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THE 2004 MUNICH FESTIVAL
By Glenn Loney, July 15, 2004
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
Cleaning Out the Bavarian State Opera-Closet: New, New, New Music-Theatre Stagings in Munich! *
David Alden’s Lulu Axe-Murder: More Horrors on the American Home-Front! *
Multi-Media Updated Meistersinger: Smart Women’s Shoes by Hans Sachs! *
A New Look for Roberto Devereux: Good Queen Bess as Margaret Thatcher! *
In Class with "Roméo et Juliette": Old School Ties, Monster Desks, & Giant Pens! *
Down into Post-Modernist Hades: "Orphée et Eurydice" On the Road! *
The "Rape of Lucretia" Modernized: Britten Gets the Stripped-Down Treatment! *
Munich’s Second Opera Goes Avant-Garde: The Gärtnerplatz Is in the Grip of Trendiness! *
Including Drama in the Munich Festival: Residenz-Theater, Kammerspiele, and More! *
New Visions of Modern Classics at the Residenz-Theater: *
Cleaning Out the Bavarian State Opera-Closet: New, New, New Music-Theatre Stagings in Munich!
Sir Peter Jonas replaced Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Sawallisch as Intendant at the Bavarian State Opera. Sawallisch went on to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra—what a shame they didn’t name it the Philadelphia Philharmonic: that would have been so euphonius—as Jonas brought the New Look of his English National Opera stagings to Munich.
Although an excellent conductor and General Music Director, Sawallisch really didn’t know—or seem to care—much about stage-direction, design, or technology. This often showed glaringly in major productions of War Horse Favorites.
Sir Peter rapidly set to work to change all that. In his tenure, he has replaced many of the uninspired and well-worn standard productions with often astounding New Looks. Some stagings have indeed been so innovative that Munich regulars weren’t quite sure what opera they supposed to be watching.
During the current festival-season, a local critic was moved to suggest that all those English designers could take their novel ideas back to London.
Actually, it is an American stage-director, David Alden, who has been responsible for many of the more outrageous and interesting Post-Modernist productions. His new Lulu is certainly, as Americans used to say, A lulu!
David Alden’s Lulu Axe-Murder: More Horrors on the American Home-Front!
Alban Berg’s discordant "Lulu" has always been a problem-opera, not least because it was never completed. Working with only two acts—and missing the garish conclusion indicated in playwright Frank Wedekind’s original—stage-directors had to be very resourceful.
The famed Carl Ebert once staged "Lulu" in Frankfurt—this was in the late 1950s—in a circus-ring, with Lulu as Ring-mistress. Ebert himself played Schigolch as a played-out old clown.
With Friedrich Cerha’s completion of the third act—based on Berg’s compositional sketches—directors and conductors now have a clear line of musical and dramatic movement. But the gory fable of this femme fatale doesn’t have to end in London with a brutal murder by Jack the Ripper.
David Alden, in fact, has blithely moved the entire tale to Middle-America in the late 1950s. In the first scene, a 50s sedan is parked in front of a semi-circle of subdivision houses. It is a lonely vista worthy of Edward Hopper.
Pert, pretty little Lulu is interfered with by her foster-father. In the car. This sets a pattern, of course. Child-Abuse leads to worse abuses in maturity…
Lulu, as a young vamp, drives men crazy, including Dr. Schön [Tom Fox], his son Alwa [John Dazak], and other foolish admirers. These include the Gräfin Geschwitz [Katerina Karnéus], who functions as her secretary in marketing her wares. Not all of them sexual…
At 80, Franz Mazura is a memorable Schigolch!
Margarita De Arellano’s Lulu is something else! She is not only lovely to look at—and sings easily difficult music in difficult positions—but she can sexually tease like a seasoned professional.
Set-designer Giles Cadle has provided Alden with some astonishing milieus. One of them is an all-white airport departure-lounge, with passengers and flight-attendants thronging an upwardly surging corridor to celebrate Lulu.
The Virgin Shares turn out to be pretty girls moving across the stage on a baggage-belt. The visual images may be Post-Modernist, but the meaning is clear. The costumes of Brigitte Reiffenstuel have a great deal to do with the visual success of some of these scenes.
