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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, July 25, 2006
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
MUNICH FESTIVAL 2006: Old & New Always on View *
In Midst of Munich's Summer Festival *
Can Annual Oktoberfest Be Far Behind? *
Bavarian State Opera's New Artistic-Team Pro-Tem: *
Celebrating the Jonas/Mehta Era in Print: *
Gewähltes Profil: Lautlos-- *
Avant-garde Déjà Vu Like LaMaMa Forty Years Ago! *
Engelbert Humperdinck's Other Fairytale: *
After Hansel & Gretel--Came Königskinder *
Georg Friedrich Händel's Film Noir Opera-Seria: *
Rodelinda, Regina de' Longobardi Revised! *
Munich's Handel Orlando MakesFlorida's *
Disney-World-Version Look Old-Fashioned! *
Coronation Ceremonies in the Prinzregententheater! *
Amazing L'incoronazione di Poppea *
Awet Terterjan's Das Beben: *
A Metaphoric Earthquake at Gärtnerplatz Theatre *
At the Post-Modernist Kammerspiele: *
Schändet Eure Neoliberal Biographien *
Of Operas Unseen: *
Rigoletto and Der Fliegende Holländer-- *
MUNICH FESTIVAL 2006: Old & New Always on View
In Midst of Munich's Summer Festival
Can Annual Oktoberfest Be Far Behind?
Actually, Münchners jump-the-gun on some of their wide-ranging festivals and holidays. Its virtual Tourist-trademark, the Oktoberfest, begins in September. The various parties, parades, and celebrations of Fasching seem to run from Fall to Lent. Followed by Ash-Wednesday--and Re-lent…
In fact, Munich is a year-round festival: Carnival all year long! As they say here: Ich bin immer wo die Gaudi ist!
Initially, the annual Opera Festival was a Bavarian State Opera counter-poise to the Bayreuth Festival, as several of Wagner's Masterpieces had been premiered in Munich at the Hof-und-National-Theater. And the fest also celebrated Richard Strauss--virtually a Local Boy--as well as Mozart, who merely passed through. Not to overlook Carl Orff!
In recent years, however, other Munich Music & Drama Theatres have extended their regular seasons--which used to end mid-June, resuming in September--into July to take their place in the Festival Sun and lure tourists as well.
Bavarian State Opera's New Artistic-Team Pro-Tem:
With the retirement of Sir Peter Jonas as Intendant of Munich's Staatsoper, there will be an interval until the new Intendant, Klaus Bachler, takes the directorial helm. This might seem a bit odd--even awkward--as some artistic-directors would metaphorically kill to have this coveted post with one of Europe's most prestigious and innovative opera-houses.
Currently, however, Klaus Bachler is Intendant of Vienna's famed Burgtheater, arguably the summit of Drama-Theatre in the German-speaking lands of Europe. This is not a position that you leave easily, and you certainly do not cancel your contract to go off to Munich before your term is up.
Whoever the other candidates were, they have been passed over in favor of Bachler. He may not be well-known to American opera-lovers, but his theatre credits are impressive:
But he cannot come to Munich until the 2008-2009 Season. Bachler takes office on 9 September 2008.
[One of Vienna's most influential Music & Theatre critics, Dr. Wilhelm Sinkovicz--who insists he and his fellow-critics are not "King-makers"--nonetheless decries Bachler's Intendancy at the Burg, describing the theatre as being in a State of Crisis, which may not be resolved by Bachler's recently-chosen successor. It's apparent that Bachler's Directorial Vision is similar to Sir Peter's, which has met with disapproval from Vienna's more conservative critics, like Sinkovicz.]
Fortunately, no continuity will be lost--and the Jonas Legacy will be preserved--under the Pro Tem artistic-management of the new General Music Director, Kent Nagano, strongly aided by a Directorate Trio, composed of Dr. Ulrike Hessler, longtime Director of Communications & Development, Business Manager Dr. Roland Felber, and Artistic Administrator Ronald H. Adler.
In the coming 2006-2007 Season, GMD Nagano will present six new productions, two of them World-Premieres. The first of these is Wolfgang Rihm's one-acter, entitled Das Gehege, or The Enclosure.
It has been conceived as a Curtain-Raiser for Richard Strauss' opera, Salome. Previously, this shattering musical-evocation of Oscar Wilde's drama has been thought Complete-in-Itself and Strong Enough to Stand Alone. But The Hedge might prove an ideal complement to Strauss…
The libretto is by the German playwright Botho Strauss, better-known in America than Rihm. But that may change, as Rihm has been chosen Composer-in-Residence at the Bavarian State Opera. Who knows what Opera-Astonishments he may confect for the Munich stage!
Alice in Wonderland will be the other World-Premiere. Inspired by the beloved Surrealist fantasy of Lewis Carroll, it is in fact the work of the South Korean composer, Unsuk Chin! Curious that both premieres have been based on the fantasies of British Authors!
Kent Nagano will conduct this new work as the opening-performance of the Munich Festival in 2007. The Big News for American opera-lovers is that this will be the Munich Directorial Debut of William Friedkin!
Other new productions include Massenet's Werther, under the almost Total Artistic Control of Jürgen Rose--staging, sets, costumes, & lighting--with Ivor Bolton conducting. Also scheduled are new visions of Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina, Verdi's Luisa Miller, and Rossini's Il turco in Italia.
It remains to be seen if there will be protests by Ethnic Minorities, as both Mozart and Rossini had currently Unfashionable Attitudes toward Muslims!
Celebrating the Jonas/Mehta Era in Print:
Every season, a handsome new volume of the Oper aktuell series is published. For the 2005-2006 season, however, the book is especially important and interesting. It is a record in essays and production-photos of the achievements of Sir Peter Jonas and the retiring GMD Zubin Mehta in their final Munich season together.
