— At the Festival

Published on July 15 2019


© Patrick Berger / artcompress


A powerful show.
Andrea Breth develops the contrasts between the rude reality of Lenz’s tragedy and his imagination, without always distinguishing between the two. Paradoxically, her staging of this murky and agitated world—through its starkness and its pale shades of dominantly grey, blue and green colors—evokes the silent paintings of Hammershøi. The figure of Lenz becomes increasingly Christlike, as the artist sacrifices himself for humanity. The plastic beauty of the images then gives way to a merciless representation of his physical and mental decline.
The title role is certainly rewarding, for it is ubiquitous and constantly makes use of an extreme variety of registers, from spoken text to sung lyrics, and from pleas of mercy to screams. But it also requires feistiness, broad shoulders, and vocal stamina. The Austrian baritone Georg Nigl, who possesses all of these qualities, received triumphant applause—and deservedly so. He did more than just play the part: he offered a staggeringly intense performance. At his sides, Wolfgang Bankl’s Oberlin and John Daszak’s Kaufmann were not to be outdone. Ingo Metzmacher rendered the jolting power of the score with the help of the Ensemble Modern, whose virtuosity is always impressive, and of an impeccable sextet. An hour and twenty minutes and a handful of instruments and singers were enough to knock the audience for a loop.


First performed in 1979, Wolfgang Rihm’s Jakob Lenz follows the suffering and visions of a poet in the throes of insanity. The baritone Georg Nigl, in the title role, enthralls the audience with his ductile voice and his powerful acting.
With its understated instrumentation (cellos; harpsichord; and wind, brass and percussion instruments)—which still manages to deploys an astounding palette of colors and textures, in constant conversation with the world of dreams and nightmares—, the score is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful works you may ever hear. Ensemble Modern, conducted perfectly by Ingo Metzmacher, renders all of the score’s rich oneiric qualities.
In a mixture of theater and dance, the gestures and manners belongs to two different worlds: one with life exactly as it comes, and the other with life as souls in need of absolutes would desire it to be. Up to the final scene, that is, when the director—too keen on highlighting Lenz’s insanity and his terrifying loneliness—swaps emotion for demonstration. That is perhaps the only weakness of this otherwise perfect production: it is more impressive than it is touching.



Andrea Breth’s staging of Wolfgang Rihm’s Jakob Lenz is virtually sublime.
A third premiere, and a third success, for Pierre Audi: so far, the new director of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence is batting a thousand. Yes, Wolfgang Rihm’s Jakob, as staged by Andrea Breth, is not an original Festival d’Aix production: it premiered in Stuttgart in 2014 and was reprised in Brussels in 2015. But Audi was set on making it one of the emblems of the beginning of his tenure. And he was right, for it is one of the most powerful moments in recent years. […]
The German director molds to the meanderings of the tortured spirit of the poet, a friend of Goethe’s. […]
Beginning with the very first image—a falling body, a scream—we are rapt. From that moment on, the Austrian baritone Georg Nigl submits his body and voice to a full range of tortures with an energy of despair and a Christlike sense of sacrifice. This unforgettable performance is already destined to go down in history as one of opera’s greats.


Jakob Lenz, Georg Nigl’s mad poet.
Andrea Breth’s staging of Wolfgang Rihm’s first opera, with musicians from the Ensemble Modern conducted by Ingo Metzmacher, caused a sensation at Aix-en-Provence.
Jakob Lenz—
a chamber opera by Wolfgang Rihm (born in 1952), and a veritable musical and psychological thrashing—became one of the keystones of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence on July 5. Of course, it was a bit to be expected. […] Georg Nigl’s Jakob Lenz is (no pun intended) simply delirious. In a vocal and dramatic tour de force, the Austrian baritone covers all possible registers of voice—from the great lyricism of opera to the spoken word of theater, from Sprechgesang (speech-song) to falsetto, from shriek to unctuousness, and from inwardness to fury—single-handedly creating a truthful, grueling, touching and terrifying spectacle. By his side were Wolfgang Bankl as Oberlin—a moving and compassionate clergyman—who is accompanied by a harpsichord, as if he came straight out of a Bach cantata; and John Daszak as the diabolical Kaufmann, whose tight tenor-buffo tessitura is reminiscent of that of the Captain (Wozzeck’s professional tormentor). And let us not forget the famous “voices” that devour Lenz’s mind, a consistently magnificent, sensitive and precise chamber choir. In the pit, the excellent musicians of Ensemble Modern perform the music with a profound naturalness, avidity and virtuosity, under the uncompromising, powerful, moving, expressive and dynamic conducting of Ingo Metzmacher, a true “instrumental” double to the vocal giant Georg Nigl.


A stunning performance.
The role of Lenz offers a great lyrical opportunity for any Ferrari of song and stage. It gives a top-of-the-line performer the chance to move, despair, terrify, pity, amuse and exasperate his audience non-stop, and show off a vocal palette ranging from screams to elaborate vocal warm-ups, in both spoken texts and recitative. And the Ferrari could truly shine, provided he also had a Ferrari’s engine under the hood. The baritone Georg Nigl indeed does, and he can make that engine roar. And the rest of his crew are equal to the task: John Daszak, James Platt, Ensemble Modern, the conductor Ingo Metzmacher and the director Andrea Breth. If you love powerful moments with a sting, this one is for you.


In his performance, Georg Nigl, a Viennese baritone, merges completely with Jakob Lenz. In terms of technique, his diction is finely tuned; each phoneme is perfectly studied, as if the singer were processing the electroacoustic raw materials of his voice. The baritone “samples” snippets of falsetto, Sprechgesang (speech-song), parlando (speech), screams, and echolalia (repetitions made possible with the help of a sound director), all of which he unifies through his ability to project effectively no matter what strange posture he has adopted on stage. In terms of acting, he carries the play with his lively, vibrant, moving presence.


For this chamber opera, Wolfgang Rihm has composed a rich, stylistically diverse score, perfectly rendered at Aix by the excellent Ensemble Modern, under the precise and dynamic conducting of Ingo Metzmacher. Jakob Lenz is, for us, unquestionably the first great hit of this 71st edition of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.


At the Grand Théâtre de Provence, Andrea Breth reprises her radically dark and disturbing reading of Rihm’s Jakob Lenz. The German director strives to offer an uncompromising vision of the violence and degeneration of the eponymous character.
Since the production first premiered, Georg Nigl has powerfully embodied the character of Lenz. He is phenomenal, both dramatically—he remains half-naked, his deranged mind in the grip of delirium; and his hyperbolic acting is both astonishing and incandescent—and vocally—his voice is pushed to the very limit by the demanding, choppy vocal part, which can verge on hoarse groans or on piercing shrieks. Despite the score’s difficult contortions, Georg Nigl appears just as much at ease with speech as with song. He is wonderfully assisted by Wolfgang Bankl and John Daszak, who play the roles of Oberlin and Kaufmann, respectively. Slipping into the bleak, sordid universe of an insane asylum, Lenz passes from boxer shorts to straitjacket, and stays close to a bucket filled with excrement, which he slathers over his chest and face, and to a tin-plated bed. Torture and despair reach their climax in the production’s rawness and its violence.