Die Jahreszeiten ballet at the Vienna State Opera is a performance with history and star power that cannot but impress. The music is courtesy of Joseph Haydn who in his later years composed a monumental secular oratorio dedicated to the never-ending circle of nature and humankind’s place in it. The choreography by Martin Schläpfer has been over 25 years in the making, during which the ballet master has been drawing endless inspiration from the grand composer’s philosophical and glorious melodies. The orchestra, chorus and ballet of the Vienna State Opera rise to the occasion and deliver a remarkable performance of sound and vision.
Haydn debuted Die Jahreszeiten, German for ‘The Seasons’, on 24 April 1801 in Vienna. It was his second oratorio, following in the successful steps of The Creation (1798). Baron Gottfried van Swieten supplied the libretto, drawing inspiration from British poet James Thomson’s ‘The Seasons’. The series of four poems that itself relied heavily on John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ in both form and substance, offering philosophical musings on man’s place in the universe. Haydn, despite his ailing health, rose to the text’s momentousness and composed an oratorio full of larger-than-life choruses and instrumental passages. A bass, a tenor and a soprano handle the solo parts, while four-part choruses and an extra-large orchestra carry the brunt of the work.
Adding to the metaphysical musings of Thomson and van Swieten and the epic music of Haydn, Martin Schläpfer’s choreography matches the picturesque natural scenes, gripping confrontations, and humorous asides. The contrasts that the oratorio’s musical landscape encompasses so vividly find their perfect translation in Schläpfer’s adept choreography that merges classical and modern styles into a uniform work of art. From bright-eyed hope and beauty to primal fear and destruction, Die Jahreszeiten seems to carry in itself everything about life and the universe. The stunning performance at Wiener Staatsoper presents a singular opportunity to explore the human spirit from the point of view of great artists, several centuries apart and yet working together in perfect unison.