Sie sind auf Seite 1von 149


Volume 17, Number 3


Marvin Carlson

Christopher Balme Miriam D’Aponte Marion P. Holt Glenn Loney Daniele Vianello

Contributing Editors Harry Carlson Maria M. Delgado Barry Daniels Yvonne Shafer Phyllis Zatlin

Editorial Staff

Jennifer Worth, Managing Editor

Robert Davis, Editorial Assistant

Fall 2005

Managing Editor Robert Davis, Editorial Assistant Fall 2005 Christoph Schlingensief. Photo: Bayreuth Festival Martin E.

Christoph Schlingensief. Photo: Bayreuth Festival

Martin E. Segal Theatre Center

Professor Daniel Gerould, Executive Director Jan Stenzel, Director of Administration Louise Lytle McKay, Circulation Manager

Professor Edwin Wilson, Chairman, Advisory Board Frank Hentschker, Director of Programs Kim Sandberg, Circulation Assistant

Martin E. Segal Theatre Center-Copyright 2005 ISSN # 1050-1991


To the Reader

Our annual Fall issue foregrounds, as usual, spring and summer theatre festivals throughout Western Europe, and this issue is our most extensive such report to date, with reports from the Berlin Theatertreffen, the Ruhr Triennale, and the festivals in Avignon, Bayreuth, Recklinhausen, Munich, Bregenz, Salzburg, and Edinburgh, as well as in Elx in Spain and in Cyprus. In addition to these reports we offer as usual reports on a wide selection of important recent work in Paris, London, Stratford, Barcelona, Madrid, and Berlin. also with a number of interviews. This is, in all, one of our largest and most extensive issues to date, and we are most grateful to both our regular and new contributors. The annual winter issue is usually devoted to a particular theme or country and we are happy to announce that this upcoming special issue will focus on the theatre in Portugal. In addition, we welcome, as always, interviews and reports on recent work of interest anywhere in Western Europe. Subscriptions and queries about possible contributions should be addressed to the Editor, Western European Stages, Theatre Program, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, or

Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Journals are available online from ProQuest Information and Learning as abstracts via the ProQuest information service and the International Index to the Performing Arts.

All Journals are indexed in the MLA International Bibliography and are mem- bers of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals.


Table of Contents

Volume 17

Number 3

Fall 2005

Festival Reports

The 2005 Berlin Theatertreffen




Kriegenberg’s Nibelungen at the 2005 Berlin Theatertreffen


Christian Lauenstein Led


2005 German Festivals: Bayreuth and Munich




The Recklinghusen Festival and the Ruhr Triennale





The 2005 Festivals in Bregenz and Salzburg




Avignon, 2005: Theatre or Something Else?




Avignon Off 2005: Reunion or Truce—Transition, maybe





The 2005 Edinburgh International Festival




Performance of Religious and Civic Devotion in Elx



M. Soleo


Aristophanes’ Peace in Cyprus




Other Reports

Paris Theatre, May-June 2005




The New Tartuffe at the Comédie Française




Sunny Response to Dany Laurent’s Storm Warning





Shakespeare and Others, London and Stratford




Deborah Warner’s Julius Caesar at the Barbican Centre





Barcelon via Madrid: Revisiting the Past and Prophesying the Future


M. Delgado


Madrid and Barcelona: May 2005




José Martin Recuerda: A Spanish Soul and a Granadian Spirit





The Threepenny Opera at the Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin




Interview with Maja Zade







Fritzi Haberlandt as Lulu in Michael Thalheimer’s production at Hamburg. Photo: Hans Jörg Michel 4

Fritzi Haberlandt as Lulu in Michael Thalheimer’s production at Hamburg. Photo: Hans Jörg Michel


The 2005 Berlin Theatertreffen

Marvin Carlson

The most prestigious theatre festival of the German-speaking world, the Berlin Theatertreffen, took place as usual in early May of this year and offered nine productions selected as the best of the preceeding year by a distinguished jury of critics and reviewers. A tenth selected production, Andrea Breth’s staging of Schiller’s Don Carlos from the Burgtheater in Vienna, was unhappily not able to travel to Berlin because its director could not find a Berlin stage which she thought adequate for this very large production. Two other productions, Stefan Puchner’s Othello from Hamburg, and Andreas Kriegenberg’s Die Nibelungen were pre- sented a week before the remainder of the festival offerings, so this reviewer was able to see and report on the seven that made up the major part of the fes- tival [see however Christian Led’s review of Die Nibelungen elsewhere in this issue]. The main body of the festival began May 12 with Lutz Hübner’s Hotel Paraiso, directed by Barbara Bürk. I was doubly interested in the direc- tor since she was a new name to me and one of the pleasures of the Theatertreffen almost every year is that it provides a major showing for one or more

emerging young directors. I was also pleased to see

a woman appearing in a field that for the past sever-

al years has been almost entirely male. With a back- ground in acting and film, as well as director train- ing in Hamburg with some of Germany’s leading contemporary directors, Bürk made her own direct- ing debut there in 1998 and has more recently worked in Hannover, where Hotel Paraiso was pre- miered. It is a mark of the comparative awareness of German and American theatre publics that the author of this play, Lutz Hübner, is totally unknown in the United States, even though he is currently the most performed author in Germany, while current American authors are familiar figures on the German stage. Indeed, Bürk’s previous production in Hannover was a work of Neil LaBute. I wish I could complain of this imbalance, but unfortunately, judging from this work, we have not missed a great deal by our unfamiliarity with

Hübner. Hotel Paraiso combines the clichés of countless dysfunctional family dramas with, as its name suggests, those of the countless “hotel” plays of the 1930s and 1940s. The combination may seem

a bit odd, but it is hardly original. I was reminded,

seem a bit odd, but it is hardly original. I was reminded, At right, Sonja Beißwenger

At right, Sonja Beißwenger as Katharina in Lutz Hübner’s Hotel Paraiso. Photo: Matthias Horn


for example, of Horváth’s Hotel Bellevue, a vastly richer play which has recently received several important revivals [see WES 16 The (naturally) ironically named Hotel Paraiso is located on Portugal’s southern coast, and its entire clientele (conveniently, in dramatic terms) apparently numbers only five. The three at the cen- ter are the troubled Neuwirth family, Verena, Günther, and their eighteen-year-old daughter Katharina. Katharina, a seriously disturbed adoles- cent, is the play’s key figure, and actress Sonja Beißwenger’s creation of her is the richest and most praiseworthy aspect of the production. Thin, gang- ly, desperate for affection, her blond hair suggesting a fright wig in its wild framing of her bespectacled, sallow features, her arms marked with clear traces of self-mutilation, she is close to a parody of ado- lescent angst. Although Beißwenger comes per- ilously close to that parody, she manages for the most part to avoid it, delivering a performance of heart-breaking intensity, centered in her three strong monologues, the last delivered by her mud-covered corpse after she drowns herself in the sea. Unhappily, parody, even caricature, is much less avoided by the other characters, who seem for the most part imported from the world of TV sitcoms and soap operas. Katherina’s father Günther is, or thinks he is, a brilliant architect whose genius has gone unrecognized and who, in mid-life, has turned into a bitter, withdrawn, emo- tional shell. Wolf List convincingly portrays this unattractive figure, but his passivity is not particu- larly dramatic until the moment, late in the play, when he lashes out at his wife and daughter for their inability to cope in any positive way with his own failure as a husband and father. Sadly, List is most sympathetic not as a live actor, but in a film sequence accompanying his dead daughter’s final soliloquy, when we see him as she must have seen him at home, drunken, naked, and full of self- loathing at his personal and professional failure. Matina Struppels as Günther’s pathetic wife Verena is no less a cliché, but a dramatically far more interesting one, since her constant twittering attempts to bring a note of happiness and pleasure into this unpromising situation give her a somewhat manic energy and interest. Her occasional bursting into tears in the midst of this forced jollity is effec- tive at first, but finally, like the jollity itself, becomes predictable and rather wearing. The other three characters, essentially foils for these three, are even less fully developed. The

best is a jaded ex-casting director, Dana Golovka, played by Susanne Jansen, who has come to this seaside resort in search of romance and a new life. The banality of this quest is clearly seen in her choice of a goal, an empty-headed young surfer, Jost Schuhmann, played, as the role demands, with much energy and no depth whatsoever, by Christian Ermann. Predictably, Jost also becomes the object of the desire of poor Katherina, and just as pre- dictably, he cruelly rejects her, adding to her sense of worthlessness. The cast is completed by the understanding, ubiquitous, and serviceable hotelier Pedro, played by Edgar Leston. Despite the strong performance of the cen- tral actress, I found it quite surprising that so con- ventional a work should appear in the usually rather radical Theatertreffen, an opinion shared by the Berlin press and, apparently, by the audience of the opening night which I attended. The house opened only a few minutes before the announced curtain time, apparently because actress Jansen was discov- ered in half light on stage engaged in an energetic dance to Salsa music which she continued (for some

12 to 15 minutes) until the audience was seated and

the play proper began. This dance inspired one of the two most generous outbursts of applause during

the evening. The other occurred about half-way

through the production, when a crowd of some 15 to

20 performers in Portuguese folk costumes flooded

onto the stage to perform traditional dances for the only guest then present, the morose Günther. I was reminded of the famous midsummer dance sequence in Miss Julie, except that in Strindberg the dance has both clear symbolic significance and moreover covers the offstage sexual encounter of Julie and Jean. Here nothing of the sort is involved offstage, and the sequence serves only as a kind of pseudo-intermission in the intermission-less two- hour production. Its color and spectacle did howev- er produce generous applause from the audience, the second and last of the evening. At the actual conclusion of the play, on the other hand, applause was sparse and half-hearted, with audience mem- bers already making for the exits. I have seen shocking and controversial staging enthusiastically booed in Germany, which can be considered a sort of badge of honor by an iconoclastic director, but it was difficult to see anything positive in this subdued and indifferent response.

Jürgen Gosch’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which I saw the following evening at the Deutsches Theater, where it was created, was a dis-


tinctly more satisfactory evening, though at least by German standards, not a great deal more innovative. In recent German theatre, generally speaking, the Deutsches and the Volksbühne represent Berlin’s outstanding examples of two quite different per- formance approaches. The Volksbühne is associat- ed with much more radical, and usually political, reinterpretations; some call them “deconstructions” of texts by Frank Castorf and the directors he sup- ports. The Deutsches is by German standards more conventional, but in the eyes of many, it represents the most accomplished work in the capital. In rep- utation, if not in official title, it is the German national theatre.

knew at once I was in a German theatre when I saw an abstract, open, rather Brechtian performance space instead of the inevitable cluttered setting of

detailed realism that is invariably used for this play

in America (as in the recent Broadway revival). The

enormous stage of the Deutsches was open to the back wall, and painted white with a single dark door at its base. This door was used only twice, for the first entrance of George and Martha and for their final exit. Otherwise, the front door to the house was assumed to be off stage left through the open

stage box and the rest of the house attained through the box on the opposite side of the stage. Downstage

a large cubic space, like a large square room, was

Downstage a large cubic space, like a large square room, was Wer hat Angst vor Virginia

Wer hat Angst vor Virginia Woolf? Photo: Iko Freese

Jürgen Gosch may be considered a good example of a current director at the Deutsches. He is now among the older generation of leading direc- tors, having made his debut at Potsdam in the late 1960s, when Peter Stein and Peter Zadek were establishing their reputations. After 1978 Gosch worked entirely in the West, primarily as an inde- pendent director, but during most of the 1990s, he was at the Deutsches under the leadership of Thomas Langhoff. His greatest recognition has come in the later part of his career, with his produc- tion of Gorki’s Summerfolk gaining him the title of Director of the year in 2004 from Theater Heute and an invitation to that year’s Theatertreffen, followed by his second invitation this year for his Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Given the background of Gosch and the venue of the production, one would hardly expect the sort of radical reworking of this modern American classic that for example Castorf has done with recent productions of Williams and Miller. On the other hand, by American standards, Gosch’s pro- duction is highly unconventional. Upon entering, I

marked off by white ropes. Within it was a rectan- gular folding table of the sort found in offices and rehearsal rooms around the world, carrying a collec- tion of liquor bottles. Four simple black plastic chairs were stacked in a corner. To add to the impression of a Brechtian boxing match, the house lights remained up for the entire performance. This stark setting was the work of designer Johannes Schütz.

The overall impression was more of a box- ing arena than of a living room, and the production indeed seemed to pit George and Martha against each other in a kind of Strindbergian fight to the death. The leading actors, Corinna Harfouch and Ulrich Matthes, are among the most honored per- formers on the German stage, and their stunning teamwork is clearly rooted in previous work togeth- er (most recently in last year’s major film Der Untergang, in which they played Magda and Joseph Goebbles). These roles are very different but equal- ly powerful and demanding, with Harfouch as a frantic and desperate trapped creature, a kind of contemporary Hedda Gabler, and Matthes as a hol-


low man, all hope and dreams gone, but still able to play the exhausting and dangerous games that seem to provide the only connection between these two tragic partners. Alexander Khoun provided a rough-hewn, rather easy-going Nick, the only member of the party who seemed to be making any effort to con- fine the ongoing conflict, and Katharina Schmalenberg was the most effective Honey I have seen, with a nervous hysteria that often made her a violent if unspeaking participant in the ongoing action. The evening properly belonged to the two leading actors, who made it a brilliant tour de force. The hand of the director could occasionally be seen in particular pieces of business and most particular- ly in the overall stage arrangement, but even these were clearly designed to provide performance room for the actors. The first act is primarily played around the table, which is put up on two chairs per- pendicular to the footlights during the middle part of the play, creating a kind of bar dividing the stage and often providing a kind of barrier for the actors to speak and fight across. For the final “game,” the table is removed and George places the four chairs across the space facing the audience, like the seating of participants in a game show. Most of the final sequence is played here. In the simplicity of the set- ting, the subtlety of the directing, and the emotional power and depth of the leading actor and actress, I was reminded of another recent major production at the Theatertreffen, the 2001 Rosmersholm, directed by Peter Zadek and starring Gert Voss and Angela Winkler.

The intermission-less Who’s Afraid (there were two blackouts) ran only two hours and ten minutes; clearly there was a certain amount of cut- ting, primarily of the more poetic passages, such as the discussion of the moon in the Mediterranean (although of course all the background stories, of the mouse, the “bergin”—here “wiksey”— the auto accident, and so on are retained). The most serious change is in the ending. George’s Latin exorcism is cut and George and Martha do not remain on stage. They depart as they entered, through the otherwise unused door in the rear wall. I was not even certain of the closing lines (or of the opening ones) since they were so far away as to be scarcely heard. The impression however was of departing fighters leav- ing the ring, perhaps forever, but also perhaps to return somehow for another contest. Michael Thalheimer is one of the major new directors to appear in the last decade, with pro-

ductions in the Theatertreffen almost every year since 2000, and a host of major German prizes for his work. He will be introduced to American audi- ences during the BAM New Wave Festival of 2005 with one of his most powerful works, the dazzling Emilia Galotti of 2002. In this and his other recent works, Thalheimer is particularly known for his ability to reduce the lengthy and complex dramatic works to their emotional core, emphasized by such radical devices as extremely rapid delivery, non- realistic, often geometric placement of characters on stage, striking tableaux, and intense music (most notably in the continuous Tango that drives his Emelia Galotti). Most of these distinctive features may be seen in his production selected for this year’s Theatertreffen, Wedekind’s Lulu, from the Hamburg theatre. Its sprawling, three-part structure was reduced to a powerful and almost unrelenting hour and fifty-five minutes without intermission. The setting by Olaf Altmann is even simpler than Schütz’s for Virginia Woolf, an empty stage with a large blank white screen at the rear. The striking opening image somewhat suggests that of Emilia Galotti, where the heroine comes forward alone from an upstage center door amid a shower of fire- works. Here the thin, vulnerable Lulu (Fritzi Haberlandt), in a simple red dress, stands up center against the white screen, with powerful downstage lights giving her reinforcing shadows. Facing us, arms held slightly from her sides with her palms turned outward, she offers herself to our gaze both as actress and object of sexual desire. This pose, held for several moments, began the production with a memorable visual image. The rather abstract positioning of the actors and their full frontal, rapid delivery of lines instead of normal dramatic confrontation, both familiar parts of the Thalheimer style, are much in evidence, especially in the opening scenes. This gives particular intensity to the sexual encounters, which are almost the only sequences in which char- acters come into close contact. Although Lulu’s simple dress is usually pushed up for these scenes, her white panties are never removed, while the var- ious men who seek to enjoy her almost invariably strip down completely for the encounter. The strip- ping sometimes occurs even without the encounter, much to the amusement of the audience, who soon recognize the recurring sequence. Repeated ges- tures, poses, and physical sequences give this, like other Thalheimer productions, a kind of physical


score. Lulu’s opening pose is often repeated, along with other distinctive gestures and positioning of bodies. When her first victim, Dr. Goll (Christoph Bantzer) dies, apparently of shock in seeing her sex- ual abandon, he simply sits on the floor frozen, star- ing straight ahead, and this odd death pose is subse- quently repeated by other victims of Lulu, no matter what their actual method of departure, from shoot- ing to cutting of the throat. About half way through the performance, one suddenly notices that the playing area is gradu- ally growing shallower as the white screen at the back moves slowly and imperceptibly forward. Lulu’s world becomes more and more flattened and constrained as she becomes more trapped within it. The final encounter with Jack (Michael Benthin) takes place in a long narrow space with the screen almost at the footlights. Jack pushes Lulu up against the screen, his back to the audience, in what appears to be a sexual act, until splashes of blood appear beside her on the screen. Her arms drop down, palms outward, for the final time. The screen, which has not been used up until this moment as a projection surface, is suddenly covered with a swirling mass of colors. As it moves slowly back to its original position, the colors are revealed to be a close-up of an eye, then, as the screen moves back the view of the image moves back also and we see the eye as a part of a face, and then the head of Lulu, looking out at us. The cast is a strong one, and the direction powerful, but the evening belongs to Haberlant, who creates a memorable Lulu, hard as steel and fragile as spun glass, in whom demon and victim are inextricably mixed [see review by Erik Abbott in WES 17.2, 75-76]. Stefan Pucher, like Michael Thalheimer, began directing in the mid 1990s and has become a popular choice with the Theatertreffen judges, with productions invited in each of the past three years and with the unusual honor of two invited produc- tions this year, Othello and Homo Faber, both from the Zurich Schauspielhaus, with which he has been associated since 2000. Homo Faber is a stage adap- tation of a modern classic of Swiss literature, Max Frisch’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, which appeared in 1957. Pucher is perhaps most associated with productions mixing live action, film, and video. This is certainly a central feature of both his 2005 Theatertreffen productions, but Homo Faber involves not only some of the most extensive use Pucher has made of such means, but also uses them to build up the aura of a particular

historical period: the 1950s, when the book appeared. The novel tells of an architect in his 50s, terminally ill with cancer, looking back over his life and attempting to come to terms with his mortality. Pucher discards the chronology of the text and pres- ents its material in a kind of review format, with many quotations from 1950s culture. The evening begins with four different figures representing Frisch/Faber (Ludwig Boetigger, Daniel Friedrich, Jürg Kienberger, Siggi Schwientek), all with the tweeds, glasses, pipes, and unkempt hair of the cliché academic/novelist, seated around a table with microphones and water in the manner of a TV talk- show. There is a particular parodic reference to one of the great cultural manifestations of the last gen- eration in Germany, the “Literary Quartets” headed by Marel Reinch-Ranicki, which advised mass audi- ences about the current literary scene. As they coolly analyze the Faber text and psyche, they are joined by figures from his less intellectual side, his American “friend” in a bright red playboy costume (Katja Kolm) and his old love Hannah (Olivia Grigolli) as a more discreet, but equally ironic observer. These roles, along with a variety of other female roles are played by these with the help of Julika Jenkins. They most often appear as a trio with echoes of groups like the Andrews Sisters (now enjoying a revival of interest in Berlin), providing musical interludes of popular music from the 1950s, with particular attention to the Beatles, whose frequent themes of aging, mor- tality, and nostalgia are particularly well suited to this production. The first act ends with “Your Mother Should Know” from Magical Mystery Tour and the second with the chorus from “Cry Baby Cry.”

Danel Hertil and Marc Stephan are respon- sible for the video of the production, which includes 1950s film clips and advertising appearing on a large TV screen above the heads of the Literary Quartet, full stage projections on the lowered fire screen, and, most strikingly, a low angle live video projection of the last Faber clone, Robert Hunger- Bühler. After the rapid-fire review approach of the first part of the evening, a single extended mono- logue by this final Faber, sitting down center, takes up almost the entire section after the intermission. By contrast, this final confrontation with his own mortality is very effective. The video image looks up at Faber and is also projected behind him on the lowered backdrop that forms the rear of the shallow stage. As the evening draws toward a close, Faber


Robert Hunger-Bühler, both live and projected, in Homo Faber, directed by Stefan Pucher. Photo: Leonard

Robert Hunger-Bühler, both live and projected, in Homo Faber, directed by Stefan Pucher. Photo: Leonard Zubler

departs on his last flight, represented by a film sequence of his fantasy ride in a 1950s Boeing air- liner. The film freezes and the screen rises to reveal the female trio gathered for their last number around an upstage piano. “This is your last call” they repeatedly warn the hesitant Faber, who at last joins them for a final glass of wine as they sing their final song, the chorus from the Beatles’ “Cry Baby Cry” which provides a proper coda for the evening: “Can you take me back where I came from.” Christoph Schlingensief is unquestionably the best-known “Theater-Provokateur” in Germany today, no small accomplishment in a culture where young directors for decades have used provocation as one of the most likely ways to attract critical attention. The culmination of his career to date was his 2004 production of Parsifal at Bayreuth, which to almost no one’s surprise, proved much beyond the tolerance of even the festival-goers eager to see new approaches to the master’s work. It is perhaps not a surprise that Schlingensief’s next creation, for his usual home theatre, the Berlin Volksbühne, should be in large part a response to that experience, indeed the Frankfurt critic Nikolaus Merck called it “a satyr play for Parsifal.” What is more surprising is that for all its wild mixing of elements and Hellzapoppin exuberance, Kunst und Gemüse, A.

Hipler is in fact one of Schlingensief’s least provocative pieces, in large part a kindly, even affectionate look backward at the twentieth-century avant-garde, and even at Wagner himself. From this aspect it is perhaps worth noting that Schlingensief does not claim to be either the author or the director of this work, unlike most of his previous creations, where he served in both capacities. On the contrary, this is announced as “A Christoph Schlingensief Production.” No author is listed, and the director is listed as Hosea Dzingirai. A. Hipler seems to be an imaginary name (though possibly an evocation of Adolph Hitler, whose swastika appears from time to time and whose look- alike leads a gang of Nazi goons to wreck a [Jewish?] vegetable [Gemüse] store with the rather odd name “Kunst und Gemüse” during the project- ed video film that opens the production). A Hipler may also suggest R. Mutt, the famous imaginary creator whose name is signed to Duchamps’ famous “ready-made” urinal, that artis- tic tradition being clearly central to the aesthetic of this production. Finally, “A. Hipler” appears on the identification card placed on the table of the “direc- tor” facing the stage in the first row of the audience, so that the listed director, Dzingirai, seems to be sit- ting in the seat of or playing the role of the mysteri-


ous Hipler. As will perhaps already be clear, this pro- duction is awash with multiple cultural references,

shifting realities, parodies, and reflexivity, rather like a theatrical Finnegans Wake, with Richard Wagner as HCE. This means that every viewer is going to put together the inundation of references in

a different way; however, several major axis of

organization can be described. At the most basic level, we are watching what seems to be a chaotic, highy disorganized rehearsal of a production direct- ed by Dzingirai/Hipler, a casually dressed black man who sits mostly at his director’s table flanked on either side by his two assistants, tall, thin, hand- some black women in slinky red dresses with imposing Afro hair styles. Regularly throughout the evening Dzingirai leaps up onto the stage to adjust blocking, give an actor a prop, show him how to use

it, or pull actors on or off stage. He seems to have

a clear idea of what he is doing, but the actors have minds of their own and his efforts usually only add

to the total confusion. In addition he speaks only

English, in a rather heavy American accent (pro- nouncing “Wagner,” for example, with a W and not a V sound). From time to time he uses an onstage microphone to provide not very helpful orientation

to the ongoing action such as “And now we go to an

airplane first class cabin with the Bach family on their way to Kabul,” with no suggestion of how this sequence fits with anything else. His two assistants also mount the stage from time to time to adjust fur- niture, take photographs of the actors, and at one point, about two-thirds through the evening, rehearse the curtain calls. Obviously Schlingensief’s Parsifal scan- dal at Bayreuth was the grounding experience of this production, which was first entitled a “Volks- Parsifal,” but Parsifal and even Bayreuth are much less sources of reference in the production than Wagner in general, and even more, the twentieth- century avant garde with its Ready-Mades, its col- lages and assemblages, its happenings and its found and chance art. The proposed second title for the piece was “Die Fick Collection,” an obscene pun on one of Europe’s major collections of such art, the Flick Collection, a number of whose holdings are quoted, either visually or by title, in Kunst und Gemüse. Of all the modern artists cited, the most central to the production is Arnold Schönberg, whose first twelve-tone opera, Von heute auf mor- gen, is one of the central structuring devices of the evening, doubtless in remembrance of Adorno’s

famous observation that Schönberg had put an end

to Wagner. One section of the stage is fitted up as a

bit of a bourgeois living room, with a piano and above it a family portrait of the Wagners which pro- vides a repeated visual motif for the evening. This living room serves primarily as the setting for sec- tions of the Schönberg opera which are presented during the evening, beautifully played by a trio of musicians and sung by two unidentified actors, one of whom I strongly believe was Corinna Harfouch. This fairly straightforward presentation was, how- ever, continually overlaid by the comings and goings of stagehands, director, and other actors, as well as being doubled by a simultaneous video of two other actors apparently presenting the same

scene without singing. The twelve actors listed in the program (a variety of others appear unacknowl- edged) first introduce themselves as notes in Schönberg’s famous twelve-tone system, with an extra thirteenth, a rotund, genial white-headed old fellow who introduces himself as W. and who appears during the evening as Wagner, Bach, and various combinations of the two. Another major organizing element of the evening’s elaborate structure, and unquestionably the most emotionally involving, involves the theme of theatre (and art) in its relation to sickness and death. At the beginning and end of the production a recorded male voice repeats a mysterious message consisting of seven gnomic sentences concerning art, sickness, theatre, movement, and expiration.

The first of these is “Theater als krankheit,” literal- ly “Theatre as sickness,” but in German the capital letters ALS stand for the degenerative nerve disor- der Amyotrophe Lateralsklrose, which gradually robs of body of all muscular activity and leads to death. One of the artists whose voice is heard in the performance, Jörg Immendorf, died of ALS, but more centrally, a living ALS patient, Angela Jansen,

is placed literally and figuratively at the center of

this production, in an elevated bed in the center of the house facing the stage with a nurse in constant

attedance. Jansen can only move her eyes, but with

the help of a computer screen with an alphabet on it, she can by focusing her eyes on individual letters spell out messages, and so in this way she provides

a running commentary on her disease and on the

performance. “I lack nothing,” she spells out at one point. “I simply cannot move.” Her spirit deprives

her appearance of anything exploitative: “Thanks,” she spells out during the applause, “You were super.” Her presence however, adds new levels of


complexity to this already almost overwhelming meditation on reality and illusion, stability and change, tradition and innovation, and ultimately, art, sickness, and death. In the midst of what I had up to this point found a not particularly outstanding Theatertreffen this production at least for me expanded the boundaries of theatre in the way that the most memorable Theatertreffen productions of the past have done. The production the following evening could hardly have offered a greater contrast, as min- imal and underplayed as Kunst und Gemüse was excessive and even overwhelming. Element- arteilchen (Elementary Particles), based on the work by Michel Houellebecq, came to the Theatertreffen with some of the highest expecta- tions. Its director John Simons was, during most of the 1990s, the leader, along with Paul Koek, of one of the Netherlands’s most praised theatre compa- nies, Theatergroep Hollandia. After the closing of that company in 2001 he developed several projects for the Ruhr Triennale, and most recently he has worked in Zurich with Christoph Marthaler. This production was in fact the last of the Marthaler administration there. In the opinion of many, it was the end of an all too brief Golden Age in the modern

Swiss theatre. In the future, Simons will apparently return, along with a number of other artists that gathered around Marthaler in Zurich, to Marthaler’s old home, the Berlin Volksbühne. The reputation of Simons and this produc- tion’s role as the Swansong of the Marthaler Zurich years were noted in all the reviews and may to some extent have colored the strong positive reactions the production received. To my non-German eyes, the minimalist style, with most of the actors scarcely moving throughout the evening and their understat- ed delivery, largely in subdued voices, requiring the use of microphones on all the actors, did not add up to a very exciting evening of theatre. Granted, Houellebecq’s work deals with a dystopic future, in which cloning has replaced sex and emotion is largely forgotten, and Simons doubtless wanted to set his adaptation apart from earlier, much more spectacular, and not particularly successful adapta- tions of the same work by Frank Castorf in Berlin and Albrecht Hirche in Basel. It must be admitted that the actors, held to an expressive minimum, managed to make the touch of a hand or the sudden turn of a head enormously powerful. Even so, the single most extreme physical sequence of the evening is also its most memorable, and draws the

of the evening is also its most memorable, and draws the Schlingensief’s Kunst und Gemüse, A.

Schlingensief’s Kunst und Gemüse, A. Hipler. Photo: David Baltzer


evening’s only spontaneous applause. Janine (Chris Nietvelt), standing between the half-brothers who form the central contrast of the production, the rela- tively sensual Bruno (André Jung) and the coldly scientific Michl (Robert Hunger-Bühler) reacts to the single song played during the production, a recording of “Ruby Tuesday” by frantically throw- ing her head back and forth, whipping it against the faces of the unmoved and unmoving men and final- ly collapsing, physically drained, to the floor. The production was also not well served, in my opinion, by its highly unconventional design, the work of Jens Kilian. The actual stage was filled with bleachers, in the center front of which sat the actors when they were not on the stage. The stage proper consisted entirely of a large square area con- taining no physical objects whose rolling surface was an enlarged version of the sort of corrugated tin roofs that one sees widely employed in undeveloped countries. This extended out over the first 10-12 rows of seats and the rest of the audience sat in the uncovered seats and in the balcony, so that the action was suspended between two audiences. The actors rarely addressed each other directly, in keep- ing with the generally distanced style, but instead gave lines first to one audience then to the other. The microphones assured that little sound was lost, but the effect soon became rather wearing. Much more troubling was the corrugated floor. Some reviews remarked that this ingeniously suggested the instability of the character’s universe, but I found it all too clear that whenever the actors were moving about (not too often), their attention, espe- cially of the women in heels, was primarily on where they were placing their feet, so as to avoid a nasty spill. The five strong actors (the other two were the female balance to the brothers, Yvon Jansen as Annabelle and Sylvana Krappatsch as Christiane) deserve the highest praise for their accomplishment under these extremely difficult conditions. The final production of this year’s festival was Paul Claudel’s Break of Noon (Mittagswende) from the Munich Kammerspiele, directed by Jossi Wieler, who has been twice before at the Theatertreffen, with Kleist’s Amphitryon in 1985 and Jelinek’s Wolken.Heim in 1994. Although Wieler has directed many contemporary German works as well as classics and operas, Claudel is an unusual choice, not only for him, but for the German stage in general, which rarely presents the work of this early twentieth century French writer.