In addition to full-page color-photos of major productions, Official Photographer Wilfried Hösl has provided extensive color-positive strips of photos made en suite during rehearsals. These show the artists at work, as standard production-photos cannot.
This is published by Stiebner. More information can be obtained through the Bavarian State Opera's website. And Lars Muller Publishers have issued a smaller, but no less interesting Era-End book.
This is Pierre Mendell: Plakate für die Oper. It includes page after page of large illustrations of the brashly bold & colorful posters Mendell designed for the Bavarian State Opera during the Jonas Years. You do not have to know German to appreciate Mendell's Post-Modernist opera-imagery.
Most impressive of all, however, is the very large volume: Wenn Musik der Liebe Nahrung ist, spielt weiter… Or: If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On…
Published by Schirmer/Mosel, it is not only an immense opera-picture-book--with full-page color-photos of such innovative production-visions as David Alden's mountings of Giulio Cesare & Rodelinda--but it's also a salute to both Jonas and Mehta.
The sub-title: Wunderbare Jahre: Sir Peter Jonas, Zubin Mehta, und die Bayerische Staatsoper 1993-2006. And the volume is crammed with the Wunderbare production-photos of Wilfried Hösl!
There is also an English supplement so British and American fans can read the essays of Nike Wagner, Donna Leon, Daniel Barenboim, and Wolfgang Schrieber.
Richard Wagner's grand-daughter, Nike, writes about the innovative stagings in the Jonas Years, while the noted conductor, Daniel Barenboim, offers thoughts on Munich and the British Empire!
Donna Leon's contribution is simply Sir Peter, with Schreiber evoking The Power of Images in the House of Feelings.
All three books are valuable, but the last is the most useful as a Visual Record. And there's also a CD! Check the Opera Website to obtain copies…
Gewähltes Profil: Lautlos--
Avant-garde Déjà Vu Like LaMaMa Forty Years Ago!
Gewähltes Profil: lautlos--avant-garde like La MaMa forty years ago.
As perhaps a Departing-Gift, the retiring Intendant of the Bavarian State Opera--Sir Peter Jonas--made sure that his Intendancy would not soon be forgotten. Just as he had given Opera-Masterworks of Handel, Monteverdi, Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini entirely New Looks--Post-Modernist, and then some--so also did he encourage novel experiments among Musicians and Performance-Artists.
Ruedi Häusermann was commissioned to create the Music-Theatre Novelty, Gewähltes Profil: Lautlos, for Jonas' final festival-season. But the praise or blame was to be shared-out, as this was announced as a co-production of the Bavarian State Opera and Bavaria's State Theatre, the Residenz.
Even more inclusive: Hannover's militantly innovative Schauspiel and the Stuttgart Opera were also enlisted in this curious project, proposed as a kind of revolutionary form of Music-Theatre. Actually, the resulting production was originated at Schauspielhannover on 6 May 2006.
[The title cannot be literally translated into English without some loss of its special relevance to users of Handys, German cell-phones. If you wish your phone to remain on, but not with a ringing-tone, you select the mode that guarantees silence. So a Gewähltes Profil is one of the mode-selections on a Handy.]
In the event, what was shown as a Munich premiere on stage at the Residenz looked rather like similar mixed-up music & theatre experiments made at New York's La MaMa ETC forty years ago by Tom O'Horgan.
The major differences were that Profil was being introduced as an Innovation four decades too late. And that it was mounted with all the state-of-the-art Technical Resources and Paid Professional Artists that two of Europe's most prestigious and heavily-subsidized State Theatres could muster.
Even though O'Horgan went on to Broadway Fame with Hair! and was subsequently invited to stage Berlioz' The Trojans at the Vienna State Opera--at La MaMA, he was working with no money and unpaid, unknown artists.
At the Residenz, it was clear that No Expense had been spared--either in Hannover or in Munich--to make Profil a very special Festival Event.
Häusermann was credited with both composition and direction. His artistic-forces included no less than six actors, plus, in effect, a string-quartet--or Streichquartett--and two Soundspezialisten.
As Multi-Media productions have become increasingly trendy in Germany, naturally there was also a Videographer to record portions of the performance In Action, so some of these could be dimly projected near the conclusion of the event.
The musicians--and eventually, the entire cast--played not only the traditional weapons of a string-quartet, but also on drums and even oil-drums, plus other instruments, coming all together in a sort of grand Circus Parade near the close of this two-hour intermissionless experiment in creating a new kind of Musik-Theater-Welt.
Oddly enough, the Profil encounter--or Improvised Head-on Collision--between trained-musicians and performance-artists echoed on a larger scale an encounter of the Emerson Quartet with the Théâtre de Complicité several seasons ago at Lincoln Center.
The ever-adventurous Emersonians had wanted to try breaking-free of the traditional concert-format, but they surely had not bargained for the degree of adventure Théâtre's director, Simon McBurney, had envisioned.
They bravely played a celebrated quartet, while all about them were strewn sideways on the stage-floor chairs and music-stands, as various Actor-Actions occurred in and around the musicians. At one point, they were playing in almost total darkness. It certainly was Innovative, but no one--before the Munich/Hannover Experiment--has seen fit to make this into a new form of Performance-Art or Music-Theatre!
Now and then, the musicians--seated on raised roller-platforms--were moved about the stage-space, to no very great visual-effect. A kind of House of Paper was constructed of sheets of white paper, suspended from overhead-wires. Doors & Windows could be cut at will in these panels with a sharp knife.
A Sharp Knife would also have helped pare-down the two intermission-free hours of onstage Fun & Games. Most of what occurred on stage, however, seemed Improvised, though it was not quite clear whether the performance-event had been improvised in Hannover Rehearsals and then frozen.
Or whether every night was a little bit different?
