| The Antichrist idea has a long and distinguished history. Conceived as a figure to gather up the powers of evil in a final onslaught on God, he has a significant Jewish background. The slippery Antiochus IV of Syria and even decapitated Pompey provided a pattern in their desecration of the Temple. He gets scant mention in Christian scripture, but his sinister presence looms, notably in Revelation. Nero's ferocious persecutions qualified him for the post until it became manifest that the Second Coming and end of the world, despite sin and seismic disturbance, was not yet. In the Middle Ages an unusually disreputable pope or emperor might seem to fit the bill, but for Protestants it was quite simply the papacy.
Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) is hardly a name to conjure with here. Germany took some notice of him both pre- and post-World War I, Denmark very little; and the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen obstinately and repeatedly turned down Antikrist. The libretto, perhaps stranger than the Apocalypse, was the stumbling block. The work was written near the start of the 1920s and revised towards their end. It almost out-Wagners Wagner in its self-denying rejection of vocal ensemble for the most part and chorus. The wayward characters deliver their message in stark isolation.
The impression of the work, though, is far from stark. The orchestral sounds, interpreted with total commitment by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard, are as opulent as anything Strauss thought up for the court of Herod the tetrarch or for the doomed Agamemnon in murderous Mycenae. The 1920s were inhospitable to such music, but if anyone deserved it after 1914-18, it was surely Antichrist. He seems now permanently to stalk the world in ever-threatening ways the least satisfactory pope could never have conceived. Antikrist is a powerful work, gripping equally to hear and watch.
Antikrist was first staged in Innsbruck six years ago. The Danes made amends with this performance 50 years after Langgaard's death. The Royal Danish Theatre is at last involved, but the setting is the vast space of a Riding School, with the orchestra prudently surrounded by battlements against the developments on stage. Staffan Holm as stage director has made of his cast a black-clad sect, led by an Ibsenesque Lucifer in the person of Sten Byriel. His first task, impressively done, is to summon Antichrist. Physically Antichrist does not appear, but in a blaze of sound Morten Suurballe as the spoken Voice of God permits him to range the world and relish its decadence.
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