The reasons are not difficult to seek. The heavy reli- gious overtones of the work often overshadow both plot and character, and the women in particular suf- fer. While they can be sensitively drawn, they tend toward the symbolic or allegorical, serving, like Beatrice, to bring Claudel’s tormented male figures to God. This is certainly the case with Break of Noon, in which the character Ysé serves as the pivot around which the three men revolve, her banal hus- band De Ciz, the animalistic, almost satyrish Amalric, and the enigmatic, spiritually oriented Chinese Mesa, but she remains the unmoved mover, an enigmatic figure of fleshly and spiritual desire. Another problem is that of language, since the high- ly delicate, nuanced poetic style of Claudel is for most French audiences the most attractive thing about Claudel’s plays, which on the whole do not offer the more standard dramatic attractions of engaging plots or complex characters. Jossi Wieler and his dramaturg Tilman Raabke are clearly aware of these problems and have addressed them with mixed success. The lan- guage choice was to employ a rather abstract rhetor- ical German which most critics found stilted and artificial. As for the religiosity, Wieler attempted to diminish this by returning to an early, 1905 version of the play which contained much more specifically autobiographical elements later purged by Claudel in an attempt to make the work more universal and allegorical. This allowed the four characters to move a bit more away from the rather abstract fig- ures of the official version, but a certain allegorical atmosphere remains, especially in the most openly religious figure, the rather inscrutable Oriental Mesa, played by Stelphan Bissmeier. Nina Kuzendorf as the pivotal Ysé managed to suggest elements of such classic seductress/saviors as Lulu and Gretchen, but more by relying upon stage mem- ories than by opportunities offered to her by the text. Jochen Noch presented the thankless role of the bland De Ciz with as much honesty and conviction as he could, leaving dramatic energy to be provided largely by the animalistic Amalric of Hans Kremer, who brings a nicely repressed dynamism to the first act and a furious intensity to the last. The first act is the most successful, when director Wieler takes full advantage of the repressed emotions, physical and spiritual, of the drama to create a pattern among the characters where each glance, each touch, and especially, each gesture that tends toward a touch but does not quite complete it, is charged with tension. This intricate gestural bal-


Mittagswende from the Munich Kammerspiele, directed by Jossi Wieler. Photo: Andreas Pohlmann let, which indeed

Mittagswende from the Munich Kammerspiele, directed by Jossi Wieler. Photo: Andreas Pohlmann

let, which indeed constantly suggests an elaborate choreography, is made more complex by the fact that the action takes place on a ship crossing the Indian Ocean on its way to China, and the move- ment of the characters constantly suggests the liter- al and emotional instability of the ground upon which they move. Rarely can they remain long in center stage, but must constantly touch or lean against the side walls for support. As the act pro- ceeds, the cumulative visual impact of this move- ment is stunning, and is one of the most memorable features of the production. The effect of this first act is greatly enhanced by the evocative setting of Anja Rabes (who also designed the simple but effective cos- tumes). Instead of the ship’s bridge stipulated by Claudel, we are in a very large and dazzlingly white (walls, floor and ceiling) room below the main deck, totally devoid of furnishings. At the rear, a large rectangular opening gives a view of a pale blue sea.

The rocking of the boat is not reflected on this unmoving image, but is suggested entirely by the unstable movements of the four actors. This same basic setting is used for the other two acts, with rather less success, although its contrasting use in the final act is very effective. Instead of the “vast first floor room surrounded by large verandas” called for by Claudel, Wieler and Rabes place Ysé and Almaric, now living together, in a very contem- porary urban slum dwelling, littered with detritus and a shabby mattress, and most strikingly, with the pristine view of the sea at the rear now a useless window totally filled with urban trash. The settings and the general acting style thus provide a powerful support for the rather abstract and symbolic nature of the text itself. It is very difficult to become emo- tionally engaged with this production, but one can hardly avoid being impressed by its technical achievement.


Kriegenburg’s Nibelungen at the 2005 Berlin Theatertreffen

Jens Christian Lauenstein Led

Born in 1963 in the former GDR, Andreas Kriegenburg worked as a cabinetmaker at the the- atre in Magdeburg, where he developed an interest in theatre and became an autodidact director. Today he is no newcomer at the Theatertreffen: in 1991 his production of Woyzeck at the Volksbühne in Berlin was the only former-GDR production selected for the Theatertreffen that year, Kriegenburg was invit- ed again in 1998 (Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People) and in 2003 (Aeschylus’ Orestia). Since 2001 Kriegenburg has been working freelance at the Thalia Theater in Hamburg, Schauspielhaus Zurich and the Kammerspiele in Munich, among others. When Die Nibelungen was selected in 2005, the per- formance opened the Theatertreffen at the Volksbühne, and thus Kriegenburg temporarily returned to his starting point. Kriegenburg is known to be a great fan of Buster Keaton, and his theatre relies much on comic, physically exhausting jokes and buffoonery mixed with large scale, pathos-driven theatrical tragedy. In the case of Die Nibelungen, the tragedy is taken from the ancient German myth of Siegfried and Brunhild, as Christian Friedrich Hebbel adapted it from the medieval Das Nibelungen Lied in 1863. Die Nibelungen is a full scale, three-act tragedy, telling the story of King Gunther, who uses the

invulnerable hero Siegfried to win the beautiful Valkyrie, Brunhild. As a reward Siegfried gets to marry Gunther’s sister, Kriemhild, but on the double wedding night Gunther is unable to fulfill his duties as husband, and talks Siegfried into helping him out. Unfortunately, the two women find out, and in a long, unfortunate rage of revenge, Kriemhild man- ages to get Siegfried, Brunhild, Gunther, and sever- al others killed. Kriegenburg stages this primeval German material with a mixture of comic irony and highly theatrical tragedy. The performance lasts six hours, including two breaks, and it uses a variety of acting styles and means of theatrical expression. In the opening scene, the stage is covered by huge pieces of white linen left, right and top. Five male actors dressed in suits enter the stage, and as a chorus they loudly recite the line: “All German men get up! Now is not the time for weakness!” whereupon they all immediately drop to the floor as if they lost all their strength at once. They slowly get up again, mumbling things like: “Oh my, it’ll be tough get- ting through this night, but we’ll make it” and “It’s this damn Volksbühne! An impossible theater…”. Back on their feet the men try the nationalistic line again, but only to fall to the floor once more. In an opening like this, Kriegenburg clearly distances the

In an opening like this, Kriegenburg clearly distances the Gunther and his men meeting the fifteen

Gunther and his men meeting the fifteen Siegfrieds. Photo: Andreas Pohlmann


performance from the nationalistic elements of the text—a theme which reoccurs throughout the per- formance. As the first act progresses, we learn that the men in suits are Gunther (played by the hilarious Bernd Grawert) and his men. Soon the hero Siegfried arrives in form of fifteen male actors all wearing dark blue trousers, yellow wigs (as a exag- geration and parody of the typical Aryan Über- Mensch) and white undershirts with “Siegfried” written on the chest. They recite all of Siegfried’s lines as a choir, or more accurately as fifteen actors playing one and the same character at the same time. The fifteen Siegfrieds shout and scream into the audience, resembling a frantic crowd of fanatic sports fans—just as they resemble angry Nazis. The device of using fifteen Siegfrieds is a very efficient way of showing the invulnerability and superiority of the hero and in the context of the German myth of the play. Siegfried’s magnitude is as comic as it is frightening. In the second act, the linen is removed, revealing the actual stage design, resembling the inside of a castle with large stone walls left, right, and at the back. At the top of the stage, a huge plat- form is hanging by a large number of steel wires so that the platform can be lifted and tilted, thus func- tioning as a ceiling and providing an alternative stage area. The platform is lowered, and on top of it Brunhild (played by Julia Jentsch, who was just as convincing as she was as Electra in Kriegenburg’s Orestia) appears. She talks with her nanny, and they communicate in a strange mix of medieval and modern German, French, English, and what seams to be pure gibberish, thus pointing to the fact that Brunhild as a Valkyrie is a completely different being from Gunther and his sister Kreimhild (Wiebke Puls). The ceiling is lifted, and we return to the castle, where Siegfried (now in the form of only one actor, Oliver Malison, dressed in the same Siegfried-outfit) has used his powers to win Brunhild for Gunther. Overly happy about his con- quest, Gunther enters the stage with his bride, Brunhild, wrapped together in a ball with black tape. Gunther pushes her around on stage shouting to his mother (Hildegard Schmahl): “Look, mother! Isn’t it a wonderful bride that I have got myself! Look at her beautiful long, black hair! Isn’t she just great?” Again a moment of pathos is mixed with the comic.

Shortly after the double wedding, Brunhild finds out that it was Siegfried who took her virgini-

ty, and as revenge, she gets Siegfried killed. Long

ago Siegfried was immersed in snake blood, which made him invulnerable, but unfortunately a leaf

dropped from a tree and landed on his back and left

a soft spot. In Kriegenburg’s performance,

Siegfried is standing with his back against the wall

on the right, kissing and embracing Kriemhild. She

feels a slight pain in her chest, looks down and dis- covers that her chest is covered with blood. As Siegfried takes a step forward, it turns out that Brunhild was only scratched by the point of a long spear, which has penetrated Siegfried from behind. He dies, and Kriemhild swears revenge. For the remaining half of the performance, the mood shifts from the comic to the tragic as

Kriemhild’s very bloody revenge progresses. Particularly in the last third of the performance, Kriegenburg uses long monologues and a more con- ventional style of acting than in the first part. However, there are a few surprising devices: Shortly before the second break of the evening, the actor René Dumont, who plays the insignificant role of Gunther’s brother Gerenot, walks up to the front of

the stage, and starts talking to the audience about the mediocrity of his character: “Yes, I am mediocre, and so are all of you. You just sit there passively watching the big stars on stage,” he says, as he touches his black shoe, which leaves some black shoeshine on his fingers and hand. “Look at this black dirt of mediocrity!” he says, as his two fingers touch his face between his upper lip and nose, leav- ing a shoeshine Hitler-mustache. Dumont now con- tinues his rage against mediocrity in what becomes a typical and spicy Hitler-parody: “The Germans have become mediocre, and they deserve to be wiped out. They are not worthy of great leadership anymore!” Again, Kriegenburg uses comedy as a strategy to make surprising and horrifying links between typical nationalistic German illusions of grandeur and the tragedies which they can produce. In the end of the performance, Kriemhild calls most of her enemies to a great party, only to let them be killed by soldiers. The party takes place around a table placed on the mobile platform, and after the killing is done, the platform starts tilting very slowly towards the audience. The tilting becomes steeper and steeper, and in a simple yet stunning image, dead bodies and the tin plates used

at the party start sliding down one after another.

Again, the performance is as absurdly comic as it is tragic.


2005 German Festivals: Bayreuth and Munich

Glenn Loney


In recent seasons, Wolfgang Wagner, the octogenarian Artistic Director of the Bayreuth Festival, has refrained from creating new stagings of his grandfather’s operas. After the untimely death of his brother Weiland, he began to mount all the new productions himself. Previously, the broth- ers had shared this task. Although he was pleased not only with his direction but also with his designs of sets and cos- tumes for each opera, some influential critics were not and said so. As result, he began inviting well- known outside directors to work at Bayreuth. Patrice Chereau, for instance, staged the 1976 Centennial Ring, and film director Werner Herzog mounted a memorable Lohengrin, but one of the productions on view every summer would always be a Wolfgang Wagner staging. With the retirement of his Meistersinger several seasons ago, however, he is no longer represented on stage. Instead, all the directorial assignments have been given to talents beyond Bayreuth, and unfortunately, some of them have had little or no experience of staging opera. Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier was con- tracted to direct the forthcoming 2006 Ring, even though he had said he knew nothing about opera. He got artistic cold feet at what should have been the halfway-point in developing the directorial con- cept and designing the sets and costumes for this 16-

hour-long epic, all of which have to premiere in the same week. As a result of his defection, the 78- year-old playwright Tancred Dorst is now working on these operas. He is known as the author of Die Kurve, (The Curve), but not as an opera director. Critics and Wagner fans are nervously waiting to see what he’ll put on the venerable stage of Richard Wagner’s Festspielhaus next July, and not only because he’s almost as old as Wolfgang Wagner, but also because some of the recent choices of directors for Bayreuth have proved rather problematic in their stage-visions. Consider this past summer’s new Tristan und Isolde:

All Aboard the SS Isolde!

After the withdrawal of the Heiner Müller staging of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Wagnerians have been looking forward to an even newer vision of this doomed medieval romance. Working with designer Erich Wonder, Müller had presented a Cornwall-bound ship that was nothing more than

rectangles of light on the stage-floor. The lovers’ big scene took place in a Zeughaus full of gleaming suits of armor, and they had a very difficult time

plowing through the steel-plate

but that’s not the

problem in the new Tristan—far from it! The vast expanse of the stage at times seems almost empty, even when Tristan and Isolde are on it. This odd production is the vision of

and Isolde are on it. This odd production is the vision of Knocking over chairs in

Knocking over chairs in Act I of Tristan and Isolde. Photo: Bayreuther Festspiele GmBH / Jochen Quast


Christoph Marthaler, a current Wunderkind of the German stage. At least the audience can imagine that they are looking at a ship in Marthaler’s new Bayreuth Tristan. Or part of it, but it looks suspi- ciously like the Grand Salon of the Andrea Doria, if not the Titanic. Designer Anna Viebrock’s idea is to confine the first act to what could be the recreation room of a cruise ship bound for the Bermuda Triangle. In the light of what follows, that proves a prophetic destination. Viebrock has costumed Tristan in a blue jacket that makes him look like a harried cruise Entertainment Director. And as Tristan, Robert Dean Smith, who was once so hand- some as Bayreuth’s Walter von Stolzing, now seems apprehensive about his relationship to those two stylish ladies who don’t take an interest in the ship’s programmed activities. His Tristan looks and sounds like a man who is slipping and sliding into uncomfortable middle-age. This may not be entire- ly acting, as it also shows in his voice. Isolde (Nina Stemme) and Brangäne (Petra Lang) look like club ladies, desperate for some ship- board amusement. At one point, Isolde wanders about, overturning all the deck chairs. This may have had some mysterious symbolic meaning, but she looked more bored than cryptic. As for the mix- ing of the death draught (or love potion), Brangäne has a complicated kit that looks like the complete supplies of an aromatherapist. Overhead, a complex of fluorescent-light rings blink on and off. Fluorescents do not dim effectively, so this often looks like electronic mal- functions. What they are supposed to symbolize remains a mystery. Acts II and III are set in the same basic space, with some alterations to the side walls and upstage areas. So, although the libretto makes it clear that Tristan and Isolde are no longer on deck, the action seems not to have come into port in Cornwall. The set’s bland, tall walls prove very useful throughout, as Marthaler requires members of the cast, when not singing, to face the walls and variously claw or caress them. If one were hoping for something truly magical—like Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s great silver Tristan-tree—for the lover’s big moment, expecta- tions were rudely shattered. Isolde sits primly on an upholstered bench, paying careful attention to her white gloves. It was rather like a singles mixer at the Cornwall Country Club. Later, instead of being irresistibly drawn to each other, they stand what seemed yards apart, looking like anchors for the six o’clock news. In fact, that may well have been the

directorial intention: a German critic informed me that this was a masterful satire of the socially inse- cure German Spiessbürger Class. Melot looks like a scruffy ex-Nazi soldier, and King Mark could be a Sony CEO. The passion is there in the music and in the poetry, but not in the performance. In fact, Tristan is an opera that could be effectively presented on a bare stage, free of sets, costumes, and lighting. But then the singers and the stage-director would have to concentrate on what Wagner actually created. They must listen to the music and let it live through their voices, bodies, passions, and spirits. Is that too much to ask at Bayreuth now? When Tristan’s loving entourage is griev- ing for his very slowly approaching death—the idea is that he’s trying to stay alive until Isolde can join him, drawing out his swansong endlessly—instead of crowding round, they are largely facing away, looking into the walls. Is the idea that they cannot bear to watch their hero die? Tristan is supposed to be dying in his own remote castle, but in this pro- duction he seems to be below-deck in the ship’s hos- pital, on one of those wonderful mechanical hospi- tal beds that can be cranked and ratcheted into many configurations. Remembering Peter Hall’s Covent Garden Tristan years ago when the lovers rose, singing in ecstasy, high over the stage on a platform, I was hoping the scenic reason for this bed was that Tristan would be elevated toward the heavens on it. No such luck. It was just another mechanical hospi- tal bed. And the only one in the ward, at that. For the record, the rest of the cast was gen- erally working hard to do justice to the music and the concept, but clawing walls cannot be very rewarding. Among the cast: Kwangchul Youn (King Mark), Andreas Schmidt (Kurwenal), Alexander Marco-Buhrmeister (Melot), Clemens Bieber, Arnold Bezuyen, and Martin Snell. Eiji Oue conducted one of the very best opera orchestras.

No Salvation for Parsifal in Sight!

After suffering through Christoph Schlingensief’s ghastly Parsifal last summer, I posited the hope that the fabled Bayreuth “work- shop” effect would spur Wolfgang Wagner either to request some conceptual and visual changes from the director and his designers, or to make them him- self. Some minor irritants have been removed, it’s true, but there is still so much random, bafflingly “symbolic” action and decoration that it’s at first not


Marthaler’s Parsifal , Act III. Photo: Bayreuther Festspiele GmBH / Jochen Quast easy to note

Marthaler’s Parsifal, Act III. Photo: Bayreuther Festspiele GmBH / Jochen Quast

easy to note what has been subtracted. This Parsifal is definitely in the Third World, but, like the mythic Colossus, it bestrides Africa and Asia, plus Middle America, for good measure. “The African and Asian cultural artifacts were attempts to find religious and mythological imagery still resonant in a secular age,” he insists (italics added). As these images are really only res- onant on the ground in Africa and Asia—and then, only with the tribes or cults from which they arise— this is patent nonsense when applied to Europe, the West, or the First World. Oddly enough, Schlingensief does present his Parsifal (here sung by Alfons Eberz, replacing last season’s Endrick Wottrich) in a long white robe, with long blond hair, and a Sacred Heart on his robe. As if that were not enough Christian symbolism, he later equips him with the staff of the Good Shepherd. What acquiring this stage-prop entails is having Klingsor’s all-important throwing of the Holy Spear at Parsifal go for nothing visually. Somehow, it ends up in Parsifal’s left hand, while his right holds the shepherd’s crook. Parsifal throws the spear behind some scraps of scenery. As before, the aged Pierre Boulez conduct- ed and was enthusiastically applauded. Nor were the principals blamed for what the director had required them to perform: kudos for Robert Holl’s Gurnemanz, John Wegner’s Klingsor, and Michelle de Young’s Kundry. Eberhard Friedrich, as usual, had brilliantly prepared the best opera chorus in the world.

Was Wagner’s Senta Actually an Abused Child?

Some critics actively hate Bayreuth’s cur- rent staging of Der fliegende Holländer, but I find it not only visually inventive and handsome to look at, but also an ingenious new interpretation of the ancient tale of the doomed sea captain who can only be saved from endlessly roving the oceans by the love of a pure young girl. Stage-director Claus Guth has re-imagined the fable as the almost incestuous fascination of a little girl Senta with her Daland-father reading the story of the Dutchman to her in his armchair. She even has a Dutchman rod-puppet, as well as a model ship. Unfortunately for her, as a grown woman (the girl Senta and the woman Senta, dressed alike, appear throughout the opera) she has conflated her imaginary Dutchman with her own father, who is also dressed like a ship’s captain. Daland-Dad and doomed Dutchman-lover blend into each other. The only voice of reason that could save this deluded Senta from her psychopathic fantasy is her would-be lover Erik, but she pushes him away, and she will not listen to her old nurse, Mary. If seeing this unusual concept on stage is not confusing enough for Wagner first-timers, Guth and Schmidt have also contrived to have the entire action of the opera occur in Senta’s vast living- room. A great curving staircase supported only by the wall behind it divides this great chamber into two opposing wedges of wall and doors. The upper slice is an inverse duplication of the room below the


Adrienne Dugger as Senta in Der fliegende Holländer. Photo: Bayreuther Festspiele GmBH / Jochen Quast

Adrienne Dugger as Senta in Der fliegende Holländer. Photo: Bayreuther Festspiele GmBH / Jochen Quast

staircase. Even the painting of the Dutchhman’s ship hanging on the upstage-center wall is shown upside down above the stairs. Designer Christian Schmidt is responsible for both the stunning set and the striking costumes. Ulrich Niepel devised the ingenious lighting- changes, working with and around the videos of a four-man team. The production-team creates Wagner’s scenes entirely with projections and videos thrown on the walls of the great chamber. Waves, clouds, storms, ships are suggestively and abstractly evoked, as the male-chorus, dressed as sailors, fight the waves in Senta’s living room. Senta’s Spinnstube scene also occurs here, but not with spinning-wheels. Instead, blind old Mary is in

a rocker at one side, as a smartly dressed young

women’s chorus of 1930s flappers does some pre-

cisely executed dance routines for the distracted Senta. In the final harbor scene, the townswomen, dressed alike in folk costume, move like life-sized marionettes, filing up the great staircase. Below, on

a platform in the center of the living room, puppet-

sailors with long Pinocchio noses dismantle a model of the Dutchman’s ship which has descended from the flies above. Senta’s mystic Love-Death reunion with the

Dutchman, after he has sailed away to his endless

doom (Die Frist ist um!) is suggested in Senta’s frantic fantasy by an immense skeleton-puppet, dressed in captain’s uniform, descending upside down from above, bony hands outstretched. When they touch the platform, they draw up a puppet Senta into the heavens. Adrienne Dugger is an admirably distract- ed Senta, both voice and body speaking of longing and torment. Jaakko Ryhänen and Jukka Rasilainen prove good doubles as father Daland and lover Dutchman. Uta Priew repeated her 2004 role of Mary, with Endrik Wottrich as Erik and Norbert Ernst as the Steuermann. Marc Albrecht conducted with a power that well supported the often frantic passions and actions on stage. Once again, Eberhard Friedrich brilliantly prepared the amazing Bayreuth Chorus, who also proved outstanding stage performers as well as singers.

Even the Present Pope Would Pardon Bayreuth’s Tannhäuser

If the current Bayreuth Parsifal offers no suggestive visual evidence of redemption and salva- tion, Philippe Arlaud’s production of Tannhäuser certainly does. This is not entirely the result of Arlaud’s refinement of the staging over several sea-


Tannhäuser, Act 3. Photo: Bayreuther Festspiele GmBH / Jochen Quast sons, but also because the

Tannhäuser, Act 3. Photo: Bayreuther Festspiele GmBH / Jochen Quast

sons, but also because the impressive Stephen Gould has made the role definitively his own. Gould electrifies every scene. What’s more, he seems to inspire even more powerfully interactive vocal and visually responsive performances from his colleagues. Judit Nemeth’s Venus has never seemed so passionately compelling. The deeply moving interactions of Ricarda Merbeth’s Elizabeth and Roman Trekel’s always magisterial Wolfram von Eschenbach with Gould’s Tannhäuser are tragical and magical. The Teure Halle scene was, as a result, both exciting and heart- breaking. Originally, Trekel had vocally dominated this entire production; now his Wolfram has found its proper place. Conductor Christian Thielemann repeated his previous achievements with the Bayreuth orchestra and the chorus.


Over the seasons, the Munich Festival— although still the cultural child of the Bavarian State Opera—has grown in scope and diversity, with interesting opera and musical productions also on view at the Gärtnerplatz-Theater. Formerly on vacation in July, the talented ensembles of the State Theatre, the Residenz, and of the City Theatre, the


historic Kammerspiele, now also offer first-rate stagings of drama classics and new plays. Even the Theater der Jugend is in operation. In July, the Residenz, reaching new heights under the Intendancy of Dieter Dorn, was playing such ancient and modern classics as Sophocles’ Ajax and Oedipus, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Molière’s Imaginary Invalid, Lessing’s Nathan the Wise, Goethe’s Clavigo, Schiller’s Love and Intrigue, Grabbe’s Duke Theodore of Gotland, Brecht’s Mother Courage, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. Can one imagine such a repertory offering at Lincoln Center in an entire season? But even the productions listed above aren’t the complete July offerings at the Residenz. Also on view were Sarah Kane’s Crave, Botho Strauss’s Die eine und die andere, Werner Fritsch’s Cherubim and The Wheel of Fortune, Vladimir Sorokin’s A Month in Dachau, Vladimir Nabokov’s Walzers Erfindung, Robert Walser’s Der Gehülfe, Georg Ringswandl’s Prominentenball, Philip Glass’s Fall of the House of Usher, and Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman. One of the Residenz’s most impressive productions of a mod- ern classic, also in the July repertory,is Ödön von Horváth’s Der jungste Tag, or Judgment Day.

At the Kammerspiele, led by Frank Baumbauer, Gerhart Hauptmann’s Vor Sonnen-auf- gang, Sophocles’ Antigone, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Schiller’s Don Karlos, and Friedrich Hebbel’s Die Nibelungen, all from its classical repertory, were on view in July. Newer fare included Radio Noir, Hermes in der Stadt, Die Zehn Gebote, The New Electric Ballroom, Chatroom, and Wilde—Der Mann mit den traurigen Augen.

Opera-Stagings at the National-Theater

This past summer’s Munich Festival was a virtual celebration of the stagings of the New York- born director David Alden, but it may have been his swan’s song, as well. Apparently, no new Munich projects are waiting in the wings. He did rate a spe- cial brochure on his most striking productions, all on view in July: Lulu, Pique Dame, La Calisto, and La forza del destino. Some vociferous local critics, however, have tired of the relentlessly bizarre, intensely col- orful, and often irrelevant (to plot and score) stag- ings which are his trademark. But then they also resent the other theatre-aliens that Intendant Sir Peter Jonas has imported, largely from London. Fortunately, there are impressive home-grown directorial and design talents ready at hand. Peter Mussbach and Christoph Loy both demonstrated their special abilities this summer: Loy with Handel’s Saul and Alcina, and Mussbach with a remarkable Billy Budd. It was interesting to see older State Opera productions again, but some of them have not worn well. David Alden’s Pique Dame and Lulu have been noted in WES previously and they are still stunning, but other stagings are even more problem- atic than when they premiered some seasons ago. One of these is the BSO Faust.

David Pountney’s Faust As the new Intendant of the Bregenz Festival, David Pountney is showing his postmod- ernist mettle, but his earlier lake-stage productions of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman and Beethoven’s Fidelio already displayed his talent for revisionist up-dating. Both of these were memorable, but his Munich Faust, also conceived some seasons ago, was a farrago of irrelevant images and symbols that cluttered the stage, obstructed the actor/singers, and confused the spectators. They also made it difficult to follow the plot as outlined in the original libretto.


Pountney’s odd production tries to find a middle ground between Goethe and Gounod, between German and French sensibilities. The singers and chorus are faithful to the words of the French libretto of Barbier and Carré, as are the pup- pet-actors to the spoken text, which is briskly uttered in German. The contrast and clash of sung French and spoken German was strikingly effective the first time I saw this staging, but now the puppets seem alien and annoying. Originally, they focused attention on the characters’ baser emotions and motivations, now they seem totally out-of-key. All the puppets have individual handlers, dressed as look-alike functionaries. They respond or react to the puppets they animate, giving an extra dimension

to the drama—usually a comic one, not in tune with

the thrust of the fable. The puppet-plays are rather like Intermezzi, not stylistically integral to the plot. A Brechtian half-curtain is pulled across the forestage frequently to provide for puppet appearances or action at Marguerite’s tiny chalet, with smoke spiraling from its mini-chimney. Méphistophélès’ elegant sword-cane is topped with

a Mephisto puppet-head, and when Marguerite’s

former friends come to mock and scorn her, each has a baby-puppet on her right hand. Among the visual astonishments are two sets of railroad tracks running across the downstage area. Down front throughout the production is one track which is used intermittently for a large hand- car, operated by pumping a handle. (At the close,

Faust’s body is dumped into it, on top of a heap of black plastic garbage bags.) Marguerite’s bed, on rollers, also runs on this track, complete with large wooden ties, over which the cast has to clamber for its curtain-calls. Slightly upstage of this track is another, on which stands a pre-war second-class railway car. Part of another coach is seen attached

to it stage-right. These are both used to great effect:

instead of presenting roistering university students in a medieval tavern, Pountney has a gaggle of young businessmen in suits extolling the virtues of drink from the windows and doors of the Faust Express.

Méphistophélès strolls along the tops of the cars, very much the Master of Ceremonies of twentieth century trends and fads. The Kermesse is no longer a medieval Carnival, and the Faust Waltz becomes something quite new: Shopping Madness,

as choreographed by Vivienne Newport. Exuberant

villagers waltz round in a great circle, wheeling shopping-carts piled high with products. This is

either an homage or a direct steal from Anne Bogart’s satiric piece on rampant American con- sumerism. Figures of inflated male and female plas- tic-dolls—sex-aids, perhaps?—are mounted on scaffold-towers and rotated around the dancing crowd. Much later, when Marguerite is made the butt of village scorn for her transgression, these fig- ures are visually echoed by towering giant-puppets, like those still used in Belgian folk and religious processions. Four of these giants wear bishops’ miters, but the fifth wears a cardinal’s red beretta with a significant difference: red horns are sprouting out of it. Is this what Méphistophélès hopes will win Faust’s soul for an eternity in Hell? It is already Hell on Earth! Valentin answers his country’s call to arms, and after the army returns victorious, satiric modern images are used. Pountney has had the ingenious idea of letting little boys weave their way through the triumphant men, shooting at each other with toy guns. The Victory Chorus will never sound the same again. The little boys lie dead among the ties of the railroad tracks, an image that certainly gives the lie to the glories of war extolled in the chorus. And it mocks Valentin’s false courage and virtue:

he repudiated his unfortunate sister, instead of pro- tecting her. When Siebel seeks to gather flowers for Marguerite, he finds them on grave-plots. As set designer Stefanos Lazaridis has visualized this, hos- pital beds covered with green grass undertakers’ carpeting are wheeled on stage. Each bed is topped with a glowing cross. Corpses on the beds tear the petals from the flowers Siebel is trying to steal. Méphistophélès even has to romance Marthe Schwerdtlein on one of these grave-beds. Later, the same beds, now stark white, appear in the Walpurgis Night scene. This is an elegant, all-white evocation of a 1920s garden party. Even though the costumes are all white, the textures and sheens of fabrics, as well as the Jazz-Age designs and the extravagant silhouettes, make this a fashion show in Hades. Later the railway coach appears upstage right, wrecked and gutted. At one point, a section of track runs down center stage for other wheeled apparitions—Faust on Wheels! But this is by no means the end of the odd set-props. In fact, Marguerite takes refuge from the taunting villagers by hiding in an immense refrigerator! After she has died—finally redeemed—she rises to Heaven in a wheelchair, on the lap of an aged and infirm

Méphistophélès. This needlessly complicated production does not wear well, but this performance was more than saved by the presence of the young Mexican tenor, Rolando Villazon. Not only is he a dynamic and affecting Faust vocally, but he is a natural actor, his entire body involved in the action and emotions. (Later, in Salzburg, he dazzled even more in Verdi’s Traviata, and he is excellent in German on the new Domingo Tristan recording!) Paata Burchuladze’s Méphistophélès proved equal to all the circus antics Pountney had devised for him. Ainhoa Arteta’s Marguerite seemed sorely taxed by all the hijincks, which did not help her vocally. Conductor Friedrich Haider presided over all this visual mayhem.

