Hebrides Ensemble – Pierrot Lunaire
Whether in poetry, film, animation, popular and classical music, dance and even jewellery, the figure of Pierrot, the sad clown pining for love, is one that has proven irresistible since his rise to fame in the commedia dell’arte tradition of 16th century Italy. In an evening inspired by the Pierrot character, Hebrides Ensemble place Schoenberg’s strangely fascinating Pierrot Lunaire at the heart of their latest innovative programme. Complemented by pieces written by Debussy, Chopin, Sally Beamish and young composer Helen Grime, the Schoenberg sets 21 poems by Belgian Albert Giraud. In a sequence of different scenes, they tell of the love-struck Pierrot, who is both hero and fool, intoxicated by the light of the moon.
First performed in Berlin in 1912, key to the success of Pierrot Lunaire is the central role which is performed in the half-spoken, half-sung style known as Sprechstimme. Usually, it is taken on by a singer – Cleo Laine and Bjork have performed it – but Hebrides’ Pierrot is Sylvie Rohrer, lead actor of Vienna’s Burgtheater. ‘I did it for the first time in Hamburg 10 years ago,’ she says, ‘at the invitation of conductor Ingo Metzmacher. Since then, Rohrer has performed Pierrot Lunaire in St Petersburg, Vienna and Switzerland, but appears in Scotland for the first time. Of vital importance to her is that the rhythm and notes are as Schoenberg composed them, bearing in mind his instructions that Sprechstimme is not really like singing in the sense of sustaining tone. ‘I tried to figure out the subtle difference between singing and speaking’, says Rohrer, adding, ‘There are many beautiful recordings by singers, but I miss the brutality of the piece. To my mind, it needs a shriller way, sometimes almost shouting. Actors can dare to do that without having to worry too much about their voice.’
Victoria Halls, Helensburgh, Wed 10 Mar; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Sat 13 Mar