Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire is one of the most significant works of the twentieth century. Setting 21 selected poems by Belgian symbolist poet Albert Giraud, it’s a melodrama which tells the bizarre story of a moonstruck clown. Delivering the poems in the Sprechstimme style, a vocalist (usually soprano) is joined by flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano in what is now referred to as a Pierrot ensemble. The music is written in a freely atonal style, pre-dating the composers famous twelve-tone technique by a decade, and the words conjure fantastical stories filled with strange psychological symbols. It’s a challenging work which has been intriguing and confounding audiences for over a hundred years. If there is any ensemble fit to do it creative justice, then it’s the wildly inventive Manchester Collective.
Founded in 2016, Manchester Collective produce innovative, daring musical experiences which aim to transform the audience experience. Intimate, immersive and utterly thrilling, their performances lessen the gap between audience and music, both literally and emotionally. By drawing audiences physically closer to the performers (they usually have the audience surrounding them), they facilitate a more visceral emotional engagement with the music. As a start-up, they have had an incredibly fruitful two years, and in 2017 were appointed the ‘Ensemble in Residence’ at The Stoller Hall in Manchester, where they continue to contort convention. Given that they are most at home with highly-charged, theatrical works, Pierrot Lunaire is a perfect choice for the collective.
Performed in English, in a new translation by David Pountney, Manchester Collective will bring the sensual and dangerous world of Schoenberg’s melodrama to life with a staged production directed by Emma Doherty. Australian soprano Lotte Betts-Dean has the job of delving deep into the troubled inner world of the female protagonist. Giving the audience a way into the emotional wreckage of the unnamed woman’s story, Pierrot Lunaire will be presented by NTS/BBC 6 broadcaster Elizabeth Alker, who will be a calm voice of guidance before the madness ensues. This is an exciting first opportunity to see Manchester Collective instil Schoenberg’s work with new life, before the project tours the UK.