David Alden’s La Forza del Destino

This Forza at the Bavarian State Opera lacks emotive force, and it also lacks visual focus, thanks to the trendy design-devices of Gideon Davey. Colorfully patterned Pop Art walls slide in and out so the audience has no secure idea where the action is set from scene to scene. Brooding over the set-walls hangs an immense puzzling painting. As all the major characters are dead at the close of the opera, could it be something on the order of Il Trionfo della Morte? For the record, it is Joachim Patinir’s Voyage to the Underworld (Charon). But what does this really have to do with the misfor- tunes of an Inca Prince, stranded in, of all places, Seville? Oddly enough, this Peruvian immigrant, Don Alvaro (Frank Porretta), gets into major trouble by killing the noble father of the woman he loves, somewhat like that old Sevillian, Don Giovanni. The difference in Forza, is that it was an accident, but his attentions to Donna Leonora (Violeta Urmana) are as unwelcome to her brother as the Don’s were to Anna’s father. Under assumed names, both young men go off to the wars. Alvaro saves Vargas’ life on the bat- tlefield, and they vow eternal friendship, not know- ing who the other really is. Later, Alvaro has retreated to a monastery where the grieving Leonora has already taken shelter, in the woman’s wing. She, of course, has no idea how close she is to her lost love. He has become a saintly, reclusive monk, much admired for his piety. This infuriates the jeal- ous comic-relief monk, Fra Melitone (Franz-Josef Kappellmann), whose job it is to serve up unpalat- able soup to the insatiable poor. In Alden’s staging, the soup is made with human bones, and Melitone is


The Bavarian State Opera production of La Forza del Destino . Photo: Bayerische Staatsoper positively

The Bavarian State Opera production of La Forza del Destino. Photo: Bayerische Staatsoper

positively Brechtian in his disgust at lazy, ungrate- ful welfare beggars. After the pallid developments of the plot and the scenic-confusions which have gone on, this soup-kitchen scene becomes effective- ly a high point of the evening. Were it not for Verdi’s often potent score this opera would seldom receive a new production.

It does not, in fact, seem a good candidate for con-

temporary staging, even updated. And, when the vocal performances are not superb, what’s the point of even dusting off old sets in the warehouse to revive it? Fabio Luisi conducted this confused and confusing epic.

Alden’s La Calisto

Poor Calisto! Jealous Juno turned her into

a Bear for having been unintentionally seduced by

Jove. She thought she was having fun with the sup-

posedly chaste goddess, Diana. Actually, it was Jove (handsome Umberto Chiummo) in stylish

drag, with a charming upper range, who capti- vated her. While the abashed Jove cannot undo the spell, he promises Calisto (Sally Matthews) that, after death, she will ascend into the Heavens to live forever as Ursa Major, the Great Bear (or the Big Dipper, if you are more mundane in your star-gazing). But, before this dazzling event can occur—with Calisto in a gown of stars, flanked by a veritable chorus of stunning blonde “stars”—she has to incur the wrath of the real Diana (Monica Bacelli), fan- tastically stylish with a crescent-moon chapeau on her head. Diana is appalled that Calisto believes they have been intimate. Her entire myth is about Chastity and Hunting. Composer Francesco Cavalli’s libret- tist, Giovanni Faustini, further complicated the plot with the exquisitely suffering Endymion (Lawrence Zazzo, a remarkable counter-tenor), desperately but hopelessly (as he thinks) in love with Diana. Actually, she loves him in secret, but after their super-charged encounter, she cannot have him lounging about, so she trans- ports him to a distant mountaintop and lulls him into an eternal sleep. It would have been quite rewarding had Alden and his designers at the BSO mount- ed this new Calisto as a fantastic baroque enter- tainment, which they certainly could have done with panache. Instead, costumer Buki Shiff and set designer Paul Steinberg have transformed this ancient Greek fable out of its dramma per musica framing into a lavish Las Vegas show. The basic environment is a Pop Art riot of swirling red and black bands, reflected in the mirroring floor. At right is a vertical neon sign reading L’Empireo. Overhead, there is a white glass-globed Heaven which both reflects what’s going on below and also shifts to suggest changes in non-specific locale. Pat Collins’s lighting maximizes these effects. But it is Buki Shiff’s elegant—or buffoon- ish—costumes which give this amazing production its most distinctive look. While Diana resembles a very smart Bea Lillie, Juno (imperious Véronique Gens) is the essence of regal style in a bright red coat and a black hat sprouting sleek feathers. She is accompanied not by her traditional rams but by two magnificent peacocks, cold beauties with elaborate- ly fanned feathers. At one point, Linfea (Guy de Mey) appears in matronly drag to observe the sexy activities. Kobie van Rensberg is a wonderfully horned Pan. Dominique Visse, as Satirino, is in a


padded flesh-suit, complete with a tiny penis, and there’s a wonderfully winged Centaur, moving with measured grace. Indeed, the stage is frequently filled with the marvelously outfitted huntresses of Diana, a bizarre anthropomorphic mythic menagerie, and other elegant or astonishing choral or balletic Statisten. Under Ivor Bolton’s antic baton—he seems to be having as much fun in the pit as the cast is on stage—both the musical and acting achievements of this production are astonishing. This show is worth a special trip to Munich!

Christoph Loy’s Saul

Handel’s Saul is surely simpler (and cheap- er) to perform as an oratorio. It is rather too static to lend itself to a bustling production. Not that this hasn’t been tried, but director Christoph Loy and his designer Herbert Murauer, also at the BSO, have found an ingenious way to keep one foot in the con- cert hall and the other in the opera-theatre: the basic set is a severe, white concert hall, with a forestage for the soloists and tiers of chairs for the chorus, plus an organ-loft at the rear of this space. In Act I, the chorus is all in white, eigh- teenth century costumes. The principals, however, are in modern dress, obviously preparing to rehearse the oratorio. There is some antagonism between the sopranos, so efforts are made to soothe tempers. In Act II, the chorus is now all in black, nineteenth century costumes, almost suggesting a Quaker Meeting. In Act III, the chorus is still in black, but this time, in modern dress. In fact, modernity is so much in vogue here that the Witch of Endor (Robert Tear) appears in drag as a bag-lady! This production concept works very well and focuses attention on Handel’s arias, duets, and choruses, rather than distracting it with bizarre cos- tumes and too-busy stage actions. Of course, there’s always biblical historicism as a alternative, but that can be a visual deadweight on an otherwise soaring musical performance. Fortunately, under Ivor Bolton’s skilled conducting, cast and chorus make this a memorable musical experience. Jonathan Lemalu was a “suit- ed” Saul, who verged on the CEO-stance. Brian Asawa’s David was brilliant, with John Mark Ainsley’s oddly older Jonathan as balance. Rebecca Evans and Sarah Fox (as Merab and Michal) were the contentious sopranos. Kevin Conners sang the High Priest, with Steven Humes performed as the

sang the High Priest, with Steven Humes performed as the Monica Bacelli as Diana in David

Monica Bacelli as Diana in David Alden’s La Calisto. Photo: Bayerische Staatsoper

ghost of Samuel.

Loy’s Alcina

Staged in the Prinzregenten-Theater, rather than the National, Handel’s Alcina had overtones of Abu Ghraib, with some troops in what looked like US camouflage gear. But these were the Good Guys, supporting the endangered hero, Ruggiero (a very handsome cross-dressed Vesselina Kasarova). Ruggiero’s beloved Bradamante (Sonia Prina), dis- guised as “Ricciardo,” was equally handsome in his/her army outfit. Loy’s designer, Herbert Murauer, provided a mixture of eighteenth and nine- teenth century costumes with modern designs, rather like the effects in their Saul. There was even some shedding of costumes, not only to reveal real sexual identities, but also as metaphor. By the third act, all eighteenth century dress had disappeared, even as Alcina’s Magic Kingdom vanished into the air—but not before the audience got to see the troops perform some military-drills. Murauer’s basic setting was formal and almost claustrophobic, suggesting the restrictive power the sorceress Alcina can invoke over the


Anja Harteros as Handel’s Alcina. Photo: Bayerische Staatsoper smitten Ruggiero and others under her control.

Anja Harteros as Handel’s Alcina. Photo: Bayerische Staatsoper

smitten Ruggiero and others under her control. At the center was an elegant eighteenth century salon, with a misty, Lorraine-like landscape at the back. This chamber was flanked by two very narrow cor- ridors with doors leading into the room and into the opposing outer walls. In a crucial scene, in the cen- tral space the landscape was replaced by a compli- cated installation of glassed shelf-compartments, effectually a Wunderkammer, filled with Alcina’s magic totems. A devastating transformation in the third act involved the sudden disappearance of the roof of the space, the vanishing of all decorative panels, and the final collapse of the walls, leaving empty Infinity. This visually suggested not only the freeing of Alcina’s enchanted victims, but also an eighteenth century Enlightenment vision of the end of human oppression. As Alcina, Anja Harteros was spellbinding in her passions: love and longing, rage and revenge. In fact, all the voices were impressive, with only Oberto less forceful at times. Ivor Bolton’s con- ducting was very energized, in keeping with the pas- sions of this elegant production.

Peter Mussbach’s Billy Budd

At the Metropolitan Opera, William Dudley’s great British warship—the overpowering setting for Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd—rises magisterially, deck-by-deck out of the stage, until it is towering over its crew, masts thrusting up into the flies. This is a tremendous coup-de-théâtre, but it actually does not serve the plot well. The most important and most powerful of the confrontational

scenes in the libretto by E. M. Forster and Eric Crozier are small-scale, even intimate. Designer Erich Wonder has found a wonderful scenic solution for the Munich mounting of Billy Budd, staged by Peter Mussbach. Instead of filling the stage with decks and can- nons, masts, sails, and riggings, he has set all the action into a kind of below-decks space, ringed with ramps, stairs, and platforms. Thus, major scenes centered on Billy and Captain Vere, or Master-at-Arms Claggart and Billy, are sharply focused, even with groups of sailors

on their fringes.


works on several levels (all accessi- ble by ramps and stairs) the emotion- al and verbal action is never visually static. In some productions, the story is decked out in late-eighteenth century naval uniforms. Not so in Munich. Sailors wear pea-coats; officers use cell-phones. The Royal Navy no longer flogs unruly sailors, but this mixture of the bygone with the here and now makes the theatrical experience even more immediate. Designer Wonder even slyly inserts a definitely modern scenic quote: on the upper level, at right, there is a row of airline seats, with airplane windows instead of naval portholes! How did Lufthansa or British Air get onboard? The circling ramps make possible some interesting choreographies for the chorus of sailors. There are even a few ballet-boys in high-heels, suggesting the alternative gratifications of sailors long at sea. But the powers of this production, while

strongly enhanced by the set and costumes, are largely generated by the dynamic acting and vocal performances of the principals: John Daszak as a morally baffled Vere, Nathan Gunn as a handsome but childishly innocent Billy, and Philip Ens as the sadistically malicious Claggart, Of course, the foundation of the production resides in the spare libretto carefully developed from Herman Melville’s novella, and the strong score. It is effec- tively “through-composed,” with some dramatically effective atonal emphases. This is a tragedy, certainly, but it is Captain Vere’s, not Billy’s. Vere knows the lad was pro- voked to strike Claggart, but his officer is now dead, and hanging from the yardarm is the inflexible penalty. But Vere is also attracted to Billy’s beauty


as the


and radiantly open nature with perhaps more than a fatherly feeling. In this set, Billy cannot be hanged aloft from the mast. Instead, he is termi- nated against the below-decks base of the mast, rather like Christ on the Cross. Knowing that hanging is the required punishment for what he has done, the dying Billy blesses Captain Vere, who is later tormented by the knowledge of the boy’s essential innocence and that he could have— should have—saved him. Munich’s new GMD, Kent Nagano, con- ducted with both power and sensitivity. This is a production you could see again and again, finding new nuances in the music, the text, the staging, the interactions, and the interpretations.

Mozart Joins the Avant-Garde: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Those who question the need (or the desirability) of two different stagings of the same opera in Munich’s two opera houses could not have seen both productions of Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail. At the National, the opera is performed on colorful flying sofas, which rather limits the characters’ mobility and interac- tions. It’s cute without being effective. The pro- duction team at the Gärtnerplatz has kept furniture in its Entführung to a minimum. Instead, the action takes place in front and inside of a slanted, brown, three-sided structure, pierced with a few rectangular windows. This could very well be the mud-brick desert fortress of some obscure Ottoman pasha.

Indeed, when Belmonte appears in aviator- gear, clutching a broken propeller, this could be Lawrence of Arabia territory. Instead of Mozart’s confrontation of eighteenth century Europe with an almost medieval Middle East, the action has been forwarded to the 1920s, including costumes and props, but the Arab garments haven’t changed. Bassa Selim is fond of hawking, proudly bearing his falcon.

The fortress’ walls can be played upon, and the chorus even appears at their summits when the inside of the structure is in view: quizzical heads stare down at the action. This is quite a novel stag- ing, thanks to director Hans-Ulrich Becker and his designers, Alexander Müller-Elmau (sets) and Uda Loher (costumes). The performances were admirable, both vocally and physically. Cast:

Rainer Bock (Selim), Simone Schneider

and physically. Cast: Rainer Bock (Selim), Simone Schneider Erich Wonder’s below-decks setting for Billy Budd at

Erich Wonder’s below-decks setting for Billy Budd at the Munich Opera. Photo: Bayerische Staatsoper

(Konstanze) , Talia Or (Blonde), Thomas Cooley (Belmonte), Florian Simson (Pedrillo), and Pawel Czekala (Osmin). Ekkehard Klemm’s alert con- ducting helped keep the action moving swiftly.

Jugendstil Operetta: Richard Heuberger’s Der Opernball

The Opera Ball is based on an 1876 Parisian sex-farce, Les Dominoes Roses, and, although it is long on suggestive couplings, it is very short on sexy details. It was premiered in Vienna in 1898, so its plot and mise-en-scène badly needed the visual and textual updating provided by adaptor/director Josef Köpplinger. But, considering the formulaic nature of the intrigues and the fusty moral codes involved, he didn’t dare to move it far- ther forward in time than the end of World War I. Actually, this works well visually, as the attractive home of the Beaubuissons (in the 5ieme arrondissement) is a wonder of Jugendstil, or early Art Deco design. When the cast variously sets off


for the Masquerade Ball at the Paris Opera, the home is magically transformed into the Opera Foyer, with the doors to the Loges leading to “chambres separées” for naughty, masked encoun- ters.

Two friends, Théophile and Paul, decide to try their luck at the ball with masked strangers. Théo is more sophisticated than Paul, who firmly believes in his wife’s virtue. Their wives, overhear- ing, decide to disguise themselves, as do the maid and the cook, Hortense and Yvette. Thus, there are no fewer than four masked ladies on the loose in matching pink cloaks. This basic plot works rather better in Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, and even in Carl Neilsen’s Danish Maskerade, shown this summer at the Bregenz Festival [see article in this issue]. Verdi’s Masked Ball is out of this class, featuring as it does the assassination of King Gustav III Adolf of Sweden.

This production was handsome to look at and amusing to watch: the actor/singers are gener- ally very good vocally and interacting in character, but Richard Heuberger’s score leaves something to be desired. It has effectually one hit song, and this recurs, rather than giving way to an even better melody. Andreas Kowalewitz conducted.

Mayakovsky Lives Again in Dieter Schnebel’s Mayakovsky’s Death at the Gärtnerplatz

This Munich premiere pleased most of the critics and was something of a vindication for Intendant Klaus Schultz’s programming. Composer/librettist Dieter Schnebel, certainly not now a “household word” in American concert-halls, nonetheless has made his avant-garde mark in Germany, largely in the 1960s and 1970s. Focusing on the life and death of the Russian revolutionary activist and artist, Vladimir Mayakovsky, the composer oddly enough began his proposed three-act opera with the third part. This was produced in Munich as a “Fragment,” as there is also a second part, Totentanz. This was produced in Leipzig, together with the third part, by direc- tor/designer Achim Freyer in 1998. Schnebel, now 75 years old, has said he “had enough,” so there will never be a first act to this odd opera. Totentanz was not staged in Munich for technical and financial reasons, but the Fragment is in fact a musico-dramatic entity. It reviews the career of this once young and enthusi- astic propagandist, who was also a poet and play-


wright. Mayakovsky’s Mystery-Bouffe may his best-known work among theatre folk, but with Stalin’s Socialist Realism decrees (to say nothing of his murderous treatment of dissidents) Mayakovsky himself became a dissenter and finally committed suicide. In the libretto, which pairs speaking actors with singing characters, this despairing self-extinc- tion may have had more to do with an epic disap- pointment in love than in Socialism. Although the score seems proto-Webern, it does support the singers effectively, and they are much more emotionally effective than the actors who double them. The spoken text has too much poetic rant, and the actors give that full throttle, with no emotional subtleties. What was truly stunning about the produc- tion—as Mayakovsky’s love-life as spoken and sung was not exactly riveting—were the scrim-pro- jections, in Constructivist graphic style, surveying his career in texts and photos. The use of ingenious animations also provided valuable comic effects in an otherwise dour experience. Bastian Trieb is cred- ited with these visuals: by themselves, they could be viewed as a Mayakovsky documentary. The production was generally elemental, but two stage pictures were especially powerful. One deployed the chorus on two levels of inclined ramps, supported by scaffolding. Their faces were masked by open newspapers, with peepholes cut in them. The other occurred at the end. The poet stood aloft on a simple, suspended platform of scaffold- pipes against a brilliant red background that flooded the entire stage. This is a staging whose visual effects might commend it to some American audi- ences. Florentine Klepper staged, and Ekkehard Klemm conducted.

Munich’s Theater der Jugend at the Schauburg

The always inventive Theater der Jugend productions for young audiences at the Schauburg—a handsome theatre on Elizabeth- platz—are seldom mindless-if-amusing nonsense. More often, they deal colorfully and vitally with basic childhood themes and the problems of grow- ing up. What’s even more impressive, they keep alive important classics with innovative, relevant visions that make these works vivid for kids and teens. Medea’s Children was memorable in this regard.

This past summer, three notable nineteenth century German classics were on view on stage:

Gerhart Hauptmann’s Die Weber, Georg Büchner’s Leonce und Lena, and Die Drei Wünsche (The Three Wishes), adapted from Johann Peter Hebel’s tale from 1811. There was nothing fusty or dusty about these shows. With the onrush of globalization and the outsourcing of factory- and office-jobs to Asia, the story of the 1844 Revolt of the Weavers has renewed significance, especially for teens facing an increasingly bleak job market. The traditional German hand-weavers who for generations had cre- ated textiles at their looms were being displaced by new, super-speedy mechanical looms. They lost, but they made a stand. Büchner’s Leonce und Lena is a wonder- fully satiric, almost Swiftian, antic fantasy that makes Hansel and Gretel seem a dull tale indeed. And the Theater der Jugend gives this crazy fable its visual and metaphoric due. One of the frequent fan- tasies of early childhood is to be granted three wish- es. Or, even better, a Magic Gold Ring. Nearly two-hundred years ago, Hebel showed how rapidly the three wishes could be squandered, creating grief rather than joy. At the Schauburg, the tale is recast with Lisbeth (Lucie Muhr) and Signe (Tamara Hoerschelmann), two miserably abused serving- girls in a tavern. Lisbeth longs for the three wishes and, on

her way through a forest, meets the Queen of the Woods (Klaas Schramm), who freely gives her the wishes. Without any idea of what she should have wished for—or of the possible consequences of her actual wishes—Lisbeth opts for lots of money, the biggest mansion, and the handsomest man. In the end, Signe is the happier of the two girls, but, along the way, there is a lot of amusing satirical action and the musical accompaniment of Raoul Alvarellos and Enrique Ugarte. All the players are lively farceurs. Johannes Schmidt staged, with designs by Caroline Brösamle. Also programmed at the SchauBurg in July was the fifteenth internationales figuren theaterfes- tival münchen. This was a co-initiative of the the- atre, the Bundes Gartenschau, and the City Museum’s remarkable Puppet Collection. Kompania Doomsday presented Until Doomsday (Die Frist is um!), a puppet version of the tale of the doomed Flying Dutchman, after both Heinrich Heine and Richard Wagner. Salvatore Gatto’s Pulcinella revisited traditional Commedia dell’Arte characters and plots. I was most chagrined that I missed the Stuffed Puppet Theatre’s Schickelgruber alias Adolf Hitler. This puppet-drama—a weird Dance of Death of Freaks—is set in the Führer-Bunker, as the Soviet Armies are overrunning Berlin. As this show

as the Soviet Armies are overrunning Berlin. As this show King David , by Christian Stückl.

King David, by Christian Stückl. Photo: Thomas Dashuber


has already played Vienna and Berlin, it may even- tually make its way to Manhattan (PS 122 would be the ideal venue)! The show is also presented in comic English.

Passion-Play Theatre at Oberammergau Premieres King David

It seemed a real waste of a great playhouse to use it only every decade, but this summer, Oberammergau’s very own theatre-director, Christian Stückl, staged a new Biblical “play with music.” A gargantuan cast of 400 performers and musicians (all locals, as is the custom) was adver- tised. This is his retelling of the story of King David, with music by Markus Zwink and sets and costumes by Stefan Hageneier. Both of them helped local director Stückl make the Passion Play produc-

tions of 1990 and 2000 especially vivid and memo- rable. In fact, the 1990 edition was so successful that Stückl was invited to the Salzburg Festival to rethink and restage Hugo von Hofmannstahl’s Jedermann before the façade of the great cathedral. Having no advance information on the pro- duction, I wandered into a rehearsal, with Stückl showing his dad how to get on a donkey for a less- than-triumphal entry: quite a contrast to the Passion Play and Jesus’s Entry into Jerusalem. I had an opera staged by David Alden in Munich planned for that evening, so I will have to check this King David out next season, if it is still on the boards. It may not be on view, for an earlier Davidic drama was actu- ally performed on this sacred stage a century ago, in 1905. Ten years is a long time to wait for a Passion Play, but one hundred seems an impossibly long wait for a show, no matter how divine.


The Recklinghausen Festival and the Ruhr Triennale

Roy Kift


It’s been a summer of discontent in Germany—discontent with developments in the European Union, discontent with the ruling SPD/Green government, and mistrust of the blatant- ly unfair social policies put forward by the right- wing CDU party has led to a stalemate, the outcome of which—as I write—will probably result in a grand coalition. It all began when the wobbly SPD/Green house of cards collapsed in May fol- lowing a humiliating defeat at the federal elections in North-Rhine Westphalia, the largest Federal State and an SPD fortress for nigh on 50 years. I say this because the Ruhrgebiet is at the heart of North- Rhine Westphalia and the two major performance festivals in the Ruhrgebiet are the European festival in Recklinghausen and the Triennale. In my report last year you may have read of Frank Castorf’s short-lived term as artistic director of the European Arts Festival in Recklinghausen. Castorf had been hailed by left wing fans and self- styled progressive theatre academics as the Great Anarchist Revolutionary who was to ride in on his black horse to sweep away the cobwebs of the Hans-Gunter Heyme regime. The trouble was, his troops failed to follow him to the box-office. The result was all-time box office disaster with houses averaging a mere 22% and a concomitant €800,000 deficit. The board of management, dominated by members of the German Trades Union Congress (the DGB) promptly decided that they could not afford to risk another season with Castorf and ended his contract with a large pay-off, the latter at Castorf’s insistence. A few month’s later his successor, Frank Hoffmann, was presented to the public. It was clear from the start that whoever decided to take Castorf’s post would be treated by the Castorf fac- tion as a pariah, and even before Hoffmann had a chance to put forward his program he had been widely damned as a reactionary conservative. To be honest, Hoffmann has never really made a name for himself as a director in Germany and his one claim to fame as an artistic director was as the Intendant of the National Theatre of Luxembourg, an impres- sive title for a very small theatre indeed. That said, he was not an entirely unknown quantity at


Recklinghausen. I can recall a very respectable adaptation of Kafka’s The Castle which I saw there several years ago. So it was with some sense of ten- sion that we awaited the announcement of the pro- gramme he had put together. 2005 was the 200 th anniversary of the death of Friedrich Schiller, and most pundits were expect- ing Hoffmann to celebrate it in style. However, as a nice surprise he elected to concentrate his first sea- son around another classical writer, Gottfried Ephraim Lessing. Hoffmann opened his introduc- tion to the program with a quotation from F. Scott Fitzgerald: “I shall take the past with me into the future”. By this he implied that he wanted to look back at “our past, in order to learn from it, to be empowered by it and to take pleasure in it.” And Lessing, he opined, was the writer who stood for all these aims. The Festival opened on May 1 with the tra- ditional open-air party in and around the theatre on the hill. But no sooner had events got under way than Hoffmann was greeted by a group of theatre students and lecturers from nearby Bochum University, who processed to the theatre with a cof- fin and wreath grieving for the loss of Castorf and bemoaning the death of the Festival. The following day we were presented with Hoffman’s first produc- tion, Lessing’s Minna von Barnhelm. I had seen a production of the play in Bochum by Matthias Hartmann a few months before and failed to be amused at all. Not for nothing is it rumoured that one of the thinnest books in the world has to be the Encyclopaedia of German Wit. Hence it was with a heavy stomach that I awaited a further three hours of dusty tedium. The story of the play is quickly told. In 1763, the Seven Years War between Prussia and Austria is over. There are no winners in Berlin, only the wounded, the poor, the crippled, the spies. Even aristocratic ladies and their maids who are waiting desperately for the return of their loved ones. Major von Tellheim, a Prussian, has not only returned from the conflict with a lame arm, he has been wrongly discharged from the army on suspi- cion of dishonourable financial conduct. Although he is convinced of his own innocence both his honor and his parlous financial condition forbid him from pursuing his plan to marry his fiancée Minna, an Austrian. Of course Minna, the first truly emanci-

Lessing’s Minna von Barnhelm. Photo: Anja Tanner pated bourgeois women in German stage history, refuses

Lessing’s Minna von Barnhelm. Photo: Anja Tanner

pated bourgeois women in German stage history, refuses to take no for an answer and wins over her lover by a series of stratagems to a happy end. I have to report that a good number of my German colleagues thought Hoffman’s production uninteresting because it failed to take any new angle on the subject. True, there was plenty of hand-me- down slapstick and a rather schoolboyish nod at WWII sound effects with flames burning around the edge of the stage. The latter at least had the virtue of serving as a constant reminder of the general con- text of inhumanity against which Lessing could place his ideas of tolerance and respect regardless of colour, class or creed. As a whole I was thoroughly entertained by a good story clearly told in a playful manner, something which is as rare on the contem- porary German sage as it is despised. This is not to say that Hoffmann is averse to using modish staging techniques. The inevitable video projections popped up and we even had a snatch of Mick Jagger singing “I can’t get no satisfaction.” But these were the weaker points of the production, as was a most peculiar set by the pictorial artist Ben Willikens, who seems to be obsessed with temples. This might be fine in his own artistic works but here it merely looked displaced. Hoffman’s other strength was to get good performances out of his actors who includ- ed Julia von Sell as a radiant Minna and David Bennent as a hilarious French officer. But for my

money, Dominique Horvitz, a very popular actor, singer and entertainer, although charismatic, failed almost completely to convince me that the idea of “honour” was of cardinal importance in the Major’s code of conduct. All in all Minna was a very pleas- ant and uncontroversial start to a festival which pro- ceeded to go from strength to strength. A few days later David Bennent showed up again as the servant Christoph in George Tabori’s unforgettable production of an utterly unknown minor work by Lessing entitled The Jews. The 90 year-old Tabori, a Hungarian Jew who learnt his trade in New York and came back to the Germans who had murdered half his family to teach them a few lessons in humanity and stagecraft, was the ideal choice to tackle a play whose title alone is still enough to raise the general level of social tension in contemporary German. To make matters worse the play centers around a wealthy Baron who has been waylaid by a couple of obvious Jewish highwaymen (shabby beards and hooked noses) and then rescued by a fellow traveller along the road. Lessing was only 19 when he wrote the play in order to express his outrage at the wide- spread and violent prejudice against the Jewish pop- ulation. Such an enterprise might easily have result- ed in a tight-lipped tract, but Lessing in his youth, like Tabori in his ripe old age, could not resist hav- ing a dig at the comic sides of human evil. Here


Tabori takes the fledgling playwright by the hand and turns the weak plotting to his advantage by pre- senting us with a pantomime version of the robbery before starting the text. This not only made clear the given circumstances which are very confused in the exposé, it has an additional advantage in that it turns the production into a play within a play. The setting is literally a “playing field,” a rectangle of grass laid down on the bare stage and surrounded by props, tables and chairs on which the actors can sit and watch the action when they are not involved as characters. Crafty old George seems to be trying to reassure his German audience that all the world’s a stage, so do not take this Jew-baiting seriously, please! After being rescued the Baron welcomes the traveller on the road (a nicely judged performance by Boris Jacoby) into his own home where he feels free to give full vent to his hatred of the Jews, only to discover soon afterwards that the “Jews” who attacked him were two of his own non-Jewish ser- vants in disguise. Now that the culprits have been unmasked the Baron feels duty bound to honour his rescuer, swears eternal friendship and even goes so far as to offer him the hand of his daughter in mar- riage. The final coup de théâtre is that this particu- lar good Samaritan is himself a Jew, a fact which in Lessing’s age ruled out any question of marriage. The dreamed-of fairy tale end is thus made impossi- ble. The Jewish hero is undoubtedly the moral vic- tor, but still remains the social loser.

