Meeting between Civilizations?
Wolfgang Rihm's 'Die Eroberung von Mexico',
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
After ten days of Ouverture spirituelle (this year a confrontation between Christian and Hindu music) and Jederman ('Each of us') by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the 'mystery play' that has inaugurated the Salzburg Summer Festival since 1920 (this year from 18 July to 30 August), the opera section started on 26 July with Die Eroberung von Mexico ('The Conquest of Mexico') by Wolfgang Rihm who incidentally as of October will be 'composer in residence' of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma. I attended the 29 July 2015 performance.
The audience shouldn't expect a grand opera or an imperial opera such as Fernando Cortez, composed by Gaspare Spontini when he was employed by the King of Prussia, or a Hollywood style historical movie like a well known 1947 film on the subject, or a high political drama (against the Spaniards) similar to a 1999 film by Alexandro Jorodowsky.
Nonetheless, Die Eroberung von Mexico is a highly political work which fits well with the basic theme of the festival — the confrontation between different civilizations and genders. Based on a 1932 scenario by French author Antonin Artaud and interpolated with more recent poems by the Nobel Prize-winning Mexican poet Octavio Paz, the central subject is the relationship between two people from different cultures and genders. Stage direction (Peter Konwitschny), costumes and set (Johannes Leiacker) and video (Fettfilm) place the drama in an elegant Western style condominium (albeit near to a car junkyard) with a well-known Frida Kahlo painting on the wall. Cortez drives a red Ferrari.
In fact, Cortez and Montezuma are the only characters in the opera. The former is supported by two actors amplifying his role, the latter by a mezzo and an alto. A small chorus forms the Spanish army; they are, of course, all men. A group of women (actresses and mimes) help Montezuma.
The basic question remains unanswered: is a real and full meeting between such different civilizations possible? Rihm's answer seems to be in the final ecstatic duet: It is feasible only between souls.