As a Musical Event, this was hardly memorable, although the actual string-quartet played on stage was commissioned by the Bayerischen Staatsoper München! Citizens! Your Tax-Euros at Work!
Among the Visual Novelties mixed into this strange Musico-Theatrical Soup were some small remote-controlled quasi-Robots, though not given Human Form.
As for the Innovative Introduction of tiny robots scooting around the stage, this novelty had been much more effectively used earlier this season Off-Broadway in a truly avant-garde Salute to Henrik Ibsen's Centenary.
In this unusual production, called the Heddathon--which featured Ibsen & Strindberg arguing at the breakfast-table--Dangerous Robots had kidnapped an Ypsilanti, Michigan, house-wife and taken her to the Amazonian Jungles and forced her to play Hedda Gabler!
Of course, this show was Multi-Media, featuring video-cameras and Multi-Monitors to allow the audience to see on several screens what they were already seeing Live. As well as to view faked Documentary Background Interviews.
Shades of H. G. Welles and The War of the Worlds: the Robots Were Taking-Over. Civilization--as we know it--was coming to a Rapid End.
In Munich and Hannover, however, there was No End in Sight: that is, of supposedly Innovative Music-Theatre Experiments that have already been tried-out in New York. And found either Wanting, or, at best, Amusing.
And made in Manhattan on a vastly inferior budget to those at the disposal of German State Theatres.
With Profil--at least as safely-witnessed from the audience--as there was no Trendy Interaction with the spectators, obviously intended to be at least Amusing.
Engelbert Humperdinck's Other Fairytale:
After Hansel & Gretel--Came Königskinder
Bavaria's beloved Fairytale Monarch, the extremely eccentric, castle-building King Ludwig II, loved opera so much that he often ordered midnight performances of operatic favorites--especially the works of Richard Wagner--in his Court Theatre. With no other audience save himself, seated in the darkened Royal Loge.
Ludwig had grown rather bulky--a shocking contrast to the once young & beautiful Prince most fondly remembered today from his teen-age portrait--so he did not like to show himself in public.
Sir Peter Jonas--the retiring Intendant of the Bavarian State Opera--seems, on the contrary, quite tall and thin, especially so when he is wearing a long black Chinese-style jacket & trousers. While he may also watch opera-rehearsals in King Ludwig's Neo-Classical Hof-und-Nationaltheater without an audience in attendance, completely Private-Showings seem unlikely today, even in a state-subsidized opera-house.
Nonetheless, watching Sir Peter leaning intensely forward, chin propped on hand, to savor every visual detail of his longed-for revival of Königskinder reminded one of Ludwig's similar fascination with especially beloved opera-productions in this same theatre.
Long seasons ago, when Peter Jonas was Artistic Director of ENO--the English National Opera--he talked to your scribe about his innovative production-program at the London Coliseum and his dream of reviving Engelbert Humperdinck's almost totally-forgotten fairytale opera, Königskinder.
This had not yet happened in London, so it may well have been that others on the ENO team were not as enthusiastic about the work as Jonas. In any case, as he had just been invited to succeed Munich's previous Intendant--the GMD, or General Music Director--Prof. Wolfgang Sawallisch, Jonas was looking forward to giving Old Operas New Looks, as he had so successfully done at ENO.
As well as to reviving long-forgotten operas, such as his beloved Königskinder.
At that time, Jonas didn't explain why he loved this opera so much, other than to praise its Wagner-influenced score and its sad story.
But watching Sir Peter watching Königskinder so intently in the last days of his Intendancy in Munich, I'd like to imagine him as an eager youngster in Hamburg, seeing Königskinder onstage for the first time and never forgetting it.
It's mere speculation, but, as the Jonas Family was German-Jewish, and were fortunate enough to escape Hitler's Third Reich to haven in Britain, could this opera have been one of the memories young Peter Jonas carried with him across the English Channel?
In the event, the Munich production was strikingly simple, rather like a child's drawing of the World Turned Upside Down--which could certainly have resonance for Germans like the Jonas Family, forced to flee their own country because of Militant & Deadly Prejudice.
Unlike Humperdinck's evergreenly popular Hansel und Gretel, with Königskinder there is no Happy Ending. But the witches in both operas are very much into Baking!
Gingerbread Boys & Girls are the tasty product of H&G's wicked-witch's oven, but the evil sorceress of Königskinder likes to bake loaves of Magic Bread--which puts its unwary consumers into a slowly sleepy Death.
Folklorists and mythologists alike have noted the strong & strange contrast between the often cruel and sadistic fairytales of the German Lands and the more gentle, charming, and benign tales of French Provenance. Not to overlook the more calculated children's fables of Hans Christian Andersen…
Although the collected Grimm's Fairytales are named for the famous linguist Brothers Grimm, most of their fairytales are also fairly grim. Even their celebrated Grimm's Law cannot easily be broken!
Unfortunately for its potential as a Children's Christmas Treat, the pathetic, depressing fable of Königskinder doesn't even have the redeeming virtue of many a Grimm Tale, in which the despised, Outcast Younger Brother gets gruesome revenge on his evil Older Brothers at the end.
In rough outline, an innocent girl--possibly a Princess--who has been turned into a Goose-maid by a malignant old witch, not only has to herd the witch's geese but also bake the loaves of Magic Bread which kill its eaters.
One day, an itinerant Prince/King wanders by and, of course, falls instantly in love with the lovely young girl. He offers her his golden crown, and she gives him her crown of flowers. But she refuses to come away with him, as she is under the witch's spell.
Thanks to a Wandering Minstrel--who carries a fiddle & bow everywhere with him--the spell is broken and she can make her way to the City of Hellabrunn.
Shortly before this, however, two citizens of that ancient city have come to the witch for a Prophecy: When will they finally have a king of their own? Answer: It will be the first person who comes through the city-gate at High Noon.