But it is not Lessing who finishes the evening’s entertainment. Tabori cannot resist a final dig at the audience and rounds off the play with a sardonic couplet by another outstanding twentieth century Jew, Albert Einstein, who said, “I don’t get much pleasure from looking at Jews. But when I look at the all the rest I’m delighted I’m a Jew myself.” As the play draws to an end we are pre- sented with the sight of the mealy-mouthed charac- ters assuring each other of their mutual respect whilst from the loudspeakers above we hear the sound of a needle stuck in a gramophone record playing the same tones over and over again. And whilst we are applauding the empty stage the actors in the wings break out into loud hoots of laughter. Pure delight? Or is the joke on us? Who would have thought Lessing could be so funny? Surely not in his masterpiece Nathan the Wise, which I first saw in Hamburg around twenty years ago in a suffocatingly pious production full of mediaeval robes and wigs. The production I saw in Recklinghausen could not have been more different. It was first premiered at the Berlin ensemble under the direction of its Intendant Claus Peymann, who took the play into his repertoire a couple of years ago as a reaction to the events of 9/11. The play is set in Jerusalem at the time of the crusades. Like today, the city is claimed by three religions:

Christians, Jews and Muslims. Nathan returns here after a business journey to find that his daughter

here after a business journey to find that his daughter Lessing’s The Jews. Photo: courtesy Berliner

Lessing’s The Jews. Photo: courtesy Berliner Ensemble


Peter Fitz as Nathan der Weise. Photo: Monika Rittershaus Recha has been rescued from a

Peter Fitz as Nathan der Weise. Photo: Monika Rittershaus

Recha has been rescued from a fire by a Christian crusader, who was only able to perform such a feat after the Muslim Sultan Saladin, whose prisoner he had been, had spared his life because the young Christian reminded him of his brother Assam. Nathan himself has previously been the victim of a horrific act of religious violence which has robbed him of his wife and seven sons. But, following Lessing’s philosophy of enlightenment, he has put aside all thoughts of violent revenge to devote the rest of his life to the dictates of human reason. Already it is clear that the action of the play is sub- ject to an almost fairytale idealism. Especially when it transpires at the end that Nathan’s adopted daughter is not a Jew but a Christian and that the Christian crusader is in fact the nephew of Assam

the Muslim. At the centre of the play is the Sultan’s question to Nathan: which faith has the right to claim universal validity? Nathan’s answers him with a parable. A royal dynasty in the east pos- sesses a ring which gives the holder the quality of being acceptable to God and mankind alike. The ring is passed on from generation to generation until a monarch, who has three sons all of whom he loves equally, receives it. The monarch decides to make two identical rings and passes them all on to his sons. The question is, which son possesses the authentic ring? A judge is called in to decide. His answer is that whoever rules in the most tolerant and loving manner possesses the authentic ring. In other words true religious faith and authority can only be tested and asserted by practi- cal humanity. Nathan’s argument so con- vinces the Sultan that he puts aside his nascent hostility to Jews in favor of eter- nal friendship. As I have outlined above, at the end of the play we learn that prac- tically all the characters, no matter what their ostensible religion, are related to each other. And in the final round of mutual hugs and kisses even Nathan is adopted as an honorary grandfather. Absurd as the plotting might be it admirably exposes the fallacy of classing good and evil according to religious faith. Claus Peymann takes the fairytale literal- ly and present us with a colorful and live- ly if naïve comedy of mistaken identities which persuades me that such an inter- pretation is far more faithful to the spirit of the text than the conventional sequence of sombre debates. At first I thought the production was pleasantly and surprisingly witty, but after a while the predomi- nance of wit began to make me wonder if this was acceptable. As the evening proceeded Peymann convinced me that it was not only acceptable but almost the only way to go about interpreting this seemingly ponderous classical text. That said, the production was also determined we should not for- get the terrifying reality of contemporary religious absolutism. Here the signs of terrorism—swastikas, bombs and rockets, an aeroplane, a Jewish star and even a phallus—are obscene graffiti scrawled on one wall of the set. As with Tabori’s production the


actors, whilst ever mindful of the underlying seri- ousness behind Lessing’s play, seemed to have had a ball. The audience, too, were on their feet cheer- ing and applauding at the curtain call. The Recklinghausen festival was not all Lessing, far from it. As in Heyme’s era the program contained prestigious international shows. Peter Brooke arrived from Paris to give us a production of Beckett’s Happy Days. There was also a brilliantly danced version of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet from Aix-en-Provence, albeit in a rather conven- tional production. Most intriguing of all was the production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler played by the luminous film star Isabelle Huppert. By all accounts this production had been hailed as a sensa- tion in Paris. I have to admit it was incredible:

incredibly old-fashioned, incredibly unimaginative, incredibly superficial and incredibly banal. I had imagined that out-front declamation was a thing of the past, a lifeless throwback not to the twentieth century but to the classical conventions of French seventeenth century tragedy. But here it was again in 2005, as if theatre had been ossified for three hun- dred years only to be dug out and thrown back at us in all its dusty irrelevance. With the exception of Huppert, whose Hedda prefers to withdraw into a shell of isolation, the characters are condemned by the director to pacing back and forth across the stage like lost tennis players and declaiming their texts to the walls or the ceiling in somber tones of heavy

significance. Huppert’s tight-lipped isolation not only had the virtue of emphasising Hedda’s estrangement from her surroundings. It linked her silent contempt for the goings-on about her with that of the bored and astounded audience. If this is the best of French theatre…mon Dieu! That German actors are equally capable of empty generalized emoting was made abundantly clear to me in an astoundingly amateurish produc- tion of one of three world premieres presented dur- ing the Recklinghausen festival. In theory, the idea of presenting entirely new plays was admirable, especially since the plays in question were put for- ward by three of the leading German Verlags as being unjustly neglected. Hence I was all the more curious to find out what hidden contemporary dra- matic treasures had been kept from us to date by the collective incompetence of the theatre dramaturgs in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. It was not as if all the dramatists were young and unknown, far from it. Kerstin Specht has fifteen plays to her cred- it, although her greatest successes date back to the 1980s. Her current play The Time of the Tortoises was set on a coast in Spain. Ben and Ali, two ille- gal immigrants from North Africa are working on a vegetable plantation for a pauper’s wage. Cut off from the chance of ever being able to participate in the riches of European society they compensate for this by dreaming of finding a tortoise, an image which (for them at least) means that you are des-

an image which (for them at least) means that you are des- Isabelle Huppert in Hedda

Isabelle Huppert in Hedda Gabler. Photo: Pascal Victor


The Time of the Tortoises. Photo: Felix Holland tined to possess half the world. The

The Time of the Tortoises. Photo: Felix Holland

tined to possess half the world. The play opens with the two workers lying motionless amidst a pile of garbage. Two local photographers arrive to take photos, and it is not long before we realize that Ben and Ali are already dead. The rest of the play con- sists of a series of wranglings between the two dead men, in which their story is pieced together in the shape of a surreal requiem: their struggle for sur- vival, human warmth, recognition and basic dignity in a world which regards them as nothing but cut- price labour units to be discarded as soon as their “sell-by” date has been reached. The trouble with Specht’s play was that she failed to tell us anything more than we already know. No insights, no analy- sis, no developing action; nothing but a helpless attempt to enlist our sympathies by throwing the sufferings of the two protagonists in our faces. At the end I was angry, not at the thought of the suffer- ings of immigrant workers in a globalized world, but at the sheer incompetence of the whole enter- prise. That Specht wrote the play in the first place is fine. All artists have a right to failure. But that her theatre agency, the Verlag der Autoren failed to realize that they would be doing her a grave dis- service by pushing it onto the market is shameful.

The second play, Dyptichon by Helmut Krausser, was somewhat more intriguing, despite its pretentiously off-putting title. Like Specht, Krausser also has also a pretty impressive track record: nine novels and ten plays in fifteen years, not speak of two volumes of poetry, libretti, radio plays and twelve volumes of diaries. Or so the pub- licity has it. His two act play—here performed without an interval—is a piece of expressionist grand guignol, centered on an incestuous relation- ship between a neurotically repressed son and his mother in a hermetic petit-bourgeois milieu. Since one of Krausser’s major obsessions is to expose the sordid realities behind the middle-class world of respectable appearance it is not hard to guess the symbolic idea behind the play’s title. But here the protagonists are not content with their own private love-hate relationship, shot through with guilt and mutual recriminations, for they are involved in an even more abhorrent recurring ritual. Every week the son places an advertisement in the local news- paper looking for sexual contacts with willing young women. This time the victim is Elke, a young supermarket cashier, who is first raped by the son before his mother’s eyes and then murdered


before being cut up limb for limb, packed into a black plastic bag and disposed of after the couple have eaten the more tender parts of her body. The play finishes with the arrival of a down-at-heel neighbor—clearly also a regular visitor—not to expose the cannibalistic murderers to the outside world, but simply to take his share of the goodies:

“the navel down to the upper thigh”. I am sure that an all-out, blood-and-guts production would have been really enjoyable. It might even have prompted the audience to question our own more unpleasant instincts and impulses. Instead the production by the National Theatre of Weimar ducked out of giv- ing us the full works, rejecting the Punch-and-Judy antics in favour of a repressed stylisation set in a closed-off, antiseptic space which was as empty as the world the characters inhabited. The third of the new plays was the most promising of the lot. Mit dem Gurkenflieger in die Südsee, written by Cristoph Nußbaumeder is anoth- er of those impossible titles so loved by Germans. A “Gurkenflieger” is a long flat harvesting machine on which workers lie when they are harvesting cucum- bers. As in Specht’s play, the workers are once again exploited foreigners, this time in Bavaria. Most of them have come from Poland for the season in the hope of earning some ready cash to support their families back home. Nußbaumeder has written

the play in a socio-realistic style which reminded me a little of a play by David Rudkin called “Afore Night Come” which featured rural workers and cul- minated in a nasty ritual murder. This play too con- tains a particularly nasty piece of violence and the director, a woman called Bernarda Horres, clearly felt that it also had archaic strands worthy of Greek tragedy. As a result she opted to reject the individ- ual voices of the workers in favor of choral speak- ing and to transform the subjects into archetypes springing out of the anonymous mass. This worked to a degree at the start although I could not conceal my unease that the director’s approach rather reflected an unwillingness or inability to deal with realistic situations and psychological characteriza- tion. For when it came to the inevitable violence she threw aside all attempts at stylization and pre- sented us with an almost obscenely realistic piece of rape, which not only filled me with horror but also pity for the leading actress. Not unfortunately in the Greek sense, but rather for the public humiliation forced on her by the director who later proceeded to exploit her power by demanding that she strip naked and stand facing the audience, turning us all into potential exploiters. Hoffman himself turned up later in the sea- son as the director of Hamlet, which I did not get to see. The festival also contained three fantasy

of Hamlet , which I did not get to see. The festival also contained three fantasy

Dyptichon. Photo: Maik Schuck


Mit dem Gurkenflieger in die Südsee . Photo: Christian Brachwitz shows, Papageno , Mummenshanz and

Mit dem Gurkenflieger in die Südsee. Photo: Christian Brachwitz

shows, Papageno, Mummenshanz and Cirque Éloize with Nomaden, a number of solo shows by German performers and a large festival of cabaret and fringe, not forgetting occasional free evening shows in the bars. But it was left to the end of the festival before we were presented with a truly won- derful piece of acting fireworks. Hannelore Hoger’s sizzling performance as Martha in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? not only overshadowed the brave efforts of the rest of the cast but also restored my faith in the ability of German actors to compete on a level with the very best of British and American artists when it comes to portraying char- acters with physical and psychological precision, full-blown power and understated subtlety. When Hoffmann’s announced his first sea- son it was denounced by many of his detractors as being nothing more than a return to Heyme’s mix of classics, entertainment and fringe. Given the finan- cial legacy left by Castorf’s short reign it would probably have been unwise to have attempted any- thing else. As it is when Frank Hoffmann announced the final figures for the season it tran- spired that he had not only re-won the audiences alienated by Castorf but even surpassed all previous records achieved by Heyme. 90% average can’t be bad. If anything else it certainly shows that Hoffmann had his finger right on the pulse of pub- lic taste. Now he has won their trust and approba- tion, he might feel free to experiment a little more.

Scarcely had the festival in Recklinghausen come to an end than we were thrown into the first season of the Ruhr Triennale festival under the direction of Jürgen Flimm, who is also the boss at Salzburg. As in Recklinghausen the festival opened with a huge open-air party in front of the imposing Hall of the Century, a disused Krupp factory in Bochum which has been converted at monstrous expense to the performing headquar- ters of the Triennale. Just a week later in the same hall the classical soprano Cecilia Bartoli rocked her way with equal verve through a program of Baroque music whose upbeat numbers she executed in a masterful “scat” style equal to if not better than good old Ella Fitzgerald. Within seconds Bartoli was able to switch her glorious voice to the most painful laments thereby taking the audience on a switchback of emotions which had us on our feet bellowing for more at the end. A few days later I visited the first of the so- called Triennale “creations” commissioned espe- cially for the festival. Nächte unter Tage is a German pun which superficially sounds like “nights under days” unless you happen to know that the phrase “unter Tage” is a local miners’ phrase mean- ing underground. Appropriately enough, Nights Underground was staged in the disused buildings of the Zollverein coking plant in Essen. This was to be the first of four shows by the director Andrea Breth and at the same time an homage to her work in


Bochum at the Schaubühne and in Vienna. This show was utterly different from her usual produc- tions in that it was a scenic installation rather than a play. Here the audience goes on a 40 minute jour- ney through the vast coking plant past actors and images evoking the life and work of local miners. The texts were provided by the poet Albert Ostermeier, who had been the author responsible for the Gerard Mortier’s wretched opening show three year’s previously. Ostermeier obviously intends his texts to be allusive. Unfortunately, to me at least, they are either wilfully obscure or utterly banal. The journey through the amazing coking plant is always a giddy experience. Here we were met with workers endlessly tossing discarded clothes and shoes into a mighty chute and watching them waft into the depths. An actor playing an old miner sat a desk pretending to write a diary of how flora and fauna were once more taking over the empty plant. At another point we were confronted with silent workers piling up industrial material, a tight-lipped woman waiting at home beside a 1950s radio, a coal-blackened worker hurling his hammer into a huge tub before wheeling it off into the night, the sight of a half-naked miner’s corpse lying in a bath tub behind a window pane, a down-and-out drunken man mumbling an incomprehensible text, the won- derful Udo Samel (one of Peter Stein’s stars at the

old Schaubühne) dressed as a worker and meditat- ing on something so private that all one could do was to admire the way in which he made the text his own; and finally, the distant sight of a grand piano floating on a raft on a canal alongside the plant. I later found out that one of the performers was the classical pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja. Many of the critics raved over Ms. Breth’s creation. Others like me who had been on similar journeys through the plant during large scale exhibitions were utterly mystified and angry at the failure of the show to get anywhere near the real historical and social experi- ences of the local mining population. This well- heeled bourgeois view of the working-class world never began to get to terms with its subject and sim- ply cast a veil of pretension and deception over very real suffering and hardship. Ms. Breth should keep to straight theatrical texts where her she can unfold her undoubted talents to the full. Shortly after the premiere of Nights Underground the Triennale presented us with televi- sion films of two of her previous productions— Julien Green’s South (a marvellous show which I had seen in Bochum many years before) and Schiller’s Don Carlos, followed by her production of Schiller’s Mary Stuart from the Burg Theater in Vienna and Lessing’s Emilia Galotti. I was unable to see Emilia Galotti earlier

Galotti . I was unable to see Emilia Galotti earlier Wilfried Minks’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia

Wilfried Minks’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Photo: Brinkhoff: Mogenburg


Andrea Breth’s Emilia Galotti. Photo: Bernd Uhlig on in Recklinghausen in a guest production from

Andrea Breth’s Emilia Galotti. Photo: Bernd Uhlig

on in Recklinghausen in a guest production from Hamburg, which by all accounts was radically (post?) modern. I was told later that I would not have understood it anyway because Michael Thalheimer’s approach to the text was to have it spoken as quickly as possible to expose the charac- ters as hollow phrase-mongerers to emphasize his (our?) contemporary distrust of enlightenment phi- losophy. Ms. Breth, as always, took the text and the author more seriously, although setting the play in a modern context. When the play opens we see the Prince of Guastalla, played by Sven Erich Bechtolf, clad in a white dressing-gown, weighed down in thought and wandering amongst empty chairs to the background murmurs of an Italian voice coming from the radio. The Prince’s lonely anxieties become clear when we learn that he has fallen in love with Emilia Galotti, the daughter of a local aristocrat. This might be fine were it not for the fact that the Prince has recently alienated her father and, more importantly, that Emilia is engaged to be mar- ried to Count Appiani very soon. Not to be outdone the Prince decides to take her for himself against all the odds, and when his emissary fails to buy off the Count, he has Emilia kidnapped on the way to the church. Unfortunately the kidnappers kill her fiancé

in the attempt and Galotti, in fear of her honour, feels obliged to commit suicide rather than give way to the desire of the Prince. As it happens her father does the dirty deed for her, stabbing her in the breast with his dagger. Of all the plays I saw by Lessing this year, this was the least convincing, not least because the figure of Galotti seems virtuous to the point of being ridiculous. That said the production was astound- ingly perceptive and the general level of acting extremely high. Lessing’s poetic style is never easy to master but here the verse was spoken with such ease and lucidity that at times it seemed almost col- loquial. This of course has everything to do with Ms. Breth’s remarkable talent for mining the depths of characters and her insistence on narrative clarity. Her production illuminated the machinations and manipulations of the protagonists and highlighted the distasteful misuse of power for personal ends in a truly resounding manner. Gallotti’s princely protagonist, Sven Erich Bechtholf turned up again shortly afterwards as the director and author of another of the Trienniale’s “creations,” a musical play entitled Stones and Hearts set in the Alps at the start of the nineteenth century. The first thing which confronts the audi-


ence is a gigantic set consisting of mountains behind which is a valley containing the musicians and before which is a small middleclass salon. We are at the dawn of a new age. A circle of middleclass citizens are meeting in a Geneva house to discuss whether the Alps arose as a result of the Biblical Flood or, as a clockmaker named Ambrosius Nektarine claims, through the movement of tecton- ic plates. This clash of world views at the start of the Romantic era was evidently the driving force behind the idea of the play. Nektarine decides to go up into the mountains in search of a shining crystal which he maintains will prove his thesis. On his way he encounters witches, evil, magic, the living dead and howling wolves, not to speak of a farcical mixture of mountaineers of different nationalities including a Scottish aristocrat and an Italian who can only express himself in a confusing babble which was as unpalatable as the accompanying music. The only redeeming feature of this sorry enterprise was the wonderful choir, the Chorwerk Ruhr, whose talents were sadly wasted on spectacu- lar dross. It would be too easy to blame the author/director for this self-indulgent mess. One can only ask why the Mr Flimm preferred to com- mission a complete beginner in favor of an experi-

enced dramatist to write the play, and why the dra- maturg in charge so patently failed to do his job. This was supposed to be a major contribution to the Triennale’s theme of the Romantic idea. To quote from Ostermeier’s Nights under Days: “I dug at the truth, but what came to light was only….” Thankfully the festival did at least throw up one delightful and wholly successful creation, The Trojan Boat, which the makers described as a new form of operetta. Indeed it was. For a start there was no set whatsoever, and the properties con- sisted of nothing but a miniature boat made of fold- ed paper placed downstage centre. This is the Trojan boat in question which has dropped anchor one night between two feuding islands, consisting on the one hand of macho warriors, and on the other of gentle artists, all of whom are played by the musi- cians, a motley bunch from Austria called Mnozil Brass. If this sounds even more farcical than Stones and Hearts, it is. But here the farce is deliberate and brilliantly executed. Aboard the bark is a beautiful young lady (one of the musicians, a unappealingly lanky loon who looses his long plaited ponytail to make the instant transformation) who immediately becomes the romantic target for the rival groups. In a parody of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg each

for the rival groups. In a parody of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg each Stones and Hearts.

Stones and Hearts. Photo: Matthias Baus


player tries to win her heart by wooing her with his instrumental talents. Needless to say they all end up empty-handed. In Austria, Mnozil Brass have been called the Monty Python of the music world. Here their ceaselessly inventive use of the instruments and their ability to lampoon the genre to the point of surrealism culminates with the whole company playing a beautiful piece of music through their noses, to serious, hilarious perfection!


Editorial deadlines prevent me from deal- ing with the rest of the festival so I am unable to give a final judgement on Mr Flimm’s first season. One thing’s for sure: those in charge on the artistic front are going to have to learn to distinguish between genuine artistic ambition and hollow intel- lectual pretensions.

The 2005 Festivals in Bregenz and Salzburg

Glenn Loney


Massive Oil-Refinery Rises Out of Lake Constance!

What does environmental pollution have to do with Verdi and his tragic Il Trovatore? This past summer—and next summer as well—thousands of spectators at the Bregenz Festival will be looking at a huge petrol-plant in Lake Constance, painted an ugly, dark red, suggesting the malignant poisons industries have been spewing out around the world. At the Bregenz Festival, the directorial thrust has been to create a more modern connection, even if only in visual metaphors, and this impressive construction is the sole setting for the Bregenz Festival’s new lake-stage production of Guiseppi Verdi’s Il Trovatore. It is the creation of the imagi- native stage-director Robert Carsen and his even more ingenious stage designer, Paul Steinberg, who wanted to make this opera both resonant and rele- vant.

A major initial problem when fully-staged, open air productions of operas and musicals were in their infancy was audience reception of the mix of vocal and orchestral sound. Spotting microphones across the front of the stage often meant acoustic gaps in important arias or songs when performers moved. Worse, strong winds could blow away even

the sound of the orchestra. All these problems have been definitively resolved at Bregenz, which is now a technical model for what needs to be done to make open air music-theatre productions not only viable, but successful as well. There are some 144 state-of- the-art loudspeakers concealed in the oil refinery construction. Manrico can be easily heard even when he is high atop a catwalk by the flame-belching smoke- stacks of the refinery, as can his evil brother, the Count, when he is in his motorboat on the lake in front of the actual stage. Nothing of the artistry of the actor/singers is lost, nor are Verdi’s arias, duets, and choruses muffled or mangled. The mix of the concealed orchestra with the vocal dynamics is seamless. It does seem a bit odd to hear Mancrico so clearly when he is not only far away from the audience, but also high up in the often windy areas above Lake Constance. At the premiere perform- ance, Alfredo Portillo’s Manrico did seem forced at first, but he soon adjusted. Zeljko Lucic, as the Count, was both vocal- ly and visually firmly in control. This was not an Exxon CEO you would want to tangle with. He is clearly in league with the Mafia in running this refinery (Brando’s Godfather came to mind). Nor was Larissa Diadkova lacking in energy and feroci- ty as the vengeful Azucena, whose mother was burned at the stake by the Count. For Leonora,

mother was burned at the stake by the Count. For Leonora, Paul Steinburg’s impressive refinery set

Paul Steinburg’s impressive refinery set for Il Trovatore. Photo: courtesy Bregenz Festival


however, because of the monumentality of the immense set, Sondra Radvanovsky lost some of the visual impact her vocal passions should have had in her more intimate scenes. The set’s vastness also necessarily dilutes some of the power of confrontations when opponents are widely separated. This is the price to be paid when spectacle rules. Nonetheless, the artful lighting of Patrick Woodroffe does create intimate areas when needed. Miruna Boruzescu’s costumes also help identify principals and the various affilia- tions of chorus and extras. Important supporting roles were ably performed by Clive Bayley (Ferrando), Deanne Meek (Inez), and André Post (Ruiz). In addi- tion to the requisite dancers, the Moscow Chamber Choir and the Bregenz Festival Choir evoked both the Spanish past and the environ- mentally polluted present. Conductor Fabio Luisi put the Vienna Symphony through their Verdian paces with verve. Obviously, with so many performances scheduled for the lake- stage, Troubadour had to be double- and triple- cast. The second cast featured George Petean as Luna, Katia Pellegrino as Leonora, Patriza Patelmo as Azucena, Dario Volonté as Manrico, and Markus Marquardt as Ferrando. Meek and Post retained their roles in this cast.

Lake-Stage Special-Effects and Technical Details

For those who have never been to the Bregenz Festival, it might well be wondered why the lake-stage set has to be so big. There’s a very good visual reason, and not just the needs of the shows being mounted. Early on, festival producers conceived the idea of operettas and operas mounted on a special stage rising right out of the Bodensee. They thought that would attract tourists driving from Germany to Switzerland on this little segment of Austria, and they were right. Over the years, audiences have swelled, often because drive-through tourists saw a monumental lake-stage set and decided to stop over and see the show! Thus, any musical or opera on the lake has to have an immense set, visible from afar. It has to be an eye-catching construction, vir- tually a stage-sculpture in its own right, not a forest of two-dimensional scenic flats. Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess took place underneath an immense, earth-

Porgy and Bess took place underneath an immense, earth- A breathtaking view of the lake-stage at

A breathtaking view of the lake-stage at Bregenz. Photo: courtesy Bregenz Festival

quake-shattered California freeway. Bernstein’s West Side Story played out around the thrusting steel and glass towers of New York City. A long-time feature of Bregenz lake-stage productions has been the use of a boat to sail in between the audience and the stage, and perform- ances customarily have concluded with fireworks displays. The Count’s motorboat sustains the aquat- ic convention, of course, and is dramatically effec- tive in this staging. For good measure, there is even a functional onstage limousine. But ordinary fire- works wouldn’t have made any sense at all: the deeply depressing fatal ending of this opera has no place for celebratory feu d’artifice. Instead, the five towering smokestacks of the refinery provide an ongoing visual orchestration of belching fire that powerfully underscores major dramatic moments. For this past season’s performances, some thousand liters of flammable liquid were required for these magnificent effects. Compressed air heightens the explosions. The sudden and violent bursts of flame are rather like the visual equivalent of great organ-pipes bellowing with searing sound. These are live flames, not projections. They look


terrifying, but the safety precautions developed by Technical Director Gerd Alfons and his staff are impressive, and the cast is never in danger. Nonetheless, this is an immense set to traverse. It is anchored by four tower-like “silos” that suggest a medieval fortress. In addition to the smokestacks, there are six adjoining silos in the center of the structure, plus a maze of tubes winding about. Bridges and catwalks link all of these elements, most of which are used. In fact, some of the play- ing areas are high aloft on decks, stairs, and bridges. This means some of the principals and a number of the extras have to be fast ladder-climbers and deft gangway sprinters. Manrico gets the most taxing physical workout, but the Count also has to put some muscle into his performance. To reinforce the idea of thoughtless pollu- tion of the environment, as well as a calculated cru- elty in dealing with human beings in the quest for power and wealth, the downstage area is the Gypsies’ “Beach.” Azucena, Manrico, and the band of Gypsies are not only a social minority, but they also represent Outsiders, both then and now. The set design and decoration as well as the costuming powerfully reinforce this vision of oppressed peo- ple, exploited and abused by those in power. This beach is covered with garbage and abandoned oil barrels (which are also floating in the lake)and huge pipes which gush pollutants and serve as exits and entrances. Alfons and his team have been very care- ful to avoid any real pollution on stage or in the lake, recreating only the appearance of it.

Carl Nielsen’s Maskerade—A Covent Garden Co-Production

Carl Nielsen’s Maskerade is virtually Denmark’s “national opera” is to suggest that there really isn’t anything else as effective in the Danish Musical Archives. That the work is seldom per- formed by major opera companies also implies that neither its formulaic book nor its music have enough appeal to commend it for the repertory. That may be about to change, thanks to Bregenz Intendant David Pountney’s virtuoso staging, in co- production with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. While the actor/singers’ performances are variously amusing, intense, parodic, or energy-charged, they are all admirable musically. Günter Missenhardt is the quintessential old grouch as the stingy, dictatorial husband and father, Jeronimus. Julia Juon, as his wife


Magdelone, shows the sad effects of a loveless mar- riage on a romantic woman. Jeronimus’ son, Leander, does not look forward to his arranged mar- riage, but he is under threat of disinheritance. Daniel Kirch, along with his servant Henrik (ably played by Markus Brück), makes the most of the comic hijincks created by this situation. Fortunately, in true operetta style, Leander falls in love with Barbara Haveman’s Leonora, who is his intended bride. Her father Leonard (Ernest Suttheimer) is something of a romantic idol for Magdelone as well. What makes this new production so impressive, attractive, and entertaining is the bril- liant imagination with which it has been designed and staged, not only in terms of amazing settings, astonishing costumes, and ingenious lighting, but also in terms of the Personnen-Regie and the frantic choreographies of the actual masquerade ball. In itself, Maskerade is a fairly light work, certainly not as compelling as Nielsen’s admired orchestral music. Pountney and his designers have, however, developed it into a wonderfully avant- garde entertainment. Major credit for this musical spectacle must go to the designers: Johan Engels (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), and

Wolfgang Göbbel (lighting), as well as to Pountney and his choreographer, Renato Zanella. Pountney’s Maskerade production might well be re-titled “The Doors.” Identical doors are the visual signature of this staging. The basic set is

a slanted picture frame-box, inclining from stage-

right to stage-left. It has a mirrored interior—which provides marvelous effects—backed by a row of

five doors, also on the slant. As in that remarkable Japanese film, Howl’s Moving Castle, opening each of the doors reveals a completely different world. One discloses a raging snowstorm, another shows mother Magdelone’s Christmas room. Now and then, what is behind a specific door can change quite dramatically. In the second act’s night scene,

a huge neoclassic doorframe dominates upstage,

flanked by crazily angled windows, rather like the expressionistic settings for The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. In front of this door are a number of free- standing, movable door-boxes, slanted left and right. Opened, one reveals a masquerade-shop, another discloses Leonora, and her maid appears in dominatrix riding-habit in another. In the third act, the full interior set, dimly glimpsed before through the earlier doors, is at last disclosed. Its back wall also has five doors which

disclose a variety of visual treats. Perched above

the wall are silent golden masquerade figures, plus

a giant golden mask. There’s also a five-door sec-

tion that descends from the flies at one point. The picture frame itself is so precisely lit that there is no light spill anywhere. Under white light, the slanted box has a diagonal divide with white below and black above. Under blue light, this all looks as if it were made of blue-hued materials, not merely blue-lit. Under red, all is red. Befitting a production that has one foot in the past and another in the future, the basic archi- tecture is neoclassic, the furniture Biedermeier, but the costumes defy period or logic—at the Masquerade, both Elvis and Marilyn put in appear- ances! There are some visual running-gags, as well. Above the stage, a winged cherub pushes an empty clock-face through the air, and there is a venerable night-watchman right out of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. Both suggest that Time Is Passing. Certainly when night falls, it’s time for the fun-seek- ers to sneak off to the masquerade, not off to bed as Jeronimus has decreed. The high points of this Maskerade are two splendidly odd ballets. One begins with parodies of the classic, but all transmutes: characters seem to range from Marie Antoinette through Gainsborough ladies, to circus-artistes, schoolchildren and Jazz Age flappers. Then there are some sexy girls and boys in trendy bathing-suits, seated at seaside tables, with costumes and furniture that echoes the bold Pop patterns revealed inside the doors. The later dance-development finds Jeronimus disguised as a horned ram with a caveman’s club. His servant has been transformed into a sheep. But when all masks are discarded and transformations swept away, All’s Well That Ends Well

Operatic Terrorist Attack on the White House!

Not even the San Francisco Opera will take

a chance on this new Austrian opera. John Adams is

okay: Nixon in China was good-natured musical foolery, but what American opera ensemble is going to take a chance on a satiric opera which features the President in love with his Doberman, and his aging, but sexually eager wife Nancy upstairs in the presi- dential bedroom? This is Der siebte Himmel in Vierteln. It was a commissioned co-production of the Festival and NetZZeit. Composer and saxophonist Max Nagl has crafted a lively score that owes as much to


Kurt Weill as it does to Johann Strauss, jazzy and

stuffy by turns. Nagl’s collaborator, Franzobel, has zeroed in on the collective animosity and mistrust many Europeans feel about the White House and its occupants. In Franzobel’s libretto (that’s his full professional name, by the way, and he’s won the prestigious Bachmann Prize) despite having a wife named Nancy, the President’s full name is George,

not Ronnie

Just in case any European spectator might miss the point of this outrageous musical satire, there is a small-scale White House at stage right which serves as the Doberman’s dog-house. The actual set is a two-level, four-compartment mock- up. Nancy’s bedroom and George’s office are above; below are the White House kitchen and the resident Muslim terrorist’s small, cell-like sleeping- quarters.

