Composer Reiko Füting releases his third album on New Focus, the chamber opera Mechthild in collaboration with librettist and theologian Christian Lehnert. Mechthild of Magdeburg (the German location of the work's premiere) was a 13th century female Christian mystic whose influential texts were rediscovered in the 19th century and have since been studied for their impact on subsequent Northern European religious writings. Füting and Lehnert's setting tackles topics of faith and asceticism in a context that explores the musicality inherent in language, and uses quotation to connect different eras of artistic expression through time and memory.
Act I: Verwunden, vereint/Wound, United
|01||Scene 1: Ankunft/Arrival|
Scene 1: Ankunft/Arrival
|02||Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 1)|
Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 1)
|03||Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 2)|
Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 2)
|04||Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 3)|
Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 3)
|05||Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 4)|
Scene 2: Die Kranke/The Invalid (Part 4)
|06||Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 1)|
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 1)
|07||Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 2)|
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 2)
|08||Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 3)|
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 3)
|09||Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 4)|
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 4)
|10||Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 5)|
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 5)
|11||Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 6)|
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 6)
|12||Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 7)|
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 7)
|13||Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 8)|
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 8)
|14||Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 9)|
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 9)
|15||Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 10)|
Scene 3: Im Gemach der Gottheit/In the Room of Divinity (Part 10)
Act II: Die Gottesfremde/The Alienated
|16||Scene 4: Abgekippt/Dumped (Part 1)|
Scene 4: Abgekippt/Dumped (Part 1)
|17||Scene 4: Abgekippt/Dumped (Part 2)|
Scene 4: Abgekippt/Dumped (Part 2)
|18||Scene 5: Wo bist du dann?/Where Will You Then Be?|
Scene 5: Wo bist du dann?/Where Will You Then Be?
|19||Scene 6: Höllenfahrt/Descent into Hell|
Scene 6: Höllenfahrt/Descent into Hell
|20||Scene 7: Nichts/Naught|
Scene 7: Nichts/Naught
Act III: Nach Gott/After God
|21||Scene 8: Im Krankensaal/In the Ward (Part 1)|
Scene 8: Im Krankensaal/In the Ward (Part 1)
|22||Scene 8: Im Krankensaal/In the Ward (Part 2)|
Scene 8: Im Krankensaal/In the Ward (Part 2)
|23||Scene 9: Feuer/Fire|
Scene 9: Feuer/Fire
“How often do we sacrifice freedom and truthfulness for security? Where is the space for humans who are responsible to themselves? Can that space be found in the middle of society?”
Librettist Christian Lehnert poses these questions in his introductory notes for Reiko Füting’s chamber opera Mechthild, based on the life of a medieval female Christian mystic from Magdeburg, Germany. Füting delves into the musicality inherent in Mechthild’s Middle and High German texts, using quotation as a quasi-temporal portal to evoke multiple eras. The opera asks the listener to step outside our cultivated security in the “middle of society” and consider the life of a 13th century ascetic who eschewed the safety of the monastery to find spirituality and connection in the act of living. What might that kind of act of courage look like today?
Füting’s approach to text setting frames the soundworld of the piece. Words are mined for their micro-components; syllables and fricatives are expanded and elongated to spawn new textures. In the opening scene, we hear harmonic pillars and melodic fragments in the chorus that frame subsequent explorations of hybrid vocalizations and dry percussive sounds. The progression of the meta-piece is constantly paused in order to examine the variety of non-pitched vocal sounds further. In this way, the movement is an introductory prelude that introduces the vocabulary of the piece.
In Scene 2, vocal parts are more intricately integrated with ensemble parts, singing and speaking in rhythmic unison with instrumental gestures that give them shape and color. The rest of the ensemble provides textural context in undulating waves.
Repetition with subtle variation is also an important component of Füting’s work; phrase fragments are pored over from all angles and minutely adjusted with each iteration. The development of these ideas mirrors thought patterns; we often think elliptically, circling back to similar ideas as we move progressively forward. Harmonic structures are often anchored by a central pitch around which Füting creates shades of expression. The piece unfolds as a kind of fantastic meditation, repeating text shards as mantras while expansive textures swirl around and create an otherworldly atmosphere. Sometimes the texture strips down to only voices, as in the brief duo in Scene 3.6, a momentary pas de deux that highlights the registral contrast between a male and female voice.