And that person is the former Goose-girl! But things do not work out well for her--or for the man who would be King of Hellabrunn. They are despised & rejected by the Hellabrunners, driven out and away from Civilization--or what passed for that in Medieval Germany--to wander in the woods.
Eventually, the once Royal Children--now old, graying, exhausted, and starving--stumble upon the witch's house. There they eagerly devour hunks of dried-out bread found inside. And so they die a slow, sleepy death in each other's arms…
This is not the sort of Holiday Opera-fun that most opera-houses are looking for. You won't see Königskinder anytime soon at New York City Opera or even the Houston Grand Opera. Unless they are desperate for Something Entirely Different down in Texas.
Nonetheless, this sad tale does have Modern Resonances: It could be seen as an Unknowing Parable--how could Humperdinck have foreseen Nazi Ethnic Cleansing?--of the rejection and ejection of German-Jewish citizens in the early 1930's--before the Deportations to the Death Camps began. And even that is foreshadowed in the eating of the deadly Magic Bread…
[It has been suggested that the tale has an even more recent resonance: The despised & rejected Al Gore is driven out into the Evironmental Wilderness by the ignorant, jealous, spiteful Citizens!]
Andreas Homoki's staging of Königskinder was the essence of child-like simplicity. Set-designer Wolfgang Gussmann created a kind of white-paper-wedge--two sides of an equilateral-triangle, with the stage-front as its base--on which were drawn in bold, elemental colors upside-down sketches of trees and flowers.
When there was an Outside-Intrusion--or the possibility of escape from the witch's domain--the pure white portions of the two side-walls folded down onto the stage, offering endless vistas into Black Nothingness. This, also, could have been interpreted as a Visual Metaphor…
The Contemporary Costumes of Gussmann and Susana Mendoza reinforced the idea that even now--as well as in Medieval Germany--superficial people often reject those--or that--who or which would have been best for them.
Every kind of trendy Modern Garb--including Punker-Outfits and a gaggle of Airline Hostesses & Pilots--was confected in various shades of Shocking Pink, Violent Violet, & Lazy Lavender.
Instead of the infamous Gingerbread House of Hansel & Gretel, this Humperdinck Witch lived in a huge White Wardrobe, angled center-stage. This may have been inspired by C. S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Later, this immense piece of furniture suggested the City Gates of Hellabrunn.
What was most impressive about the production, however, was not the scenic-environment, but how intently the actor/singers inhabited their two-dimensionally stereotypical roles. Annette Dasch was affecting as the Goosemaid, and Robert Gambill was properly stalwart and loving as the King's Son.
Dagmar Pecková was rather like a smartly-tailored librarian in her witch-keeping, with Martin Gantner a raffish Spielmann/Minstrel.
There were a number of Wagnerian Flourishes in the score that seemed a bit grand for what was shown on stage. In a Medieval setting--and with different staging of the random masses of chorus--these might have worked to better, even Processional, effect.
At the close, however, the final Dying Duet of the Royal Children--now old and without any earthly hope--was immensely touching as sung by Dasch & Gambill.
But the Final Irony: why didn't she remember that she had herself baked that deadly loaf for the witch years ago? Carbs Are Killers!
Fabio Luisi conducted the second half of the opera. Before the performance began, Sir Peter came before the curtain to outline the desperate efforts then being made to get Luisi flown out of Mexico City during a ban on departures. Including searches for available Private Jets!
For the Record: Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel remains his sole opera-success. Königskinder never came anywhere near that achievement. Both its hopelessly pathetic end to a dispiriting fairytale-narrative and its suggestively Wagner-derivative score worked against it after its initial productions.
For that matter, Richard Wagner's only son, Siegfried Wagner--named after the Hero of The Ring--was much given to composing fairytale-operas as well. But he had even less success than Humperdinck. Not one has found a place in the opera-repertory.
Who now remembers Siegfried Wagner's Bärenreiter or An Hütchen ist allem Schuld? In fact, Blame It All on the Little Hat doesn't sound a Winner from its title alone. Nevertheless, Siegfried's loving daughter, Friedelind, spent much of her adult-life trying to get her father's works revived.
In this Committed Quest, she received absolutely No Encouragement from her two brothers, Wieland & Wolfgang Wagner, who had revived their grandfather's Bayreuth Festival in 1951. Not only did they not want to hear about their father's embarrassing operatic-efforts, but they wouldn't even produce Richard Wagner's noble Rienzi in the historic Festspielhaus.
For those who are interested in reviving Neglected Works of Music-Theatre, there are other forgotten Humperdincks on the shelf: Die sieben Geislein, Das Mirakel, Die Heirat wider Willen, and Dornröschen. Actually, the latter--a version of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale--might just work in a novel, trendy, Modern-Resonant staging!
Georg Friedrich Händel's Film Noir Opera-Seria:
Rodelinda, Regina de' Longobardi Revised!
Rodelinda, Regina de Longobardi
The modern revival of the Opera-Seria of George Frederick Handel--that effectually began with the experiments of Prof. Oscar Hagen [Uta Hagen's dad!] in Göttingen, in the 1920s--has been carried forward and remarkably re-imagined, re-visioned, and even re-treaded by several leading opera-houses.
Foremost of the Handel Revisionists has been the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, especially under the Adventurous Stewardship of Sir Peter Jonas. He was most fortunate to recruit the American opera-director, David Alden, and such imaginative designers as Paul Steinberg & Buki Shiff for these projects.
The last thing wanted in any of these revivals were sets & costumes that evoked the Historical Period of the librettos or of Handel's own time and production-styles. Oscar Hagen loved recreating the fantastic & elaborate Baroque costumes of Opera-Seria, but that would have been entirely out-of-place in an updated Orlando or Rodelinda.