George is so obsessed with his dog he has no time for Important Matters of State. His gung-ho, ex-President father, who lives on the White House roof in a pup-tent, drops in to lecture him of the dan- gers of being seen as weak. This odd father-figure is smitten with an animal activist who proposes to assassinate the President, but who finally cannot take life. The Muslim terrorist, Kalafati, is a White House factotum concealing his true intentions, even romancing the desperate Nancy. He poisons the President’s dog and stuffs it with explosives. His cell-phone fails to set it off, but the shambling White House cook accidentally ignites it, with dev- astating effect. The set collapses, but the entire cast finds themselves in the Seventh Heaven at last. Nancy’s wrinkles have disappeared! The creators of this unusually explosive mini-epic see it as an operetta about the President and his enemies, the Terrorists, about the war of the West against the Evil of the East and for a better life in the here and now, but also about the battle in the East against the Evil in the West and for a better life in the hereafter. Nagl’s score could recommend itself for American import, but Franzobel’s libretto is more problematic, and not just because it mocks recog- nizable targets. The words spoken, whether prose incantations or short verses, have the effect of dog- gerel gone mad. Or gone to the dogs, as it seems. There are cascades of rhyming German words—like Cockney rhyming-slang—so distorted by a Viennese dialect that even speakers of High German might be baffled. This is amazingly ingenious, but almost untranslatable into any English equivalent.

at least the Doberman is a female.

The uninhibited cast—good voices and able farceurs all—included Priti Coles as Nancy, Dariusz Niemerowicz as George, a rubber-jointed Martin Busen as Kalafati, Mark Hamman as the President’s dad, and Bea Robein as the Animal Rights Terrorist. Michael Scheidl staged the pro- duction, with sets and costumes by Nora Scheidl and lights by Norbert Joachim. Alexander Drcar conducted jauntily.

Ambitious Summer Season of Intendant David Poutney

This was the second season of David Pountney’s Bregenz Intendancy. Although he made his name as an opera director in London, primarily at the English National Opera, he is now no stranger to major international stages, and certainly not to Bregenz, where he has dazzled thousands with his innovative productions of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer and Beethoven’s Fidelio. Traditionally, the Festival opens with a special morning program, complete with Austrian Military Honor Guards, Vorarlberg kiddies in dis- tinctive tribal costumes, and the President of Austria, who used to make a major address. With the late President, Dr. Thomas Klestil, the speech was often an important statement about culture and society. This summer, Pountney surprised both the VIPs and the locals who flocked to the event. Not only were speeches kept to a minimum, but every- one got a lively preview of the various productions prepared for the weeks ahead. In addition to a femme-military chorus line from Johann Strauss’s The Merry War (Der lustige Kreig), there were other cameos as well. An excellent video documentary of past Festival productions and the backstage work leading up to the current season proved both instruc- tive and entertaining. Austria’s genial and obviously admired President Heinz Fischer greeted the audience, but left the pontificating to Franz Morack, the culture chief from Vienna. He praised the Bregenz Festival as one of the most successful in Central Europe. Several seasons ago, he seemed to be tolling the deathknell for federal subsidy for the arts; now, he was presenting the Bregenz Festival—which still has various governmental subsidies—as an impor- tant economic influence in the area. Meanwhile, the Festival has attracted various corporate and indus- trial sponsors, notably IBM, UBS, and Casinos Austria. The trickle-down effect of its expenditures


in mounting and performing the productions is locally considerable, not to mention that same effect from free-spending tourists. In fact, the Festival has become very good publicity for tourism in all of Vorarlberg. Intendant David Pountney has long shown a preference for works of Music-Theatre which deal with important social and political issues. Thus, it was no surprise last season that Kurt Weill was sin- gled out for directorial attention. Perhaps Strauss’s The Merry War also could be viewed from that lofty perspective, but the production of Molnar’s Liliom seemed to speak to more immediate human con- cerns. The offerings under the KAZ rubric (Kunst aus der Zeit), such as Seventh Heaven, proved much more experimental and challenging in concept. Among these were Imitation of Life, inspired by

Bret Easton Ellis and David Lynch;


Trilogy’s exploration of Indian music, and a special offering from Hamburg’s Thalia Theatre (a frequent guest at the Bregenz Festival). For the record: The Festival’s budget this

season was 25 million euro. Of that sum, 5.5 mil- lion euro was provided by government subsidies:

40% federal, 35% provincial, and 25% municipal. The lake-stage seating accommodates some 7,000 spectators. The festival-theatre seats 1,650, with places for 2,000 in the Workshop Stage, depending on production-conformations. Together with other smaller festival performance-venues, Bregenz offers a total of 12,700 seats.

ce qui

.,” with idea and music by Olga Neuwirth,


Salzburg Festival opera-tickets are the most expensive opera-seats in the world. For any performance of the new Traviata, a single ticket was worth three thousand euros on the Black Market. It was reported that some very deep-pocketed opera lovers had sent blank, signed checks to Festival Artistic Director Dr. Peter Ruzicka, hoping for any stray Traviata tickets he might have in his desk. Obviously, this production, starring Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon, was the hit of the Salzburg season even before its premiere. But it was by no means the only artistic success. Tales of the Vienna Woods proved an impressively imagined and colorfully conceived revival of Ödön von Horváth’s prewar vision of the desperate lives of working class Viennese, with Hitler waiting in the wings. Franz Schreker’s challenging opera, Die

Gezeichneten, or Branded, a work condemned by the Nazis, was both a visual and musical astonish- ment. Nor was Mozart neglected, especially as Salzburg is looking forward to Mozart Year 2006, with productions of all of his operatic works. Mitridate, Re di Ponto offered a foretaste of things to come. The Young Directors Project and Dichter zu Gast also enhanced the Festival programming.

Elliptical, Transcendant Traviata

The Salzburg version was the most starkly simple and beautiful Traviata I have ever seen, and one of the most affecting I’ve ever heard. Even though its stars, Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, and Thomas Hampson are all Met stars, it will never be seen on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. This is the magical but heartbreaking Salzburg Festival staging of Willy Decker, in the stunningly spare setting of set-designer Wolfgang Gussmann. While it’s true that Traviata can break your heart even in a concert-performance, and generate even more emotional power in lavish period-setting (think Franco Zeffirelli), the human passions of this story of a doomed love are so basic that elaborate sets and costumes are often a distraction. In Salzburg’s Grosses Festspielhaus, with one of the widest stage openings in the world, the radiant Anna Netrebko and the darkly handsome Rolando Villazon, as Violetta and Alfredo, shoot sparks of emotional fire in what is essentially a very long ellipse. With an imposing doorway at stage-

right, this sleek ellipse extends across the stage, with a shallow bench running along its upstage mar- gin, to end at the opposite side of the stage with a giant clock face to remind both cast and audience that time is running out for poor Violetta. One of Willy Decker’s many ingenious ideas is to have old Doctor Grenvil (Luigi Roni), who comes to her deathbed, a brooding Presence throughout the opera, suggesting that Death is hov- ering over her even in her happiest moments in the county with Alfredo. Doctor Death always has a white camellia in his hand to give to the Lady of the Camellias. Instead of designing an elaborate Belle Époque gambling-room for Alfredo’s catastrophic confrontation with Violetta, designer Gussmann uses the clock face as a gaming table. At one point, Violetta was even carried aloft on this timely sur- face. At the last, she died on the clock-as-deathbed. The only real furniture on this gleaming spare white stage space is several white sofas. In the first act, there’s only one red sofa. In the second act, in the country, there are five sofas, with very large floral prints on cloths thrown over them. These floral patterns are projected above and against the back wall. Curiously, Gussmann and Susana Mendoza have costumed Violetta and Alfredo in floral-print robes as well. This is a cute idea, but when they are seated, they effectively dis- appear into the sofa patterns. In the stark third act, the floral covers are pulled off the sofas, with the wall behind now a grayish pattern.

off the sofas, with the wall behind now a grayish pattern. La Traviata at Salzburg’s Grosses

La Traviata at Salzburg’s Grosses Festspielhaus. Photo: courtesy Salzburg Festival


Violetta is initially costumed in a wonder- fully fitting seductive red dress. It moves with her, like a second-skin. It is, in effect, her trademark as a Lady of the Night. At Flora’s gala party, howev- er, the dress is used in the bullfight ballet as a red cape for the Toreador to brandish in the mock bull’s face. Then a man mocks her by putting on her red dress. Flora’s Party is a masked ball, so the hordes of Chorus men, all masked, seem even more a mass of unfeeling sensualists, indifferent to Violetta’s impending tragedy. As half of these choristers are women dressed as men, it’s worth noting that Hugo Boss did wonders in re-designing men’s formal- wear to fit women’s bodies, making them look and move like men. The back-wall of the ellipse has an upper edge, over which the Masked Revelers can stare down at Violetta from time to time. Violetta’s sad death and the tragic failure of her love with Alfredo, are made all the more pathetic and powerful by the essential simplicity of this production. But there is not an opera theatre in the world that can replicate this staging, without having to shrink it to fit the proscenium opening, and thus, diminish its visual impact. Nor are there many potential Violettas who can glide and swoop across this vast stage with the ease and energy and joy of Anna Netrebko. And Rolando Villazon can match her, step-for-step, glide-for-glide. In addition to their splendid voices and passionate interpreta- tions of their arias and duets, they are both intense- ly physical actor/singers. Every movement has a meaning, and every musical phrase is reflected in their body language. The musical expressions seem to grow out of what their faces and bodies seem to be saying to each other. This amazing duo seem the ideal Verdian Violetta and Alfredo. Usually, the different settings for the three acts, especially in Period or over-decorated produc- tions, give audiences strong visual clues about the social circumstances and emotional temperature of each section. With the deliberately neutral Salzburg unit set, much depends on the talents of the actor/singers to make this manifest. Anna Netrebko is notably nuanced, yet always powerfully focused in moving from glamorous party-girl, through infatuated woman, to despairingly dying faded beauty. Her Sempera Libera is both exciting and foreboding. Indeed, the astonishing Austrian TV (ORF) taping of the Salzburg production shows their faces close-up in passionate encounters that seem like the real thing rather than opera acting. It’s rumored that

there will be a commercial DVD of this splendid Salzburg Traviata, which Carlo Rizzi conducted.

Banned by the Nazis: Franz Schrecker’s Branded

When Dr. Peter Ruzicka became Intendant of the Salzburg Festival, he announced his intention to produce forgotten or neglected works by Holocaust Victims and others whose works had been banned by the Nazis. Not all the Jewish com- posers, playwrights, and librettists died in the death camps, but even those who escaped to England or America had their creations shelved or destroyed. This past summer, his plan has paid off in a splen- did way, with the handsome and provocative pro- duction of Franz Schrecker’s Die Gezeichneten, which can be rendered as Branded or even Singled- Out. As a Jew, Schrecker certainly must have often felt branded among anti-Semitic Germans, some of whom were his musical colleagues. He may have identified, even if metaphorically, with his curious hero, the dwarfish, hunch-backed, and ugly art lover Alviano Salvago (Robert Brubaker). Despite his physical disadvantages, Alviano is a very wealthy Genovese and a patron of the arts. He also has a circle of aristocratic but rather feline male friends. For them, he has con- structed a magic island, where they can party and indulge their fantasies. There is even a secret grot- to on the island where his noble friends conduct orgies. However, he has never been there, as his deformities would surely repel pleasure seekers. Alviano is fascinated by the beautiful painter Carlotta Nardi (Anne Schwanewilms), who is eager to paint him. He misinterprets her interest as per- sonal. But, as she says, she is a painter of hands, and when she has painted a person’s hands, then she has his or her Essence. Alviano’s portrait is a pair of dead hands. Like the crippled Alviano, she is also “Branded,” an essential outsider. Citizens of Genoa are disturbed at the dis- appearance of some young girls. It’s feared that they may have been kidnapped, raped, and mur- dered. In fact, it’s Alviano’s trendy friends who are doing this, using under-age girls in perverse orgies in the Grotto. Distressed at these reports, Alviano makes a gift of his island to the city. This is blocked by Duke Antoniotto Adorno (Robert Hale) who wants to protect his fellow aristocrats. In the event, it is finally Alviano’s most handsome, virile aristo- cratic “friend,” Andrea Tamare (Michael Volle),


who falsely denounces Alviano as the predator and murderer, even as he brutally possesses the masochistic Carlotta, who obviously has a death wish. Finally, Alviano goes berserk and kills Tamare, deteriorating into a crazy jester. This night- marish tale would be compelling enough as a play, but with Schrecker’s potent score, it becomes even more powerful and frightening. The actor/singers are all admirable, especially Brubaker, Volle, and Schwanewilms. Alviano is costumed in a corset and pink underwear, suggesting repressed transgender desires. It’s questionable whether he would seem as sympathetic as an outsider were he played by a real- ly deformed dwarf, or even made up to look ugly and repellant. Andrea Schmidt-Futterer’s handsome period costumes distinguish the principals, but they also stunningly decorate the stage of the Felsenreitschule, as chorus and dancers glide about the Riding-School’s arcades in “Amadeus” masks, tricornes, and black cloaks, evoking a ghostly Venetian Carnivale. There are also mysterious seductive semi-naked houris, both male and female, with elaborate ostrich plume headdresses. On the vast open stage of the Salzburg Prince-Archbishop’s elegant Manège, carved out of the mother rock of the Mönchsberg, there is only one major set piece. Designed by Raimund Bauer, it is the ruin of a shattered Colossus, lying on the stage. At one point, the side of the statue slides down to reveal the orgy grotto. Nikolaus Lehnhoff conceived and staged this production. Kent Nagano, Munich’s new GMD, conducted with both vitality and sensitivity. This is a fascinating staging which ought to be more widely seen. Certainly Franz Schrecker’s Die Gezeichneten also deserves to be further explored in other productions and given a place in the repertory.

Gluck’s Alceste in Mozart’s Scenery

Once again, simplicity and dignity in opera performance triumphed over elaborate scenery, lav- ish costumes, and complicated stage movement. On this occasion, the opera was Chevalier Gluck’s Alceste, in which necessity proved a virtue. It had to be performed in semi-staged concert in the con- fining set of Mozart’s Mitridate, in the courtyard of the Prince-Archbishop’s Residenz. In fact, this worked very well by focusing attention on the principals and permitting their pas- sionate interpretations of Gluck’s music, and the


texts of Marie François Louis Gand Leblanc Roullet, to animate this classic myth (the librettist’s full name is an aria in itself) As Alceste, Anna Caterina Antonacci sang like liquid gold. Charles Workman was much more than workman-like as Admète, with Topi Lehtipu as Évandre, and Luca Pisaroni as Hercule and a Herald. Johann Reuter, Sandra Trattnigg, and Mikhail Petrenko completed the cast. Ivor Bolton conducted.

Mozart’s Mitridate Almost in Concert

Also in the courtyard, Mozart’s Mitridate, Re di Ponto did not fare quite so well in Jürgen Bäckmann’s unusual stage set. Most of the action was confined to a very shallow white forestage, almost like a corridor, which made the action seem forced, almost like a semi-staged concert, which was probably not the effect director Günter Krämer had hoped to achieve. Although this fable of a suspicious father and his ambitious sons is nominally set in ancient times, Krämer has updated it, so that a military briefing, complete with chalkboard and a stage- wide row of folding chairs, could have been taking place in US Headquarters in Iraq, which was Ponto once upon a time. At the opening, “Mitridate é morto” is graphitized on a white translucent upstage panel, but Mitridate (Richard Croft) is not dead in a battle with the invading Romans, as all believe. He’s coming back incognito to see how his two sons take his death, and how they will behave now that the throne seems empty. The sons, the brilliant counter- tenor Bejun Mehta as Farnace, and Miah Persson as Sifare, are seen first in short pants, like schoolboys. Farnace crowns himself and declares his love for Aspasia (Netta Or), Mitridate’s intended. This dev- astates his original fiancée, Ismene (Ingela Bohlin). Farnace’s actions infuriate the jealous, vengeful, murderous Sifare, who is also loves Aspasia. Sifare demonstrates his courage by committing suicide, rather than surrender to the Roman Invaders, who have actually been invited into the land by the con- niving Farnace. Understandably, Mitridate is very angry at these events, and he orders the axe and the beheading-block. What prevents this production from becoming just another convoluted opera seria plot with impressive singers making the most of Mozart’s marvelous music, is an aspect of the stage design. The top level of the upstage wall is totally

useable. At one point, it is filled with fifteen baro- quely red-coated Mozarts. Bewigged like Mozart, they may well be only the chorus passing as baroque gentlemen and officers. Behind the stage wall is a slanting sheet of mylar. This reflects the ascent and descent of the redcoats on an unseen inclined plane attached to the back of the wall. The image rever- sals possible with this device are amazing. Later, the redcoats are transformed into men in white gar- ments, sitting as at Muslim prayers. An Arabic inscription runs along above the stage frame, possi- bly to suggest the region of Ponto, though neither the Royal Family nor its subjects could have been Muslims in that mythic time. Under the leadership of Marc Minkowski, the baroque Mozarteum Orchestra was splendid, with special honors to Hector McDonald for his pristine horn-solo.

A Monstrous Magic Flute

Is Salzburg really ready to celebrate

Mozart’s 250 th birthday? The new production of Die Zauberflöte, is one of those totally misguided productions whose determination to be visually dif- ferent ignores these essentials. It is perfectly true that (as Zauberflöte is a kind of fairytale, but metaphorically and symbolically so very much more than that) directors and designers can imagine all kinds of stage visions for this Singspiel. Nonetheless, no matter how inventive or fantastical productions may be, the staging, the sets, and the costumes should not distract from, nor work against, the score and the libretto. But that is exactly what happened at Salzburg, thanks to stage director Graham Vick and his designer Paul Brown. To begin with, instead of Prince Tamino (Michael Schade) being overwhelmed by a great dragon or giant snake in some fantastic landscape, he seems like a callow college frat boy who has just found a small snake in his bed. The audience dis- covers him in his cramped little bedroom, cluttered with such Boys’ Life objects as a surfboard and an aquarium. The walls are covered with heavily pat- terned wallpaper, through which the three ladies of the Queen of the Night slither, wearing dresses fea- turing the same pattern. Instead of descending from the starry Heavens, or rising from the bowels of the earth, this low-budget Queen (Anna-Kristiina Kaappola) emerges from under Tamino’s sheets. Though this staging suggests that she lusts for the Prince, she hit all the notes without much passion.


In a moment reminiscent of C.S. Lewis, Tamino opens his closet to discover Papageno (Markus Werba) in another world. Later, there are only his clothes in the closet. The scene with Monostatos (Burkhard Ulrich) threatening Pamina (Genia Kühmeier), with the three little Vienna Choirboys monitoring the action, takes place for some odd reason on a very confining spiral staircase. Later, Sarastro’s noble realm turns out to be a huge field of sunflowers, in which some of the characters and their actions are inadvertently hidden. The wild animals that Tamino tames with his Magic-Flute are not seen, except on the distant fringes of this set. The second act is set in a huge old folk’s home. The Queen’s women now seem feeble old men. Sarastro himself (René Pape) is something of an old gaffer. Fortunately, he was in good voice for an aged sage. Downstage front and center, men are digging an immense grave. Additionally, there are some more Narnia Doorways. As for the climactic tests of Fire and Water, there are no special effects. Tamino and Pamina just stand still on the bare stage, holding on to each other. Riccardo Muti conducted, but he didn’t seem to be enjoying his work.

Ödön von Horváth’s Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald

If the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party are not specifically chronicled in the pre-war plays of Ödön von Horváth, these disturbing and dangerous phenomena are certainly part of the social fabric of his dramas. In one of his most preg- nant plays, Tales from the Vienna Woods, with its somewhat ironic musical title, there is even an ener- getic and obsessive young man who is an eager sup- porter of the Nazi’s goals. This past summer in Salzburg, however, director Barbara Frey and her designers have given Tales a stunning postmodern New Look. It is so handsome, sexy, and surprising that it could well fascinate audiences abroad, with some racy superti- tles. It’s a Festival co-production with Munich’s Residenz-Theater, so you can see it in repertory there this coming season. Had this play been written by Gerhart Hauptmann, Germany’s grim poet of naturalism, the events of the plot would be enough to drive most of the characters to deep despair or outright suicide. The fairly prosperous “Zauberkönig” (the wonder- ful Lambert Hamel) insists that his beautiful but

modest daughter, Marianne (Juliane Köhler), marry a gauche, insensitive, intellectually challenged, and often blood-smeared butcher (Thomas Loibl). But Marianne is fascinated by the charming, raffish, job- less eternal student, Alfred (Michael von Au), who is being more or less kept by the sexy and amoral Valerie (Sunnyi Melles). Alas for Marianne: Alfred gets her preg- nant, but he has neither the money for, nor the inten- tion of, marrying her. Her spiteful old grandmother (Heidy Forster) takes the baby. Desperate, Marianne begins “modeling” in the nude. Out for a night on the town, her father sees her and promptly has an nearly fatal stroke. She marries the butcher, who is willing to help her raise the baby, but it is too late. Her grandmother has given the child away. Amazingly, Von Horváth is able to infuse all the disasters with a wry comedy. His people have such a sense of life that even dire setbacks don’t drive them over the edge. And, as interpreted by these outstanding Munich actors, they are a fair- ly fascinating lot. The Look of the production does a lot to soften the sexual and social problems. It lends the proceedings a kind of stylish frame that makes them almost comedic and certainly distanced from real life. Bettina Meyer’s postmodern three wall set is all white, studded with swinging doors and port holes. There is an immense circular aperture in the center which opens and closes with an iris like a giant camera. It discloses scenic milieus in projec- tions or videos, as well as revealing Marianne in the nude. Cast members amble on or off through the doors or they stick their heads out the port-holes at various levels to carry on conversations. This often “distances” some exchanges, making them visually comedic. Costumier Bettina Walter has created effective outfits for the time and the situations of the various characters without making poverty look downright unattractive. When virtually the entire neighborhood goes off to the Vienna Woods for a picnic, they enter through the white doors, sit on the white stage, with port-holes and iris behind, and enjoy their wicker-baskets of Wurst. Uncertain though it is from day-to-day, Life could be worse… Tales is also a very physical production, with a lot of touching, even some violent groping. However, it’s a very interesting, attractive, and even amusing staging.

Vienna Ascends/Prague Falls: Grillparzer’s König Ottokars Glück und Ende

Franz Grillparzer was Austria’s first major poet/playwright whose important dramas focused

on major characters and events in the early history of Austro-Hungary. His Libussa, or Libuse in its operatic form, is regarded as the “National Opera”

of the Czechs. Grillparzer’s König Ottokars Glück und

Ende, his “Fortune and Fall,” also focuses on Czech Bohemia, and its rampaging ruler, King Ottokar, who was crushed by the founder of the Habsburg Dynasty, Rudolf von Habsburg. This drama is also

a kind of Foundation Myth. As re-imagined by

director Martin Kusej for the Salzburg Festival, the new production in the Hallein Salt-Drying Halls is anything but a period evocation. His Ottokar is

rash, raging, immature monarch who wants every- thing and wants it now.

That Kusej’s re-vision of Grillparzer’s play

is anything but historic is made instantly visible by

Martin Zehetgruber’s postmodernist, quasi-industri- al set box. This is an immense proscenium stage space with walls of yellow insulated construction panels. On either side, it is studded with a number of silvered metal doors. The rear wall, also of the yellow panels, is hinged, so that it can fall forward in a great coup de théâtre, almost crushing the unruly King. He is saved only by his huge gothic Throne, which smashes through the falling wall. In

fact, in the early sequences of the drama, the throne

is virtually the only set-prop, complemented by the

King’s royal robe and regalia. Tobias Moretti, also a star of Jedermann, playing both the Devil and Everyman’s Friend, is remarkable in this ranting role. As King of Bohemia, he holds important lands beyond his bor- ders, thanks to his dishonored and dismissed Queen, Margaret of Austria (Elisabeth Orth). Ottokar is brave in battle, almost foolhardy, in fact, but he is a fool in politics. He is subtly outmaneuvered by Rudolf (Michael Maertens), who knows whom to bribe, whom to get rid of, and how to win the love of the common people, turning them against Ottokar. In fact, to demonstrate this, he takes center stage where there is a gas fire, flanked by dishes of egg batter, raw meat cutlets, cooking oil, and sea- sonings. He proceeds to cook Wienerschnitzels for the clamoring folk. Needless to say , this is not a scene in Grillparzer’s original. After the yellow wall falls, high white bal-

cony catwalks are disclosed and used for some of the subsequent action. Beneath are four sleek Volkswagen sedans, used for various semi-nefarious


purposes, which are all trashed after a disastrous battle. The stage is inundated with snow, followed by water and blood. The modern dress of costumi- er Heide Kastler creates a modern Danubian beach scene, with swimmers in scanty suits sunning them- selves on the banks. Later, they are all slaughtered. Indeed, there is a great deal of random, gratuitous violence in this staging. Most of the production is accompanied, if not drowned-out, by thundering sounds of traffic and percussive music. At the close, however, a par- odic note is introduced by having the Vienna Choirboys, or facsimiles thereof, sing the KuK Anthem. If Austrian spectators didn’t get enough of this in Salzburg, they can see it again in Vienna, for this is a co-production with the prestigious Burg- Theater. This is surely the reason the actors are so very good, despite some of the hijinx they are asked to perform.

Salzburg’s Jedermann Still Seeking Salvation

After the success of his staging of Oberammergau’s famed Passion-Play in 1990, and again in the Millennial 2000, Christian Stückl was invited to give Salzburg’s own version of a Medieval religious drama a new look. Working with Markus Zwink (music) of his Oberammergau Team, Stückl enlisted Marlene Poley as designer of sets and costumes. Thus he was able to make this Max Reinhardt monument more colorful, more musical, and certainly more interesting. But it’s not at all clear from what one now sees onstage why he was replaced with Henning Bock as director unless he had “other commitments.” Under Stückl’s direction, the stage was often vibrant with life, sometimes almost too much so. Because it was perhaps too busy, the stage busi- ness had the problem of being confused, even if much of Stückl’s original conception remains. This past summer, however, designer Marlene Poley’s original set and costume conception was still a pow- erful element in the theatricality of this English Morality Play, Germanized for Reinhardt by Hugo von Hofmannstahl. One of Poley’s most important contribu- tions was devising entirely new onstage platforms, with great white stairs rising right up into the great arches of the cathedral and with upper level playing areas inside the arches. This had never been done before, but it now includes the cathedral façade in an even more powerful way. Poley’s lavish cos-


tumes for the Banquet Scene also do much to make it more colorful than older, more traditional stag- ings. It also increases the horror when Jedermann’s guests flee in terror from the Spectre of Death, knocking over the table and each other, elegant wigs and all, in their haste to escape. It is a Salzburg Festival Tradition that Jedermann and his beautiful mistress will be played by outstanding actors from leading German and Austrian stages. Maximilian Schell, Karl Maria Brandauer, and even Curd Juergens have played Jedermann. Since the premiere of this new mount- ing, the distinguished actor Peter Simonischek has done the Jedermann honors, with power and dedica- tion. Initially, Veronica Ferres was Buhlschaft, but she has been replaced by Nina Hoss. Tobias Moretti is still Jedermann’s untrustworthy friend, but he also doubles as an outrageous scatological Devil, who both pees and defecates on stage.

Salzburg Festival Addenda: Authors as Guests

In the Dichter zu Gast program, admired performers read works by three distinguished authors: António Lobo Antunes, John M. Coetzee, and Austria’s own Elfriede Jelinek. The latter two are Nobel Prize-winners, 2003 and 2004. The theme of the presentations was We, The Barbarians:

News from Civilization. Sub-themes included Power and Oppression, Speech and Understanding, Past and Present, Civilization and Barbarism. Antunes was represented by The Judas Kiss and Good Evening, You Things Here Below, as well as by Bewegungsmelder and Die Leidenschaft der Seele. Jelink’s Children of the Dead was read by five actors, under the direction of Martin Kusej, Salzburg Festival theatre-chief, who also plans these programs. This program was “decisively inspired” by Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. His Schande and Im Herzen des Landes were also pre- sented.

Onward & Upward with the “Young Directors Project”

At the inauguration of this challenging Salzburg Festival program, created by Jürgen Flimm, then theatre-chief, but soon to be the Artistic Director of the entire fest, questions were raised about its title being in English instead of German. Some regional critics took this as just another sign of pandering. In fact, however, some of the young

directors are beginning to enjoy international careers, and their choices of plays for Salzburg are certainly not limited to German language dramas. The stagings in this past summer’s pro- gram were presented under the same provocative title as Dichter zu Gast. Martin Kusej was also

responsible for devising this assemblage of Young Directors. It included Sebastijan Horvat (Alamut), Emma Dante (Carnezzeria & La Scimia), Árpád Schilling (Phaidra), and Dusan David Parizek, who staged Robert Musil’s classic, Young Torless.


Avignon 2005: Theatre or Something Else?