Dr. Schön practices golf-putts in what could be a Florida or Palm Springs living-room. This production is Very Now. The wallpaper in one scene looks like hundreds of tiny Andy Warhol prints.
The central Lulu painting/poster—which even appears at the airport, where a table is set up to hawk the posters—shows Lulu prostrate with an axe bloodily buried in her genitals.
This is the way she dies, with Dr. Schön/Jack the Ripper burying the axe in her in the same car in the same scene as the opening.
Michael Boder conducted. He has to look at that poster every time "Lulu" is repeated in the repertory. Should he get Hazardous Duty Pay?
Multi-Media Updated Meistersinger: Smart Women’s Shoes by Hans Sachs!
Munich used to have a well-worn but well-loved quasi-period production of Wagner’s "Die Meistersinger." But now all this has been swept away in the surge of the Post-Modern.
The old staging was by the late August Everding, the former Intendant of ALL Bavarian theatres. At least he and his long career are remembered in the mezzanine corridor of the Prince-Regent-Theatre, which he saved from destruction.
Thomas Langhoff—formerly a directorial whizz in the old DDR—has given Hans Sachs and Walther von Stolzing more than a New Look.
Handsome tenor Robert Dean Smith has looked every inch the Romantic Hero as Walther in the recently retired Bayreuth "Meistersinger." He was dressed in Late Medieval attire, befitting his station as a Junker.
Now, in Munich, he looks like a Punker or a Rocker: jeans & leather-jacket! But that’s AOK, as David [Kevin Conners] looks & behaves like a juvenile-delinquent.
This is clearly a modern "Meistersinger," for the stark black-walled church is nearly empty. No one goes anymore, apparently. Walther is there looking for girls—or perhaps only one girl, Eva [Michaela Kaune].
Why Evchen has to have a duenna in such a setting is unclear. But, in the event, Magdalene [Katharina Kammerloher] is not keeping a very close watch on her. She and Walther even kiss before parting. Try that in Medieval Nuremberg!
The walls of the church are hung with Sing-Schul Rules of the Meistersingern. But things are otherwise more up-to-date.
Beckmesser [Eike Wilm Schulte] marks Walther, not with a chalk—although that sound is still there in the score!—but with a G4 Powerbook, just like this one! Instead of showing chalk-marks on a blackboard, he tears print-outs from his printer to distribute to the Masters.
The Masters, incidentally, before passing judgment, put on curious hats—which only European audiences would recognize as the sentencing headgear of German Justices.
In the Second Act, Beckmesser arrives to serenade Eva, not with a lute, but with a big Boom-Box. His tune could be on tape. The milieu is so dark—and he is in a dark suit—that his plaintive wails go for almost nothing.
Oddly enough, in this darkness, Hans Sachs [Jan-Hendrik Rootering] comes out into the street to cobble shoes! This is ridiculous! He could buy shoes from Taiwan—where Beckmesser probably got his Ghetto-Blaster —cheaper than he can now make them by hand.
The historic houses of Nuremberg are represented by an upstage wall with windows in it. The Wahn Scene is a curious kind of chaos.
Sachs’ Wahn monologue, however, is OK—but out of context with the Modern Times he has been updated into.
But it is a surprise to find his Schüsterstübe transformed into an immense fashion-shoe shop. Judging from the handsome advert photo above his desk, he can make a very pretty stiletto heel.
Walther—having slept over at Sachs’ insistence—has to climb down a very high metal ladder from what seem to be the flies of the stage-grid.
The final joyous Festwiese scene is the Total Triumph of Multi-Media opera production, however.
Walther’s Preis-Lied is videoed so that it can be projected on a monster-screen right behind him as he sings! There is even a website advert in the middle of all this celebration.
This was rather like: SONY brings you the Oktoberfest!
It remained for the New York Times to question why this opera’s performance-history should be overlooked, especially as it was Hitler’s favorite Wagner opera, and it so easily demonstrated Nazi doctrines about German Artistic Purity.
Perhaps Langhoff should have inserted into the Third Act celebrations—just before Beckmesser sings—a video of Winifred Wagner welcoming Adolf Hitler to the Bayreuth Festspielhaus?
Gottfried Pilz was responsible for sets & costumes. The choreography—such as it was—was devised by Marco Santi. Zubin Mehta conducted, which was one saving aspect of this unusual evening at the opera.
