The Stigmatized
Opera Review by Willard Manus

As part of its ongoing Recovered Voices series, Los Angeles Opera mounted the American premiere of German composer Franz Schreker's THE STIGMATIZED. First produced in Berlin in 1918 (where it became a popular success), the opera was eventually banned by the Nazis not only because Schreker had a Jewish father but because his work was considered to be "degenerate art."

THE STIGMATIZED, along with all the other works in the Recovered Voices series, has been championed by James Conlon, L.A. Opera's music director. Conlon was in the pit at the Music Center, coaxing powerful and magical sounds out of his 72-person orchestra. Schreker is a master at weaving impressionistic themes with clashing harmonies and tonalities, producing sounds that are totally his own--at times lush and sensual, other times brash and brutal.

The same can be said for Schreker's libretto, which tells the tragic story of Alviano Salvago (the riveting Robert Brubaker), a hunchbacked artist who, out of disgust for the corrupt society in which he lives (l6th-century Genoa), builds an island paradise which he intends to donate to the city's ordinary, decent inhabitants.

Trouble is, the Genoese noblemen oppose his generous plan, if only because they have used the island to hold secret orgies at which they seduce and even rape young women. It's art vs. power and money, beauty vs. ugliness (of the soul) in this bold, socially conscious opera which has universal relevance.

A love triangle lies at the heart of the opera, involving Alviano; Carlotta Nardi (the dynamic Anja Kampe), a psychotic painter/psychic; and Count Andrea Tamare (Martin Gantner), an overbearing, arrogant rich man. All three sang with remarkable skill and power. Other impressive singers included Wolfgang Schone, James Johnson and Ronnita Nicole Miller.

Director Ian Judge, forced to mount the opera on the existing raked, revolving set used in the ongoing Ring Festival, did a valiant and effective job, aided by Wendall K. Harrington's rear projections and Deidre Clancy's colorful costumes.

Although no new Recovered Voices productions have been scheduled by L.A. Opera for its 2010-2011 season, it is to be hoped that this is only a temporary hiatus and that the series will become a permanent part of the company's repertoire.