Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Konwitschny Affair, or Why Salome rubbed me the wrong way?

"Salome" by Konwitschny had everything I need to consider it an excellent show, and yet there was something rubbing me the wrong way. After digging a bit deeper I think I've found the answer: I saw "Armida" by Calixto Bieito in Komische Oper Berlin this spring. And yes, Bieito has set a standard that Konwitschny's "Salome" simply didn't fulfill.

"Salome" in the Konwitschy's production at DNO is portrayed as a girl living in a very dysfunctional and decadent family. The whole palette of characters is confined inside an atomic shelter (kind of), which both physically and mentally is defining the profile of communication among characters and sets the ground for all the ensuing perversion which includes the gangbang party, a homicide, drugs...  I found the idea to let Jochanaan finish the drama alive and leave that sickening place together with Salome, utterly brilliant.  In addition, in retrospect, I believe that by too much perversion -which annoyed me during and after the show- Konwitschny precisely wanted us to feel that confinement and a moral disgust to make our compassion culminate when Salome draws the doors on the walls, wanting to leave that horrid place. Yes, that was a moment of genuine theatrical greatness, but its realization missed the target: we did not feel for or with Salome, the whole case wasn't built up properly and the dramatic staccato towards the end made the whole show almost fall apart. That's the first reason why I failed to like the show as much as I normally would/should have.

The second and maybe more important reason is that I saw "Armida" at the Komische Oper Berlin in May this year. That latter show, although different,  fluctuated along the similar theatrical line but it was done better, it was better constructed and its impact on a spectator was much more poignant and disturbing. In "Armida" Bieito was also playing the decadence card. Armide is depicted as a corporate b*tch, a woman who is beautiful, powerful and rich, who can have any man around (the portrayal includes lots of nudity and swinger sex parties too). Even though he is not her fit, she `fatally' falls in love with Renaud, the only important man around who does not desire her. The dichotomy of her drive becomes clear as she lusts after him AND after full power (in general); the ambiguity between power and sex, its connection with the women of 21st century, and the whole complexity of it is masterfully spread our right there, in front of you. The timing is perfect. All the gory details and nudity may [and did!] shock/upset many people, but the sheer brilliance of the Bieito's concept was that blood and nudity --after one hour or so-- in YOUR eyes too, become what they are meant to be: the accessory for situating and building the drama, for depicting Armide and her (corporate) world in which the libretto by Philippe Quinault could be perfectly expanded.  While that aspect became clear after only 1 hour of "Armida", it was blurred and eventually lost in the Konwitschny's "Salome". It took me 1 week until it'd eventually sunk in that way.  ;(

Konwitschny is arguably the father of regietheater, but in my very humble opinion, he is outperformed by the new generation of directors such as Bieito, Herheim, Kriegenburg, Tcherniakov, Kosky, Warlikowski...

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