Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Der Video Messias

Der Messias,  Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, March 16 2011

Conductor..... Hartmut Haenchen
Director ..... Oleg Kulik
Video ..... Robert Nortik

Priest ..... Michel Serres

Tenor ..... Tilman Lichdi
Soprano ..... Christina Landshamer
Mezzo ..... Anna Stephany
Bass ..... Darren Jeffery

Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Châtelet Chorus

This oratorio is supposed to celebrate religion (make this "religion" in as broad a sense you possibly can). Giving the musical richness and solemnity to the celebration of recounted biblical stories was certainly uplifting to the spirituality of Handel's contemporaries. Today, I'm afraid, the effect on an average spectator might be the opposite if the only purpose is to simply recount the biblical stories, no matter how many petabytes of video imagery you're ready to invest in the process.

That Oleg Kulik would choose the simplest route to make the staged version of Messiah was more than a surprise to me. How would you expect such a thing from a man of scandals, from a man who we thought was Joseph Beuys of our time, from a man known as "a Man among Dogs"... !?

To cut it short, there is basically one underlying idea while the rest of the show is reduced to the heaviest use of video I've ever seen: images that are supposed to talk to us about the origin of life as seen through the biblical optics.

What was the idea? It's non-trivially ambiguous and I like it, but it's the only one odea, which is not enough to keep your attention span last for more than 3 hours. The stage is covered by a semi-transparent screen on which the overwhelming imagery in 1000's colors is making your head spin. Beyond the screen there are four huge robots that are making various choreographed movements, occasionally helped by a dancer whose role is --I guess-- to make contact between the traditional biblical spirituality, and the new artificial intelligence whose birth is paralleled with that of Messiah. So you can see it that way, i.e. as a criticism of our depleted spirituality today  by which our hopes and salvation is anchored to high technology and artificial intelligence. Or, you can interpret it as a kind of a statement by which all the new technology, artificial intelligence... may superficially change our world but ultimately they too abide by the God's laws.

The problem is that the imagery is so aggressive that after 1 act you feel a bad headache coming, and after the Act 2 you're pretty much burnt out. The subtlety and a deeper human contact that this piece of music may establish with the audience is very well reflected by the recent production of the same piece at Theater an der Wien, and staged by Claus Guth (available on DVD)

More interesting was the orchestral performance as this was the first time for me to listen to the German translation of the Handel's masterpiece, re-orchestrated by Mozart. At first I wasn't aware of that and was very surprised to see Hartmut Haenchen conducting Handel, but when you hear how Mozart injected energy in Handel's work, the choice of maestro Haenchen seems perfectly adequate.

So I liked the music direction, the singers [Anna Stephany and Darren Jeffery are good!], but the amount of brainless imagery, together with interminable interruptions in which the preasty dressed Michel Serres would preach in a creepy voice... that was just too much for me to stomach. In addition the preacher and two intermissions just made the show far too long. Right after the beginning of Act 3, my headache got just too strong and  I left the theater.

Here is the trailer:

and 4 short video excerpts posted on YT by OlegKulikStudio

(in the end of this video you see 4 robots behind the screen)

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