opera in two acts

libretto by Lutz Hübner



2232, 3431, 1+4, harp, synthesizer, strings

Fp: May 5. 2001 Dortmund Opera, staging. Philipp Kochheim, choir of the Dortmund Opera

Philharmonic Orchestra Dortmund, cond. Alexander Rumpf

soloists Hannu Niemelä, Hannes Brock (Wallenberg), Barbara Dobrzanska (Woman), Gundula Schneider, Andrea Rieche, Karin Roben (diplomats), Susan Benkin (Lady), Thomas Mehnert (Eichmann)

Characters: Wallenberg, baritone; Eichmann, bass; Wallenberg 2, tenors; German Officer (also Ronald Reagan), baritone; First Survivor (also First Rescued Person), mezzo soprano; Second Survivor (also Second Rescued Person), tenor; Third Survivor (also Third Rescued Person), bass; First Guest (also Jacob Wallenberg in No. 19), tenor; Second Guest (also American General), baritone; Third Guest (also American Soldier in No. 19), baritone; three diplomats, mezzo soprano; A Lady, low mezzo soprano; The Woman, high soprano; First Russian Officer, tenor; Second Russian Officer, tenor; Third Russian Officer, dumb role; three gulag prisoners, baritone (generally speaking roles); employees, speaking roles; chorus

Other stagings:

June 1. 2007  Estonian National Opera, staging Dmitri Bertman (co-directors Ene-Liis Semper and Neeme Kuningas),

stage designer Ene-Liis Semper, conductor Arvo Volmer.

soloists: Jesper Taube (Wallenberg), Priit Volmer (Eichmann), Mati Turi (Wallenberg 2), Jassi Zahharov (German Officer), Väino Puura (Ronald Reagan), Teele Jõks, Andres Köster, Mart Laur, Mart Madiste, René Soom, Aare Saal, Helen Lokuta, Annaliisa Pillak, Juuli Lill, Riina Airenne, Aile Asszonyi, Urmas Põldma, Vladislav Horuženko, Villu Valdmaa, Aare Kodasma, Alar Haak, Vahur Agar.

Erkki-Sven Tüür, Dmitri Bertman, Arvo Volmer, Neeme Kuningas and Ene-Liis Semper were awarded the Estonian State Cultural Prize 2007 for the production of opera “Wallenberg”. For the staging of opera „Wallenberg”, Dmitri Bertman was given also Annual Award of Estonian Theatre 2007 in the category of musical stagings.

DVD Estonian Record Productions


July 7th 2013 Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, staging Tobias Kratzer

stage designer Rainer Sellmaier, conductor Johannes Willig

Badischer Staatsopernchor, Badische Staatskapelle

soloists: Tobias Schabel (Wallenberg), Renatus Meszar (Eichmann), Matthias Wohlbrecht (Wallenberg 2), Lucas Harbour, Andrew Finden, Stefanie Schaefer, Tiny Peters, Christina Bock, Sarah Alexandra Hudarew, Rebecca Rafell, Ina Schlingensiepen, Doru Cepreaga, Johannes Eidloth, Marcelo Angulo, Wolfram Krohn, Andreas Netzner, Edward Gauntt, Klaus Schneider



Recording of the month in Sept. 2009 musicweb-international


Tüür's "Wallenberg" Stinging, Timeless and an Operatic Cyber-First

“What I do is not enough, but it would be a start.” Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg and his nemesis Adolph Eichmann both sang those words in Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür’s “Wallenberg” at the Estonia Theater in Tallinn in May. Good versus evil, myth making, and modern tragedy all reside in this powerful opera (Tüür’s first), inspired by the Swedish diplomat who saved an estimated 100,000 Jews in Budapest at the end of World War II, only to be sent to the Gulag by the occupying Russians. t was commissioned and premiered by Dortmund Opera in 2001, with a tightly crafted libretto by German playwright Lutz Hübner.  TheTallinn production was a new one by Russian director Dmitri Bertman. When Bertman's production was first presented in 2007 in Tallinn, it marked a probable first in operatic history: after the removal of a Soviet war monument from central Tallinn in April, the Russian government forbade Bertram to travel to Estonia (he was allowed to attend the June 1 premiere).  Undaunted, Bertman asked Estonian director Neeme Kuningas and designer Ene-Liis Semper to follow through with his staging.  Rehearsals were held over the Internet, using online pictures from the stage. 

