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American Symphony Orchestra to Perform Richard Strauss’ Most Scandalous Opera, ‘Feuersnot'

By Louise Burton on Dec 02, 2013 02:27 PM EST

Some 150 years later, it's easy to forget that much of Richard Strauss' music was once considered avant-garde--certainly his operas Salome and Elektra, as well as many of his tone poems. To wit, Leon Botstein's American Symphony Orchestra has chosen to perform one of his most controversial works, the one-act opera Feuersnot, in a concert staging at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, December 15 at 2:00 p.m.

Music director Leon Botstein believes that it's time to take another look at this rarely performed gem: "Feuersnot precedes the great hits of Salome and Elektra, and so it somehow disappeared. It's a spoof on other operas--on Wagner, on Tristan, as well as on romantic love. Strauss was always upset that it was never in the repertory. He always wanted it to have a second life. The time has come to look at it again--it's a delight."

As challenging as the subject matter of Salome and Elektra were, it was Feuersnot that went a step too far for Strauss' own audiences. The scandalous plot dealt with sex and lust, and the fact that it has always been regarded as possibly semi-autobiographical didn't help its cause.

The bizarre plot involves a sorcerer who deprives a town of its ability to light fire until that town's residents allow him to take the virginity of the mayor's daughter. And the sorcerer can be seen as Strauss, himself, taking allegorical revenge on the critics who dismissed him as a musical rebel.

How will American audiences today react to Feuersnot? Recent operas such as Mark-Anthony Turnage's Anna Nicole and even a new musical like Stephen Ward from Andrew Lloyd Webber have certainly gone further than Strauss ever did in the raunchiness stakes.

Will the Sunday afternoon crowd at Carnegie be able to see past the sexual content and hear the music for what it is?

Always willing to help, Maestro Botstein will share the story behind the music in his 30-minute "Conductor's Notes" Q&A at 1:00 p.m. in Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage before the concert.

The cast of Feuersnot includes Jacquelyn Wagner as Diemut and Alfred Walker as the sorcerer, Kunrad. The Collegiate Chorale Singers and the Manhattan Girls Chorus will add their voices, too.

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TagsAmerican Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein, Richard Strauss, Feuersnot, Salome, Elektra, Wagner, Carnegie Hall, Jacquelyn Wagner, Alfred Walker, Collegiate Chorale Singers, Manhattan Girls Chorus

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