Often, music from childhood and youth doesn’t merely bring back memories of those times: it evokes real, physical sensations like adrenaline, sweat, and heartbreak. For this playlist, Barrie Kosky, the Artistic Director of the Komische Oper Berlin, mined his experiences as a gay kid growing up in Australia and the influence of his grandmother. His production of the Oscar Straus operetta “Die Perlen der Cleopatra” will return on February 2, followed by a new staging of Mussorgsky’s “The Fair at Sorochyn” in April.
Gustav Mahler – “Das Lied von der Erde”; Kathleen Ferrier (Alto), Julius Patzak (Tenor), Bruno Walter (Conductor), Wiener Philharmoniker
I discovered Mahler when I was about 13. “Das Lied von der Erde” is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. I love especially the interpretation by Kathleen Ferrier and Bruno Walter, which I first heard when I was about 15 years old. I was desperately in love with a boy from school then, but this music gave me great comfort in my unrequited feelings.
George and Ira Gershwin – “The Man I Love”; Sarah Vaughan
This song of loneliness and yearning is as good as anything by Schubert and Schumann—especially when it is sung by Sarah Vaughan. I heard it for the first time when I was 16.
Igor Strawinsky – “Petrushka,” Scene I: The Shrovetide Fair – The Crowds – The Conjuring-Trick – Russian Dance; Antal Doráti (Conductor), Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra
My Hungarian grandmother was a childhood friend of Doráti’s in Budapest and gave this recording to me when I was just five years old. I was just thrilled and have been ever since. I think Petrushka is my alter ego.
Richard Wagner – “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde”; Margaret Price (Soprano), Carlos Kleiber (Conductor), Staatskapelle Dresden
I have a difficult relationship with Wagner, a true hate-love-thing. But “Tristan und Isolde” is just amazing from the first note to the last. And when Margaret Price sings her “Liebestod” I feel I can forgive Wagner almost everything.
Béla Bartók – String quartet No. 6; Végh Quartet
I heard this piece the first time when I was 15 years old. It conveys horror and loneliness side by side—just right for a young gay soul. Bartók was one of the two Hungarian musical icons of my grandmother who greatly influenced me in my youth.
Emmerich Kálmán – “Gräfin Mariza”; Countess Mariza (Rita Zorn), Count Tassilo of Endrödy-Wittemburg (Martin Ritzmann), Lisa, Tassilo’s sister (Ursula Richter), Baron Kolomán Zsupán (Gerd Pallesche), Prince Populescu (Richard Westmayer), Manja (Ursula Richter), Herbert Kegel (Conductor), Rundfunkchor Leipzig, Members of the St. Thomas Choir Leipzig, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Leipzig
The second musical icon to my grandmother was Emmerich Kálmán. She took me to a performance of his “Gräfin Mariza” in Melbourne, Australia, when I was 10 years old. His music is very dear to me and I still get goosebumps when I hear this piece. Nostalgia, joy and melancholy in every bar!
Johann Sebastian Bach – Goldberg Variations BMV 988; Glenn Gould (1955 version)
The Goldberg Variations is simply one of the greatest pieces ever written. And of course Glenn Gould’s recordings are as good as it gets, close to perfection, both of them. Like many of my favorite pieces, they have stayed with me since my childhood: I heard the recording for the first time when I was 11 years old.
George Michael – “Freedom! ‘90”
First heard on a dancefloor in Sydney, Australia, never forgotten. Despite the drugs. This great pop song captures the idea of freedom and still makes me dance today.
Ludwig van Beethoven – Piano Sonata No. 32, Op. 111; Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (Piano)
That music played by those fingers—unforgettable! Even though I was not lucky enough to ever see him perform live. What an artist, what feeling through those hands.
Michel Legrand – “A Piece of Sky” from the “Yentl” Original Soundtrack; Barbra Streisand
I first heard this some time after the movie had come out, when I was in my mid-20s. Despite my problem with the movie and the not-quite-desirable acting style of Barbra Streisand, the songs are fabulous. It was every young gay Jewish Australian’s idea of heaven. ¶