Scene 4 opens dramatically, with an intertwined musical mechanism featuring a prominent glissando in the bass voice, intoned text on a repeated tone in the tenor, rattling on the snare drum, and punctuations in the ensemble. It is typical of Füting’s hybrid ensemble writing, creating an organism that takes on a life beyond the sum of its component parts. Act 2, Scene 5 contains some of the opera’s most elegiac, lyrical music, with two sopranos floating downward in a repeating harmonic progression. Scene 6 “Descent into Hell” is more activated and charged with consequential energy, with pulsing movement in the strings and percussion driving underneath choral swells and undulations and a measured spoken line. In Act 2, Scene 7, “Naught”, phrases and words are divided up by syllable between singers, accompanied delicately by winds and percussion. Scene 9 features a disembodied drone that occasionally expands, accordion-like, into dissonant sonorities before contracting again into consonance. It is striking for how distinct it is from the harmonic treatment in the piece up to this moment, and points to a transformation that has occurred over the course of the opera. The piece closes on a long sustain in the medium high register of the organ — not a settled resolution but instead perhaps a clarion call for the engaged space an ascetic must seek, vigilant yet connected.
While it concerns itself with questions of faith and the divine, Mechthild remains relatively sober throughout. Füting’s writing in the piece is patiently measured, marking each step along the journey whether it be filled with drama or illuminated by calm. The opera captures the spiritual and ascetic path beautifully, as a sustained activity of a steadfast will, not a revelatory catharsis.
- Dan Lippel
Recording Date: September 19, 2022
Recorded At: Gesellschaftshaus, Magdeburg
Recording Engineer: Benjamin Dreßler, benjamin-dressler.de
Producer/Publisher: Reiko Füting, reikofueting.com
Design: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com|
Cover Image: “Die heilige Mechthild von Magdeburg”
Sculpture by Susan Turcot
Photo by Sean Curran, swtcurran.blogspot.com
Church Interior Image: Live-Painting by Helge Leiberg
Photo by Sean Curran
Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen Magdeburg
Portrait: Hojoon Kim, hojoonkimimages.com
Rehearsal Image: Oliver Look, oliverlook.de
Performance Image: Nilz Böhme, nilzboehme.de
Text Editor: Bradley Colten, bradleycolten.com
Post-Production Advisor: Daniel Lippel, danlippel.com
Reiko Füting was born in 1970 in Königs Wusterhausen in the German Democratic Republic. Füting has collaborated with a wide range of musicians, ensembles, and orchestras, with a special interest in vocal ensembles and ensembles performing on period instruments. His compositions are primarily released on the New Focus Recordings label in New York City and exclusively published by Verlag Neue Musik Berlin.
Since 2000, Füting has taught composition and theory at Manhattan School of Music, where he currently serves as Dean of Academic Core and Head of Composition. He has also taught vocal accompanying at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Rostock and has served as a guest faculty and lecturer at universities and music conservatories throughout Europe, the Americas, and Asia.
Füting studied composition and piano at the Hochschule für Musik Dresden, Rice University in Houston, Manhattan School of Music in New York City, and Seoul National University. Some of his most influential teachers have been composers Jörg Herchet and Nils Vigeland, and pianist Winfried Apel.
“With my music, I aim to explore the psychological nature of memory, as it is projected onto the compositional device of musical quotation. By realizing this device in the entire musical spectrum of assimilation and dissimilation, integration, disintegration, and segregation, while moving freely between clear borders and gradual transitions, quotation and memory may function as a means to reflect upon contemporary artistic, cultural, social, and political phenomena.”http://www.reikofueting.de
Poet and theologist Christian Lehnert was born in 1969 in Dresden. He refused mandatory military service in the German Democratic Republic and studied theology, religious studies, and Middle Eastern studies in Leipzig, Berlin, and Jerusalem. Lehnert worked as a pastor in Saxony before being appointed Head of Theological and Cultural Studies at the Protestant-Lutheran Academy in Witterberg and director of the Literary Institute of the United Protestant-Lutheran Church of Germany at the University of Leipzig. Throughout his career, Lehnert has collaborated with several composers. In 2012, Lehnert was awarded the Hölty Prize for his poetic work. In 2018, he was awarded the Eichendorff Literature Prize and the German Prize for Nature Writing. Lehnert is a member of Saxony’s Academy of Fine Arts and the Academy for Sciences and Literature in Mainz. His essays are based on an existential search for a contemporary relevant religiosity. Lehnert’s recent poetry is characterized by strictness of form and closeness to musical expression. Eight of his poetry and three of his prose collections have been published by Suhrkamp.
