Der Schmied von Gent is the last opera by the Austrian composer Franz Schreker. Schreker, who in the 1910s and early ‘twenties’ was one of the most frequently performed opera composers in the German-speaking part of Europe, had to stand by and watch as the emerging Nazism increasingly boycotted his music. Indeed, Der Schmied von Gent soon disappeared from the bill following its premiere in Berlin in 1932. Opera Ballet Vlaanderen turns the spotlight on this forgotten opera, the story of which starts on Ajuinlei in Ghent.
The German director Ersan Mondtag, known for his expressive, politically charged and provocative theatre, is the perfect match for Schreker’s Grosse Zauberoper. He will be making his opera debut with Der Schmied. Musical director Alejo Pérez takes on a score that shows a remarkable, late change of style in Schreker’s oeuvre as it shifts from the sensual post-romanticism of earlier works to neo-baroque and new realism. Der Schmied, which Schreker explicitly intended as a new type of folk opera, fully illustrates the stylistic versatility and virtuosity of the composer.
The source of inspiration for the opera was the Belgian author Charles De Coster. He transformed the old folk tale of ‘Smidje Smee’ and placed it in the 16th century, during the Spanish domination of Flanders. Smee is the most powerful blacksmith in Ghent, who does good business with the occupier, but who has never renounced his past as a freedom fighter and patriot. When he is betrayed he loses his forge. But the devil makes him an attractive proposition: seven years of abundance, happiness and unlimited productivity.
Time and again Smee tries to prevent hell from entering his life, but it is the seductive devil Astarte who is really in control. Ersan Mondtag connects the folk story, around a Faustian pact, with dark pages from Belgian history, and unexpectedly builds a bridge with the current debate about decolonization.