A New Look for Roberto Devereux: Good Queen Bess as Margaret Thatcher!
Director Christph Loy and his designer, Herbert Murauer, have had a brilliant idea for updating Donizetti’s "Roberto Devereux." It is so ingenious, so visually effective, and so cost-effective—in terms of not having to make all those expensive Elizabethan costumes—that other opera-houses should want to share in this Munich production.
The action, at least, is set in a kind of historic milieu. It takes place in what seems to be an ante-chamber of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. And Queen Elizabeth—very much the Modern CEO—could easily be mistaken for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The Queen, unfortunately, is not able to bring off her epic disillusion and disappointment at the close with anything like Lady Thatcher’s assumed air of amused Rising Above It All as she was being attacked on the floor of the House. Her Swan-Song, but she carried it off very well.
At the bitter end, Queen Elizabeth—backed by a table with the Crown, Orb, & Mace, the insignia of her Royal Power—pulls off her fashionable but sensible modern wig and reveals herself as a tired, angry old woman, about to die.
Friedrich Haider conducted with a clear sense of the developing drama—even without the period settings and costumes.
Although she is nearing 60—or already there—Edita Gruberova was imperially splendid as Elizabeth. Her coloratura was amazing. Prima Donna Assoluta raved some critics!
It’s worth quoting from the rave of one astute Munich critic: Gruberovissima: Wie sie Wahn und Schmerz in die Stimme legt, irhe Virtuosität, ihre Hochdruck-Expressivität, ihre Pianissimo-Läufe—einmalig!
Zoran Todorovich was an admirable Essex, with Paolo Gavanelli stalwart as Nottingham. Jeanne Piland was the unfortunate Duchess of Nottingham.
How can you not love a bel canto opera that includes the character of Sir Gualtiero Raleigh? Steven Humes played this Italian Walter.
In Class with "Roméo et Juliette": Old School Ties, Monster Desks, & Giant Pens!
In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Juliet is only 14 when she is to be married. What the Bard may not have known is that both Romeo and Juliet were going to different—and hostile—Public Schools at that time.
As staged by Andreas Homoki and designed by Gideon Davey, all the young Montagues and Capulets are outfitted with distinctive Old School Ties and Jackets. This is a war between rival teenage teams and rooters.
The sides of the stage are permanently decorated with the garish covers of Teen Romances and Thrillers. This is initially amusing, but not for long.
Two very important stage-props are a giant nib-pen and an enormous No. 2 pencil. The pen is used as a murder-weapon, but it requires more than one teen to move it, so visually there is no one student-killer. Romeo did not act alone…
The center of the stage is dominated by an immense old-fashioned school-desk, standing on its edge. It can open up to provide far-off vistas, among other functions. With Juliet looking out of the hole that should hold an ink-well, it also provides her with a balcony.
These huge visual gimmicks detracted in a major way from the unfolding of the story, and, more importantly, from focusing attention on the major arias and duets.
They also obstructed much of the stage, so the large chorus—divided between schools and sexes—had great difficulty moving about the stage. Important group-confrontations were chaos. In fact, most of the production was confused and confusing. This staging needs rethinking. Or retirement to storage…
Marcello Viotti conducted, with Angela-Maria Blasi as a lovely—if harried—Juliet and Marcelo Alvarez as her Romeo.
Most of the cast should have been doing their homework.
Down into Post-Modernist Hades: "Orphée et Eurydice" On the Road!
You never saw a production of Gluck’s "Orphée et Eurydice" quite like this new one in Munich. If you are lucky, it may not be loaned out to other opera companies.
But if you are able to see and hear Vesselina Karasova as Orpheus in any staging—even in this bizarre vision—you can count yourself very lucky indeed! Her magnificent interpretation of the role was an absolute Triumph for Karasova at the Munich Festival.
Rosemary Joshua was an admirable Eurydice—but certainly overshadowed by her Lyre-playing husband. Deborah York was Amour, or Cupid.
This production was the first performance of the opera in the Berlioz Fassung, as now presented in the New Berlioz Edition, by Joël-Marie Fouquet.
Conductor Ivor Bolton had some initial difficulties in pulling orchestral-threads together, but soon found an effective mode for this visually unusual staging.