Hanna Herfurtner was born in Munich. She studied voice with Julie Kaufmann at the Universität der Künste in Berlin, followed by additional studies with John Norris and Maria Janina Hake. Herfurtner has been awarded numerous prizes from competitions and concert venues such as the Cesti Competition in Innsbruck and the Konzerthaus Wien. She is an experienced interpreter of both early and new music and has premiered numerous compositions by contemporary composers. Herfurtner has frequently participated in oratorio performances and opera productions. Recordings with ensembles such as Kölner Akademie and Wiener Bach Consort further demonstrate her remarkable versatility; her first Solo CD, released at the bastille musique label, combines arias by Johann Sebastian Bach with Alvin Lucier’s “Sitting in a Room”.
Olivia Stahn studied voice with Marie-Louise Ages in Lübeck and Julie Kaufmann in Berlin and continued her studies at Irwin Gage’s Lied class. After her debut at the Konzerthaus Berlin, Stahn was invited to perform at opera houses, concert venues, and festivals. She is a regular guest at the Staatsoper Berlin, where she participated in productions of several contemporary operas. As a concert singer, Stahn has frequently performed at the Lucerne Festival under Pierre Boulez and collaborated with ensembles such as Resonanz, Collegium Novum Zürich, Ensemble Avantgarde, Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop, Ensemble Adapter, Ensemble Unitedberlin, Meitar Ensemble, Trio Image, and Ensemble Courage.
Susi Wirth was born in 1970 in Chur, Switzerland and grew up in Liechtenstein. She was trained as an actress in Switzerland and has performed at theaters in numerous countries. Recently, she was an ensemble member at the Theater Magdeburg.
Founded in 2007 by its director Olaf Katzer, AuditivVokal Dresden is a contemporary vocal ensemble which seeks to establish new performance practices through "everything-except-ordinary" concerts. Programming is based on the ensemble's interest in extended vocal techniques as well as in links to science, politics, and the arts. Besides contemporary compositions, AuditivVokal Dresden also interprets early music. The ensemble's socio-cultural and educational mission has led to initiatives such as the Neue Dresdner Vokalschule, which - in cooperation with the State of Saxony and the Dresden University Library (SLUB) - establishes close collaborations with contemporary creative artists. Their artistic activities cover an enormous range of events, ranging from a cappella concerts to concerts with ensembles and orchestras, such as Dresdner Sinfoniker, Ensemble Art d'Echo, Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart, and the Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble Rome.http://www.auditivvokal.de/en/
Ensemble Adapter is a German-Icelandic ensemble located in Berlin. While its core instrumentation is flute, clarinet, harp, and percussion, it can expand to include up to ten instrumentalists. The ensemble has premiered numerous compositions on their own as well as in cooperation with other artists. Adapter’s aim is to investigate border-crossing methods of collaboration in various genres of contemporary music.
Born in 1980 in the Rhineland (Germany), Olaf Katzer studied music and psychology in Munich, Weimar, and Dresden. In transdisciplinary exchanges with singers, instrumentalists, dancers, composers, paint-ers, directors, and scientists, Katzer develops ensemble art for the 21st century through unconventional program designs. Numerous premiere performances, radio recordings, and guest appearances at festivals in almost all European countries, as well as in Taiwan, China, the USA, and South America document Katzer's commitment to contemporary vocal music. In addition, Katzer has conducted ensembles such as the RIAS Kammerchor, the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart, the MDR Rundfunkchor, and the Dresdner Kammerchor. He has served as a lecturer in choral conducting at the Hochschule fur Musik Dresden since 2011, and as an interim a professor of choral conducting since 2015. More info at olafkatzer.comhttps://www.olafkatzer.com/
Füting rises astutely to the challenge of stripping yet enlarging language in order to interrogate meaning – without compromising ritualistic eloquence or directness of expression. Indeed there are passages of breathtaking beauty, the whole elegantly rendered in fractured vocal utterances and sung sounds interwoven with softly breathy instrumental clacks and shuffles, thumps, chords and melodic motifs.
