a convincing demonstration of the artistic merit of these works. It’s not enough to argue, for example, that we should listen to Zemlinsky because of his significance in the Viennese musical world; if an opera such as Der Zwerg is to enter fully into history, rather than remaining a footnote to it, a case must be made for its musical and dramatic power for us today. Moreover, this can’t be done en masse but only on a case-by-case basis, and depends on the successful collaboration of directors, conductors, and various other contemporary artists.
Indeed, these composers and the numerous others that could be grouped with them under the aegis of “recovered voices” (including Ernst Krenek, Hans Gál, Stefan Wolpe, Pavel Haas, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Erwin Schulhoff, Hanns Eisler, Hans Krása, Eric Zeisl, and many others) did not constitute a school, nor did they share a geographical center, other than Europe itself. They were not all Jews or communists or homosexuals, or part of some other group categorically denounced by the Nazis—although they often participated in one or more of such categories. Nor were they especially stylistically homogeneous: some (like Zemlinsky) were connected with the Second Viennese School; others (such as Schulhoff and Wolpe) were involved with artistic movements such as the Bauhaus or Dada; and others (such as Haas) found inspiration in jazz and folk musics. Their fates were just as various: some, including Ullmann and Schulhoff, died in concentration camps; some escaped Europe and came to England or America (where a few, like Korngold, were highly successful while others, like Zemlinsky, died virtually [End Page 1] unknown); and some, such as Eisler, escaped to America in the forties only to be blacklisted and then deported back to Europe in the fifties.
So, other than as a convenient synecdoche, what value is there in using the term “Recovered Voices” to consider these composers and their operas? As a marketing and fund-raising tool, there’s no question that the expression “Recovered Voices” (or similar ones, such as that used by the Phoenix Symphony, “Rediscovered Masters”) is effective, but what other value—intellectual, cultural, aesthetic—is there in gathering them together through such nondescriptive and negative terms? Indeed, it could be argued that grouping these composers and their works together as “recovered” from their oppression by the Nazis grants too much power to their oppressors, defining them as “victims” in a sort of inversion of the derogatory category of “degenerate.”
One way of understanding the grouping “Recovered Voices” would be as examples of what we could call “minor opera,” following the model of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s notion of a “minor literature” in their book, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. This concept of “minor” does not mean insignificant, in the sense of less important or less achieved; nor does it mean written in a language with fewer speakers or with less of a literature than the “major” languages of the world. Indeed a “minor literature,” according to Deleuze and Guattari...