For Munich's novel Rodelinda, Queen of Longobardia--think Milano--David Alden decided on Film Noir as the production-style. This might at first seem just a Visual Stunt, but the complicated melodramatics of the opera's plot make it an almost ideal match for some of the 20th Century's most celebrated black&white Noir Classics.
In fact, the opera-program is richly illustrated with photos from such Hollywood films as The Window, Fourteen Hours, The Street with No Name, Night and the City, and Under the Gun.
Paul Steinberg's stunning settings include a scene set under a Viaduct, with a sleek gangster-auto at its side, an empty-windowed façade at the rear, and a three-windowed brick-wall stage-left--with a big B A R sign on its corner. Ingeniously lit, these vertically-set bold letters cast huge, ominous black shadows on the wall downstage.
Instead of the more sedately Quasi-Historical Regal-Intrigues of the Metropolitan Opera's new Rodelinda--starring Renée Fleming--Alden has directed his able actor/singers to physically engage each other. Unulfo, the faithful servant of the banished King, is repeatedly knocked to the floor and otherwise abused. The fact that the role is meekly, subserviently sung by a counter-tenor [Christopher Robson] makes this violence all the more shocking.
In fact, this is a real Sex and Violence opera-staging. Also using their physical strengths and charms to the utmost are Susan Gritton as the embattled Rodelinda, Sonia Prina as her sister-in-law and sometime rival, Eduige, Michael Chance as the deposed Bertarido, Paul Nilon as the new Tyrant of Milan and would-be husband of Rodelinda, and Umberto Chiummo as a leather-jacketed Hit-Man, better known as the Duke of Turin!
This is a co-production with the San Francisco Opera, so Bay Area denizens should feel right at home with the Film Noir vision of Handelian Opera. They can surely relate to an industrial-strength brick-façade with great window-voids, set at an angle--waiting for someone to be pushed from a window-frame.
Or how about two immense sets of empty-windowed façades at either side of the stage, with some seven huge cut-out images--in a row, in decreasing height--of the deposed and presumed-dead Bertarido. This is the Tomb to which Rodelinda and their silent son, Flavio, come to mourn.
Then there's an industrialized home-scene--backed by three red Cargo-containers--with Unulfo seated on a 1950s sofa while he lights a cigarette and sings an aria. Everyone now knows that Smoking Can Cause Cancer--and also interfere with your aria. But he manages neatly…
As is his wont & custom, Ivor Bolton conducted with energy and verve entirely in keeping with the Noir quality of the production. He has become virtually the Leading Handel Conductor--especially of the more avant-garde stagings!
Munich's Handel Orlando MakesFlorida's
Disney-World-Version Look Old-Fashioned!
Curiously--although the endless ovations for Poppea's cast, chorus, conductor and stage-director David Alden were Boo-Free--there was a deafening chorus of Boos at the close of the striking new Alden production of Handel's Orlando, the opera's first performance ever in Munich!
What often happens--and not just in Bavaria--is that when a really strange or bizarre new production of an Opera-Classic or beloved War-Horse is too far removed from its original roots, Conservative opera-lovers go crazy.
That has been the rule with Alden stagings in Munich, with the audience--over time--coming to love his productions and be very sorry when they are--like Poppea--retired from the repertory.
Considering the prevalent European Attitude about American Troops occupying Iraq, audiences should soon come to regard this arresting & unsettling staging as both Resonant & Foreboding.
Based on Ludovico Ariosto's poetic fable of Orlando Furioso--or Mad Roland--Handel's version of this over-used tale presents Orlando as a Great Warrior who is so hopelessly smitten with the lovely, but unattainable Angelica, that he is driven mad with jealousy and anger. This doomed love is also keeping him from his daytime career as a Professional Killer.
With the justly celebrated counter-tenor David Daniels in US Army Fatigues & Dog-tags, this Orlando could easily be stationed in some Orlando [Florida] Army Base. Considering the number & variety of Space-rockets--Big & Little--that fill the stage at one point, this is probably a Handelian/Ariostian Fantasy of Military Incompetence at the NASA launching-pad in Cape Carnaveral.
Angelica & Medoro--looking like the Son of the Sheik, in Buki Shiff's flowing black desert-garb--are desperately in love. So much so that Orlando, driven mad, slays them, as he thinks. Fortunately, they only looked dead, so they can rise up and rejoice in Orlando's grief-stricken Return to Sanity and to his duties as a Soldier.
Rosemary Joshua was a physically & vocally enchanting, if distant, Angelica, with Beth Clayton as a very Butch Medoro. As Dorinda--helplessly in love with the unresponding Medoro--Olga Pasichnyk was touching, but occasionally amusing in her dither.
Alastair Miles played Zoroastro as an older Civilian Bureaucrat, concerned about Orlando's unhinged AWOL exploits and eager to have him Back in the Trenches.
Set-designer Paul Steinberg created some elemental bold-colored set-pieces that could be shifted around to create a Minimalist Sense of Space & Movement. One set of orange wall-sections--lined with horizontal-tubes, supposedly bracings--lit up, the long pipes glowing with bright orange light.
Ivor Bolton--as is his custom--conducted with verve and what seemed an intense involvement with the visual relevance of the staging. He also insisted on having his full orchestra on stage for its own curtain-call! Lutes and All!
Coronation Ceremonies in the Prinzregententheater!
Amazing L'incoronazione di Poppea
Lincoronazione di Poppea
The elegant onstage Coronation of Kaiserin Poppea--in Munich in mid-July--was one of those almost unforgettable opera-events. This was the last performance ever of the brilliantly satiric production mounted by director David Alden and his gifted designers, Paul Steinberg & Buki Shiff.
So audience-expectations were already high--and tickets had been sold-out for months--as spectators stood waiting outside the auditorium-doors of Munich's Jugendstil Prince-Regent Theatre. But they waited and waited. Still the doors were not thrown open.
