Infernal Opera: Musical Events: The New Yorker
When Mozart placed a loud, dark, bone-chilling chord of D minor in the first bars of â€œDon Giovanni,â€ he set a new precedent for operatic curtain-raisers: instead of charming his listeners into paying attention, he would stun them into submission, with intimations of the awakening of the dead and the opening of the gates of Hell. Modern scholarship suggests that Mozart may have derived aspects of his famous gesture from none other than Antonio Salieri, that most unfairly abused of composers, whose opera â€œLa Grotta di Trofonio,â€ premiÃ¨red two years before â€œDon Giovanni,â€ contains some strikingly similar demonic noises. Ever since, composers have tried to outdo each other with carefully engineered hammer blows of fate. Verdiâ€™s â€œOtelloâ€ begins with a rumbling six-note dissonance; Straussâ€™s â€œElektraâ€ with a souped-up D-minor detonation; Alban Bergâ€™s â€œLuluâ€ with a sharply stabbing figure that foreshadows the heroineâ€™s fate.
Bernd Alois Zimmermannâ€™s 1965 opera â€œDie Soldaten,â€ the story of a womanâ€™s degradation at the hands of a series of heartless soldiers, has a prelude of such stupefying intensity that it stands for the moment as the ne plus ultra.