Friday, March 28, 2014

Weil alles so schlecht ist: Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny

Dancing in the storm: denial as utopia in Mahagonny
Photo © Lena Obst/Staatstheater Wiesbaden
On Thursday, I took myself to the Staatstheater Wiesbaden's current run of the Weill/Brecht Mahagonny. The house was far from full, which is a shame; the orchestra and singers gave  engaged performances in a smart, effective production by intendant Manfred Beilharz. The production supported the sly score and the quick succession of dramatic episodes. Use of space was generally good, although the apron on far side of the pit, whence newcomers to Mahagonny come and where some significant apostrophizing of the audience takes place, was invisible from most of the top balcony. Bernd Holzapfel's sets were minimalistic in the first half, allowing the broken-down car of the fugitives and, later, the green moon of Alabama to dominate the empty space where it is impossible to go forward, and the way of retreat is cut off. I liked the homage to the aesthetic of the early 30s in the art deco skyscrapers and the liner on which Jimmy seeks to leave. The glittering city of Mahagonny as it appears in the second half is dominated by a building which could be a stock exchange, a courthouse, a seat of government, or all three; its architecture is the neo-classicism favored by all expanding powers of the 20th century, and its motto is simply ¥€$. A central platform served as dining table, brothel, and boxing ring, and even as courtroom. Zsolt Hamar led the orchestra in possibly the best performance I've heard from them: lively, lascivious, insinuating, and attaining real gravitas and poignancy at crucial moments. There was dark humor in abundance, to be sure, but we were never allowed to pretend that this was not a devastatingly relevant parable, as powerful in the early 21st century as a cry of outrage and protest as it was as Cassandra-like prophecy in 1930.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday Special: Purcell's Funeral Music for Queen Mary

I'm not dead, Gentle Readers! I haven't even had a nasty cold. My dissertation research has, however, seriously compromised my opera-going schedule of late. I'm hoping to get a double helping of Mozart/Da Ponte before the month is out, catching the end of Frankfurt's Così fan tutte run, and the beginning of Mainz's Don Giovanni. For the last few weeks, though, I've been getting my musical fixes from choir rehearsals (with this neat choir,) where Heinrich Schütz's Matthäuspassion and Purcell's Funeral Music are reaching the pre-concert phase of introducing and playing around with exciting nuances. This is my first time singing Purcell, and I love it a lot; when it comes to choral music, few things make me happier than English polyphony and interesting alto lines. Here is a performance by the Ensemble La Fenice:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Nimm noch nicht Abschied: Daphne in Frankfurt

Apollo and Daphne. Photo © Oper Frankfurt/Barbara Aumüller
Last night, I got to see the first performance in this season's revival of Daphne in Frankfurt. The 2010 production by Claus Guth, who also supervised the revival, was of stunning beauty and poignancy, and a strong cast, led by the luminous Maria Bengtsson in the title role, gave moving performances. This was my first live Daphne, and one that helped me understand the opera as a coherent whole. Strauss's exquisite music is bound with an enigmatically layered libretto by Joseph Gregor, and haunted by the circumstances of its creation in 1937-38. Guth's production created an intimate narrative about Daphne's search for truth, and attempts to escape from violence, which managed (I thought) to suggest even the possibility of hope for society as well as the individual in the sublime conclusion. We see Daphne as an old woman (Corinna Schnabel) who visits the home of her youth, now in a state of abandonment and decay, and thus revisits the events of that youth (taking place around the time of the opera's creation.) The rooms of Peneios' and Gaea's household are the backdrop for the unfolding of a powerful drama which is as much allegory as myth, where Daphne attempts in solitude to avoid the violence of male society that Strauss and Gregor so frighteningly evoke. But she can get no closer to utopia than a world of paper birds and cut branches. One of the things which the production accomplishes with remarkable, redemptive success is showing that, while Apollo's and Leukippos' sexual aggression towards Daphne is reprehensible, deserving of the punishment which the god meets out to the youth and to himself, neither Apollo or Leukippos is always-already a rapist: the violence which Daphne so fears is a choice, not a disposition. This was a huge relief for me as audience member, and allows the scenes of emotional intimacy to be seen and heard as genuine, not coercive; Daphne's sense of betrayal by the god is genuine, not a belated realization of falsehood. The drama unfolds gradually, making its way despite all violence, despite all betrayal, to that transcendent finale.


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