Bertman, enfant terrible of Moscow’s Helikon Opera, gives "Wallenberg" a universal aspect as opposed to the Dortmund production, where Nazi symbolism dominated.  His view is timeless, as if "from the 42nd century," Bertman said. The diplomats were ornately dressed, with powdered wigs and heavy makeup.  The Germans wore black leather and carried light sabers.  The Jews had prayer shawls.  The Gulag prisoners were in rags. Russians wore red.  Wallenberg was dressed in white, with a prayer shawl after his first rescue failed.  Eichmann, sung by bass Priit Volmer in a sepulchral tessitura, swept on and off the stage in a black leather cape, with silver epaulets and a white wig. 

It is a stinging satire – two acts and 19 scenes, moving from Stockholm and Budapest to somewhere in the Gulag. A Star of David took shape in the darkness as members of the Estonian Opera Chorus, each holding a candle, gathered on stage in the Prologue to muse about Wallenberg. Several scenes centered on a long banquet table bathed in color – gold in Stockholm, black in Budapest (for Eichmann’s reception), red in Moscow, where a pair of comical Soviet offices clutched mikes and mimicked the doublespeak given by the Russians to inquiries about Wallenberg over the years. There were three Wallenbergs: the diplomat, heartbreakingly portrayed by Estonian baritone Rauno Elp, Wallenberg-as-Elvis Presley, who cruelly taunted his alter ego in captivity (tenor Mati Turi), and a yogi in loincloth who performed amazing contortions in the final scene as a Jewish mother repeated offstage a haunting description of her family in ashes. 

The 19 singing roles included diplomats with funny walks and a quasi-rapping German officer whom Wallenberg intimidated Scarlet-Pimpernel-style (the real Wallenberg was influenced by the 1941 film "Pimpernel Smith," where a character based on the fictional French revolutionary hero outwits the Nazis).  There was a woman who tried to comfort Wallenberg (there are no love scenes in the opera), the Jewish mother, movingly sung by Aile Asszonyi, and a trio of Gulag prisoners grateful to have shared confinement with the famous man.

 ’Wallenberg Circus,’ the grossly irreverent finale, opened with a merry little waltz sung by the chorus.  Everyone was there to join in, including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, a Russian matryoshka (nesting doll), Americans, Russians, and characters from earlier in the opera – even the ever-spiteful Eichmann.  A smiling Ronald Reagan sang of making Wallenberg an honorary American citizen (which he did in 1981).  A spastic American general bragged about Wallenberg, whose mission was in fact partly sponsored by the U.S., and Jacob Wallenberg basked in his nephew’s celebrity.  Reagan look-alike, baritone Väino Purra, had four hands.  Two of them were Eichmann's reaching from behind Reagan's back.

The Estonian National Opera Orchestra, led by Music Director Arvo Volmer, went Bayreuth one further by performing completely out of sight beneath a raked stage floor (Volmer’s idea).   TV monitors supplied sight lines for the singers, and helped temper Tüür’s brass and percussion-rich score for the 700-seat, neo-classic theater.

   Tüür's pungent, post-modern score makes no concessions to neo-romanticism.  Painful stabs of brass occurred often, and his use of tubular bells for alarms recalled his mentor, Estonian composer Lepo Sumera’s Symphony No. 2.  Traditional harmony and melody happened at telling moments, such as Wallenberg’s first entrance, where he was wreathed in a warm halo of sound.  The ‘Death March’ was appallingly catchy, with SS troopers “walking” their fingers and drumming their hands as Jews were stripped of their coats en route to Auschwitz.  Swedish passports rained from the sky as Wallenberg mourned the Jews to a moment of aching Pärt minimalism.

