Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Krzysztof Warlikowski at La Monnaie/De Munt: the world's most talked about director in one of the coolest opera houses

His opera productions between 2004 and 2009 --when Gerard Mortier was at the head of the Paris Opera [and when Paris Opera mattered in the world of regular theaters too]-- spurred many strong reactions among public. Those who liked his shows loved them, and those who didn't they hated them.

At the very core of his theater is a generic notion of human suffering -- even if the shape or form changes, deep down it's always about suffering. He was already an important theatrical name before producing operas, but the way he shook the opera world was quite extraordinary.

My first encounter with his work was his production of Iphigénie en Tauride in Paris, which for many inexplicable and often irrational reasons, remains one of the most fascinating shows I've ever seen. It was emotionally and mentally disturbing even though there was nothing shocking in or about the show. Add to that a weird scene of Krzysztof coming up on stage after each show to rake all the angry boos -- it all made the event memorable and surreal. His goal is clearly not to please everyone, but rather to invite us to explore something new. That magic often works, but sometimes it doesn't -- in any case his audacity and the way he resets theatrical language to reconnect it (in his own way!) to the antique theater is most certainly fascinating.

His theater is modern on many levels, with many contemporary references  (especially cinema related), but with most disturbing rhythms you could find in theater: most of the "action" is faster/slower than you'd want it to be.

When he produces a show for some theater in Paris (that is not an opera) it's not only strange that his so peculiar shows are sold out long in advance, but for an opera-goer like me it's like a shock to see a massive presence of young and very-young people in the crowd.

Why all this story about Krzysztof Warlikowski? His new opera production is to be premiered next Friday at La Monnaie/De Munt in Brussels [the exemplary well managed opera house!]. It will be Macbeth, with Scott Hendricks, Carlo Colombara, Andrew Richards, and Iano Tamar.

Also amazing is to see many Parisians planning a return-trip to Brussels just to see this show (the return ticket to Brussels is rather expensive!) It looks like La Resistance culturelle: in spite of traditionalists occupying all of the artistic directing positions of all opera houses in Paris, and in spite of their aggressive policy to thrash everything modern done over the past 4-5 years, people still want/need to see good/audacious theater [théâtre lyrique] ;)

No leaks to the press about this new Macbeth. I only detected an interview with Warlikowski in  Belgian Le Soir, which I post here too [how could you not like what he says below!?]:
Comment votre perception de Macbeth répondra-t-elle à ce principe ?

Toute interprétation de Macbeth aujourd'hui est forcément influencée par le XXe siècle, un siècle de guerres, tel que le cinéma américain, mais aussi italien l'a montré après 1945 : non plus des héros, des patriotes, sans peur, mais des soldats malades, handicapés, détruits mentalement, incapables de revenir à la vie normale, sans futur. Macbeth pourrait être l'un d'eux. A la succession des événements, je préfère montrer la destruction interne de chaque personnage et donner une matière subjective aux spectateurs. Il n'y a pas de vainqueurs et de perdants dans Macbeth, seulement des victimes. Comment comprendre cette sorte d'opium de la haine, qui pousse à combattre, pour gagner ? Prenez Macduff, fils du vieux roi assassiné : il vient de perdre femme et enfants cruellement tués, ce qui ne l'empêche pas, lui et Malcom, d'adopter le machisme guerrier. Ces deux sauvages n'ont-ils rien vécu qu'ils partent à la guerre pour se venger ? Comment devient-on des monstres ? On ne peut s'empêcher de penser à ce film Démineurs de Kathryn Bigelow, qui se passe en Irak et démystifie la peur, l'hystérie, la folie. Quand au couple Lady Macbeth et Macbeth, je ne le veux pas simpliste, homme faible, femme forte. Ils entrent tous les deux sur le chemin du crime. Imaginez-vous une vie de couple normale, au retour d'une guerre, après une séparation de plusieurs années, même plus ? Qui pousse qui et à quoi ? Quand il est faible elle est forte, et inversement. Leur couple prend un sens si on les imagine luttant l'un pour l'autre.

Que faites-vous des sorcières ?

Je les vois comme des hallucinations, des projections, sorties de la tête des soldats à moitié fous, après la bataille. De même le spectre de Banquo ne viendra pas au banquet. Tout se passe dans la folie de Macbeth. Je veux avoir accès à l'intérieur de ces hommes, sans faire du spectaculaire. Je dépouille l'opéra de ses foules, de ses sorcières. Si la musique est réellement portée par les chanteurs, par l'orchestre, elle assume le « spectaculaire », elle ouvre l'imaginaire. On entend à quel point l'intuition de Verdi sonne juste et pénètre la nature humaine.

Quel travail avec les chanteurs ?

Je ne suis pas un de ces metteurs en scène qui organise, dit au chanteur : tu fais ça… Au théâtre, je ne fais rien sans l'avoir improvisé. Ici c'est difficile, mais je fais des compromis. Je glisse des suggestions, attends des propositions. Je les emmène vers mes intuitions, les trouble pendant les répétitions : jusqu'au bout, ils sont incertains de mes choix. S'ils perdent confiance, alors je les « rattrape »… Je n'évite pas les confrontations, nous partageons de la même manière la responsabilité d'un spectacle. Je veux que les chanteurs aient leur opinion sur ce que je propose, soient engagés et s'expriment.

La Monnaie will organize several events around this production, including the Belgian premiere  of  Krzysztof Warlikowski ou le sacrifice en héritage, a documentary made during the creation of (A)Pollonia.  Here is an excerpt

Ed: Thanks to a reader, we learn that Warlikowski gave a brief interview to the Belgian radio Musiq3. You can listen to that interview if you click here.  Many thanks to Sophie ;)


  1. I'd love to know (and perhaps like) what he said if there was an English translation. :)

  2. Lazy lazy!:)
    Try using|en|

    If it's still unclear let me know. I'll be glad to help!

    Today I managed to score the tics for the second show of this Macbeth - yay!

  3. Hello, and thanks for this excellent blog i've recently discovered.
    I'm sooooo looking forward to seeing that Macbeth! I will be one of those "many Parisans" (many really ? Wonderful! let's storm the Bastille again and oust the impostor) to jump on the Thalys for it (June 27. for me), after one hopeless year of almost unadulterated shit at the unfortunate Paris Opera. Like for you, Iphigénie was a theatrical and musical shock I've never really recovered from...I'm now "Warli-addicted" (is it serious, doc?). As the title of the book he wrote with Georges Banu says (Le théâtre écorché), Warlikowski has a way to reach the essential core of the dramas he directs, sung or not, as no other director does today. It may be painful for the viewer sometimes, even unbearable, but it's so true to what humanity is about, and to what theater should be, to what it was for the Greeks... (A)pollonia, seen in Avignon then again in Paris, is to this day the most soul-wrenching and exhilarating theatrical experience I've attended in almost 30 years of regular and sometimes adventurous theater and opera going...Well...still 2 weeks to go for me (sigh!)... I go back to fantasize about what the Paris Ring could have been if only.... A missed oportunity if ever there was one!!! Have a great night in Brussels!

  4. Many thanks for your note and I of course share your feelings.

    I'm on the train back to Paris, after having seen this extraordinary production of Macbeth.

    Warlikowski is simply a genius and this production is arguably his best so far. I'm still in a weird state, a mixture of shock, awe, exultation...