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Music

Ingo Metzmacher brings Nietzsche to the stage

From conducting a Nietzschean opera at the Salzburg Festival to hosting concerts in Berlin in jeans, Ingo Metzmacher is known for innovative projects. He talked with DW about what inspires his work.

Ingo Metzmacher looks on at his reflection in glass

Metzmacher headed Berlin's Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester until 2010

DW: "Dionysos" in Salzburg last summer was the second piece you've premiered by Wolfgang Rihm. What fascinates you about his music?

Ingo Metzmacher: I think it's a kind of freedom in his music, a freedom of choice, of flow, of language, and also I think he has a very special dramatic sense. He has a great sense for music theater, so his music really serves the stage. That's something I like very much.

The opera is about Nietzsche. How well do you know Nietzsche and did that aspect pose a challenge for you?

Well, when he told me that he was planning to do an opera about Nietzsche's Dionysian poems, I was actually very puzzled. I didn’t understand the texts, and I couldn’t imagine how to form an opera from them. Rihm has said the words are by Nietzsche, but the text is by him. That is, he used fragments of points here and there that served his narrative purpose in the piece.

He created four different scenes that are very dramatic moments in themselves. For instance, in the first scene, a woman approaches a man and wants to ask if he loves her or not, but he cannot speak. That's a very existential scene.

Did his music and text make it easier for you to understand Nietzsche's message?

Yes and no. Again he used very specific fragments. I think what attracted me is that the language is very enigmatic and open, so you cannot pin it down. You can say that about music too. You cannot claim any kind of music means just this and that. It's open to many layers of meaning.

So, yes, I learned to read Nietzsche differently after Rihm wrote the language with the music. Sometimes he repeats the sentences or just words for three or four bars as if the flow of text is somehow stuck, and he uses also parodic elements. It's fascinating and a very light approach to the whole subject.

A singer performs in front of a large mask-like prop with a red back light

Singer Johannes Martin Kraenzle played Dionysos in the opera of the same name



You developed an interesting concept called the casual concert during your time in Berlin. Can you talk more about that?

Yeah, it's a one and a half hour concert - in jeans - at a much lower price. There's free seating and explanations from the stage. It attracted a younger, enthusiastic audience, and I'm actually sad to leave that form behind because I really liked it.

I think one of your big successes was to create special themes and mottos that got attention.

Yes, and I had at least four or five more themes in my head which I would have loved to continue to do. Especially the series focusing on 1909, 1911, 1913 would have interested me a lot because I think those years before the First World War broke out were very exciting. You know, artists felt that something was dramatically changing, and you can hear it in the music. I'll miss getting to do that.

You're well known as innovative - what drives you to create novel ways of presenting performances?

I found out I have a talent for it. I like to communicate my enthusiasm for any kind of music actually, but I realized that there seems to be a vacuum. Audiences really like to be approached to have some help opening up their ears.

Interview: Gero Schliess (gsw)
Editor: Rick Fulker

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