Nigel Lowery—another of Sir Peter Jonas’ Post-Modernist Innovators—not only staged but also designed sets & costumes. He was assisted in stage-movement by choreographer Amir Hosseinpour, who made the famous ballet a kind of parodic classical divertissment.
Just imagine Orpheus sitting in an empty coffin on a field of snow—with a Christmas Tree nearby! Or in a raging Hades—with huge pots full of cooking Sinners and a chorus of Italian Chefs!
The "Rape of Lucretia" Modernized: Britten Gets the Stripped-Down Treatment!
Actually, Benjamin Britten’s "Rape of Lucretia" is effectively a chamber-opera, so it doesn’t need any grand Imperial Etruscan stage-milieu. Munich’s new production is staged by Deborah Warner, with sets by Tom Pye, costumes by John Bright, and lighting by Jean Kalman.
Kalman’s subtle use of light is the most important element of the three design-contributions. The opera could just as well be performed on a bare stage—which is almost the case in Munich’s Prinzregenten-Theater.
Judging from Bright’s male costumes, this staging was intended to suggest modern manners and morés—as well as classical attitudes and values—for the Roman officers could have been at a Lions’ Club barbecue, instead of tenting on the Tiber.
When I saw Pye’s threatening black cages of bare roots & branches flanking the stage, I had the uneasy sensation I had already seen this production somewhere else.
When an upstage illuminated panel of what appeared to be Roman tents on the Tiber was manifested, I knew I had seen that image before. But where? Lincoln Center? BAM? London? Edinburgh?
Even Lucretia’s broad white bed—glowingly lit from inside—stirred memories of another production. Or did I just dream of this staging long before I saw it in Munich?
What I could not recall—and what is also a brilliant visual image—was a bare stage, strewn with fresh, colorful flowers. It is the morning after the brutal Tarquinian Rape, but Lucretia’s joyous servants know nothing of this yet.
They rejoice in a glorious new day and the rich harvest of flowers around them. But, when the distraught, horrified Lucretia appears, all the color and the joy is immediately disbursed, destroyed. She slashes at the flowers, throwing them this way and that.
The initial image of masses of flowers and surging happiness as the women greet the new day makes an even more powerful contrast to Lucretia’s tragic, if understated, suicide.
The suggestion is that—even as she was resisting Tarquinius, she may have been enjoying some of the sexual sensations. For a Proper Roman Matron, this is infinitely worse than being raped and hating every minute of it.
Her stodgy, loyal, and loving husband certainly doesn’t look like Fun in Bed. But then he should not have boasted so often and so openly of his wife’s chaste virtues. Even his friends and fellow-officers are jealous and annoyed by this.
Sarah Connolly was a lovely Lucretia. Alan Held was a stalwart Collatinus, with Martin Gartner as Junius. Christopher Maltman was the headstrong, cockstrong Prince of Rome, Tarquinius. Anne-Marie Owens was admirable as Bianca, with Deborah York as the young maid Lucia.
Ivor Bolton conducted, obviously quite at home with these singers.
What still does not quite work with this opera is Britten’s device of framing the action with a Male Chorus [Ian Bostridge—a great favorite in Munich] and a Female Chorus [Susan Bullock]. They stand at the sides or amble around, filling in the backgrounds, events, and emotions the poet Ronald Duncan had not seen fit to dramatize. Occasionally, Bostridge even looked a bit bored with the proceedings, waiting for them to Get On With It.
But Duncan, in turn, was only adapting André Obey’s French version of the old classic tale: "Le Viol de Lucrèce." This does not mean she played the violin…
Munich’s Second Opera Goes Avant-Garde: The Gärtnerplatz Is in the Grip of Trendiness!
Traditionally, Munich’s Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz has long been the home of Operettas, rather than a second-tier State Opera House. After the devastations of World War II, it began to add American and British Musicals to its repertoire.
An American Occupation Army in Bavaria may have helped in this development, but younger Germans, especially, were fascinated by Broadway & London Musicals in the late 1950s. I first heard—but had not yet seen—"West Side Story" and "My Fair Lady" on phonograph records friends at Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University had brought back from London. I didn’t see an actual production of either musical until I returned to the States late in 1959!