Philippa Wehle

Back in 1966, Jean Vilar, founder of the Avignon Festival in 1947, announced that he was going to make radical changes in his programming. From now on, he said, his festival would become resolutely contemporary. The program would not be a repository of assured successes but rather a cel- ebration of present and future experiments. The 59th Avignon festival lived up to this project, in spades. Festival directors Vincent Baudriller and Hortense Archambault said it all when they announced that their program would feature artists, be they young or old, from France or from other countries, no matter as long as they are inventing a new language, beyond the familiar. Forms would be hybrid, difficult to label, mixtures of theater/music, theater/dance or music/video, in a word, non-dramatic performance art. Public reaction to this orientation was vociferous and strong. Some welcomed the unex- pected, others were disoriented, and still others rejected this choice with booing and mass walk outs. “There is no theater in Avignon this year,” said one man who had been a festival devotee for years and who left earlier than planned. He was joined in this sentiment by many who complained that there was little for a mainstream audience to enjoy. One critic, from the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, went so far as to call for the resignation of the festi- val directors. None of this prevented 123,000 from attending, however, with an increase in young audi- ences from the previous year, and a number of fes- tival goers I spoke with exhibited a more tolerant attitude, saying that even if they did not exactly like what they were seeing, it was certainly worth mak- ing new discoveries in the arts. For the first time in the festival’s history, there was no theater in the Papal Honor Court (with the exception of 1968 when productions were can- celled because of the student/worker revolution). While it is true that there was not theater in the clas- sical sense of the term, there were two theater/dance pieces by Jan Fabre, this year’s Artistic Associate. Fabre, a 47 year-old Flemish visual artist, sculptor and choreographer, an iconoclast if ever there was one, certainly embodies the festival directors’ proj- ect of featuring the unexpected in this year’s festi- val. His reputation as a provocateur whose use of sperm, blood, urine and feces (made from choco-

late) in his shows is well-known. A new piece by such a controversial and respected artist could have been an exciting beginning for a festival of new experiments, but this was not the case. Fabre’s latest piece L’histoire des larmes, part dance, part poetic text, opened the festival on July 8. It concerns the quest of a Knight of Despair, trying to find a way out of his suffocating, enclosed world and its social constraints. There is also a dog, AKA Diogenes, a wild man with long hair, and a Rock in the form of a woman, standing in the frame of one of the south wall windows, shedding tears, and wailing her desperation. As the performance begins, a young woman dressed in a white pants suit plays the harp in the middle of the vast Honor Court stage, bare but for numerous wooden ladders placed here and there against the south wall. Dancers, also dressed in white and carrying pillows, enter from all sides of the platform to perform a disturbing scene of incon- solable crying babies whose parents try everything imaginable to calm them down. They rock them, coo at them, change their diapers, and finally, so exasperated, snuff out their little lives with pillows and then emit piercing cries at the horror they have committed. The story of tears has begun and it is almost unbearable. For an hour and forty-five minutes, tears gush abundantly in one form or another. The Knight cries his despair in an endless and often tedious flow of words while the Rock weeps false tears from her window. Diogenes, the dog, perched on a ladder, pees profusely and happily into a glass receptacle. Tears also become solidified in the form of glass vases of all shapes and sizes blown by the performers. These provide one of the most arrest- ing scenes in the performance, an entire stage cov- ered with glass vases turned upside down or on their sides, with nude dancers gingerly balancing on them, arms, legs, feet, hands and heads trapped in them, as if they were unable to divorce themselves from their sorrow. The object of such suffering seems to be the lack of water; there has been a long dry spell in Fabre’s mythological land. In one scene, dancers frantically run around the stage holding up the glass vases towards the skies, shrieking “water, water,” hoping for rain. Dancers with tape recorders taped


Fabre’s L’histoire des larmes. Photo: Raynaud de Lage to their bodies make strange noises, others

Fabre’s L’histoire des larmes. Photo: Raynaud de Lage

to their bodies make strange noises, others climb to the tops of the ladders with pillows on their heads, still others hang white handkerchiefs on the wall to spell out SOS and Save our Soul, in hopes, perhaps, that the Gods will compensate such strange crea- tures with a few drops of precious water. Drums roll, lightning strikes but no rain comes. Finally the rain comes and water pours down onto the stage and we are left with the Knight of Despair splashing in the water as the music of Singing in the Rain plays on, a sorrowful Gene Kelly, lost and alone in the rain.

While audiences and critics found L’histoire des larmes disappointing, Josef Nadj, who will be the festival’s Artistic Associate in 2006, presented a dance/theater piece that was quite enchanting. Entitled Last Landscape, a small-scale piece, Nadj shares the stage with Russian composer and percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. Wearing clown noses (Nadj’s is pointed, Tarasov’s is round), the two men whimsically play with musical instruments placed on a rectangular table. They place ping pong balls in brass bowls or hit the bowls and table with wooden sticks to see what sounds they make. Nadj puts a bird tweeter in his mouth and plays with tiny cymbals, improvising different rhythms and tim- bres. They are clearly having fun creating a concert for their own pleasure. After a while, Nadj moves onto painting, both imaginary and actual, using gestures and masks as brushes to a backdrop of movable screens. Still wearing his clown nose, he walks up to a white screen and executes a childlike drawing of water (a few waves) and a little boat. The paint (actually black ink) begins to drip down the paper. Later, to

the sound of breaking waves, he finger paints another boat and a fish and splashes ink on it, which also drips down the paper. Frustrated that his drawings continue to disappear, Nadj breaks into a frenzy of movement. He walks a wobbly-leg walk or executes a clownish military puppet march; he imitates a monkey, scratching for fleas, or flat on his back, swims and floats in his imaginary lake. With a white mask pulled over his head and two wooden sticks, he strikes out at an invented enemy. Back to the drawing board, he writes the word PAYSAGE (Landscape), with chalk, in large let- ters. Perhaps this time the word will remain indelibly present, but Tarasov comes over and wipes the board with his drummer’s whisks and the landscape disappears in a cloud of chalk dust. Now he is back, no mask this time, dancing

a wild number, making quacking noise, to the loud pounding of drums. Now he is drawing a tree. Now

he is painting his face and throwing ink on his shirt. No matter how he tries, nothing is permanent. It all vanishes. Clearly, Last Landscape is a very person-

al journey, an attempt to recapture a precious mem-

ory, the memory of a childhood place near his home village in ex-Yugoslavia. Each time Nadj tries to fix the memory (boats, fish, water), the paint drips down the canvas, the chalk smudges, and the images, the memory, disappear, leaving Nadj and

the audience with a strong sense of loss. Wim Vandekeybus’ Puur, performed in the legendary Boulbon quarry where Peter Brook creat-

ed his Mahabarata, is also a dance/theater piece and

it is also about memory, the collective memory of an

isolated community in a post-catastrophic world. The members of this community live in a sort of tribal situation. It is an enclosed communi- ty; its members are not allowed to leave. It seems they are threatened by locusts carrying death and infection. “We reign here,” says one of them, “out- side, death has dominion. Inside, we have every- thing.” They may have everything they need to sur- vive, but this is not a friendly group. They operate out of anger and fear. A patriarchal figure with white hair and beard does his best to keep them in tow using an extinguisher with which he squirts them at times to make them return to the group. He may seem a tyrant but he is doing his best against all


odds to keep them alive. We witness men striking each other and women attacking the men, suffocating them with pillows or humiliating them by smearing cold cream on their faces. They grab each other by the neck, or catch each other by the hair, and they throw sticks, arrows, stones. A woman, spread-eagled in the mid- dle of the space, has her body pulled apart in four directions. Even the news that a man’s wife is car- rying his child meets with an angry response. For two hours, thirteen superb dancers per- form this brutal danse macabre to the piercing rock music of David Eugene Edward and Fausto Romitelli. They are indefatigable. They pour heavy rocks from bags all over the stage and then sweep them to the side with mops. They dance with heavy poles, throwing them across the stage and catching them without a single mishap. They twirl a wicked dervish dance. While this feverish activity is going on, a film by Vandekeybus is projected against the jagged quarry rocks. It is hard to make out what is happening, something about infanti- cides and births, about children forced to eat locusts, about the massacre of the innocents. Rare are the moments of tenderness. Only one stands out, that of a woman placing two naked men together. They hold hands and repeat:

“Je vois. Je vois.” as if to suggest there might be some hope of understanding in their violent world.

As in recent years, some festival pro- ductions took place beyond the ramparts of Avignon proper. This year, audiences were invited to go all the way to the Chateau de Saumane, a 45-minute bus ride out into the hills of Provence, where they could attend Mue-Pemière mélopée, a concert by Jean Lambert-Wild and Jean-Luc Therminarias. As travel guides say, the trip was worth the detour. Perched on top of a hill sur- rounded by majestic pine trees and the sound of cicadas, this chateau, where the Marquis de Sade spent his childhood, was the perfect set- ting for what Lambert-Wild calls a “tale of a long voyage.” Mue was inspired by the com- plex ritual performed every fifteen years by the Xavantes, an Indian community living in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, at break of day and at sunset during which the men gath- er in a circle called the Wara, to discuss village issues and make decisions.

In a large circular garden behind the Chateau, seated in low slung deck chairs, the audi- ence makes a circle around a mound of red earth to await the reenactment of the Wara. Five Xavantes Indians, “men of truth,” as they call themselves, enter one by one, and ceremoniously make their way to the mound. They are followed by the singers who complete the circle on top of the mound. As a text is sung, and the Xavantes play instruments and chant, an actor slowly circles behind the audience, stopping at microphones placed among the trees, to continue the tale of a group that lives according to balanced rules and rituals that are foreign indeed to our world. Whereas Puur evoked a tribal community on the verge of destroying itself for lack of any sense of fraternity, Mue offered a glimpse of a group that honors fraternal ideals, an important project, no doubt, and the evening was pleasant, especially in this magnificent setting, but again audiences ques-

in this magnificent setting, but again audiences ques- Josef Nadj in Last Landscape. Photo: Raynaud de

Josef Nadj in Last Landscape. Photo: Raynaud de Lage


Mue at Avignon. Photo: Lenise Pinheiro tioned the validity of this sort of concert in

Mue at Avignon. Photo: Lenise Pinheiro

tioned the validity of this sort of concert in a festi- val known for its memorable moments of theater throughout its history. Jean-Michel Bruyère’s LFK, L’Insulte faite au paysage could hardly be labeled as theater either. Part installation, part film, part movement, this powerful piece was performed by the street children from Dakar, Senegal, whom we met in the 2002 fes- tival in Enfants de Nuit. Then they greeted us in an abandoned warehouse, this time, they inhabit the Eglise des Celestins. They are now young men, sit- ting in the darkness, barely visible, propped up against the columns of the church. They do not move but we move around them examining their art work, piles of chairs, a man’s skeleton with the head of a dog, a woman lying in a ditch, with her eyes wide open. Here and there, videos play, showing us these same young men gathered together in an African desert and flinging insults of the worst kind out at us. In the end, these “children of the night” move towards us so slowly that we can barely see their progress. They are the lucky ones; thanks to Jean-Michel Bruyere, they live in a decent environ- ment in Dakar, but their performance shows us that there is still much progress to be made and they are angry that we have left them behind. Despite the many cries of protest about the lack of more conventional theater, there were a number of plays to be seen in Avignon this summer, among them Danton’s Death, directed by Jean- François Sivadier, in an excellent production which focused on the text in the tradition of Jean Vilar’s

memorable early pieces; Olivier Py’s ten-hour Les Vainqueurs,, Hubert Colas’s four hours and thirty minute complete Hamlet and a very fine mostly solo piece called Federman’s, which played at the Chartreuse in Villeneuve-Lez- Avignon. Federman’s , directed and performed byLouis Castel, is a biographical tribute to French-born American Raymond Federman, the author of over forty books published in the United States and abroad. The only sur- vivor of a French Jewish family, Federman emigrat- ed to the United States in 1947 at the age of nine- teen. His life story is not only fascinating, it is larg- er than life. He is clearly a raconteur, and actor/director Louis Castel as Federman regales us with tales of working in a Detroit automobile facto- ry, playing jazz, playing professional poker, serving in the U.S. Army in Korea, teaching, writing and enjoying life. Castel performs Federman against a back- drop of videos of the author adding his salient com- ments to his performance and on a stage strewn with his books which he picks up from time to time to read us passages. There is also a backdrop on which words and phrases light up to guide us through this rich and full life. And best of all, Federman himself, in the flesh, appears toward the end of the piece to join Castel in a performance that, for many, offered a breath of fresh air in the midst of this festival of experiments, for Federman’s is a show in which the text and Castel’s clear, faithful performance of that text is what matters. This was also true of Sarah Kane’s Blasted (Anéantis in French), directed by last year’s Artistic Associate Thomas Ostermeier. Blasted, the British author’s first play, which rocked London’s theater world in 1995, is a raw, brutal drama of atrocities both private and pub- lic. Ian, a sleazy tabloid hack and Cate, a naive young girl meet in a hotel in Leeds for a final ren- dezvous. Ian, who is dying of lung cancer, only wants one thing: to have sex with Cate as many


times as possible. When she refuses, he rapes her. Outside, civil war is raging and one of its soldiers forces his way into the hotel room and proceeds to commit a series of unspeakable, bestial acts. Suddenly the hotel is destroyed by a bomb blast, leaving Ian lying in the mid- dle of the rubble, half dead, and Cate gone from the scene. When she returns it is with a dead child which she buries under the hotel room floor- boards. She leaves again to search for food for Ian, but he is so desperate that he eats the baby.

Ostermeier’s luxury hotel room is bathed in black and white with elegant white sofa, white bed, and a handsome wooden par- tition that separates the room from the bathroom. A revolving bed allows scenes in the bathroom and on and around the bed. Ian enters, puts his gun under a pillow and takes a shower. When Cate comes in, we are immediately struck by how young she is, how child-like. She eagerly opens the chocolate on the pillow, smells the flowers, turns on the TV and is delighted when champagne arrives. We hear Ian coughing and throwing up in the bathroom. His cancer is taking its toll. Still, he is able to over- power the slow-witted, physically fragile Cate. He takes advantage of her at every opportunity. Even when she has an epileptic fit, he rapes her inert body.

There is a knock on the door and a huge fellow in camouflage with a rifle enters the room. The war and its atrocities have invaded their priva- cy. He sodomizes Ian with a bottle and his gun, all the while telling him stories of the terrifying things he has seen and done. As if rape weren’t enough of a punishment for Ian’s sins, the soldier also gouges out his eyes with his teeth, eats them, and then shoots himself in the mouth. Suddenly there is loud thunderous noise, an explosion and the lights go out. When the lights come on again, the room has been destroyed. There is broken glass everywhere. Ian, blind and half dead, is curled up on the floor and Cate is gone. When she returns, she is transformed from the stuttering adolescent who sucked her thumb to a nurturing grown woman capable of for-

sucked her thumb to a nurturing grown woman capable of for- Bruyère’s LFK, L’Insulte faite au

Bruyère’s LFK, L’Insulte faite au paysage. Photo: Raynaud de Lage

giveness. Ian is blind and entombed in the floor, yet she goes to him and gives him what little food and drink she was able to find. Cradling him in her arms, she makes his final moments bearable and he finds the strength to say “thank you.” Instead of emphasizing the unspeakable— the cannibalism, rape and barbarity so clearly depicted in Blasted—Ostermeier chose to play down the violence as much as possible by making his Blasted a story of love and reconciliation, as Sarah Kane herself proclaimed it to be. His was a polite interpretation (perhaps a little too polite, as one critic said), but in fact, it left audiences with a welcomed sense of hope and redemption, as incred- ible as that may seem. Far and away the most intriguing and the most exciting experiment of the festival for me was Romeo Castellucci’s B.#03 Berlin, the third episode in his Tragedia Endogonidia series. B.#03 Berlin captured the imagination from beginning to end. From the large black rabbits the size of human beings occupying our seats when we entered the Municipal Theater, to the snow covered landscape with its black sun and abominable snowmen, this investigation of tragedy was hallucinatory, subtle, mysterious and beautiful. Flashes of light on a giant screen, mist floating in the air, phantom-like figures or forms dimly perceived behind a scrim: the enigmatic atmosphere of Castelluci pieces, built from light, sounds, and bodies, has been established. In a bed- room, an Anonymous Woman, a figure in other Tragedia episodes is getting dressed. She puts on a


black dress, gloves and shoes. She pulls down the sheet, and seems to be trying to wake up someone in the bed, but that someone is dead, murdered no doubt by this woman now jumping up and down on the bed, hatchet in hand. We watch her drag the body off the stage, wash away the stains and sit back on the bed. The parable of a woman’s journey from motherhood to crime, and finally death, has begun. Three women in strapless black evening gowns, black hair and black gloves, appear from under the bed carrying a large black flag. At first they seem ominous, but now, clad in white bras, panties and thigh high white stockings, they become friendly. They carefully wrap the woman’s head in white cloth, making a mask, shielding her, perhaps, from the harshness of the journey ahead. Accompanied by a soundscape of bombs exploding, choking, hammering, rumblings, chickens clucking and cocks crowing, the woman is raised up on a white circle and carried up to a heaven of white clouds. The scene changes now to a world of snow; it is a pristine world where everything is white, even the coffin which now becomes the cen- tral focus of the scene. Inhabiting a world of snow there must be snowmen, and sure enough they appear, Eskimos in fur outfits, rolling huge snow- balls and marching back and forth carrying flags with the gothic letters M and P on them. One of them tries to snatch the woman with a hook. Another, in front of the scrim, picks up the black rabbits and savagely beats them to death. There can be no darkness in this world of pure white. Perhaps they cannot see the black sun that hangs ominously

over them, a reminder that the woman embodies both evil and good. Since such a world must be protected, the snowmen build an enclosure of white fencing inside of which they place the coffin, put the flag on it and dance around. Exhausted from their labors, they lie down and sleep. The top of the coffin opens, the woman comes out. When the snowmen awake, they pick her up, sit her down on the coffin and fuss over her. They seem to worship her as she dances on the coffin. The woman returns to her coffin, a rooster crows and a chorus sings “In May I sing night and day, In June I change my tune.” Castellucci has said that he speaks to his audiences not through their ears but through images. The absence of text, of spoken language, leaves us free to interpret these images, these tragedies, with- out the help of a Chorus which in Greek theater would explain the mysteries of the play to the audi- ence. For me it is the black rabbits, shadows of our- selves, perhaps our darker side, embraced by so many as they entered the theater but rejected by oth- ers, beaten to death by the angry snowman, who is so white that he cannot allow blackness in his world, who resonate and reverberate in my imagination to this day.

B.#03 Berlin perhaps best exemplifies the argument put forth by the directors of the 59th Avignon festival in response to the detractors of this year’s program. In the matter of “hybridation,” as the French call it, the marriage of choreography, video, film and music with which theater directors are experimenting these days, simply is what it is. Labels are really of little use. It is the artistic vision that counts. And Romeo Castellucci’s strange and tragic artistic vision, with its appeal to the spectator to interpret what he is watching on his own, without the help of explanations, needs no label.

on his own, without the help of explanations, needs no label. Castellucci’s B.#03 Berlin . Photo:

Castellucci’s B.#03 Berlin. Photo: Luca del Pia


Avignon Off 2005: Reunion or Truce–Transition, maybe

Jean Decock

Last year saw a confusing War of the Clans, a kind of coup d’état which split the Off ter- ritory in two rival sections: the one and only Public Off, created by Alain Leonard (who has now resigned) 40 years ago, and the contender Alfa. The intended goal was to improve both the quality level of the participating companies by some sort of reductive process and the well being and comfort of public and thespians. However, nothing was actual- ly accomplished. A fair redistribution of the profits of the sale of 22,431 discount cards honored five companies which conformed to set criteria: per- forming the whole month of July, with a minimum of five actors and a text of a theatrical nature. Five were chosen and received a bonus of some €3500; three of them came back this summer much more financially stable. The sad truth is that the majority of companies make no profit, and the proliferation is worse than ever. Statistics for 2005 show 628 com- panies with 767 shows in 118 venues, some 29,000 cards and 600,000 tickets were sold (as against 110,00 in the IN). The two sides agreed on a tenta- tive truce. Elections are due in September for next year. The struggle of the intermittents du spectacle which perturbed Avignon two years ago shows no sign of resolution. Although the French Minister of Culture Renaud Donnadieu de Vabres was booed on

opening night, the rightist French Government is simply procrastinating, and the starving thespians are loosing momentum and pugnacity. What is left is their burning everlasting creative vocation, sur- vive as it may. So here I go, treading in the no-mans-land of potholes rather than bombs, guided by my intu- ition and my large, thick and heavy program (the size of a double issue of Interview).

Anywhere out of Europe

The Brazilian Saudade, Terres d’eau (Waterlands) was produced by French company Dos à Deux with three people and an adorable limp puppet. Two of the mime/directors, André Curti and Arthur Ribeiro, are originally from Brazil and have been working together for eight years. With the Japanese performer Okino, they present a paean to family values: mother and son at first live above a plastic-bag blue sea, in a house made of strings and nets which later becomes a raft. Later the water recedes, signifying the beginning of migration, tran- sience, longing, and survival. A silent blend of mime and dance accompanied by delicate music creates emotions and communication through ges- ture. Bodies become accessories, furniture, instru-

ges- ture. Bodies become accessories, furniture, instru- The mime and dance of Saudade, Terres d’eau. Photo:

The mime and dance of Saudade, Terres d’eau. Photo: Xavier Cantat


ments and allegorical hieroglyphs. Applause was overwhelming for this universal story of solitude and salutations, separation and departure, danger and joy. Saudade, by word of mouth the most pop- ular show, was permanently sold out. Mexican Women Writers, two short plays produced by the Mictlan company, directed by Mexican Victor Bernard Garcia, were presented with a French cast of two men and a woman. Chasser des Papillons by Maria Antonia Valle fea- tures an older man, his young wife and a young hired hustler who play dark sexual games in ten sequences, including one called “Family”: twisted, perverted, and incestuous. Pleasure is the principle for Daddy’s birthday, but one’s dreams are another’s nightmares. The set is chic, the nudity is attractive and the eroticism slow and elegant. The other part of the diptych is Escaleno by Gabriela Ynclan, another triangle with irregular sides: an older music professor lives with her young, sexually versatile clarinet student, until a stranger appears. With both female authors, Man becomes the object of desire. Repression, frustration, revelation and perhaps free- dom are all intertwined. This is a psychological drama of a rather more conventional kind, in which the violence is muted. Jesus Hopped the A Train, which played at The Public directed by Philip Seymour Hofmann last year, was presented by Théâtre National du Luxembourg. Canadian actress Marianne Groves translated to French and directed with a firm hand this gritty prison play by Stephen Adly Guirgis, tak- ing place on Riker’s Island. Black serial killer Lucius confronts and befriends Puerto Rican Angel from the Bronx. American Justice represses the underdog, in a divided nation of richer and poorer. The production provides compassion, but there can be no happy ending: Lucius will die even if he finds God, and Angel will serve thirty-five years in spite of their feisty female Defense Attorney. Drenched in hard rock and harsh lighting, the two main actors, Edouard Montoute as Lulu and angelfaced Dimitri Storoge are outstanding. A meditation on the Near and Middle East, Leïla-Enki, le partage des eaux (the Water Divide) is dual like yin and yang: Leïla is Jewish, Enki is Palestinian. The poem is ambitiously relevant and hopelessly stilted, a clash of subject and form—or is it? It refers to a mythical capital city like Sumer, set in Iraq between the Tiger and the Euphrates Rivers, but it could also be Jerusalem. There is an under- ground lake providing water to two peoples and two

cultures. Who pays, who works on the construction of the Wall, and what for? Spatio-temporal dimen- sions shift, overlap, and perplex. With Avignon’s usual and blatant neglect of Anglo-Saxon offerings, the exception this year must be Sarah Kane: her Anéantis (Blasted) was both in the IN (directed by Berlin’s daredevil Ostermeier) and the OFF. The avant garde THEC- Labo company from Cambrai specializes in the interaction of video (Frank Renaud) and live (Antoine Lemaire) directors. This production is a deconstruction of the stage and the text, and from start to finish, an escalation of violence. In a Brechtian mode, someone reads the stage directions. Sex, Love and Hate interchange with occasional surges of tenderness between this perfect couple:

Ian, a racist and macho killer, an epileptic reporter at the terminal stage of his disease and Kate, the masochistic vegetarian who is the only redeeming solace in a brutal world of deranged males. We know already that in any relationship one is stronger and colonizes the other. From the moment they enter a hotel room, the TV opens a window into the outside madness (Bosnia, Srebrenica, now Iraq), Yet when a Soldier breaks in after an explosion, we are not prepared for what follows: male rape, psycho- pathic atrocities and cannibalism. The realism of the beginning is magnified by three screens and the use of remote videos which follow each actor. Each character has a double as commentator. All art is subversive, says Kane, in form and content. The medium is still the message. Kane’s Manque (Crave), by the Malgraine company from Saint-Etienne, does not have the same intensity. The voices heard here are more than individual characters who convey an at-first-inco- herent but collective expression of loss, like a prayer. The craving is for love, it seems. There is no sustained narrative, only echoes of childhood, motherhood, and pedophilia, which alternate in dis- jointed, contradictory, yet mutually reflecting aspects. Ultimately light—and yes, spiritual. I find it hard to report on Disco Pigs, a stri- dent punk rock piece by Enda Walsh in Irish slang, introduced in German translation last year by Ostermeier, since adapted in French Québecois by Wadji Mouawad and performed in Brussels. Two teens, siblings from the same mother, live in Pork City, where half-brother and -sister love each other to death. Acid rock, break dancing and hormones are mixed in a too-potent cocktail. With the stage perhaps too far away, it was an inaudible nightmare.


The THEC-Labo production of Kane’s Blasted . Photo: Jean Decock I prefer Trainspotting by far.

The THEC-Labo production of Kane’s Blasted. Photo: Jean Decock

I prefer Trainspotting by far. In contrast, a quieter Romeo and Juliet where “an ode to love becomes an ode to death” fea- tured beautifully choreographed staging as pavane and sword dance by the Compagnie de l’Encrier from Clermont Ferrand. Unfortunately, as directed by Emmanuelle Chamaillard, Juliet looks like a tougher cookie than her handsome and limp Romeo.

Mittel Europa is coming

Matéi Visniec comes from Romania whence he fled from Ceausescu. He writes in French in Paris, where he is alive and well, and one of the most performed authors in Avignon in these last few summers. His theater of cruelty reflects the chaos in a world that resembles Kane’s, with its war, prostitution, age, demagogy, and evil, but the ten- derness surfaces more palpably. Since 2000 the Salieri-Pagès company has found its niche at The Ring, where they offer Attention aux vieilles dames rongées par le solitude (Beware of Old Ladies in the Grips of Loneliness), a quote from the play but a bad title, since there are no old ladies here, only two young ones and two men. Visniec writes most of his plays as a construction of sketches, and this is no exception. Here we see eleven fragments of a country at war, any war, any- where. At the border, a woman with baby tries to cross over without papers, on a roof two snipers connect before starting to work, in the street two prostitutes argue about their beat, the homeless learn


how to best panhandle, a son drags his father in a wheelbarrow, in the desert a couple has sex, then fights and parts. His work repeatedly presents oppressed people seeking revenge. Pagès’ powerful direction and Salieri’s lighting are flawless. In a set of metallic scaffolding, Benoît Thévenot is striking whether as a feline on the prowl or in drag. In Les Laveurs de Cerveaux (The Brainwashers) directed by Michel Vivier for Théâtre de la Presqu’ile, three old people seem lost and frozen in a wasteland at the outskirts of a metropolis accompanied, by a bus stop and a (plas- tic) sunflower that seems to grow during the per- formance. These are the ones who cannot flee, caught between individualistic selfishness and col- lective political deception. No such luck with Les Chevaux à la Fenêtre (Horses at the Window) directed by Radu Dinulescu, who did not control the overacting of his three well-known Romanian actors. It deals with the rhetoric of war and the role of women as moth- ers, wives and sisters. Perhaps this is more a men’s theatre where women are the battleground. Humor is lost to the tragic sense of life. A Bulgarian group from Sofia brought us a semblance of a musical, like a canine version of Cats. Les Chiens, written by Ludmila Tchoutko, is about a pack of dogs, dressed as young punks dress anywhere, at the foot of high-rise housing projects, who gang together under one leader. Every dog longs for a Master, before the final entrance into Dog’s Heaven. This is family fare with good

humor, but too cute. The credits seem more impres- sive (starting with a Russian helmer Alexandre Velikovski) than the result. What I truly saw was an exercise in communication, a warm French audi- ence welcoming handicapped actors with heavy accents who memorized their text phonetically. Big hearts were apparent on both sides. La Trilogie de Belgrade is the first play by Serb Biljana Srbljanovic, written in 1996 when Milosevic was still in power. Its basic themes are

exile, the flight from ideologies, brainwashing, fear of the army, and prison. But here they are seen from

a totally different angle; the capitalistic side. On

New Year’s Eve an unrelated quartet calls home to Yugoslavia from Prague, Sidney and L.A. Two brothers in loud shirts turn out to be Chippendale dancers now; two couples (one with a baby) utterly bored, fight and mix; and by a camp fire in Malibu,

another couple meets a dangerous, sleazy Elvis

type. The only connecting thread is beautiful Hana, still in Belgrade, who has now become a TV anchor- woman kissed by fame. Feelings are mixed, with longing, shame, boasting, and pretending the grass

is greener over here. Belgian Yves Claessens direct-

ed La Trilogie for Cie Petite Ame, grouping his bud- dies from the Brussels Conservatoire Drama School. They are all great: thin Vincent Lécuyer, hot Thibaut Nève and Chloe Xhauflaire as Hana, the star who stayed behind. Each of the four actors play three characters, making for a lot of stretching con-

sidering their French is peppered with Czech, Croat and Serb expressions and accents.

From Deutschland (with hate)

A French Le Golem, for Champagne- Ardennes Pseudonymo company, is a free and very condensed adaptation of Gustav Meyring’s 1915 German novel. Credit should be given to director David Girondin Moab and his team for a visually powerful, atmospheric and heavily psychoanalytical interpretation. Using one actor, Le Golem presents Athanasius Pernath who, in search of his past and surrounded by puppets and masks, becomes the col- lective subconscious of the Jewish ghetto. This is a mood piece where dream, amnesia and legend blend.

Thomas Berhard, born in Holland, hated Austria with a passion, although he lived there until he died in 1989. Au But (Bull’s eye) is a cryptic, poi- sonous, not minor play about a triangular hell. A Queen Mother guzzling cans of beer out of a fridge center stage is served by her masochistic daughter and slave. She fights boredom by vituperating and berating almost everybody, everywhere. She is especially venomous towards literature and theatre. Because to be alone is unbearable, they invite a young writer to their home. Arlette Tephany is a consummate actress in the Tephany dynasty, here directed by young Julian Tephany.

the Tephany dynasty, here directed by young Julian Tephany. David Girondin Moab’s powerful production of Le

David Girondin Moab’s powerful production of Le Golem. Photo: Jean Decock


Francophone Belgians

The Flemish half of Belgium was the guest of honor at the IN this year. The other, French- speaking half is packing them into the OFF, where they have found their definitive location. I already mentioned Srbljanovic’s Belgrade Trilogy. Gembloux refers to a sleepy village in Belgium in WWII. Hitler declared war by invading Holland and Belgium on a sunny May 10, 1940. On May 14 and 15 along the Dyle River on Belgian ter- ritory (the usual battlefield for all European wars of the past), the Panzer tank division was met by the French Infantry, consisting of 2000 North Africans shanghaied into the French Army from North Africa for a war they knew nothing about. It was the only French victory, but four hundred Morrocans died and are buried there. Germany was held back for eighteen days in Belgium, after which the French and their army fled south. Europe was German until the Allies landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944. Morocco and Belgium make for an unusual combi- nation. Imagine two funny Arab guys from Brussels dealing with a not so funny matter “in search of the forgotten army.” This blend of fiction and docu- mentary works well. Sam Touzani is Arab Berber, clean-cut and handsome, and Ben Hamidou is chub- bier and likeable—they show us how to live togeth- er. They are directed by Gennaro Pitisci.for Brocoli Theatre. At the end, two walls listing four hundred names remind us of the Vietnam Memorial.

In In Nomine Patris, Filii et Spiritus Sancti, a father whose son was attacked and killed by homophobic thugs tries to understand what set them apart early. In the process he discovers and comes to terms with his own tendencies. He meets a boy who could be his son, and the ensuing rela- tionship (both fatherly and sexual) raises questions about gay issues in the theatre. Antoine Pickels is the author and director, and his play concerns us all, whether you like it or not. The set is minimal, the acting is restrained. There is no nudity. Tucked in the morning session of the IN, far from the madding crowd, there was a cycle of plays by French and Flemish Belgian authors, very well read by the students of ERAC (Ecole Régionale d’Acteurs de Cannes) and supervised by Ludovic Lagarde and Laurent Poitrenaud. A splen- did array of writers were represented, some well known (Hugo Claus, Jan Fabre, Jean-Marie Piemme, Josse De Pauw), some not, some already staged and performed before, some awaited eagerly. One play by Tom Lanoye from the Dutch was called La Forteresse Europe.