Finally, they filed into the Greek-arena seating, only to be greeted by Intendant Sir Peter Jonas. He was wearing his long black Chinese-style garb and a long face, as well. He regretfully noted that there were not less than eight roles effectively not cast, owing to illness. A Mutual Sigh…
Nonetheless, the opera would go forward, with some switching of roles, some multi-tasking--doubling or tripling, and Two Unexpected Debuts! Sir Peter pointed out--especially for those who already knew Alden's production--that in some cases it would be impossible to know who was playing/singing what, owing to the elaborate make-ups & costumes.
Thus, Hannah Esther Minutillo appeared as Fortuna, Pallade/Athena, & Venere/Venus! Chen Reiss was both La Virtù & Damigella, with Guy de May & Kenneth Roberson in several roles.
If the Alden Team's Rodelinda had been designed with Film Noir in mind, then the Poppea was surely inspired by a mixture of Comic-Book Art and High Vogue Fashions. Some of Buki Shiff's women's outfits were outrageous parodies of the Wildest Dreams of Fashionistas, while others were so smartly elegant that many ladies in the audience could well have coveted them.
At the Bavarian State Opera, they do not discard sets & costumes after a production is finished. Few theatres can afford to do that. Paul Steinberg's stunning settings will be dismantled & recycled, as there is no Set-Museum in which to preserve them. But Shiff's costumes ought to be in a permanent Theatre Costume Collection!
Steinberg's Post-Modernist Minimalist scenic-environments--as with his Rodelinda--owe a lot to Industrial Design: with long black façades of empty-windows and windowed-doors that can be moved around the stage, or an immense ambulatory curving pink wall, featuring a single street-lamp. At one point, small metal pegs jut from this wall, forming a kind of Stairway to the Stars for the ambitious Poppea to climb. At some risk, as she's wearing a slinky black gown with a long train.
Because Steinberg has set elemental--but sometimes skewed--architectural-forms against backgrounds of broad basic color, the effect is rather like that of some brilliant Comic-Book designs: Poppea meets Wonderwoman…
Poppea's dazzling Coronation takes place in a milieu that is entirely composed of black & white checker-boarding, varied in height so there seem to be undulating curves in this background that are not really there. At the moment of Poppea's Greatest Glory--she is declared Goddess, as well as Empress--Nine Crystal-Chandeliers descend from the flies!
There are other ambulatory set-pieces, such as an endlessly Revolving-Door--a visual metaphor for the constantly shifting powers in the complex plot--and there are also sofas and chairs which are rolled around for speed and even comic-effect.
But, aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like Claudio Monteverdi's Madrigal Opera?
With two remarkable counter-tenors in the roles of Nerone/Nero and Ottone, it seemed no loss that the Day of the Castrato was long gone.
As Nero, Jacek Laszczkowski was superb. He even looked Imperial! Not only is he a commanding presence as an actor/singer, but his strongly-supported voice soared with great clarity and beauty. This was not a counter-tenor being careful of his vocal-folds.
Similarly, Axel Köhler--as Ottone--was very strong, even if his role as a would-be murderer of his own wife--the fickle Poppea--put him in a much weaker position dramatically.
Margarita De Arellano, as Poppea, was not only a very elegant, manipulative Sex-Pot--dressed in a series of High-Fashion gowns, but also a beautiful & imperious personality, able to climb a bare wall in a very long gown, singing at the top of her register.
Dominique Visse was a Total Delight at Poppea's Old Nurse, Arnalta, longing for the Respect & Privilege she foresaw, should her Mistress become Empress of Rome. She played it like a Drag Role, in Buki Shiff's Outrageous Outfits.
Daniela Sindram, as the wronged, abandoned Empress--who enlists Ottone to get rid of her Rival--was properly Furious & Sinister.
As Drusilla, who has always loved Ottone, Gemma Bertagnolli was petite but superb: a charming voice and delightfully presence. We will surely hear much more of her!
Her love for Ottone is so strong, that she lends him her gown so he can gain entrance to the bed-chamber of his Intended Victim. But how could he kill the impossibly beautiful Poppea, even though she has spurned him for Nero?
Ottone flees, but the gown is seen and identified as Drusilla's--so she is arrested and faces a Terrible Death.
Fortunately, at the Coronation, All is not exactly Forgiven: but Ottavia is banished--in some peril, but at least not executed--and Ottone and Drusilla are sent together into exile. Also Not Executed!
Considering Nero's horrifying Historical Reputation, Monteverd's librettist, Giovanni Francisco Busenello, let them all off very lightly! Nonetheless, Nero's old Tutor & Advisor, the famed philosopher Seneca was ordered to Commit Suicide by the Emperor. His affecting farewell to his students was wonderfully realized by Sami Luttinen.
At the close, the Curtain-Calls were endless and boundlessly enthusiastic--especially for Nero, Poppea, and her stylish old Nurse, Arnalta. The audience didn't want to leave the auditorium. David Alden led the large cast and orchestra--with conductor Ivor Bolton in the vanguard--in repeated surges forward to the footlights.
Awet Terterjan's Das Beben:
A Metaphoric Earthquake at Gärtnerplatz Theatre
In 1647, a catastrophic Earthquake destroyed Santiago de Chile, killing thousands and thousands. This memorable Erdbeben seized the imagination of the German poet/playwright Heinrich von Kleist generations after the disaster. Just as the later--but even more devastating--Lisbon Earthquake provided an important scene for Voltaire's Candide--later set to music by Leonard Bernstein.
