Vienna State Opera shows its first female-written opera | News | DW | 09.12.2019
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Vienna State Opera shows its first female-written opera

The curtain has risen on Olga Neuwirth's opera Orlando at the Vienna State Opera. The avant-garde composer's work examining gender fluidity was well-received, despite a few boos.

For the first time in its 150-year history, the Vienna State Opera has celebrated the premiere of an opera written by a woman.

Olga Neuwirth's opera "Orlando" was hailed a success as the curtain lowered after the show on Sunday, despite a few boos in the audience, Germany's dpa news agency reported.

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There were especially loud cheers for US mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey for her performance in the title role, and sustained applause for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor and composer Matthias Pintscher.

An adaptation of the Virginia Woolf novel of the same name, "Orlando" carries the story into the present and deals with topics of gender fluidity, dispensing with the 1920s ending in the novel.

The libretto by French-US playwright Catherine Filloux retells the story of a young male aristocrat who lives forever and becomes a woman as the centuries go by.

Neuwirth has a reputation for being the "enfant terrible" of the Austrian music scene, and "Orlando" includes a number of experimental touches: The score demands some of the violins to be tuned lower by a quarter note, while the orchestra is accompanied by electric guitars, choirs and the State Opera's organ.

"The piece demands that everyone take a leap of faith. Everyone must move out of their comfort zone," Neuwirth told reporters.

The character, Orlando, is constantly finding ways to break rules, the composer told Germany's Focus magazine. "The fictional character is seeking a different kind of beauty, by not accepting social standards and striding creatively through the world," she said.

Neuwirth's previous work includes an opera adaptation of the David Lynch film Lost Highway.

Some of the musicians, who are mostly Vienna Philharmonic members, have reportedly been unhappy about the music in "Orlando." The Vienna daily Die Presse wrote that some had left rehearsals in an "aggressive mood." But others in the orchestra pit have reportedly been enthusiastic.

The opera premiered as the opera house's current director Dominique Meyer ends his 10-year tenure in Vienna to take up a post at La Scala opera House in Milan. He has previously commissioned other avant-garde works.

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