Most potent are Act I ‘Verwunden, vereint’ (Wound, United) and Act II ‘Die Gottesfremde’ (The Alienated), in which Mechthild fends off illness, lust and demonic accusers – while Act III ‘Nacht Gott’ (After God) sees her embracing the paradox of ‘The God who does not exist’.
With an excellent cast including Olivia Stahn and Hanna Herfurtner as Mechthild’s body and soul respectively, AuditivVokal Dresden and Ensemble Adapter prove eloquent collaborators under conductor Olaf Katzer.
— Steph Power, 7.11.2023
As many times as I’ve listened to this musical theater piece about the 13th Century mystic, Mechthild von Magdeburg, I continue to be unable to penetrate its craft. Obviously, composer Füting and his collaborators, most notably librettist and theologian Christian Lehnert, brought a tremendous amount of skill, talent, research, and passion to the project. As did those who bring it to vivid life on this stunning recording, including sopranos Hanna Herfurtner and Olive Stahn, who embody Mechthild’s soul and body respectively, narrator Susie Wirth, the singers of AuditivVokal Dresden, the musicians of Ensemble Adapter, and conductor Olaf Katzer. But the piece just seems to exist, as wondrous and impenetrable as the carved stone of the church where it premiered. The instrumentation is spare - flute, clarinet, celli, harp, percussion, and organ - and every sound is perfectly placed in relation to the vocals, sometimes doubling long vowel sounds or providing points of juxtaposition or emphasis. The vocal writing is layered, those gleaming sopranos weaving around the whispers of the chorus, the occasional baritone cutting in like a presiding judge. In some ways Füting’s combination of Medieval and modern not only unmoors Mechthild from time but makes a nearly alien past more present. Maybe one day I’ll search up the libretto but somehow I think the feelings and conflicts are as clear to me as they need to be, leaving me content to immerse myself in it like a dimly recalled ritual made bright, sharp, and new once again. From whatever angle I observe it, Mechthild is a flat-out masterpiece.
— Jeremy Shatan, 6.23.2023
The music of Reiko Füting is far from being easily accessible. If anything, his self-declared aim to “explore the psychological nature of memory” makes the music seem more cryptic or, conversely, less ascribable to a given style or even school. There are in fact a lot of isms: punctualism, serialism, minimalism, etc. which fit under the postmodernist umbrella. Each describe elements of Füting’s music and wide-ranging oeuvre, from his chamber music to a cappella compositions and operatic hybrids.
His latest release, Mechthild, on New Focus Recordings, falls into the latter category. Based on the life and writings of the Beguine mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg, it is neither an oratorio nor an opera, properly speaking. I would rather call it a cantata in the vein of the Medieval Mysterienspiel or mystery play. It is almost liturgic in its repetitive nature and involving non-musical constituents like dance and art installations which, naturally, are not transferable to CD.
This brings me to my only regret. Mechthild, which premiered at the Monastery of Our Lady in Magdeburg in 2022, is missing some of its potential by being confined to music only. For even a cursory glance at the documentary to its Magdeburg premiere, available on YouTube, reveals the piece’s overall conception as some sort of a Gesamtkunstwerk. Heaven and Hell “Mechthild” is divided into three acts retracing the spiritual growth and the tribulations of its title-giving character.
In his libretto, Lehnert relies on the historical Mechthild’s own words. He uses text passages from the seven books of “The Flowing Light of Divinity,” a hallmark of 13th century mysticism with its tortuous visions of Hell and the embrace of the Divine. The main role is doubled, with Olivia Stahn and Hanna Herfurtner singing the parts of her Body and Soul. The narrator’s spoken lines create some sort of commentary or meta-level to Mechthild’s inner drama. Susi Wirth, as the narrator, is haunting and for who understands German the third scene from Act two will prove even more terrifying thanks to the sternness with which she narrates Mechthild’s experience of Hell.
is, however, hard to judge the performances individually. For the most part, they are built around a central pitch which is repeated extensively and with only small variations. As contemporary mystery play, this is how the fragmentary character of Mechthild has an effect. The “psychological nature of memory,” as mentioned before, may best be understood as a mnemonic rehashing of phrases or parts. Whether individually or with the chorus, they form a soundscape of ethereal, yet also challenging beauty. The inclusion of material attributed to Pérotin and Machaut, both active in the 13th and 14th centuries respectively, further bridges the gap between the experimental and slightly dissonant harmonies of postmodernism.
