«Das Floß der Medusa» at Wien Modern
Hans Werner Henze’s controversial oratorio «Das Floß der Medusa» at festival Wien Modern
Floss der Medusa © Henze_c_Archiv_Guevara_c_Osvaldo Salas_Mary Evans_picturedesk.com_Montage Pentagram Berlin
There are pictures that remain in people’s minds for generations and generations: Théodore Géricaults «Radeau de la Méduse», 35 m² large, is one of them.
He spent months painting and researching it before it was presented to the public at the Paris salon on August 25th 1819. The French frigate ran aground on a large sand bank 50 km from the Mauretanien coast on July 2nd 1816. In order to allow the governor and the captain to reach Africa safely, the overloaded raft carrying 150 people was cut free from the lifeboats. When it was found on the morning of July 17th by the Brigg Argus, there were just 15 survivors.
The red flag, which a dying sailor waves in the picture, becomes the focus of attention 150 years later in what is probably the most famous continuation of Géricault’s socio-critical art: Hans Werner Henze’s oratorio «Das Floß der Medusa» is a requiem for Che Guevara, the icon of the Cuban revolution, with Ho-Chi-Minh rhythms and the clear call to change society.
Its world premiere in Hamburg didn’t take place because, after the dress rehearsal, the chorus refused to sing under a red flag. Henze’s controversial work became an icon for the year 1968. Its world premiere took place in Vienna in 1971. Now, some 50 years later, as thousands of refugees drown in the Mediterranean, Géricault’s painting and Henze’s call to change society are back on our minds. The RSO Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra performs the epoch-making work with an unbeatable cast.
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