Gisela!: The Strange and Memorable Ways of Happiness, a musical theater piece by Hans Werner Henze, Christian Lehnert, and Michael Kerstan, was given its premiere on November 20, 2010, at the Semperoper in Dresden. The work was commissioned by the Ruhrtriennale and the Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden. It is a peculiar work. The central character Gisela meets her true love Gennaro in Naples and is willing to renounce her German fiancé for him, if her new "Italian lover" is only willing to appreciate the beauties of Oberhausen in Germany's former industrial heartland, now a cultural center, the Ruhrgebiet. In the end Gisela finds true love after passing through numerous stages of fantasy, ecstasy, and sometimes violent confrontation. The work is barely 90 minutes in length, so its various themes are hardly developed. Still, the music is both approachable and, at times, charming.
Like much of contemporary opera, the staging was a mix of the literal and fantastical. The opening is set in the terminal of a modern European airport, but the interaction between Gisela and Gennaro is viewed as a film projection at the back of the stage. At various points dancers appear, and Gennaro is a member of a commedia dell'arte troupe. There is no discernable dramatic narrative. Instead, the opera is a collage of sometimes vivid images and impressions, augmented by the musical score. At times Henze quotes the music of Bach and others, but the musical language is predominantly that of contemporary neo-tonality. Henze uses percussion effectively as a musical motif.
The title character Gisela was sung by Nadja Mchantaf, Gennaro by Giorgio Berrugi, and
Hanspeter by Markus Butter. The State Opera Choir and Staatskapelle Dresden were vividly conducted by Erik Nielsen. Mchantaf, a native of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, was especially effective dramatically, musically, and visually. Gisela, if for no reason other than its brevity, is unlikely to enter the standard repertoire by itself, although paired with Henze's earlier opera, L'Upupa, acclaimed at its premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 2003, it might provide an enjoyable evening's entertainment.