Considering how assiduous the Nazis had been, trying to stamp out all vestiges of "Jewish" Kultur, it was admirable that long before Hitler—and soon after his Bunker suicide in Berlin—the Gärtnerplatz prominently featured the operettas and musicals of leading German, Austrian, and Hungarian Jewish composers. And soon after the war, it began to stage major Broadway musical successes by such American Jewish composers as Leonard Bernstein, Rodgers & Hammerstein, and later even Jerry Herman.
Truth to tell, the best operettas were almost all composed by Central European Jewish talents. Some of them emigrated to America long before the Nazis seized power, and they changed the American Musical forever. Others left Germany and Austria just one jump ahead of the Gestapo and a one-way ticket to Dachau, Buchenwald, or Auschwitz.
In an odd way, America and the World could be said to be indirectly in debt to the Nazis’ vicious and deadly Racial Policies. Without them, Kurt Weill would probably have stayed in Berlin, and we’d never have had "Lady in the Dark," "Lost in the Stars," "Knickerbocker Holiday," "Johnny Johnson," "One Touch of Venus," and on and on.
And we’d never have had Lotte Lenya Off-Broadway in that long-running Weill tribute at the Theatre De Lys, as well as on Broadway in "Cabaret!"
This Jewish-Connection is in some way historically appropriate, as the Gärtnerplatz district in Munich was the center of Jewish shops and artisans. In fact, the new Jewish Museum, Culture-Center, and Place of Worship is now rising on a site not far distant: across from the City Museum.
But it has taken more than sixty years for Munich and the Jewish Community to replace what was lost. The Central Synagogue—which much offended Adolf Hitler—was destroyed at his order well before the mass-destructions of Kristal-Nacht.
Last summer, the Gärtnerplatztheater was the scene of an important fund-raiser for this admirable project. Major Munich artists performed, and models of the new building-complex were on display.
In the new Gärtnerplatz season, among the American musicals on offer will be "Man of La Mancha," "Candide," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Hello, Dolly!" And "Kiss Me, Kate!"
Not bad for a German Opera & Musical Theatre! Will the Met, the NY City Opera, the Chicago Lyric, the Houston Grand, or the San Francisco Opera return the favor? Not very likely… But they often do at least program two of the most beloved European quasi-opera/operettas: "Die Fledermaus" and "Tales of Hoffmann"!
Not content to win audiences with lively, imaginative stagings of musicals and operettas—sung by talented casts, some of whom graduated to major opera-stages—under the Intendancy of Kurt Pscherrer, the Gärtnerplatz began to mount major operas. Some were performed on the same evening that the operas were also programmed at the National-Theater.
This policy has had mixed results. Naturally, it was not well-received by its much more important rival. But the Gärtnerplatz management argued that the two houses played to different audiences—and tickets for the Gärtnerplatz were less expensive.
Rather like the on-going competition at Lincoln Center, between the Met and the New York City Opera, where the two operas face each other at right-angles. And who are also said to have "different audiences." Actually, City Opera productions are often more innovative and interesting than those at the Met!
This past summer, however, the two productions I was able to see at the Gärtnerplatz were both disappointing. Obviously, the management has been trying to imitate Sir Peter Jonas’ policy at the State Opera. Trendiness—often at the expense of an opera’s score and libretto—seems to be the House-Motto.
Stage-director Franz Winter had the really bad idea of having Mozart’s "Magic Flute" begin in the first row of the audience! Prince Tamino [Thomas Cooley] rose from his seat to launch into song. Sarastro [Holger Ohlmannn]—instead of presiding over a mystical temple-cult somewhere in Egypt—was singing from the Stage-Right Box! Both of them in business-suits!
Princess Pamina [Ruth Ingeborg Ohlmann] was smartly outfitted in white Chanel with black piping. As the ladies of the chorus also seemed to favor Chanel, she did not exactly stand out.
To me, this looked very much like a money-saving device: performing in contemporary clothing in a generalized scenic-milieu. More like Masonic Initiation in Cleveland…
Nor did it help to have the Gärtnerplatz’s central chandelier lowered before the performance, to serve as a kind of Baroque Bird-Cage for Papageno’s feathered-friends. Simone Schneider was ok as die Königin der Nacht, as was Johannes Beck’s Papageno. But not a Night To Remember…
The Gärtnerplatz Hoffmanns "Erzählungen" is not a new production, but it was one of the first of the Trendy Stagings in this historic house. Sets & costumes are by Rolf Langenfass, who designed Hal Prince’s "Faust" at the Met.
