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Artist Spotlight: Martin Haselböck

Martin Haselböck’s distinguished career has led him across the globe. As a solo organist, he performed as the Court Organist of Vienna and has created over 50 recordings. As a conductor, he has worked in both opera and orchestra. In 1985, he founded the Vienna Akadamie Ensemble. He has also guest conducted for numerous orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Since 2005, he has worked as the musical director of Santa Monica-based baroque ensemble Musica Angelica.

Haselböck is now preparing to debut one of the ensemble’s most daring performances yet. Seduction and Despair, featuring actor John Malkovich and sopranos Celine Ricci and Robin Johannsen, is a multi-media melodrama based on the story of notorious serial killer Jack Unterweger.

“It is a very creative project,” said Haselböck by phone from his home in Vienna.

The musical director has had experience in multi-media performances, but acknowledges that this is his first such project involving “such a famous actor” as the Oscar-nominated Malkovich. Preparation for Seduction and Despair was a lengthy and involved task, with Haselböck and his team spending over a year developing the story and selecting the music. Additionally the performance features costumes by designer Birgit Hutter and video and lighting by cinematographer Andreas Hutter.

Johann “Jack” Unterweger was convicted in Austria of strangling a prostitute during the late 1970s and sentenced to life in prison, at which point he began to write prolifically. After serving 14 years, he was perceived to be rehabilitated and released from his sentence. In the years following his release, he was tried and convicted of nine homicides that took place after his “rehabilitation,” including the murder of three Los Angeles women. Before he was to be returned to prison, Unterweger hanged himself, tying his track suit in the same style of knot he had used on his victims.

Though Unterweger’s story is a modern one, Haselböck and his collaborators felt that it could be appropriately molded into a melodrama. Fittingly, the performance will include work by two early proponents of the genre, Weber and Mozart, in addition to pieces from Gluck’s Don Juan and work from Boccherini, Handel, Vivaldi, and Haydn.

“The human aspect is similar,” said Haselböck, noting the thematic connections between Seduction and Despair and the melodramas of the 18th century. Specifically, he mentions the work of Carl Maria von Weber as “absolutely incredible” in the context of Unterweger’s story, noting the similarity between a suffering woman in Weber’s original piece with a character in Seduction and Despair “sitting in a room, fearful of being strangled.”

Musica Angelica will be performing the evening’s orchestrations as conducted by Haselböck. The music will link together the memories of Unterweger, portrayed by Malkovich, as he reflects on his relationships with women, who will be portrayed by Ricci and Johannsen.

Haselböck hopes to eventually take Seduction and Despair to Europe, where it is currently receiving “huge media hype,” given that Unterweger’s tale is still fresh in the memory of those who were there. Seduction and Despair will make its debut at Barnum Hall on May 3. A second performance will be staged the following night.

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