American Record Guide, Sept/Oct. 2008   Mary Ellyn Hutton





(---) The result was worth all the tension. "Wallenberg" by Erkki-Sven Tüür (who began his career as a rock musician but is now a leading contemporary composer) is an important work that, apart from its unsuccessful first staging in Dortmund in 2001, has mostly languished, unproduced and forgotten. Telling the powerful story of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who, like Oskar Schindler, saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews (in Budapest) during WWII and was then imprisoned by the Red Army, its theme could not be more poignant or apposite given the prevailing circumstances surrounding this production. Bertman and Kuningas (together with the gifted designer Ene-Liis Semper) created a striking, visually dynamic and always thought-provoking interpretation that avoided cliche and theatrical vacuity and illuminated the libretto in a most satisfying way.  (---) "Wallenberg" is apparently Tüür's only opera to date. I am hopeful that he may write more, for he clearly has skill and a gift for the theatre.

Opera Now  Sept/Oct. 2007 


More thank just a modern opera

TALLINN -  It’s not often you hear praise heaped upon a modern opera, or an Estonian opera. They are normally written off as good attempts to emulate older foreign works, but are quickly forgotten. 
Wallenberg is different. It has won over even the most critical opera-goers, and even those who don’t frequent the Estonian National Opera House have been impressed. 
The reason? It’s not only lyrically and musically bold, but it deals with controversial and touching themes. 
Wallenberg opened at the National Opera House in June and is scheduled for a further series of performances this month. 

Wallenberg tells the story of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who used his connections to issue Swedish passports to thousands of Jews, thereby saving them from Nazi concentration camps. His dangerous double-crossing of both the Nazi and Soviet regimes was bold in the extreme, and it carried a large cost. Wallenberg disappeared at the end of the war, and it is thought he was held in clinics and prison camps until his death in the 1970s. 
“There is something very important about every contemporary work of art, especially in the field of classical music,” says Arvo Volmer, music director and conductor of Wallenberg, and artistic director of the Estonian National Opera company. 

“Strangely, 90 percent of what we consume was composed long before our time. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that modern day humans are longing to get some experience from the contemporary way of thinking.” 
Most new operas were celebrated for their mere creation and existence, Volmer said. 
“Unfortunately, very many are not successful. But look at Mozart’s time. How many composers do we know from this period, except Mozart? There were tens of thousands of them around, but time does its selection.” 
It seems time has selected Wallenberg as this decade’s piece to be remembered. “This is a successful work. The theme itself, the Holocaust and anti-totalitarian sentiments, is also very intriguing. The attention it has received is deserved, and the opera lives up to it. It knocks on everyone’s conscience.” 
The production stands out all the more for its inventive staging style. The orchestra has been relocated to the back of the stage, bringing the action closer to the audience. 

“There is no division between the audience and the stage. From the rear of the stage, the orchestra never covers the singers, which is the way it should be in opera. The music is full of energy, which involves a strong massive sound with brass and percussion. If we were to have the orchestra next to the audience, the singers wouldn’t be heard at all.” 
Stylistically, the production is designed to be time-neutral, meaning it could appear futuristic or historical. “It’s a timeless story,” Volmer explains. 
Composed by Estonian Erkki-Sven Tuur, the production debuted at the Dortmund Opera in Germany in 2001. It took six more years for the opera to be staged in Estonia, and not without difficulty. 
It debuted in Tallinn in June this year, but its director, the Moscow-based Dmitri Bertman, was almost unable to attend rehearsals or the premiere due to the diplomatic and political challenges posed by the removal of the Bronze Soldier. Bertman had reason to believe that traveling to Tallinn at such a sensitive time could jeopardize the interests of his own opera company in Moscow. 

“Dimitri had problems coming over to start the rehearsals. We got around it by dealing with Dimitri over the Internet, and having meetings in a neutral country.” 
Eventually the director did get to Tallinn in time for the premiere. Volmer said it was fitting for such a politically-challenging opera to face its own political challenges. 
“This kind of controversy is what the piece deserves. The themes are actually very important in the present world for everyone – the themes of racial and religious segregation, themes of totalitarian regimes, and the ever-present theme of a person’s desires and feeling of duty, which is so eternal and central for human nature.” 

Many of the upcoming performances of Wallen-berg have already sold out, but some tickets are available. There are plans to stage further sessions in 2008 to meet demand. 

The Baltic Times, Sept. 5. 2007   Joel Alas