The Medieval context of Christian worship. Füting, in the press release, more ambitiously calls this melodic palimpsest a “compositional device of musical quotation (…) in the entire musical spectrum of assimilation, integration, dissimilation, disintegration, and segregation.” No doubt this intellectualist approach, Füting teaches at the Manhattan School of Music, translates to his compositional language which very much owes to semiotic theory and semantics.
“Mechthild” transpires as a feeling of awe for the spiritual legacy of Mechthild of Magdeburg. Both in the music and in Lehnert’s libretto, this is Mechthild’s spirituality. However, we are indeed far away from the late Romantic gestures of Dvořak, in “Ludmila,” or Respighi in “Maria Egiziaca.” The harmonic texture, at times, seems almost diaphanous and might vaguely remind one of Olivier Messiaen’s “Saint François d’Assise.” Conceived as a multimedia experience, however, “Mechthild” stands unique. It has moments of near-transcendent beauty, contrasted with the disquieting pulse of the percussion which, among its very reduced orchestra, has all the characteristics of physical weight or gravity when dragging the protagonist into her vision of Hell.
In short, “Mechthild” requires some preparation in order for its music to unfold its tantalizing effect. It is not a casual listen, but it is well produced. Both the soloists and the ensemble, under conductor Olaf Katzer, deliver a flawless performance. Aficionados with a taste for the scarce will hopefully find plenty to cherish.
— Bob Dieschburg, 8.03.2023
(Spanish original below; English translation via Google Translate)
What excites us most about the composer Reiko Füting are his interests: the sound architecture of the piece, the division of the whole into parts, its proportions, its interrelationships and its meanings.
Füting, born in 1970 in Königs Wusterhausen (German Democratic Republic), usually publishes his works mainly on the label New Focus Recordings in New York City, published exclusively by Verlag Neue Musik in Berlin.
On May 5, the New Focus label launches his chamber opera in two acts, Mechthild, with a libretto by the poet and theologian Christian Lehnert, which is inspired by the mystical work of the medieval Christian saint from Magdeburg (Germany). Mechthild's criticism of Church dignitaries and her claims to theological understanding earned her fierce opposition, to the point that some called for her writings to be burned. One of his most relevant phrases was: "How many times do we sacrifice freedom and truthfulness in exchange for security?"
Füting composes music for a minimally informed general audience who can be drawn to the story of a nun who has become one of the most impressive examples of German female mysticism. The composer, based in New York, discreetly hints at a certain density in the sound textures. In this sense, the sequential passages and his exploration of the psychological nature of memory through the use of musical quotations—from Pérotin, Guillaume de Machaut and Neidhart von Reuental—to connect different eras of artistic expression, as well as the his musical connections—which appear as fleeting memories of musical themes—whether based on pre-existing musical structures or referring to non-musical ones, are, to be precise, the axis of his writing.
The distinguished vocal ensemble AuditivVokal Dresden, rigorous, disciplined and perfectionist in its interpretations with extended vocal techniques, puts its experience at the service of this work with soloists of a high international level, such as the enchanting voice of soprano Hanna Herfurtner, the expressive Olivia Stahn and the excellent narrator Susi Wirth, all under the direction of Olaf Katzer.
The instrumental part is performed by Ensemble Adapter, a prodigious experimental music group based in Berlin and Reykjavík. Choir director Olaf Katzer's contributions rest on wide-ranging readings, resolved with admirable mastery.
Füting, who has dedicated Mechthild to his father, Dieter Füting, is the architect of a meticulous work that reflects on current music and contemporary art.
El que més ens apassiona del compositor Reiko Füting són els seus interessos: l’arquitectura sonora de la peça, la divisió del tot en parts, les seves proporcions, les seves interrelacions i els seus significats.
Füting, nascut el 1970 a Königs Wusterhausen (República Democràtica Alemanya), sol publicar les seves obres principalment al segell New Focus Recordings a la ciutat de Nova York, editades en exclusiva per la Verlag Neue Musik de Berlín.
El 5 de maig el segell New Focus llança al mercat la seva òpera de cambra en dos actes, Mechthild, amb llibret del poeta i teòleg Christian Lehnert, que s’inspira en l’obra mística de la beata cristiana medieval de Magdeburg (Alemanya). Les crítiques de Mechthild als dignataris de l’Església i les seves afirmacions a la comprensió teològica li van valdre una ferotge oposició, fins al punt que alguns van demanar la crema dels seus escrits. Una de les seves frases més rellevants fou: «Quantes vegades sacrifiquem llibertat i veracitat a canvi de seguretat?».