While the Lisbon Quake was only one disaster in a long, picaresque trail of horrific events in the satiric Candide, Von Kleist made the destruction of Santiago central to his Romeo & Juliet-style tragedy. But his use of the quake was anything but satiric: Ironic, perhaps…
His tale focused on two doomed lovers, Jeronimo Rugera, an in-house teacher for the only daughter of the powerful Don Henrico Asteron, the lovely young Donna Josephe. As soon as the proud old Don discovered their affection, he banished Jeronimo and confined his shamed daughter in a Convent.
Those were the days when Spanish & Portuguese Grandees--also in the New World--were capable of killing their daughters to protect the Sacred Family Honor. A custom still practiced in the Balkans, the Middle East, and in Asia, sad to say…
Despite all that had happened to the lovers, they were able to have a Secret Tryst in the Cloister-Garden. But their consummated Forbidden Love was discovered.
Public Gossip and Moral Outrage was so virulent that something stringent had to be done! The Canon Laws of the Holy Roman Catholic Church and the Pious Morés of Santiago Society were not to be mocked…
Jeronimo was chained to a pillar in prison, condemned to be executed. Donna Josephe was initially ordered to be Burned at the Stake, so great was the shame she had brought upon her family and the Holy Sisters.
But this sentence was softened to a mere Beheading!
Before the two sentences could be carried out, however, the Great Quake struck. They were both miraculously freed from their confinements and re-united.
This should have been a Happy Ending. Unfortunately, enough Decent God-fearing Citizens of Santiago had survived to capture them again and see them executed!
In Bernstein's Candide, the Holiday atmosphere of such Public Spectacles was satirically evoked in the song: What a lovely day/For an Auto-da-Fé! Von Kleist also emphasized the excitement and delight the surviving Santiagons experienced in seeing the wicked girl so severely punished.
Some thought--like Fundamentalist Ministers today--that the Quake was a Judgment from God for the lovers' appalling Sin. [Almost as horrifying as Gay Marriage has become…]
When the Soviet-Armenian composer, Avet Terterian, decided to adapt Von Kleist's tale for the opera-stage, however, he avoided the Bernsteinian Satiric & Superficial, opting instead for a Minimalist Tragedy.
His opera is Beben--or Earthquake--and it had its premiere in 2003 in Munich at the Gärtnerplatz-Theater. This is the theatre that has long been the home of the operas of Carl Orff, with their dynamic percussive scores.
Professor Orff would have been impressed with Terterian's often thundering score, so richly orchestrated for Schlagwerk--the entire Orchestral-Artillery of Percussion-Instruments.
For performances of Beben at the Gärtnerplatz--which have to run en suite, as the theatre-conformation cannot be changed every other night as is customary in repertory--the entire Parkett, or orchestra-seating, is covered over with a decking that meets the edge of the actual stage.
On this deck are four dazzling-white rectangular raised-platforms. These are surrounded by varied sections of the orchestra, with four huge drums set at four corners: the Santiago Earthquake will be ear-shattering! Plus several clusters of smaller drums, xylophones, and other percussions.
One of the platform-stages is flanked by two rows of Maracas-players, with a shrill pipe or two. Carl Orff surely would have rejoiced to see so many percussion-instruments in action again at the Gärtnerplatz!
Violins and other strings are marshaled into the curve of the auditorium-rear. Woodwinds and brass are on the stage, backed by tiered audience-seating, with a first row of chorus-men in dark suits.
Other members of the chorus--mainly women--are seated in the boxes and the front sections of the royal-circle, where they can furiously thump their disapproval of the nasty despised lovers with their staffs and canes.
But Terterian's libretto is nothing like those of traditional operatic-tragedies. It is, in fact, very simple, with very few words, to be piercingly sung by the lovers, identified only as He and She. Each enters the arena and mounts a platform-stage, right & left.
Their movements--as indeed those of other elemental figures and the chorus--are slow, even ritualistic. In prison, in preparation for her beheading, She has her long hair slowly, silently shorn, strand by strand, by a Grim Matron. [Production Note: A new wig for every performance!]
On the two central platforms, a male dancer [Paul Lorenger], donning a Bobble-Head of JFK, mimes various attitudes of the vicious Santiago citizens. At one point, he revolves endlessly until he collapses.
After the Quake, the two side-platforms--bearing the surviving lovers--move toward the center, so they can be re-united. The two other platforms join them, making a glowing White Cross, on which they will be metaphorically Crucified. To the immense pleasure & satisfaction of the Santiagons!
Cornelia Horak and Wolfgang Schwaninger were superb as She and He. Terterian requires them to achieve very high sustained notes, then swooping low, often sounding more like vocalise than words of the libretto.
As for the orchestral-score--in the vein of Carl Orff, but even more Minimal--the strings provide an endless drone, sometimes twittering, under the swishing-rain of the Maracas--with occasional illuminations from the woodwinds & brass. But the Big Moments come with the Thunder of the Drums.
The performance-milieu was designed by Christian Schmidt, who also created the sober costumes, and the ritual-action and mime were staged by Claus Guth. Obviously, none of this would have worked so dramatically had not the Gärtnerplatz's GMD Ekkehard Klemm rehearsed and conducted Beben so thoughtfully.
Seeing & Hearing this innovative production was a memorable experience, but, unfortunately it's not a staging that could easily travel. Although it has only two principals--plus some mainly-mime figures--it also requires large choral-forces and extras. It might be staged at BAM--on a necessarily larger scale--but it would cost a Fortune!
Someone wondered why the dance-mime wore a John Fitzgerald Kennedy Bobble-Head. My guess is that it was a clearance-sale left-over from a Party & Costume-shop. Nonetheless, it could have been a subliminal advance-notice for the next show at the Gärtnerplatz.
This new musical about Marilyn Monroe is tritely titled: Marilyn: das musical. And there certainly were rumors about her involvement with President Kennedy…
Marilyn will be a World Premiere, with music by Oliver Truan & David Klein, plus book & lyrics by Georg Büttel. This production--unlike Beben--is designed to travel, as it is a co-production with Marilyn Musical Produktions-GmbH.