His "Faust" was a visual disappointment, but this stage-environment is much worse because it actively works against the three central stories.
Langenfass & stage-director Hellmut Matiasek had the dumb idea of framing the tales of Olympia, Antonia, & Giulietta in a dark dingy Bierstübe, where Hoffmann’s buddies all seem to be Post-Hippies, Hell’s Angels, or Rockers. Leather, neck-amulets, and pony-tails are much in evidence.
Some of these wastrels distractingly remain at the side of the stage during the three featured scenes. They don’t seem very interested in the proceedings, but who can blame them, as the stories are cramped by the framing and the dark upstage set-pieces—which seems to be closing-in on the action.
The Hoffmann, Volker Bengel, was making his debut. He began uncertainly but improved steadily during the performance. He has a good voice and an attractive presence.
His Niklas/Muse was another debutante, Barbara Schmidt-Gaden, but she suffered from the long-before-rehearsed stage-direction of Matiasek, who was then Intendant and could do as he wished.
Matiasek has long since left, to be replaced by Staatsintendant Klaus Schultz. The Trendiness continues, but Schultz certainly does try to provide innovative programs, including evenings of dance and readings.
Including Drama in the Munich Festival: Residenz-Theater, Kammerspiele, and More!
When the annual summer Opera Festival was launched in Munich after World War II, it was limited to productions of the Bavarian State Opera. And these were limited to the 1901 Jugendstil Prinz-Regenten-Theater, as the regular opera-house, the National-Theater, had been bombed out to the outer walls.
It was not restored and re-opened until 1963: With two American stars who had effectually become the King and the Queen of the State Opera: Jess Thomas and Claire Watson. Both of these wonderful artists are still much missed by those who saw and heard them in the post-war years.
The special summer Opera Festival program might offer one or two new productions, but, in general, it was a survey of outstanding repertory stagings, made momentarily more glamorous by the temporary presence of international stars.
For those foreign festival visitors who also liked drama, only chamber-theatres or touring productions of German Classics were on offer, but these were usually very few and not very well presented.
When Professor August Everding became Staats-Intendant of all Bavarian State Theatres, however, he soon remedied this lack. All over Germany, drama and opera companies at that time had ten-month seasons. The season usually ended in late June, with July as vacation, and August as the time when new productions were rehearsed and old ones refurbished for a September season-opening.
Everding convinced theatre-directors to extend their seasons into July, to coincide with the Opera Festival. Vacations, rehearsals, and season-openings were simply deferred a month. This has worked out very well, winning new friends for theatres that otherwise would have remained less well known.
New Visions of Modern Classics at the Residenz-Theater:
Bavaria’s State Drama Theatre, the Residenz, is sited right next to the National-Theater. It is modern in every way, while the opera is handsomely , regally traditional in its public-spaces, if not in it stagings.
Dieter Dorn—who created a magical Flying Dutchman production for the Bayreuth Festival—is the current and much-admired Intendant. So, during my July visit to the Opera Festival, I made a point of checking out new Residenz stagings. Fortunately, I was able to see a little-known play, "Der jüngste Tag," by a brilliant playwright who is little known in America, if not in Mittel—Europa: Ödön von Horváth.
There was a brief time—back in the 1970s—when Von Horváth was "discovered" by American regional theatres. But his "Tales of the Vienna Woods" was the one and only play that anyone wanted to do. Von Horváth’s "Casimir und Carolina"—which offers a human backdrop to the rise of Adolf Hitler in Munich—was never done.
And I had never seen "Der jüngste Tag" anywhere before. My good fortune was to see it with an excellent cast, tautly staged by Florian Boesch, and in a remarkable Post-Modernist setting by Stefan Hageneier, who also did the everyday costumes.
The play involves a village station-master who is almost robotically dedicated to his duties, especially to changing signal-lights and track-switches. Hageneier could have created a realistic rail-crossing and watchman’s hut—or an entire station.
Instead he devised an all-yellow off-center set-milieu, almost Expressionistic in its thrust, with the most economical suggestion of tracks. This worked extremely well, focusing attention on the characters, rather than on the mechanics of running a railroad.
