Walter Braunfels' Der Traum ein Leben (The Dream is Life) opens 30 March at Theater Bonn. It's going to be broadcast three times - Deutschlandradio Kultur | 5. März 2014, 20:03h ,WDR 3 - WDR Bühne | 22. Juni 2014, 20:05h SWR | and 13. Juli 2014, (time unspecified). It's going to be worth hearing as the cast includes Endrik Wottrich as Rustan, the anti hero, and Graham Clark as Old Caleb (not much singing, but can Clark declaim!) The conductor is Will Humburg, and the director is Jürgen R Weber, who has an interesting website with lots of photos and insights into the creation process.
Braunfels' Der Traum ein Leben is based on a play by Franz Grillparzer and follows the story of Rustan, a young man who lacks talent but has delusions of power. He's easily led astray by his slave, Zanga the Moor. After a cataclysmic dream, he realizes that worldly success isn't for him. The "Moorish" elements of the story provide a supernatural context, where dervishes and demons operate like magical forces. This is a life journey, not unlike The Magic Flute, where the hero finds himself. Or not, in Rustan's case. It's interesting to think of the play as a metaphor for Grillparzer's life. He liked travelling to exotic lands, but wasn't particularly happy or successful. On the other hand, the play was written in 1834, when he was still fairly young.
Braunfels wrote the opera in the years after Hitler came to power, when the composer's career was sidelined by the Nazis. Perhaps he was reflecting on the situation he and so many others were facing Those of us who haven't lived under mad regimes probably don't realize that "internal emigration" can be, for some, a valid option. The plot also predicates on a feckless fool following a false Fuhrer, Braunfels's music for Die Traum ein Leben is vividly expressive; theatrical enough to fool Nazi tastes. Lush harps create a "magical" atmosphere. But listen to, to the flickering flames which suggest Hell and the hahahaha of demons. The cataclysmic "dream" sequence is violently intense. This tale isn't fairy tale kitsch. The pounding percussion, screaming strings and wild vocal lines suggest damnation.
Der Traum ein Leben is much darker than Verkündigung (Read my "Gothic Resistance Fighter " here) and suggests the savagery that was to come in Braunfels' Szenen aus dem Leben der Heiligen Johanna (Read my "Braunfels Medievalism as Moderrnity" here). There's more on Braunfels and indeed more on composers of this genre on this site than anywhere else, The only recording was made in Regensburg in 2001, which is readily available. I'm looking forward to hearing the Bonn production.