Revisiting Ionesco and Beckett

There has been an amazing return of Ionesco from limbo, both in Paris and Avignon. His short plays have been done to death, but the resur- gence of interest goes towards his most ambitious ones. Case in point: I have seen three versions of

most ambitious ones. Case in point: I have seen three versions of Alain Timar’s Fin de

Alain Timar’s Fin de Partie. Photo: Jean Decock


Bordeaux’s Compagnie La Nuit in Les Règles du Savoir-Vivre dans la Société Moderne . Photo:

Bordeaux’s Compagnie La Nuit in Les Règles du Savoir-Vivre dans la Société Moderne. Photo: Jean Decock

his Macbett. This was the Theatre of the Absurd in 1972, which somehow is now even more attuned to our present, out-of-joint time. Shakespeare’s tale of atrocities committed for sheer greed and power is both darkly relevant and prankish. Ionesco’s treat- ment brings to mind Ubu, the early Spielberg (before he turned serious), Jan Fabre with his macho medieval puppets, and the Marx Brothers as well. The best version by far was directed by Jeremis Le Louet for Compagnie des Dramaticules. With endearing childishness, seven thespians filled thirty- three parts plus extras. The rich text duplicates, overlaps and superimposes. Glamis and Cawdor get Banquo, who gets Duncan, and Macbett survives, vicious and sly—but not for long. Destiny comes under the guise of witches, Lady Duncan, and an alluring dominatrix turns into Lady Macbett. The funniest scenes are tea by the guillotine and a final and deadly wedding banquet. Irreverent yet great fun, I think Ionesco would approve. There seems to be echoes from Rumanian Ionesco in Irish Beckett; both were adopted foreign- ers who wrote in punchy, cryptic French. In Fin de Partie (Endgame) Hamm is the tyrant, dumping his parents and torturing his adopted slave Clov. Alain Timar at the Théâtre des Halles knows Beckett well, but he tried to accelerate the entropic plot at the risk of contradicting the primary intention. This produc- tion benefits from a Kurt Schwitters set, boombox, cell phone and plastic trash bags instead of cans, but the usually superb Paul Camus is miscast as the sadistic, impotent Hamm, and there is none of the

necessary chemistry with the epileptic Clov.

Contemporary fare

Equally disappointing were two shorts by contentious Michel Vinaver, whose thirty-five minute play, 11 September, 2001, was considered subversive enough for the French cultural power in L.A. to withdraw their support at the last moment in order to avoid a diplomatic incident. Subversive? maybe he is. His sympathy for the working classes is obvious. He is acutely aware of working condi- tions, and poverty is perhaps the main undercurrent in his theatre The play consists of welve rapid bits in the disturbing, unhealthy life of a mother-and-son cou- ple confined in close quarters. In the absence of the father, the umbilical cord is intact. The Mother may be laid off, and the Son drifts towards delinquency and drug-dealing. She turns him in, for love. Nina is something else indeed. A squeaky- voiced, not-so-dumb redheaded shampoo girl (as performed by Odile Grosset-Grange, who deserves a Tony if there were one in Avignon) enters the life of two sedate brothers living like an odd couple, causing an awakening and swinging into an unlike- ly, hilarious ménage a trois from bathtub to bed. As much as I admire Vinaver’s subject and style, I dis- liked Jacques Kraemer’s direction, which plunged us first into black water with flashlight effects, then into tacky formica glare. Among the prominent playwrights, my


favorite is the late Jean Luc Lagarce with his over- lapping, stuttering, recognizable diction: “I think,

we think, we thought, I

Monde (Just the End of the World) is a gentle “can’t go home again” play, autobiographical perhaps, about the return of the prodigal son Louis, a celibate writer. Although he wants to tell his family some- thing about his sickness, what prevails is the ever- so-subtle pussy-footing prevalent in family relation- ships. His mother, sister, brother and wife surround him with subtle coercion, little explosions of resent- ment (they stayed, he left) and too much kindness in the name of love. Being a listener, he will leave again without having told them (and us) the truth. Hugo Dillon is fascinating as a strangely serene enigma at the center, a silent, distant, and loveable angel of death. Juste la Fin du Monde was directed by Jean-Charles Mouveaux (who is also excellent as

the temperamental, brutal brother Antoine) for L’Equipe de Nuit. This was an outstanding produc- tion, with superb lighting by Céline Pamart. Although Les Règles du Savoir-Vivre dans la Société Moderne reads more like a etiquette man- ual than a play, Compagnie La Nuit from Bordeaux, under Gilles Lefeuvre Kirali also presented an out- standing work. Performed in the balmy open air, in the round, on a revolving stage, its modifiable soft cubes suggested a sofa, a pew, a bench, an altar, and a coffin. When a child is born in the first minute, the question becomes how to live until you die? Easy, if you follow the rules codified by tradition. Eight thespians in formal attire, seated in the first row, are drawn from reading the rules into the vor-

Juste la Fin du

tex of the stage to illustrate the ridicule and absurd- ity of the bourgeoisie—this your/our life. Initially a

monologue, it becomes a tickertape parade with an occasional sad rain. Michel Azama, born in 1947, was also adopted by France from Catalonia. His work pre- cedes perhaps that of Visniec or Melquiot on similar themes. His most popular play is Croisades, the first to Jerusalem, now to Afghanistan, Serbia, Rwanda and Iraq, against whomever we consider infidels. Children, youth, old people die while the weapons business flourishes. Cie des Indiscrets, under the helm of Lucie Gougat, goes to war against all wars. She and her company of seven have a long experience with mime, circus and puppets. The striking set by Daniel Roussel uses two soft cubes fifteen feet high, around which children play war games.


From Canada via Belgium we should wel- come Carole Frechette, who likes to tell stories and makes them the subject matter of her theatre. She is a listener as in a confessional: timid, perhaps with an inferiority complex, then she speaks to tell us about her adventures with the men she met and loved. Do you understand? How does it affect you? This is La Peau d’Elisa (Eliza’s Skin), and she likes the body and all its parts. Eric Pasturel directed frail Marie Le Galès ever so subtly. At the end of the play she will even suggest a location in Brussels where you can sit and listen to people, as a

in Brussels where you can sit and listen to people, as a F rederic Guillaubez, left,

Frederic Guillaubez, left, plays the title character in Claude Mercadié’s La Passion selon Jesus Cabrera. Photo: Jean Decock


remedy to anxiety. In her Jean et Béatrice we enter a room not knowing we are on the thirty-third floor somewhere. A personal ad reading “young heiress attracts men and wants to be interested, moved and seduced, there will be a reward” prompts Jean’s arrival. He smells the money. A little rich bitch meets a hungry rough boy, and they fight through the three stages. As directed by Jean Faure for Théâtre sur le Fil, Thibault Lebert as Jean is irre- sistible and Severine Massias as Béatice gets better in the second half when her defenses are down. He will seduce her and then he’ll walk—or rather, splash, as they plod in water one inch deep; the stage is actually a basin in which they reinvent the rules of the game of love. Most memorable and refreshing! I know little about Claude Mercadié, only that he was a reporter and that his play La Passion selon Jesus Cabrera (directed by Marie-Line Grima) suggests he lived a somber life. The play is not at all religious, although the protagonists are a few actors rehearsing a Passion Play. It is about the- atre and politics in the middleof WWII during the German occupation of France. The play is stern, and cleverly structured, intertwining a love triangle with History (too much, perhaps, for its own good). Jesus Cabrera, the son of a Spanish anarchist in the Civil War, here handsomely interpreted by Frederic Guillaubez, could also be a double agent for the Gestapo, or a psychopathic hit man. The plot takes place on two time levels: 1942 (during the

Occupation) and 1944 (post-liberation), demonstrat- ing the ambiguity between collaboration and under- ground resistance, and how easily history can be reinterpreted. This engrossing political thriller cov- ers territory similar to Truffaut’s Le Dernier Metro.

Historical Fare: period pieces of French history

Le Bossu by Paul Féval is like one of those swashbuckling novels the French liked in the nine- teenth century, like Dumas’ Musketeers. Loyalty, justice and courage overcome evil, greed and power as the common hero defeats the corrupt aristocracy. Guy Simon’s Kronope company previously gave us The Hunchback of Notre Dame in their unmistak- able style : pure comic book, (nothing real, please), sets and costumes off-kilter, puppets like stuffed potato dolls. Enjoy duels, kidnapping, disguise and the triumph of Good presented with remarkable energy.

We all know about Sand et Musset, les Enfants du Siècle (the most notorious ones, any- way), and their fatal journey to Venice. These two extraordinary figures—George Sand at 30, recently separated, an overwhelming write-aholic; and Alfred de Musset, at 23 a “child of his century”, born too late for the Napoleonic epic, too early for the next revolution—were both voraciously sexual as well as romantic. Their torrid affair lasted only two years, including its devastating finale. Writer Michelle Rossi has done her homework based on

finale. Writer Michelle Rossi has done her homework based on The comic book style of Le

The comic book style of Le Bossu, by Paul Féval. Photo: Jean Decock


their novels, letters and diaries. Supporting charac- ters include no less than Marie Dorval, Vigny, Liszt, Delacroix, and Chopin (with his music adding authenticity). Anne Raphaël is appropriately matronly to Baptiste Coustenoble’s lanky and hun- gry Musset. Thanks to Giovanni Vitello’s presence, Dottore Pagello (based on his own letters) becomes

a genuinely full-fledged character in the trio, instead of a bypassed unknown. Staged by Albert-André Lheureux, founder of famous L’Esprit Frappeur in Brussels, and now also an opera director very much in demand. His present work is gloriously operatic indeed.

Speaking of opera, Mireille (1864) by Gounod is more famous than the epic love poem (1859) by Frederic Mistral on which it was based. I have never seen it performed in my lifetime and don’t think it has been, so praise to Gerard Gelas at the Chêne Noir for resurrecting this impossible love story between a rich farmer’s daughter and Vincent,

a poor rattan-weaver. Divided from her lover by

money and class, Mirèio dies as she tries to rejoin him. The action of the play has been questionably updated to the present: Vincent is a disk jockey who tells the story. Unfortunately, the whole male cast has been condensed for Damien Remy, but recently-

discovered ingenue Alice Belaidi at only eighteen shows her unquestionable talent (and her body). The true love affair is with Provence and its won- drous marshes and countryside with white horses and flamingoes, where silk worms (called magnan) were still gathered from the mulberry trees. Mistral tried to revive le Provençal, the language of the troubadours of the Middle Ages. Mirèio/Mireille was translated by Mistral, who received the Nobel Prize in 1904, from Provençal.

Solo Performances

Inherently narcissistic, solo performance requires the public’s sympathy. It seems the pur- pose of the best is the expression of the inner soul, and more often than not, the exploration of a neu- rotic, if not psychopathic, psyche. Super-talented Philippe Caubère has built an unsurpassable reputation with performances that average three to four hours, and may last for evenings on end, all recorded on DVD. He played the title role in Molière, Ariane Mnouchkine’s 1977 masterpiece, then went on to tell about his raspy, warm experience at the Théâtre du Soleil, the moth- erload of eighteen hours that came to an end this


summer with Ariane et Ferdinand (his alter ego). He has matured, and there is much more love than hate in his performance. The house was perpetual- ly sold out to see him handle his two overbearing, abusive moms: his real mother Claudine from Marseilles, and his stage mother. Most hilarious is famous Marxist critic Bernard Dort’s visit to Ariane, and the forty-five thespians she manages to feed daily. Caubère gives the public what it came to hear, but I still prefer his earlier homage to Aragon. In total contrast is Vie de Georges Bandy. Written by Pierre Michon, a reclusive, secretive man who writes in a tightly condensed, esoteric style about vies minuscules and human failure. In this case a charismatic young country priest in a bleak, muddy village ends as an alcoholic counselor

in a psychiatric clinic and dies at the foot of a tree in

the woods. Equally fascinating and fragile was Stephane Godefroy, for Théâtre de l’Argile. My two favorites were Yves Reynaud’s Regarde les Femmes passer (Look at Women go By). Alain Timar directed Paul Camus, as he has so many times in the past. Here, a vulnerable soul wants des-

perately to connect in these arid times with aggres- sive women. Luminous scenography (by Hughes Le Chevrel) is enshrined in the little chapel Sainte Claire, a precious gem of yellow light and stone, delicate and intense. The vertical architecture seemed to reduce and press Paul down even more. Even more intense was the grim Le Cul de Judas (Judas’s Ass), a devastating text (translated from Portuguese) by Antonio Lobo Antunes, who as

a doctor experienced first hand two years of the

longest colonial war in Africa (1961-74). This hopeless guerilla war left men like psychological zombies, and the horror resonates (Indochina, Vietman, Bosnia, now Iraq). It is set in an empty apartment in Lisbon, with only one chair and rich carpets to remind us of Salazar and the military bourgeoisie. The text is hushed, perhaps because of the booze and the tired sex, but François Duval manages to express utter despair and nausea, all the more poignant in that there is no screaming, no whining, no alleviating humor. A P.S. on Franco-American cultural exchange: a funny thing happened when Professor G.C.Kessous decided to put on Claudel’s L’Echange with her graduate Harvard University students in French. In the woody underbrush of the Provençal jungle of the CEILA garden, the cast did their laud- able best (James Lawler as the young banker was striking). Written by young Claudel in 1893 when

he was a cultural attaché in Boston, it takes place on the coast of South Carolina. This unusual angle restored the American context we tend to forget when Laurent Terzieff played Louis Lane, the Amerindian. Only Marther is French. So this is how Claudel saw America? Or is it simply four aspects of one mind?

The Avignon Controversy

To conclude: this was perhaps not as great a year as before. There seemed to be more of every- thing, even too much. More often than not, the


plays were better than the performances. Never has the Avignon IN program been subjected to such attacks from the media elite who thinks for the intel- ligentsia and sets the tone. Why is not certain, but my diagnosis would be that violence has now become acceptable (like it or not), but not yet sexu- ality and nudity. “We are in 2005 and still in the Middle Ages,” to quote Jan Fabre. Did the upper IN trickle down to the OFF—was there an IN of the OFF? Kane, the Belgians, Lagarce, there was of course a lot of the OFF in the 770 offer- ings, but then, it remained the same: a work of love trying to find its proper audience.

The 2005 Edinburgh International Festival

By Glenn Loney

The Six Plays of The Synge Cycle

The dramatic high-point of this past sum- mer’s Edinburgh Festival was surely The Synge Cycle—both for its epic scope and for the energetic intensity of its native Irish players. John Millington Synge did not live long enough to endow the Irish and the International Theatre with a repertoire of dramas as extensive as that of Ireland’s George Bernard Shaw, nor as art- fully poetic as those of Synge’s mentor, William Butler Yeats. But he did go directly to the Irish People—to the poor and the peasants, to farmers, fishermen, and villagers—to mingle with them and observe their daily lives, their cares and concerns. And especially to listen to them: to the lilt of their brogues, to the earthy imagery of their expressions, and to their instinctive gifts for conversation and lofty rhetorical outbursts. These he captured in his dramas, giving the lie to the cliché of the Stage-Irishman that was then pervasive on British and American stages. This Truth to Nature, however, initially did not play well with Irish audiences. They had a far more noble and romantic image of themselves. Outraged at Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, which featured a loud-mouthed boyho who becomes a hero because he says he’s killed his dad, they threw potatoes at the stage of the Abbey Theatre. Yeats, along with Augusta, Lady Gregory, a founder of this now ven- erable ensemble, was outraged in turn: “You have

once again disgraced yourselves,” he scolded. Synge’s early Irish audiences would surely have burnt down the theatre, had they been con- fronted with nearly nine hours of his dramas. Not so in Edinburgh. Critics raved and seats were filled. There are six dramas in the Synge Cycle. Synge died of cancer before he could write more, and even his last play, Dierdre of the Sorrows, was not quite finished at his death in 1908. For that mat- ter, he never saw a production of The Tinker’s Wedding. It was not performed in Ireland until 1963! It still cuts too close to the bone for some Irish Patriots. As the Playboy is set in the far west of Ireland, it’s almost poetically appropriate that it and the rest of Synge’s dramatic works have been pro- duced as a unity by the Druid Theatre of Galway. Founded in 1975, it was the first professional ensemble beyond Dublin. The Druids, led by director Garry Hynes, the first woman-director to win a Tony, for staging The Beauty Queen of Leenane, divided Synge’s six- part opus into three evening programs: 1) The Shadow of the Glen and Playboy, 2) Tinker’s Wedding and The Well of the Saints, and 3) Riders to the Sea and Dierdre. For the complete Cycle (played three days en suite: August 27 and 31 and September 3), the order was wisely altered. This made for a very long day of theatre-going that began at 2:00 in the afternoon. It was good to begin with the short but

in the afternoon. It was good to begin with the short but Riders to the Sea

Riders to the Sea, Directed By Garry Hynes. Photo: courtesy Druid Theatre Company


The Playboy of the Western World . Photo: courtesy Druid Theatre Company powerful tragedy, Riders

The Playboy of the Western World. Photo: courtesy Druid Theatre Company

powerful tragedy, Riders to the Sea, especially for spectators unfamiliar with Synge’s works. Louise Lewis, Gemma Reeves, and Marie Mullen are qui- etly moving as west-coast island Irish women who have seen their men go down to the sea and never return. Now Bartley is going off on a morning when the waves are most dangerous. But he has to fish to live. Only a piece of his clothing returns. As Playboy is the best-known and the most effective of the six, it was fortunate that it was per- formed as the climax of the evening. Aaron Monagha (also Bartley) is marvelously effective in this role. Entering a rural County Mayo pub as a fearful shy boy (showing the effects of the endless abuse heaped on him by the father he says he has just killed) he soon expands and blossoms into a boastful quasi-hero as he discovers the admiration his violent exploits inspire in the locals, especially the giggling girls. Catherine Walsh is radiant and a bit rowdy as Pegeen Mike, keeper of her father’s pub. She clearly despises the comically wimpy but moderate- ly prosperous suitor (Nick Lee) that her father (Derry Power) has picked for her. Christie Mahon immediately captures her fancy, but a gaggle of local girls fancy him as well. Not to overlook the wiles of the amorous Widow Quin, ardently played by Marie Mullen. Ending with Dierdre is sequentially logi- cal, but it is something of a stylistic let-down after the synchronicity of the other five plays. It evokes an ancient Irish saga, and its self-conscious striving for a Yeatsian poetic diction quite distances it from the rest of the Cycle. Gemma Reeves is the lovely but harried Dierdre. She has been chosen to be the bride of the aging High King, but she demands seven years with Naisi (Richard Flood), the man she

truly loves. This ends badly for all. It is rather like an attenuated Tristan und Isolde. In The Shadow of the Glen, a bored, des- perate housewife, Nora Burke (Catherine Walsh), has longed for real love and an escape from her oppressive husband and their dark & lonely farm cottage in County Wicklow. Her prayers are partly answered when he dies. She lays out the corpse with a significant lack of piety. Michael Dara (Nick Lee) arrives, another answered prayer. Unfortunately, the corpse suddenly comes back to life! Nora resolves this domestic dilemma, but not in a way that Irish audiences of Synge’s day wished to see on stage. The Tinker’s Wedding rowdily satirizes manners and customs, especially as they relate to matters of marriage and orthodoxy. The self-regard- ing priest (Eamon Morrissey) is soon made mock of by the shifty “Travelers.” They even take his shoes and socks, after they have “bagged” him. Ireland’s gypsies are called Travelers, or Tinkers, for that is what they do, going from place to place with their horses and caravans. The Well of the Saints was presented some seasons ago at the Edinburgh Festival by the Abbey Theatre in a haunting production by the Abbey’s former Artistic Director, Patrick Mason. The Druid version is much less misty. The very bright light of day falls on two raffish old blind beggars, Martin and Mary Doul, amusingly played, with many cro- chets, by Eamon Morrissey and Marie Mullen. They live from what they can beg at the crossroads. Fortunately, a wild-eyed St. John-style evangelist (Marcus Lamb) is working his way from village to village, performing miracles with Holy Water from the Well of the Saints. He heals Martin and Mary, but this proves more curse than blessing. Seeing


each other as they really are is a terrible shock. The Druid Synge Cycle is exactly the kind of production that ought to be seen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It has a brooding basic set:

three dark shabby walls, with door and window

frames, a hearth upstage, a storage-nook high in the back wall, a loamy stage-platform. These can become an impoverished peasant hut, a farm-house,

a rowdy pub, or a legendary dwelling, each differ- entiated slightly with set-props.

Harrower’s Harrowing Blackbird Staged by Peter Stein

On the proscenium stage of the elegant Edwardian King’s Theatre, the curtain is up and the handsome stageboxes and the overhead are crowd- ed with expensive lighting instruments, creating

instant expectations in a seasoned spectator, such as “What’s going to happen onstage that so many spot- lights are needed to illuminate the actions?” On the stage, however, there is no scenic-astonishment. Instead, the space seems to be a kind of conference area or even a lunch room for employees. There is

a table strewn with fast-food leftovers, some chairs,

and some battered lockers against the stage-right wall. Upstage, there is a low wall topped with sec- tions of a stage-wide glass window, with a door breaking the structural monotony. From time to time, nameless functionaries will walk by, some pausing to peer in at the room’s occupants. Spectators never learn who these employ- ees are, or what they actually do, other than add a kind of dubious tension to the confrontation in the room between Una and Ray, played by Jodhi May

and Roger Allam. It seems that, years ago, Ray “interfered” with the twelve year old Una and effec- tively ruined her life. In the immediate aftermath, she ran off and he tried, without success, to find her. In turn, she tried to find him which resulted in a disaster. He went to trial for this and then to prison. Advice from his lawyer during the trial may have made matters worse for Una afterward. Initially, it is unclear who Ray is and what he does here. He wears a white shirt and tie, but later it seems he may only be the janitor. He is dis- turbed to see Una, whom at first he insists he does- n’t recognize. The entire suspense and interest (if any) in this play is developed and sustained by grad- ually revealing previously withheld information about the past, as well as denials of those reported events.

Near the close of Blackbird, it is apparent that, despite all the suffering Una has undergone, she still nourishes a kind of lust for Ray. Although, after many denials about any relationship, he has admitted he was really smitten with Una, it’s also almost accidentally suggested that she was not the only early teen he has been attracted to. A little girl comes in looking for Uncle Ray and it’s clear she is not his niece. Suddenly, the audience is deliberately blinded by vertical bars of fluorescent-tubes moving across the stage as the set is changed from lunch- room to underground garage with a real car. Ray and Una are last seen grappling on the floor, and it’s not clear whether he’s strangled her or if she’s inflicted trauma on him The much-admired German Wunderkind

inflicted trauma on him The much-admired German Wunderkind Jodhi May (Una) and Roger Allam (Ray) in

Jodhi May (Una) and Roger Allam (Ray) in Blackbird, Directed by Peter Stein Photo: courtesy Edinburgh Festival


(now considerably older) Peter Stein was engaged to direct this drama, so someone obviously thought this was a major new script. In the event, despite all the extra spotlights, this all seemed Much Ado About Nothing. Playwright David Harrower, who had such a success with the Traverse Theatre pro- duction of Knives in Hens, is clearly an important Scottish Talent. Hens was both an interesting play and a harrowing production. He wrote Blackbird when he was an EIF Creative Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies.

Shan Khan’s Prayer Room

This new play, commissioned by the

Festival and staged by the Birmingham Rep, is sure

Its simple and timely

premise is that serious problems will soon emerge when a college sets aside a Prayer Room for stu- dents of the various Major Faiths. When Muslim students gather, window shades have to be pulled down over Christian images and texts. This obviously annoys the Born- Again students when they reclaim the turf. A lone Jewish student, Rila (Hannah Watkins), lights her lonely candle in a corner at the same time as a fanat- ic Christian student-leader (William Ellis) outlines God’s Plan for Mankind, which does not include the Salvation of any Jews who have refused to accept Jesus Christ as their Personal Saviour. Nor, for that matter, will all the Christian students at the meeting enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Their leader has a very clear idea of who is already Saved. Rila enlists the aid of a quasi-Jewish stu- dent, Reuben (Iddo Goldberg). When they attempt

to have a lot of productions

to have a prayer session with an old Torah Reuben has found at home, Muslim students enter and set out prayer rugs toward Mecca. A scuffle ensues, the Torah is torn, and Jade (Ashley Madekwe), the girl- friend of one of the rowdy Muslims, is arrested. As she has been in trouble before, she now faces prison. Matters have been complicated by a good-natured black student, Bunce (Jimmy Akingbola), who is on prescriptions for a nervous disorder, who amiably tries to follow along with the Christians, frequently misunderstanding their pronouncements. Furious

that his girl is going to jail, a Muslim student draws

a gun. The College head (Howard Ward), who is

also Rila’s hated step-father, wrests the weapon

away, only to fatally shoot Bunce. Some spectators were annoyed that the

Christian Faith was presented in such a way that the student leader seemed to be an immature, ignorant, intolerant, vindictive, spiteful bigot. Indeed, his fanatic rhetoric did get some laughs from moderates

in the audience, but he actually only said what Jerry

Falwell and Pat Robertson preach on Nationwide Television. Khan’s play mixes comedy and melodra- ma, not entirely smoothly. Some details need to be

explained: what did Jade do before she came to the Prayer Room that is now going to put her in prison? With some more workshopping, this drama has the potential to become a very timely play for college campuses, if not for church social halls. This play

is very much to the point in dealing with the increas-

ingly acrimonious arguments about religion in the schools.

Premiered at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre, the production was staged by Angus Jackson and designed by Lucy Osborne. After Edinburgh and Birmingham, it will surely move to London and New York.

and Birmingham, it will surely move to London and New York. Prayer Room , Directed by

Prayer Room, Directed by Angus Jackson. Photo: courtesy Birmingham Repertory

The Death of Klinghofer Reprised by Scottish Opera

When John Adams’s resound- ingly contemporary opera, The Death of Klinghofer, was originally shown at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, it excited angry protests from many American Jews, especially those who are ardent supporters of the state of Israel. As the opera takes its name from the vicious shipboard killing of Leon Klinghofer, an aging American


Jew, confined to a wheelchair, by Arab Militants, it might be imagined that making this brutal murder a symbolic centerpiece of the opera libretto would have met with Jewish approval, focusing attention on the desperate lengths to which some Palestinians will go in their Jihad against Israel and Jews in gen- eral. But Alice Goodman’s libretto is, in essence, something of a Choral Opera, opening with a very affecting Chorus of Exiled Palestinians, followed by a Chorus of Exiled Jews. Both Goodman and Adams are wonderfully even-handed. I didn’t like the physical production of the original Klinghofer at BAM, but that may have influenced my unease about the entire work. I assumed that I’d never have to see it again, in any case. The Edinburgh staging, by Anthony Nielson, with design by Miriam Buether and lighting by Chahine Yavroyan, is much more elemental. It is largely a bare stage deck, with a back wall of ship’s portholes. Some texts and images are projected on the ship-wall. Looking at this bare-bones production and listening to the incantory power of the first two cho- ruses followed by Adams’ Ocean Chorus, Night Chorus, Desert Chorus, and Day Chorus, the opera seemed more amenable to semi-staged concert pre- sentations. It doesn’t need a cruise ship set. The human, and inhuman, interactions of the singer/actors are enough, given the powers of the libretto and the score. Andrew Schroeder was admirable as the ship’s Captain, who was willing to risk his own life

to protect his passengers. Jonathan Summers and Catherine Wyn-Rogers were the Klinghofers. Oriol Rosés, as Omar, who longs for the Holy Death of a Martyr, was affecting. Darren Abrahams was Molqi, the leader of the Terrorists, with Kamel Boutros as Mamoud. “Rambo” was D’Arcy Bleiker, with Clair Booth as the British dancing-girl. Edward Gordon conducted the orchestra of the Scottish Opera.

Beyond The Fringes

In a brief Festival week, with a full pro- gram of regular festival offerings, it is virtually impossible to check out most of the Hits of the Fringe Festival, the “Fringe Firsts.” A French- speaking version of Monty Python’s Flying Circus at the Assembly Hall was a hard working attempt at crazy comedy that frequently misfired. Usually, the Assembly’s wide-ranging production programs are of good quality. The Traverse Theatre seldom disappoints, either with its own productions or those invited from other leading avant-garde ensembles in Scotland, England, Wales, and even Canada. The Volcano of Toronto premiered My Pyramids, or:

How I Got Fired from the Dairy Queen, and Ended Up in Abu Ghraib, by Pvt. Lyndie England. Judith Thompson actually wrote it, not Lyndie. Other Traverse offerings included: The Found Man, East Coast Chicken Supper, Dublin by Lamplight, Snuff, The Night Shift, An Oak Tree, After the End, The

Snuff, The Night Shift, An Oak Tree, After the End, The The Girls of the 3

The Girls of the 3 1/2 Floppies. Photo: Traverse Theatre


Girls of the 3½ Floppies, Product, and The Devil’s Larder. This British initiative proved very reward-


ing last season. Everything I saw was challenging and very professional

Performance of Religious and Civic Devotion in Elx

Jenna M. Soleo

For more than 500 years the people of Elx, a small city in Spain with more palm trees than peo- ple, have celebrated their patron saint, Our Lady of the Assumption, by producing an elaborate musical- drama on her feast day. Recently, along with an international group of medieval scholars, I visited this Valencian city to participate in this feast and witness a production of the city’s famous spectacle, the Misteri d’Elx, which is the only Assumption drama surving from the Middle Ages. The tradition is remarkable for its use of the ancient Valencian language, dating perhaps as far back as the thir- teenth century, as well as for its historic aerial stage machinery, based on designs from the sixteenth cen- tury. More than merely an academic exercise, how- ever, the annual production of the Festa is perhaps most important as an act of both religious and civic devotion for the people of Elx. Tourists from Valencia and around the world make their way to this palm grove on the Costa Blanca to marvel at the spectacle, but to the locals the continuation of the tradition is their birthright and their responsibility. As a participant in a colloquium sponsored by the Société International pour l’Étude du Théàtre Médiéval last August, I was invited not only to wit- ness the dress rehearsal of the Misteri, but also to see what happens backstage or, in this case, above the stage. The Misteri d’Elx is a two-day-long drama, performed entirely in song, which enacts the death

of the Virgin Mary on August 14, the eve (La Vespra) of the Feast of the Assumption, and then presents her Burial, Assumption, and Coronation in heaven on August 15, the feast itself (La Festa). Following the medieval tradition, all actors are male. Young boys play the Virgin, her companions and angels, while men, who often began performing in the Festa as boys, take on the roles of the apos- tles and the Jews who witness her death. Although much of the action takes place in the Basílica de Santa María, the central city church dedicated to the Madonna, and much of the audience will gather there to wait for the arrival of the actors, the play actually begins in the streets of Elx. The actors pre- pare for the performance at the hermitage of Saint Sebastian, a fifteenth-century church that is also known as “Mary’s house” in honor of the sacred image of the Virgin of the Assumption that adorned its high altar for more than a century. The Virgin, called la María in Elx, and her entourage, including two other biblical Maries (Mary Salome and Mary Jacobi) whom the Virgin calls sisters, are led in pro- cession or cortejo through the streets of the city by musicians and officials of the Festa. This tradition has the dual function of announcing the perform- ance and marking Elx as a another Jerusalem on this holy day. As soon as the cortejo arrive at the doors of the Basilica the organ is cued and La Vespra begins.

The use of space within the Basilica is

La Vespra begins. The use of space within the Basilica is Maria enters the church at

Maria enters the church at Elx, walking along the andador. Photo: Jenna Soleo


Technicians operate the winch required for the fantastic machines of the Misteri d’Elx . Photo:

Technicians operate the winch required for the fantastic machines of the Misteri d’Elx. Photo: Jenna Soleo

important to the tradition and is typically divided into two areas: the upper and lower levels, or earth- ly and heavenly realms. The performance begins on earth and moves from the doors of the church along an inclined walkway, called the andador, to a pur- pose-built stage, called the cadafal, set at the church’s central crossing between the transepts and the sactuary. La María, dressed in white and blue robes with a blonde curly wig and golden halo, sings to her sisters as she enters the space, begging them to stay with her as she makes her journey. They promise to do so and all three make their way, accompanied by angels, through the nave of the church. Walking along the andador, la María stops three times to mark symbols of Christ’s Passion and sing of his suffering. As she reveals her longing to be reunited with her Son, she moves onto the cadafal, a large square playing area covered with blue carpet and bordered by an ornate balustrade. Although some actors will enter from the church’s main doors and others will be flown in from above, the cadafal will function as the main playing area where all the characters converge for the miracle of the Assumption. Aside from the preservation of the anti- quated Valencian dialect, the Misteri is most note- worthy for its aerial machinery, which marks the play’s upper level of scenery. For scholars, these machines provide some of the best examples of how late medieval stagecraft, evidenced in several early

Renaissance paintings and technical drawings, might have worked. For lay audience members, these machines, called Núvol and Recélica in Elx, are simply awesome. Each enters the Basilica from “heaven”—a canvas ceiling beneath the actual masonry dome of the church, which is painted with clouds in false perspective. Sliding doors, les pertes del cel, cover the small hole through which the apparati move from their home at the roof line into the space of the church. Viewed from below, each appears to descend gently; they are literally celestial bodies and musicial angels. Behind the scenes, however, a different story is revealed. Although the mechanics are fairly simple, controlling the set pieces requires expertise. A large winch mounted on the roof of the church allows the machines to drop from the heavens above to Mary’s earthly bed. A team of technicians are needed to secure the actors and their instruments to their machines, to wind the winch, and then to guide the ropes, at an even pace and without spinning, until the apparatus finds its stopping point in the church below. Sometimes this point is mid-air, while on at least one occasion the machine must land several feet below the stage. In this instance the technicians on the roof must control the heavy machinery as it finds its way onto the stage and through a trap door to other waiting crew members. The first machine used in the play enters the church shaped as an orb. This Núvol or “cloud,”


which is often referred to as a “pomegranate” due to its shape and bright red exterior, opens in eight pieces to reveal a gilded inner core, inside of which sits a single angel who has come from heaven to tell la María that her long awaited passing is imman- nent. The Virgin then makes a final appeal to heav-

en that all the apostles be with her in her final hour. As the angel departs he replies that the Lord will be pleased to answer her prayer. The machine ascends

in the same manner it arrived, slowly and carefully

scaling the height of the church; all eyes remain on the boy actor in his gilded machine until he disap- pears into the ceiling. Next the doors of the church open to reveal

a man dressed in white and green and holding a

parchment. It is Saint John the Evangelist, recog- nized by the symbolic gospel he carries. He is merely the first of the twelve apostles who will eventually enter in fulfillment of the Virgin’s prayer.

John moves up the central andador, following the path of la María, as each disciple will do in turn. One remarkable detail of this entry is the expression on his face, an expression all of the apostles will share as they arrive, one by one or in small groups,

to meet the Virgin. This expression is not an actor-

ly choice, but rather a part of the tradition of the play. It is as important as any script or scenic element. All the men arrive in awe, as if they are unaware of where they are going or why.

Although there are few lines that explicate this subtext it is an impor- tant element of the scene. The apos- tles have been drawn miraculously from various points around the world where previously they were spread- ing the word of Christ. Some will note that they journey was miracu- lously swift, as Saint James does when he meets two other apostles on the andador and performs what is known as the Ternani, a three-part harmony, singing, “From foreign parts to here / we have very quickly come / crossing cities and mountains / in less than a moment of time.” As each finds himself in the presence of the Virgin he greets her and when they realize she is dying they mourn their loss, in a song that combines the vernacular that characterizes the play with traditional Latin prayers for the sacrament.

With all of the apostles beside her, la María lies down on her bed to die. At this point an interesting sleight-of-hand is necessary for the play to realize its sacred dimensions. The boy actor, who has heretofore sung the role of the Virgin, is replaced with the city’s most prized and sacred image of its patroness, the Virgin of the Assumption. Although the image’s eyes are normally open, it now wears a mask with closed eyes to represent the Virgin’s death. From this point on in the feast the actors and audience worship not a theatrical repre- sentation of the Virgin, but a venerated object. This is the image of the Virgin that adorns the Basilica’s main altar and, if we are to believe local legends concerning the play, it has divine origins. According to traditions transmitted in the last two centuries, a mysterious chest containing the Virgin of the Assumption’s image, along with the text and perhaps music for the play, reportedly washed up on the beach within Elx’s boundaries in 1266 and was immediately delivered to the city by the coastguard who found it. No documents substantiate this story, but it continues to fuel curiosity about the play. Whether or not audience members subscribe to such origin myths, those who partake in the Vespra wit- ness a celebration enacted with reverence equal to

partake in the Vespra wit- ness a celebration enacted with reverence equal to The ornate Núvol.

The ornate Núvol. Photo: Jenna Soleo


A series of apostles approaches la María . Photo: Jenna Soleo that of a religious

A series of apostles approaches la María. Photo: Jenna Soleo

that of a religious ritual. It is noteworthy that although a rehearsal is performed before an audi- ence a few days prior to the feast, the venerated image of the Virgin is only used on the holy day; a replica must be used in its place on any other day. As Asuncion Salvador-Rabaza Ramos, a historian of the tradition, explained to me at this rehearsal, the Assumption Vespra and Festa are acts of worship to the people of Elx. Adding to the sanctity of the per- formance is the inclusion of the clergy. According to local legislation of the tradition, the ritual that transfers the Virgin’s soul and ultimately her body into heaven must be led by a priest, who takes on the role of the Principal Angel. This Principal Angel arrives, along with angels playing harps and guitars, on a second machine commonly referred to as an Araceli, but known in Elx as a Recélica. This device is used in the Vespra to lower the angels to la María, whose body, represented by the venerated statue, lies on the stage. Entering in the same fashion as the Núvol, the Recélica descends from the roof, but goes beyond the level of the stage, disappearing into

a trap in the floor where the Principal Angel col- lects another small effigy of the Madonna. This one, dressed in white garments, represents the soul of the Virgin. In this way the Assumption of the Virgin’s soul into heaven is represented on stage. Once the Recélica has reached the height of heav- en, the officials of the Misteri, including clergy members holding the standards of the city, pay homage to the venerated statue of the Virgin in Assumption, still onstage, by kissing her feet. They then exit in procession along with the apos- tles and angels and return to the hermitage of Saint Sebastian. The second day of the Misteri d’Elx, La Festa, begins like La Vespra with a procession from the hermitage to the Basilica. In echoes of the final moments of the La Vespra, La Festa begins with the veneration of the statue of the Virgin whose funeral bier now sits on one side of the stage next to a large open trap in the floor, which will serve as the Virgin’s tomb. One by one the officials of the Festa and clergy members, who led the procession from the hermitage, walk into the church, continue down the center aisle to the stage, and kiss the feet of the effigy. The action begins with the actors entering in the same way, gathering around the image of the Virgin, and singing her praises as a prelude to her funeral rites. Before they can begin the ritual, however, they are interrupted by a group of Jews who enter the church. With expressions similar to the apostles when they first are drawn into the church, it seems as if the Jews are in awe of their surroundings. While most of Jews remain at the back of the church marveling, two of their numbers break away and discover the apostles at the cadafal. After reporting what they have seen to the other Jews, including the Chief Rabbi, they rail against the Christians. A fight insues and it seems that the Jews will prevail, but when one breaks forward intending to steal the body of the Virgin he is suddenly paralyzed. His com- panions gather around him, amazed by the miracle. They fall on their knees, immediately repentant for their disbelief, and ask for the apostles’ blessing. Convinced of the Jews’ true belief Saint Peter bap- tizes them, curing the paralysis and welcoming them into the community of Christ. Together the apostles and new Christians complete the burial ritual, which includes a proces- sion around the cadafal and the singing of psalms. As soon as the image of the Virgin is placed in the sepulchre the doors of heaven above once again and release the Recélica from above with its Principal


Angel holding the doll that represents the soul of the Virgin. Again this device is lowered to a place below the cadafal and while hidden from the audi- ence’s view the venerated image of the Virgin of the Assumption is attached. When it rises again it takes the statue up to the heavens, with the face of la María visible for the first time. The mask, with its eyes sealed by death, has been removed. Thus through performance the audience witnesses the miracle of the Virgin’s Assumption; the soul is reunited with the body, which was buried in the ground, and both are assumed into heaven. The last element of the performance, the Coronation, is performed when the Recélica is on its journey to heaven. The apparatus, suspended half- way between heaven and earth, stops as the doors of the church open one last time. It is the arrival of the last apostle, Thomas. After the Saint has made amends for his lateness the doors of heaven open again, this time to allow a second machine to join the Recélica. This smaller version of the same device holds a representation of the holy Trinity, with another priest playing the role of the God the Father and two boys, representing Christ and the Holy Ghost, at either side. God the Father sings the final part of a canticle wel- coming the Virgin to heaven and as he ends his song he releases a golden ring, which floats down on a string to Mary’s head. As she is crowned gold- en confetti falls, covering the apostles, the Jews and the audience. At the moment of the play’s climax fireworks are set off from the Basilica’s roof. Fireworks might seem an odd inclusion to this holy rite, but in Elx fireworks are an important part of the mid-August festivities and as necessary to the feast as any other feature. Fireworks are shot off to mark each opening of the doors of heaven when the Núvol and Recélica machines with their angels enter the church from above. Fireworks also provide a sort of opening ceremony for the feast period. On the evening prior to the Vespra the city produces an elaborate fireworks display, known as the Nit de l’alba. In this extensive display each blast is lit- erally sponsored by the people of Elx. In return for their donations each indi-

vidual, family, or business is matched up with a par- ticular pyrotechnic and credited in a program hand- ed out to all spectators. Over the years, with more and more people adding their contributions and names to the list, the Nit de l’alba has grown. During the hours-long celebration marked by con- tinuous combustions overhead, the night sky on the eve of the Vespra looks more like wartime Bagdad than ancient Jerusalem, but to those sponsoring the spectacle this too is in honor of the Virgin. It is noteworthy that only natives or long-time residents of Elx, and those specifically approved by the offi- cial organizing committee can play a role in the pro- duction. By sponsoring the fireworks, new resi- dents of the city have found a small way to be directly connected with the centuries-old tradition. As is evident other European communities with similarly rich and historic sacred performance traditions, like the Bavarian city of Oberammergau,

traditions, like the Bavarian city of Oberammergau, The Principal Angel arrives on the Araceli. Photo: Jenna

The Principal Angel arrives on the Araceli. Photo: Jenna Soleo


whose Passion Play tradition has been protested by the American Jewish Anti-Defamation League, Elx must contend with the tension between preserving the past and accommodating the needs of the pres- ent and future. In particular, Elx must deal with what might be considered the birthright of the city’s natives and the demands of more recent residents of the city. There are constant battles over who can be involved in the production and how traditional ele- ments in this ephemeral art might change or be interpreted. Every year the rehearsal is attended by those who will also participate in the sacred feast as a way to get a sneak peak at this year’s event. The voices of the new players, particularly the young boys, are discussed in comparison to last year’s tal- ents. It seems that the reactions and opinions of the city’s residents, which are televised on the local news, are an integral part of the tradition, a way for the audience to make their mark. Yet while some facets of society are basking in the reflected glow of the historic spectacle, others are having a very dif- ferent experience on the city streets. It was around this tension that my visit to Elx was most surprising. For in addition to the ele- ments of the Misteri, which I had traveled half-way around the world to witness, I found myself in the midst of other festive celebrations produced in the streets of Elx up to and along with the Misteri. These included all-night street parties with music, banqueting, and parades celebrating various civic organizations and complete with costumes and floats. The most lavish of these parades were pro- duced on a theme common throughout Valencia, the battles between Christians and Moors in the history of the region. In fact, these street dramas have as much to do with the history of Elx and civic identi- ty of its people as the Misteri. The production of both these festive celebrations on and around August 15 is no accident. The fifteenth of August, devoted on the Catholic calendar to the feast of the Assumption, is in the Valencian city of Elx also a secular holiday celebrating of the Valencian nation. It is the day, according to tradition, when in 1265 King Jaume I blessed the mosques as Christian churches in the name of Mary and created an independent medieval state. Thus there is collusion between the sacred and the secular, the feast of Mary and the history of the city she watches over. The legendary arrival of Mary’s sacred image and the Misteri text is even celebrated each year in a street festival, which includes a reenactment of the coastguard riding

through the streets of Elx on horseback with the mysterious chest. This festive enactment takes place in December and is held as the beginning of the festive season that will continue through the summer. Thus the week-long feast of mid-August is not an isolated festive period in Elx, but the zenith of the city’s almost year-long festive activities, that begin and end in the name of the city’s holy patroness. As its recent honor by the United Nations as a Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage attests, the Misteri d’Elx has earned an international reputation. Yet, despite its esteemed history and the attention given by medievalists, the feast is not an historic revival, but a dynamic living entity. Not only a performance of a sacred play, but the ritual expression of devotion by a people to their protec- tress, the Misteri is an integral part of both the civic and religious identity in Elx. The idea that any sin- gle performance of the tradition could ever be the authoritative expression of this complex function belies a misunderstanding of the very nature of the sort of festive performance that the Festa repre- sents. In the Middle Ages such dramas contended with the very same tensions one sees today in Elx, between past and present, popular and elite. When I arrived in the city at close to midnight a few days prior to mid-August I anticipated finding a quiet town and perhaps a few telltale signs of the upcom- ing religious celebration. What I encountered was a veritable carnival, complete with musicians, floats, and costumes. Although this street theatre is dis- avowed by organizers of the Misteri as completely separate from the sacred tradition, one cannot deny the proximity of the events. They inhabit the very same streets during the same week for the same audiences in honor of the city’s two different but complementary histories. Thus, the parades and banqueting celebrated in the costumes of Moors and Christians cannot be seen as truly divorced from the Misteri. Though they are separate traditions, they come together on the streets of Elx to mark the feast of mid-August, not only for the Virgin of the Assumption, but also for the people of her Valencian city.

The author would like to thank the Patronato Nacional del Misterio de Elche, Pamela King and Asuncion Salvador-Rabaza Ramos for information on the Misteri. And especially Max Harris for his insights on and reactions to this article in its formative stages.


Aristophanes’ Peace in Cyprus

By George Panaghi

The International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama in Cyprus has become an annual event under the auspices of the International Theatre Institute. This month-long event welcomes produc- tions from around the world to the two functional

classical auditoria of the island—the Paphos Odeon,

a small limestone theatre primarily used for con-

certs, and the larger Kourion Amphitheatre. The productions that made it to Cyprus this year came from as far as Montreal (with Theatre de L’Opsis

presenting its version of Sophocles’ Electra) and as near as Armenia (whose State Theatre performed Aristophanes’ Clouds). The festival’s timing gives

it the opportunity to host many of the companies on

their way back from the Epidaurus Festival, its more prestigious and better established colleague. The State Theatre of Northern Greece was one of the companies who arrived in Cyprus for an

encore, bringing with them their production of Eirene, or Peace, by Aristophanes in a new transla- tion by K.H. Miris and directed by Yiannis Iordanidis. The production had already won

acclaim at Epidaurus and Athens, and as it signaled the return of veteran comedian Thimios Karakatsanis, much loved by the Cypriot audience,

it was eagerly anticipated.

Karakatsanis must hold the national record for the longest career in acting. A graduate of the Greek “Art Theatre,” his career began in the period now referred to as the dawn of professional theatre

in modern Greece. He is responsible for originating

many of the great comic heroes of contemporary Greek dramaturgy, as well as introducing many international classics to the Greek audience. Though a comic virtuoso who has presented the entire Aristophanic cannon at Epidaurus, he has made occasional sorties from the genre, bringing Willy Loman to the Greek stage for the first time in Death of the Smalltime Merchant. As the lecherous, vulgar, gluttonous and idealistic old peasant Trygaeus, Karakatsanis pronounced Aristophanes’ vulgarities naturally and with innocent charm. His occasional lapses of memory, justified by age, were not distracting—in fact, he more than made up for them with his improvisatory ingenuity. This element of improvisation is perhaps what’s most impressive about the production. Miris’ new translation, reproduced in its entirety in the

oversized program, would have been of very little help to anybody trying to follow the performance line by line. It is not that Miris shies away from Aristophanic profanity—the opening scene, as pub- lished, contains an impressive catalogue of syn- onyms for feces. Comparing the text as printed with the text as performed, however, one assumes that were was considerable room for play in rehearsal, especially when it came to Karakatsanis’ Trygaeus. Iordanidis must have encouraged or at least indulged any attempt to make the play dirtier and cruder. Verbal inventiveness was matched by phys- ical comedy—any opportunity to suggest inter- course, defecation, or farting was exploited to the fullest.

Kourion is built into the side of a windy cliff overlooking the sea, with the audience pointed towards the South and the sun rising and setting behind the orchestra. As it is half an hour away from the nearest city, no urban lights obstruct the view of the starlit sky. Most performances today are held at night, using artificial lighting (which has been permanently installed). This means that per- formances in the summer don’t start until nine o’clock, and sometimes end after midnight. More recently a rectangular extension was made to the orchestra over the cliff, which extends the playing area and allows representational scenery to be used. This borrowing from the proscenium stage has the unfortunate result of privileging central seating and limiting the view of the majority of audience mem- bers.

The specific set, by George Souglides, is hardly representational. Large, tilted black boxes suggest the jagged rocks of Olympus where Trygaeus seeks the gods, the cave in which Peace is buried, and Trygaeus’ Athenian residence. For- tunately, most of the staging, especially the large choral dances, is limited to the orchestra, with the boxes (which reveal themselves to be the gods’ machines) mainly used for entrances and exits. The asymmetry of the set and the inclination of the boxes, as well as their secret mechanisms, allow for this multiplicity of uses. Productions at Kourion rarely employ lighting to its full effect—especially when it comes to comedies. It’s usually just spot- lights on the actors for spoken scenes, all lights up on the orchestra for dances. Lefteris Pavlopoulos’


Thimios Karakatsanis at left, in Aristophanes’s Eirene. Photo: National Theatre of Northern Greece design is

Thimios Karakatsanis at left, in Aristophanes’s Eirene. Photo: National Theatre of Northern Greece

design is similarly functional most of the time, which makes the few moments of “magic” even more impressive. Kenny MacLelan’s costumes, on the other hand, go far beyond function. Most characters, on their first entrance, draw laughter before they have time to speak. Trygaeus’s daughters, for example, played by cross-dressed members of the all-male chorus, are modeled after porcelain dolls, complete with blond curls and matching outfits in contrasting colors. Opora, goddess of the harvest, wears a cor- nucopia of tropical fruit as a hat, topped by a water- ing can, as well as an oversized tail of peacock feathers. Hermes, played by Yorgos Galitis, looks like Louis XIV in silver lamé. Most characters wear painted masks of white makeup with red cheeks and noses, suggesting clowns. Karakatsanis’ own mask is topped by a massive wig of wild, graying hair, styled into two thick strands that fly in random directions. The play begins with a burst of energy as Trygaeus’ servants hustle and bustle to prepare a banquet of fecal delicacies for the “Burbulas,” the gigantic beetle that will carry Trygaeus to the heav- ens. Epidaurus veterans Takis Papamattheou and Kostas Halkias play the servants as sophisticated French chefs forced into an impossible situation.


Trygaeus’ choice of vehicle is strategic: the beetle needs no fuel other than what its master can pro- duce. Karakatsanis, with deadpan sincerity, sums it up as: “I eat, I shit, it eats.” The beetle also comes equipped with a car alarm and self-locking doors. Trygaeus wears it on a harness, the way clowns usu- ally carry their little red cars. Before his departure, his daughters plead with him not to take on such a dangerous journey. Their supplication comprises the first of Yorgos Christianakis’ musical interludes, set in a lively folkloric style that is a good match for the bucolic characters. After a short flight and a half-improvised monologue advising the audience not to fart and dis- tract the beetle from its course, Trygaeus arrives at the gods’ abode, where is met by a fey yet firm Hermes, played by Yorgos Galitis. The first of the two central boxes opens majestically to reveal the god radiating with silver light. The effect in itself is impressive, but more importantly it invites the audi- ence to wonder as to what even grander spectacle might be enclosed in the second, larger box. Hermes explains that the gods, growing wary of the Greeks’ internecine wars, have abandoned Olympus and allowed Polemos (War) to take over and destroy the Greek city-states. Polemos has imprisoned Peace and is now preparing a gigantic molar in which to grind Greece. This introduction, of course, is preparation for Polemos’ grand entrance, possibly the best example of how closely the designers have collabo- rated on this production. As if to outdo the glowing grandeur of Hermes’ appearance, the second, even larger scenic unit unfolds slowly to reveal an over- sized, six-armed, drum-thumping monstrosity in red and black, under tightly focused vertical red lights and thick smoke. When actor Dimitris Kamberidis speaks, his voice is distorted, amplified, and multi- plied by a sound design that (for lack of a specific credit) must be attributed to Yorgos Christianakis, who also composed all of the evening’s music. The title of sound designer hasn’t become the norm in Greek theatre, where many productions emphasize the originality of the music by crediting composers for the entire soundscape. To top the scenic spectacle, human specta- cle follows. Large choruses are typical of produc- tions set for Epidaurus. Here, Iordanidis settles for twenty-three, who also double in smaller roles. This seems modest compared to some productions by the larger national theatres but the skill of these performers more than makes up for it. It is very

encouraging for the future of Greek theatre that such

a number of well-trained young singers, dancers,

and physical comedians was assembled, especially considering that dance is still frowned upon as a valid profession for men. Representing young peas- ants from the Attic countryside, the chorus adds

youthful vivacity to the well-honed virtuosity of the older cast members. The choreography by Issidoros Sideris is equally playful, especially in its use of props. Among other oddities, we see a cane dance,

a boot dance and a dance with rope. Such choreo-

graphic inventiveness is not typical of Greek pro- ductions of the classics—many productions even eschew the subject altogether, with the chorus fol- lowing a ritualistic sequence of poses set by a “movement consultant.” With the chorus backing him now, Trygaeus easily wins the agon and persuades

Hermes to help them liberate Eirene from her cave. Not as well developed as that of Lysistrata or Clouds, the agon here is merely an exchange of insults. Hermes is not a very worthy opponent when

it comes to public debate, and he easily succumbs.

The peasants tug and pull, while Trygaeus urges them on. By now, the audience has learned to expect spectacle when a god is making an entrance, and Eirene’s entrance is perhaps the most striking visual moment of the evening. Nothing happens. The puzzling absence from the dramatis personae in the program is carried into the production. Peace simply doesn’t appear. Characters address her in the vague direction of the audience, but she is never seen. As Eirene is a silent character (maybe even represented by a statue in Aristophanes’ time), this doesn’t interfere with the text in any way. Her attendants, Opora and Theoria, do show up, but the unfulfilled promise of a spectacular entrance casts a shade of doubt on the proceedings. The peasants’ ensuing celebration is therefore ironic. As Trygaeus explains it: “she won’t say a word. She’s mad at the rabble for allowing themselves to be seduced by politicians and for abandoning her.” She does speak to Trygaeus, and it is only through him that we ever know she’s truly present. The celebration is followed by the parabasis, here staged as a true intervention, in a completely different dramatic register. The three chorus leaders speak the prose part, a long tirade against the social and political evils the poet despises, while the

rest intone a warning against army generals, double- dealing politicians, false intellectuals and bad artists. The energy of the chorus is utilized very dif- ferently here, as a firm attack rather than a joyous diversion. Coming right after the mysterious absence of the titular heroine, the parabasis becomes an emotional highlight in an otherwise quite silly and frivolous entertainment. Indeed, the rest of the performance is given over to celebration. Some doubting Thomases (arms dealers, a priest, and even a militarist boy scout) do question Trygaeus’ accomplishment, but none of their arguments last very long. The brief arguments alternate with increasingly bawdier choral interludes, culminating in a wedding celebra- tion for Opora and Trygaeus. Even in this festive closing, however, Iordanidis and Karakatsanis don’t fail to remind us that nothing has really been achieved tonight. Trygaeus’ closing address (based on an interpolated Paean to Eirene by Bacchylidus) ends in tears, as he realizes that the celebration was only part of the play, and Eirene has still not appeared. The result of these subtle reminders is a production that speaks for peace without becoming didactic. Rather than delve on the evils of war, Aristophanes (and his vivacious interpreters) focus- es on the joys of peacetime, especially the simple joys of rural life. In Miris’s translation the chorus defines peace as “grapes on the vine,” “honey on a comb,” “figs and citrus fruits,” and “joys of the loins.” The athletic and bawdy display of merri- ment that constitutes most of the show is merely a representation of what the world could be, if Eirene were truly allowed to make an entrance. Perhaps Trygaeus ends his last speech weeping because he

Perhaps Trygaeus ends his last speech weeping because he A soothsayer counsels Trygaeus. Photo: National Theatre

A soothsayer counsels Trygaeus. Photo: National Theatre of Northern Greece


now recognizes that what he has enjoyed and shared with the audience for the last two hours, can never exist outside the theatre. The audience has been allowed to sample the fruits of peace, but they must

now leave the theatre and return to a world where peace is absent. Whatever Eirene’s silence might have meant in Aristophanes’ Athens, her marked absence today speaks for itself.

Athens, her marked absence today speaks for itself. George Souglides’s set for the production of Eirene

George Souglides’s set for the production of Eirene at Cyprus’s Kourion Amphitheatre. Photo: National Theatre of Northern Greece


Paris Theatre, May-June 2005

Barry Daniels

I’m amazed at the number of productions I managed to see during the final two months of the Paris theatre season, especially since I was traveling in Italy during the last two weeks of May. As always there was a great variety of possible choices. And since I’m able to put together subscriptions to a number of theatres, prices are often less than €15. At those prices, I take chances that I would not take in New York. In the major subsidized houses the quality of production remains very high. Contemporary writing continues to be less interest- ing in this environment where the director is often the most important element in determining theater- goers’ choices. André Wilms’ staging of Euripides’ The Bacchae at the Comédie-Française started with an arresting image. Dionysos with a tail, wearing a gold tunic and with body and face painted gold, recited the prologue in front of a black velvet drop with a grid of luminous squares. Denis Podalydès was ironic and perverse as Dionysos and set the tone for what looked to be an interesting evening. When the drop rose revealing Nicky Rieti’s set of columns painted in multicolored pastels, my hopes were rapidly shattered. The set, placed against white wings and a pale cyc, looked like a fashionable shop window display waiting for man- nequins to complete it. The six-member chorus looked like sleepy teenage girls with dirty hair and reasonably hip, slightly ragged dresses wrapped with animal skins. Cissou Winling’s costumes were generally more fashionable than appropriate except

for the costume worn by Dionysos at the beginning and at the end of the play. Dionysos wore black leather; Penthius was given brown leather pants and full-length brown suede coat that reversed to a leop- ard skin pattern. Tiresias and Cadmos wore black suits and Tiresias sported a rabbi’s prayer shawl and bowler hat trimmed with vine leaves. Wilms’ staging was mostly listless and often foolish. Cadmos (Daniel Znyk) and Tiresias (Michel Robin) were played for comic effect. Eric Ruf played Penthius without any variation until, dressed as a woman, he minced about the stage. The choral speaking was awkward and the movement devised for the chorus (Joëlle Bouvier choreo- graphed) was unimaginative and often trite. Podalydès is a gifted actor and was always com- pelling as Dionysus. The other actors, unfortunate- ly, seemed to be in a different and less interesting production. Things improved somewhat for the final scenes of the play. The set changed to black wings and a black drop with an elevated opening in it. Jérôme Pouly as the Messenger appeared in the opening and gave an excellent reading of his impor- tant speech. The chorus sang and chanted to good effect. Martine Chevalier as Agave used interesting vocal dynamics to create the bacchante arriving with her trophy. She was also excellent in her tran- sition from exaltation to despair. Wilms angled a large mirror behind and above the trap where the remains of Penthius’ body were placed. This gave an eerie effect to the scene and to Cadmos’ final

gave an eerie effect to the scene and to Cadmos’ final André Wilms’ staging of The

André Wilms’ staging of The Bacchae at the Comédie-Française. Photo: Marc Enguerand.


A scene from the Paris production of Julius Caesar, staged by Deborah Warner. Photo: Ramon

A scene from the Paris production of Julius Caesar, staged by Deborah Warner. Photo: Ramon Senera, Agence Bernand

speech which Zynk performed effectively. Dionysos appeared in the opening in the drop wear- ing his gold costume from the prologue as the play concluded. Deborah Warner’s staging of Julius Caesar opened at the Barbican Centre in London in April and was brought to Paris for a two-week run at the Theatre national de Chaillot. It was a truly memo- rable production [see Robert Davis's article in this issue].

The play was divided into two parts and performed in modern dress (costumes were by Chloe Obolensky. For the first part (Shakespeare’s first three acts) set designer Tom Pye placed a large platform representing broad marble steps in the cen- ter of the space which was open to the wings and back wall of the theatre in which there was a large opening. Metal barriers were placed at the sides and back of the platform by security guards as the play began. For the entry of Caesar, a boisterous crowd of one hundred extras pressed against the barriers. Throughout this part of the play Warner’s treatment of the crowd scenes was thrilling and theatrical. For the last two acts the stage was almost bare. It looked like a vast warehouse with a large door at the back and containers stored around the space. Props were brought on for the various scenes; modern office furniture for Antony and Octavius; an old wicker chair for Brutus with a radio and TV placed on the floor. Pye designed geo- metrical video patterns that were projected on the

back wall of the space. The first part of the evening was intensely dramatic as we followed the conspiracy up to the murder of Caesar, the funeral orations and the unruly mob’s murder of Cinna the poet. In the sec- ond part the action was more episodic and Warner rightly focused on Brutus and Cassius