Unfortunately for the station-master, Thomas Hudetz, the pretty inn-keeper’s daughter, Anna, gives him a quick kiss just before he should change signals for the Express. He has done this with dispatch two times previously, but
Anna’s impulsive gesture throws this unhappily-married man briefly off guard.
In that split-second, the Express crashes—and sixteen passengers die. What began as a light comedy suddenly is transformed into tragedy.
And—although Thomas is imprisoned for his fatal mistake for a term, but not for life—the question remains about the depth of his guilt. Or, indeed, the guilt of everyone involved. Anna, in fact, commits suicide…
Von Horváth’s title says it all: "Der jüngste Tag" means Judgment Day!
Michael von Au was a tormented Thomas, with Franziska Rieck as Anna. Others in this cast of the fine Residenz ensemble included: Peter Albers, Claus Eberth, Ulrike Willenbacher, Heiko Ruprecht, and Anna Riedl.
I should also have seen at the Residenz Brecht’s "Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder," staged by Thomas Langhoff, once a leading director in the DDR. And also Thomas Bernhard’s "Der Theatermacher," directed by Heinz Lietzau.
But I had the misfortune the day before I left New York for Munich to have had my last Wisdom Tooth pulled. A life-threatening infection set in the day after I arrived in Bavaria.
But I kept going to the theatre, although my mouth was swollen shut—and I could not sleep at night for choking. It was like having Diphtheria, Mumps, & Lock-jaw all at the same time. An emergency operation at Krankenhaus
Schwabing—followed by two weeks of penicillin—got me back to the theatre for most of the booked performances. But I regret missing those two productions.
Also on the Residenz’s July program were Racine’s "Phaedra," Beckett’s "Endspiel" & "Das letzte Band," Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s "Drops on Hot Stone, "Goethe’s "Clavigo," "Faustus" texts from Thomas Mann, Raimund’s "The Farmer as Millionaire," Jaan Tätte’s "Bungee Jumping," Neil LaBute’s "Day of Grace," and Shakespeare’s "Titus Andronicus" & "Der Kaufmann von Venedig." Jasmin Reza’s "Drei Mal Leben"—recently & briefly seen in New York at Circle in the Square—and Botho Strauss’ "Der Narr und seine Frau heute abend in Pancomedia". Strauss is an important German playwright whose work is almost never seen in New York, let alone the provincial regions. Why?
Other Munich Theatres—Unfortunately Missed:
At the recently restored Munich City Theatre, the Jugendstil-jewel Kammerspiele, Intendant Frank Baumbauer was offering such fare as Lessing’s "Miss Sara Sampson," Schiller’s "Don Carlos, "Euripides’ "Alcestis," Sophocles’ "Antigone," Shakespeare’s "Othello," and Heiner Muller’s "Anatomie Titus Fall of Rome Ein ShakespeareKommentar." For lighter tastes, there also was Jon Fosse’s "Traum im Herbst" and Paul Claudel’s "Mittagswende," which you may know as Partage du Midi—or something like that…
Looking at both these July repertories—which play in rotation almost seven days a week!—you cannot accuse Munich audiences of Trivial Tastes. Or condemn the state & city subsidized theatres for pandering to the public. Instead, these programs are more like a concentrated History of the Theatre.
This is an example of that despised "Old Europe" that George Bush hates so much. Yale University has a much-praised School of Drama, but you can be sure Yalie Bush was never to be seen at one of its play-productions.
Indeed, Munich is so old-fashioned, so mired down in Kultur, that it even has an excellent theatre for kids and teens, the Theater der Jugend. It has its own ensemble and its own modern theatre, the SchauBurg.
I didn’t have time this summer to check out the new work—penicillin-drips at the Krankenhaus were my dramas on those days—but you can find my reports from previous summers in this website’s archives.
For the record, here are some of the SchauBurg’s July offerings: Ariel Dorfman’s "Hasenmut," Franz Kafka’s "Die Verwandlung"—Gregor becomes a bedbug!, Jutta Richter’s "Annabella Klimperauge," and Arthur Miller’s "A View from the Bridge"—which is not exactly unchallenging for a teen-age audience!
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2004. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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