Anna Montanaro is cast as Marilyn, Melissa King is choreographer, and Zwinki Jeannée has designed the costumes. Matthias Davids is directing. There's even a USA website: www.MarilynMonroe.com
Operetta has long been the mainstay of the Gärtnerplatz, so it was disappointing to have missed Carl Millocker's The Dubarry. But in the coming season, 2006-2007, operetta seems destined to take a metaphoric Back-seat, alas.
Your scribe arrived in Munich a day too late for Mme. Dubarry, as well as a matinée too late for the Theater der Jugend production of John Steinbeck's Von Mäuser und Menschen--better-known as Of Mice and Men--at the SchauBurg. Imagine: Mature Steinbeck for school-kids!
At the Post-Modernist Kammerspiele:
Schändet Eure Neoliberal Biographien
As with Gewähltes Profil at the Staatschauspiel's Residenz, so also at Munich's City-Theatre, the Kammerspiele: It was déjà vu all over again…
While serious Americans--concerned about the Constitution-Eroding policies of the Bush Administration--worry about the Neo-Cons and the havoc they have wrought, in Germany, apparently, the Enemy is the Neo-Liberal!
Program-notes--pages and pages of them--strive to make clear that René Pollesch, the creator of Schändet Eure Neoliberal Biographien, is not really focusing on the Neoliberal Biggies, but instead on those unfortunates in the Under-classes, who suffer globally from their policies of Globalisierung.
"Nein, wir reden hier nicht von den neoliberalen Biographien der jetsettenden Global-Player, von hochbewerteter Flexibilität und Mobilität. Sondern von deiner, du Nutte der gestärkten Eigenverantwortung!"
Well, that really says it all, doesn't it? If the only German word you knew was Scheisse, you would already have understood about a quarter of the various texts, in which Capitalism, Globalization, and other Political & Social Evils were denounced as Shit or Shitty. So much for Contemporary German Intellectualism…
Other words that easily passed the Language-Barrier were Guantanamo, Katrina, and New Orleans. In case anyone had missed the point, a sign labeled NEW ORLEANS was prominently displayed, as the cast of four played jazz on Air-Guitars or strummed long plastic water-bottles.
The déjà vu aspect of this "innovative" production was reminiscent of the early days at La MaMa, or those Happenings at the Judson Memorial Church down in Greenwich Village. But those innovative events happened almost forty years ago…
The audience was strewn around the Performance-Space, which was in turn strewn with Oriental-rugs, in the manner of Peter Brook's Carpet-Plays. This made it easy for spectators to depart, which some did after hearing & seeing enough Innovation.
Only an hour-and-fifteen-minutes--without intermission--the event seemed much longer.
It began with videos of the four players romping on some beds concealed behind hanging bed-sheets. They mugged into the video-camera, much in the manner of the amateurish Artiste-Videos now so popular at MoMA and the Whitney Museum. Two large screens showed the audience what was hidden from them.
They also spoke & ranted into a microphone to which they seemed to be administering Fellatio. The manner of communicating all of Pollesch's texts was to speak them rapidly, then suddenly shift into a loud & furious outburst of words, and shift back into "normal" speech.
This is often passes for Great Acting when traditional German actors play the Classics. Could this, then, have been a parody of Stadt-Theater acting?
When the four players finally appeared, they cavorted about the space, seating themselves on large foam dice, on which they occasionally bounced, while ranting their socio-political texts about the Shitty State of Society. A prompter, holding the manuscript of the performance-texts, was part of the acting-ensemble. And why not?
The two men put saddles on their dice: possibly a Cowboy reference? One was a Western-saddle, the other an English riding-saddle: Bush & Blair?
In the Fahrstuhl, on the way down after the performance, to two stocky, black-clad Germans, I noted that--for these performers and their director, at least--everything seemed to be Scheisse. Was this all about Bush?
"No. It's all about YOU!"
Oh… And I'm not even in favor of Globalization. Or Guantanamo.
Of Operas Unseen:
Rigoletto and Der fliegende Holländer--
Der fliegende Holländer
In keeping with the Jonas Intendancy Policy of Visual Relevance in staging the War-Horses of Grand Opera, the new productions of both Verdi's Rigoletto and Wagner's Flying Dutchman have excited comment and condemnation.
Having already caused--early in the current season--hilarity, incredulity, and outrage, the new vision of Rigoletto as an event from Planet of the Apes was discretely kept from view during most of the summer festival. So your scribe was only able to savor the program's production-photos.
Still, this looks like it could be a Pilot for a TV-series of Old Operas, served up as SciFi & Space-Age Adventures! Could this be the way to win Young Audiences away from the Internet and Grand Auto Theft video-games?
Der fliegende Holländer was programmed for the Festival, but it was sold-out, so your scribe had to be content, once again, with production-photos.
The Maritime scenes looked 19th Century Traditional, but Senta's Spinnnstube had been transformed into a trendy Health-Club, with all the village-women on stationary-bikes, slimming down as they sang.
There may have been other Updatings, but this is what can be inferred from the program-photos, not from actual performance.
Other productions in the Festival Schedule--but not on view during your scribe's all-to-brief a time in Munich--included: Norma, Moses und Aron, Alcina, Xerxes, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, Medusa, Elektra, La forza del destino, La Calisto, Falstaff, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Tannhäuser, Orphée et Eurydice, Fidelio, Ariodante, Don Carlo, and concluding--as always--with Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
As this is Mozart Jahr, the Salzburg Wunderkind was not neglected, but also not emphasized, as both Salzburg and Vienna have been celebrating his Genius for months now. Le nozze di Figaro and Die Entführung aus dem Serail were the Munich Offerings at the Shrine of Amadeus.
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2006. 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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