An opera by Peter Androsch (2011–12)
With texts by Bernhard Doppler, Silke Dörner and Plutarch
Text eingerichtet von Peter Androsch
This opera is in memory of my great-grandfather Karl Posch. He was taken by the Nazis, dragged through the concentration camps and tortured to death in Buchenwald. He was born on October 25, 1873, imprisoned and confined in the Dachau concentration camp by police order on June 17, 1938, transferred to Mauthausen on August 26, 1938, newly confined to Dachau from Mauthausen on May 8, 1939, transferred from Dachau to Buchenwald on September 26, 1939, and died in Block 32 in Buchenwald on December 16, 1939. His death certificate was issued on March 18, 1940. Inadvertently (sic!) there are two concentration camp prisoner numbers: 16220 and 33333. The family’s tears that have yet to be cried are here in this score.
Spiegelgrund. With this opera I have once again returned to the Nazis—metaphorically speaking. After many years I had to deal with these madmen once again. No, I got to deal with them. Work on this opera again sucked me into a massive vortex, as it did with other works concerning National Socialism: Bellum Docet Omnia as a choir installation with the Hungarian National Choir (Festival der Regionen, 1993), Komplizierte Tiere (Complicated Animals), the chamber opera about the murder of Erich Ohsers by the Nazis (text and music) at the Vogtlandtheater Plauen (1993), the film music to Hasenjagd by Andreas Gruber (1994), Die Achse des Ofens (The Oven’s Axis) as multimedia landscape theatre in the Voest in Linz on the displacement of the village St. Peter upon the founding of the Hermann Göring Werke (Festival der Regionen, 1995), An wen soll ich schreiben? An Gott? (To Whom Shall I Write? To God?), music to the stage drama by Karl Fallend at the Landestheater Linz in 2002. It is not for nothing that a break of nearly ten years took place, for the vortex can also kill.
Spiegelgrund is also a fairy tale metaphor: the ground (Grund) beneath the mirror (Spiegel), the mirror at the bottom of the well. This word has the power to encompass heaven and hell, since mirrors are also windows to another world. They are instruments of awareness. In the mythical magic mirror, the person often does not see his own reflection, but rather his counter-image, his shadow. Mirror, eye, soul and shadow are all related to one another. The palette of meaning of the word “ground” is portrayed as vast: coarse, the ground—the earth—is just as trapped as the ground—the valley—and what is innermost, being. At bottom, the mirror always points back at us. “What would you have done?” it asks.
In the many discussions with Thomas Kerbl, three spheres gradually crystallised: law, nursery rhyme, and memory. Each sphere appears three times, and a different performer sings each time. Law is performed by a soprano, bass and a child, and it is the same for nursery rhyme and memory. It refers to the fact that anyone can be anything. What would you have done? We listen to the squealing of the two-wheeled cart that the building worker pushes along at Spiegelgrund: full of dead little children! They’re lying all over the place like thrown-away dolls…. Viewed thus, the opera is a triptych. Three spheres, three singers, three tableaux. Each tableau contains each of the three spheres, each with a different instrumentation and introduced with a recitative.
The Laws written by Lycurgus for Sparta exerted great influence on the ideology of the National Socialists. “Sparta is the clearest racial state in history,” Hitler declared, “… its successes should be emulated.” Passed down by Plutarch and Xenophon, the texts formed a direct model for the National Socialist heredity, breeding and euthanasia mania. The nursery rhyme “Kommt ein Vogel geflogen” (A Bird Comes Flying) serves as a metaphor for childhood. Here, dreams and desires are shown in all their glory. The song turns out to be a mirror of horror, however; the seemingly naïve melody is in the major mode, yet minor is meant—like in Schubert. Memory is oriented towards reports of survivors, in order to overcome speechlessness. A long time is needed before the gruesome words are found.
The thought that anyone can be anything is not all that far-fetched. Abuse of children in Austria probably remains systematic to this day. Luckily, it no longer has deadly consequences like it did at Spiegelgrund. Yet the child as an object of aggression, abuse and neglect is sadly pervasive, as evidenced by many recent publications. Nonetheless, the child also sings the law. It is difficult to imagine, yet even a child can take on the role of the perpetrator.
Now let’s think about the thousands of child soldiers. The child arises again during the memory. The child is at the mercy of an inscrutable system that (ab)uses everyone in order to survive. Just like Igor Caruso. The discussion in Karl Fallend’s periodical Werkblatt (No. 60/2008 and No. 64/2010) on Caruso’s role at Spiegelgrund served as the occasion for the first talks. They increasingly flowed into an ocean of texts, beginning with Karl Fallend’s report on Johann Gross’s recollections of Spiegelgrund (Spiegelgrund, Ueberreuter Verlag, 2000) in Spectrum der Press (3/25/2000) and ending with the book published today—the day the manuscript to this opera was completed—Tatort Kinderheim – Ein Untersuchungsbericht (Crime Scene: Children’s Home—An Inquiry Report) by Hans Weiss (Deuticke Verlag), which was also discussed in the press (9/18/2012). A Kindergulag. Perhaps to the present day.
Thomas Kerbl deserves mention first and foremost: once because the idea for the opera hearkens back to him; another because he really pushed this matter in the discussions—also together with Alexandra Diesterhöft, who wrote her Master’s thesis on the origin of Spiegelgrund at the Anton Bruckner Private University and found a wealth of material. To Karl Fallend: Thank you for the information! Bernhard Doppler really immersed himself in this Spartan world, as well as in the Nazis’ world with their Sparta mania. I am deeply indebted to him. To Silke Dörner, who wrote the original texts on the memories and several recitatives with great skill and in no time flat: Thank you! And Susanne Guld—thanks to Otto Rafetseder for making this connection—who is responsible for the commemoration of Spiegelgrund in Vienna’s MA24 city administration office and contributed additional pragmatic information: my heartfelt thanks as well. Verena Lafferentz and Hubert Hawel accompanied me more and more in my work, being active in many things, including creating the sound recording of the cart squeaking. Finally, thanks to Bernd Preinfalk, who once again created the performance material. Grazie per tutti!
The work on this score was particularly difficult, on the one hand because I hadn’t composed for a long time, and on the other because I was in an economic situation that threatened my existence. Several lifesavers came to the rescue: my brother Günther Androsch, Michael Klügl, Martin Winkler, Thomas Kerbl, Wolfgang Pfeil, Klaus Luger, Philipp Olbeter, Peter Mitterbauer and Peter Leisch. Each of them knows what I mean. My heartfelt thanks! And my family—my wife Gigi, who is my most important advisor, and my children, Helene “Lili” and Paul—I embrace all of you. To my mother Helene, who supported us and made our lives easier, thank you.
Finally, a big thank-you to the president of the National Assembly, Barbara Prammer, who made it possible for the opera to receive its world premiere at the Parliament in Vienna. Lilli Gneisz and Gerhard Marschall paved the way in Parliament. Without these three individuals, the creation and premiere of Spiegelgrund would not have been possible.
Peter Androsch November 2012