Da Camera Takes Us to 1900 Vienna Through Sensual Imagery and Lost Love

Vienna 1900: In the Garden of Dreams, with concept, scenario and direction by Sarah Rothenberg, comes to The Hobby Center February 1-2.
Vienna 1900: In the Garden of Dreams, with concept, scenario and direction by Sarah Rothenberg, comes to The Hobby Center February 1-2. Photo by Morris Malakoff
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall during the heady salon days of turn-of-the-century Vienna. Sigmund Freud was discovering that dreams paved the way to the unconscious, symbolist Gustav Klimt was painting erotic figures, sometimes amid much controversy, and composer Arnold Schoenberg was in love with a woman who would eventually break his heart. The ruling Habsburg dynasty, great patrons of the arts, had for centuries fostered a climate that allowed composers, musicians and artists to flourish in Vienna.

Da Camera Artistic Director Sarah Rothenberg, recognizing this rich period in history, used it as the setting when she conceived Vienna 1900: In the Garden of Dreams, an immersive multimedia piano and vocal concert experience that delves into the human psyche through projections, art and text.

Rothenberg has updated Vienna 1900 and expects to draw new audiences for the upcoming reprisal, though she has cast the net much wider than Austria, including works by German contemporaries: painter Max Klinger, composer Johannes Brahms, poet Stefan George, as well as Swedish playwright August Strindberg.

"The singing is in German, the language of Vienna, but we have developed some very interesting ways of having English translations integrated into the piece; it's part of the visuals," says Rothenberg.

click to enlarge Baritone John Brancy makes his Houston debut singing the role of The Artist. - PHOTO BY GERARD COLLETT
Baritone John Brancy makes his Houston debut singing the role of The Artist.
Photo by Gerard Collett
In the first half of the program, baritone John Brancy will be making his Houston debut as The Artist. "The piece really explores the music of Brahms and the fantastic engravings of Max Klinger," says Rothenberg.

Brahms, who was an innovative and influential composer, had so inspired Klinger that the artist created his own Brahms song cycle and, channeling the emotions he felt from listening to the music, created illustrations that captured those feelings.

click to enlarge Abigail Fischer returns to Houston. - PHOTO BY LAURA ROSE
Abigail Fischer returns to Houston.
Photo by Laura Rose
The second half of the program sees a return to the stage by soprano Abigail Fischer, who grew up in Houston and whose parents teach chamber music at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. "I’ve gotten to know her in New York, I know her parents. She’s become a kind of mover in the music scene in New York. She did sing in Da Camera's Song From the Uproar about four or five years ago," says Rothenberg.

"We move to the world of Gustav Klimt, incredible paintings of flowers that symbolized so much more than flowers, erotic images of women, all tied to dreams, and [Fischer] is playing the role and she is really like an early patient of Freud going through analysis, having these incredible dreams," says Rothenberg, who describes the segment as very passionate and emotional, with the visuals integrated and choreographed with the music.

Arnold Schoenberg's Book of the Hanging Gardens transports us to the passionate and aristocratic world of poet Stefan George's Hanging Gardens collection, where — as love fades away — so does the once flourishing garden.

Rothenberg is a quadruple-threat in this immersive experience; not only is she on piano, but the concept, scenario and direction are all hers. The approach brings together those who love literature, visual arts and the music of the Romantic era, hopefully introducing audiences to new frontiers. Projection design is by Sven Ortel, lighting and set design are by Marcus Doshi, and costume design is by Marina Draghici. The 70-minute concert will be performed without intermission.

Vienna 1900: In the Garden of Dreams will have its New York premiere in 2020.

The performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. February 1-2 at The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-524-5050 or visit, $37.50 - $67.50.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney