Monday, August 23, 2010

Salzburg 2010: Dionysos très dithyrambique

Mojca Erdmann and Johannes Martin Kränzle

Dionysos, August 8 2010, Haus für Mozart, Salzburg

Ingo Metzmacher ..... Conductor
Pierre Audi ..... Stage Director
Jonathan Meese ..... Set Design

Johannes Martin Kränzle ..... N.
Mojca Erdmann ..... First Soprano
Elin Rombo ..... Second Soprano
Matthias Klink ..... “A Guest” / Apollo
Virpi Räisänen ..... Mezzo-soprano
Julia Faylenbogen ..... Contralto
Uli Kirsch ..... “The Skin”

Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus
To me this was the most fascinating show at the 90th Salzburger Festspiele for at least four reasons: Jonathan Meese, Wolfgang Rihm, Ingo Metzmacher, and Mojca ErdmannPierre Audi was inteligent to leave the expanding personality of Jonathan Meese to occupy the space and present his ideas which get along very well with the theme of this opera. Meese,  who was in charge for the sets in this production, is one of the most intriguing and fascinating personalities in the world of contemporary art. Just across the street from the Felsenreitschule, in the Modern Art Museum (Rupertinum), the organizers arranged a small exhibition of Jonathan Meese's sketches and models he produced while preparing this shows, enriched by some of his video art and some of his addon's. It's provocative, hilarious, clever, and definitely stylish [whatever that means! ;)] Concerning art, Meese's ideas tango with Nietzsche's as he also strives to a  total dis-alienation but a full freedom, which he articulates through his utopia called "the dictatorship of art" ;) [see some of his video art on YouTube!] Here are several pics I took at the exhibit that I found definitely worth spending a couple of hours -- it's thought provoking, it's enlightening, it's fun, and it bursts with energy.

Opera is a new ground for him and he seems to be fascinated by the experience and already goes on with his utopia about the world as a global opera theater.
I think it is a right moment to remind you that this production is a joint project of the Salzburg Festival and the Dutch National Opera , and so this same Dionysos will be presented in June 2011 in Amsterdam.

Now, I greatly appreciated this show not only because of Jonathan Meese's overwhelming images, but especially because of the artistic research that goes beyond the traditional-narrative approach to opera, and yet there is a story behind. It's a theatrical language that could work only through music, which Wolfgang Rihm calls the opera-fantasy, and I think that's a perfectly fitting definition of what it truly is.
I was very surprised to read the reviewers pointing out at the resemblance of Rihm's score to Richard Strauss'. How did they see that? I did try and dug deep, but no way... Rihm's score is rich, often dissonant, but --contrary to many contemporary composers-- he's not afraid to infiltrate a few melodic passages, and in doing so he is very careful to use them to describe the situations and characters, and not to search for cheap hits at the lacrimosa cord at his listener's.

Wolfgang Rihm, composer and librettist [and Nietzsche admirer!]

Wolfgang Rihm also wrote the libretto for his opera. Beneath the title Dionysos it reads "Scenes and Dithyrams", which is an accurate definition too. I would not go on and recount the "storyline". I'll quote the succinct synopsis from the program booklet (very well organized, informative, and very well written -- it is bilingual program, and it costs 7 €).
Scene I [A lake]
Silently N. follows two nymphs who mock him. He is unable, however, to catch them. One is transformed into Ariadne, while the other one disappears in the fog. Ariadne joins N. in a boat, is willing to succumb to him, even lets herself be tied up, if only he would say something... With the greatest effort, N. finally utters a few words: "I am thy labyrinth." Three dolphins and play with the desperate man. On the other shore, A Guest waves. Everything is easier for him.   He enchants Ariadne  with the same words that N. used. N. breaks down.

Scene II [In the mountains]
No matter which extreme location is chosen, for N. there is only loneliness. Together with A Guest, N. tries to climb the top of a mountain. Over and over, they have to avoid falling down to death. Birds of prey threaten them. While they were rivals at first, now they are dependent upon each other. They have almost reached the top, but below them is the abyss. Sudden storms almost cause them to fall. The higher they clim, the lighter N. feels. The simultaneous proximity of heaven and death puts him in a state of elation.

Scene III 
[Interior 1]  N. and A Guest move through a crowd of people clumsily, both searching for love. 

[Interior 2]  In a brothel four hetaeras, all named Esmeralda, try to seduce the two men. Can N. finally find the truth here? No, he is only a poet. Helplessly, he realizes that A Guest is his rival again. While the women make it clear what they really want from the men, N. is increasingly lost within his own "truth". Accompanied by A Guest on the piano, N. sings the song of the wanderer who can never rest until the song of a bird makes him stop in his tracks. Those present only have tepid applause for the performance. The hetaeras (or are they the nymphs?) see in N. a welcome victim of their seductive arts. He is only able to save himself by remembering other times. Like Ariadne before, now he is tied up, while A Guest is torn to pieces by the Esmeraldas.

[Interior 3] The artist N. increasingly burrows within his own world. Maenads gather around him, screaming. Three mythical women appear, earth mothers who assure him that the Promised Land is not far. N. longs for the one who has always accompanied him. Instead, however, Apollo appears to skin him -- as he once did to his rival Marsyas. Maltreated, N. knows that he has fallen victim to a jealous rage. He still longs for love. As the torn-off skin begins to move slowly, everybody turns away from N. in horror. 

Scene IV [A square]
N.'s skin witnesses how a horse is beaten by a man without face (Is it A Guest? Is it Apollo?). With a passionate kiss, The Skin wants to embrace the horse, and it sinks into the arms of Ariadne, who has approached. N. has found his truth.

So through the story of Nietzsche, Rihm develops and hops around the philosophical lines related to a  human quest for truth: man's happiness through love and creativity,  his fear of loneliness and of loss of ability to create... What are we when we cannot create any more?! Is the life worth living when that happens and we're aware of it? That of course is the trouble of every artist, every intellectual, and certainly was/is enigma of Nietzsche's. Why did he stop talking? Why did he stop functioning as a 'normal' human being? Was it because he simply ran out of ideas, or his concept was ultimately turned out to be a closed circle and any further quest for truth was pointless? Or he was ultimately missing love? All those questions are musically subtly sculpted by Wolfgang Rihm and the visual provided by the Meese's sets only brings a new dimension to the event. Pierre Audi does a good job to stitch all these scenes together, and directs the actors to smooth the flow. The Rihm's score floats through  scenes/images, with Ingo Metzmacher helping immensely in the process. He is now definitely my hero. You could tell he loves to create the sounds; he enjoyed the power given to him to be the first to bring this score to life. He lead and inspired his orchestra, he visibly enjoys what he does, and that joy is contagious when in auditorium.

The singers were all really superb. Johannes Martin Kränzle is both scenically and vocally excellent, Matthias Klink does a very good job too. The ladies in this opera have a very difficult but also a rewarding task: it's very high but the soprano is wonderfully exposed in this score to make that extra effect on you that cannot be compared to anything else;  Rihm knows that and the girls surfed on this score brilliantly. I noticed Virpi Räisänen and Elin Rombo (one more Swedish gem!) last year in Salzburg when I was fascinated by their voices, in super-high 'Al gran sole carico d'amore' by Luigi Nono. Beautiful singing this year again! However, a truly mesmerizing voice that stood a notch above the rest was Mojca Erdmann's. Her voice is warm,  but also fascinating in its dexterity that at some point becomes almost intimidating: she's in her prime and everything sounds so perfectly easy, but there is no routine that would risk suffocating the liveliness...   I thought her singing and acting in Herheim's production of Der Rosenkavalier in Stuttgart last year was the best Sophie I've ever heard. Here she demonstrates her authority as the top world soprano in her branch (Mozart, Strauss, contemporary opera). To her splendid voice add a magnificent scenic presence, and there you have Mojca!

So, all in all, this was a passionately composed, staged and performed contemporary opera.

I'd left my camera in my backpack, so I don't have any curtain call pics to show. Sorry!
Here are several pics from the Festival's website + the last one of Jonathan Meese with Daniel Richter.

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