An orchestra of more than a 100, with a massive battery of percussion, which won't fit into any pit and has to be relayed from a separate room. That's what Bernd Alois Zimmermann calls for in his only stage work, Die Soldaten. Add a large cast, plus actors, onstage jazz combo, plus video projection, multi-stage synchronicity, organ, piano, harpsichord, celeste... It's little wonder that performances of the opera, based on the play by Lenz, have been few and far between since its premiere in Cologne 30 years ago. But the far-sighted English National Opera is mounting the first staging to originate in Britain, in a production directed by David Freeman and conducted by Elgar Howarth.
An often savage, yet touching, contemporary allegory, Die Soldaten captures much of the spirit of the late 20th-century zeitgeist. With its overlayed cross-cultural frames of reference and multi-levelled collage framework, staging it will prove hazardous enough. But what about conducting it? "Rhythm and changing rhythm" could prove difficult according to Howarth. He also points to the importance of "maintaining the beat clearly, and making sure everyone scattered across the length and breadth of the Coliseum can see it."
`Die Soldaten' opens at the London Coliseum on 19 Nov