Füting compon música per a un públic general mínimament informat que pugui sentir-se atret per la història d’una monja que ha esdevingut un dels exemples més impressionants del misticisme femení alemany. El compositor, establert a Nova York, insinua, amb discreció, una certa densitat en les textures sonores. En aquest sentit, els passatges seqüencials i la seva exploració de la naturalesa psicològica de la memòria mitjançant l’ús de citacions musicals —de Pérotin, Guillaume de Machaut i Neidhart von Reuental— per connectar diferents èpoques de l’expressió artística, com també les seves connexions musicals —que apareixen com records fugaços de temes musicals—, ja sigui basant-se en estructures musicals preexistents o fent referència a d’altres no musicals, són, per concretar, l’eix de la seva escriptura.
El distingit conjunt vocal AuditivVokal Dresden, rigorós, disciplinat i perfeccionista en les seves interpretacions amb tècniques vocals esteses, posa la seva experiència al servei d’aquesta obra amb solistes d’alt nivell internacional, com l’encantadora veu de la soprano Hanna Herfurtner, l’expressiva Olivia Stahn i l’excel·lent narradora Susi Wirth, tots sota la direcció d’Olaf Katzer.
La part instrumental va a càrrec de l’Ensemble Adapter, un prodigiós grup de música experimental amb seu a Berlín i Reykjavík. Les aportacions del director de cor Olaf Katzer descansen en lectures d’ampli ventall, resoltes amb un mestratge admirable.
Füting, que ha dedicat Mechthild al seu pare, Dieter Füting, és l’artífex d’una obra meticulosa que reflexiona sobre la música actual i l’art contemporani.
— Carme Miró, 4.29.2023
The chamber opera Mechthild by Reiko Füting (born 1972) asks more of listeners and is less likely to resonate with a wide audience. This is partly a matter of the topic, partly the reality of contemporary opera’s appeal or lack thereof, and partly tied to Füting’s compositional techniques. The title refers to Mechthild of Magdeburg (c. 1207-c. 1282), the first mystic to write in German: her book Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (“The Flowing Light of Divinity”) contains prayers, visions and dialogues. Theologian Christian Lehnert created for Füting a libretto about faith, the ascetic life, and the balancing act between freedom and security. These are weighty topics, to be sure. But here they are tackled in bits and pieces rather than head-on. The Middle and High German words, which will scarcely be familiar to most audiences, are often given in pieces rather than their entirety: much of Mechthild is a work of fragments. Common contemporary vocal techniques – whispering, electronic modification, the use of breathing as vocalise, the layering of voices on a kind of cloudlike background sound – are integral to the opera, as is extensive repetition. The work is in three acts and a total of nine scenes, some of whose titles may help guide listeners to and through what would otherwise be obscure sounds: “In the Room of Divinity,” “Dumped,” “Where Will You Be Then?” Melisma, Sprechstimme and Sprechgesang create a sonic environment from which occasional individual words emerge with surprising clarity, their meaning and the purpose of their clarity, however, not always being clear. Readily audible narration above a choral background is used from time to time, as in “Descent into Hell,” and there are occasional touches of lyricism, whose presence contrasts strongly with the material surrounding them. In truth, the score is a very rich one stylistically, and certainly Füting capably uses a wide variety of vocal and instrumental techniques to highlight different elements of Lehnert’s libretto. But the philosophical and frequently obscure elements of Mechthild’s writings and their presentation here, along with the requirement that the audience in effect know everything in the opera’s purview before hearing it (since the presentation itself is far from straightforward), make this (+++) CD a frequently fascinating but equally frequently frustrating listening experience. A staged version with surtitles would make some of the material easier to follow and understand, but not all of it. This is a piece on which the librettist and composer clearly worked diligently and with appreciation of Mechthild’s visions and the language in which she communicated them. But the piece is fraught with more weight than it is really able to bear, and more than it is reasonable to ask most listeners to bear on its behalf. It is a very rarefied experience, something of a contemporary Passion Play for an audience that is highly committed both to the subject matter and to the verbal and musical techniques used to explore it.