Friday, June 4, 2010

Neuenfels' Traviata at the Komische Oper

La Traviata, Komische Oper Berlin, May 21 2010

   Conductor Lutz Rademacher
   Director Hans Neuenfels

Violetta Valéry Brigitte Geller
Flora Bervoix Elisabeth Starzinger
Annina Caren van Oijen
Alfred Germont  Peter Lodahl
Georges Germont Anton Keremidtchiev
Gaston, Vicomte de Letorière  Adrian Strooper
Baron Douphol  Hans-Peter Scheidegger
Marquis d'Obigny  Ingo Witzke
Doktor Grenvil  Tilmann Rönnebeck
Der Zuhälter  Christian Natter
Joseph  Jan Proporowitz
Ein Kommissionär   Matthias Spenke

I've been blessed these past several years to see many good productions of La Traviata. The only actually bad Traviata I saw was the one produced by Marta Domingo with Fleming and Villazon, although the one by Carsen with Ciofi and Sacca looked far more tired.

Other than that, I very much liked the Decker's production in Salzburg with Netrebko and Villazon. For totally different reasons I admired the Mussbach's Traviata in Aix-en-Provence with Delunsch and Polenzani, and yet in completely different way I loved Marthaler's Traviata in Paris with Schafer and Kaufmann.

So I thought I wouldn't be able to appreciate one more production as these  I've recently seen were so imposing and so remarkable. Deep down I thought it was a mistake to go and see this show at the Komische with no big stars involved and to struggle with Traviata sung in German -- blah... But the fact that Hans Neuenfels produced it itched my curiosity too much to ignore. Now, after I saw the show I'm happy to report that I was wrong and that this must be the classiest production of La Traviata ever.

This is where the true master shows his skills: produce an opera that was 1000 times produced before but let it breath a new life. There're countless ways to recount the story about Violetta  Valéry and Alfredo Germont.

This show is very-very Regie-Theater, but it would shock you only a couple of times if you're used to the nice and glossy opera shows. The overwhelming feeling you have after the show is that you just witnessed a big celebration of theater, and of extremely good taste.

The way the intrigue unfolds in front of you --even if you saw 100 Traviata's before-- makes you feel like you do after watching Bieito's ability to stick to the story, never drifting away from his main topic but using everything as accessory to support the main story-line. The flow of action on the stage is smooth, yet the abundance of THEATRICAL details [without throwing three trucks of decor at you!] keeps you 100% focused all the time.

Neuenfels had a genius idea to introduce an extra character to the plot through whom Violetta communicates with the world around her. Naturally, you can view him as if he was her pimp, but also as her protector -- as someone who's virtually always present next to her to keep her aware of who she is and what she shouldn't be doing. What's fascinating about this kind of theater is that this interpretation I've just made can be totally turned around and it would fit as well: he can be seen as her someone who controls her physically, mentally and emotionally and that she's imprisoned in the world she lives in. At some point there is a fight between that pimp/"angel" and Alfredo which is a symbol of Violetta's struggle not to fall in love with Alfredo. Eventually she does -- Alfredo wins the fight.

Photos are from the Komische Oper [Alfredo and Giorgio are not the same ones I saw].

The set is all black with shiny floor and everything is organized through "sliding doors". A few vertical screens 1-2 meters wide run across the stage like the sliding doors and the new characters/situations are introduced.
The elegance and beauty of the costumes is absolutely stunning. Nothing is trivial. Every detail, every element is peculiar and has its purpose on the stage. Here are the ominously looking characters from the initial party:

During the first chorus aria, there is a cruel ceremony around a death of one baby [most probably Violetta's(?)], that one of the characters present there would bring to Violetta to see, he unwraps the blanket and you see a legless baby -- Violetta faints. This is also a funeral of her desires to live a normal life, to have a baby... 

Neuenfels depicts Giorgio Germont as a particularly obnoxious hypocrite: he shows up all neatly dressed and with a huge crucifix around his neck. He incarnates all the "christian values" appearance that Neuenfels don't believe at all.  Giorgio will be uncovered more and more as the plot progresses: when Violetta wants to kiss his feet we see that one of his feet is a cleft hoof. Later on, we see his neat appearance decompose as well, his wig falls off first...

Beginning of Act 2 is scenically interesting because you can see only one piece of wood on the stage, but the action would soon show its purpose there. I wouldn't like to tell you everything here. I'd prefer to motivate you to go and see this gem yourselves. It's really a big big show!
Here is one scene where you see that piece of wood & a bucket in the background:

All three shows I've seen this time at the Komische were outstanding and I wouldn't like to single this one out, but this must be one of the best Traviata's I've ever seen (in my long life).

While the orchestra is very good as ever, the most impressive soloist was Brigitte Geller. That woman can sing beautifully. All the highest notes are sung with ease, the line of singing is impeccable at every point of the show in spite of particularly demanding scenic presence in this production: scenically she's convincing, elegant and never going for exaggerated gestures or excessive moaning, sobbing or anything to spoil the grandeur of the show. Peter Lodahl is a very good singer too, whose Renaud in the Bieito's production of the Gluck's Armide at the Komische I liked a lot. His Alfredo is maybe not at the world's best level but it's up there in the Top-10 mix for sure. I see that after several years spent as a member of the Komische Oper team he's moving to Copenhagen to join the Royal Opera crew over there. Good for him and  for the opera fans in Copenhagen. I mentioned Anton Keremidtchiev early this year, when I saw him in Lohengrin at DOB. This Giorgio Germont is a longer role and now I can say this guy is definitely excellent. He must be a new big name we'll see in big productions worldwide.

If this short account motivates you to go and see Neuenfels' Traviata at the Komische Oper, I am more than happy. The show is so much better than 99% of kitschy badly-acted Traviata's you can see these days, and sung much better than what you'd expect from any starry cast. This demonstrates once again that while the stars are important for the box-office, the quality of the show depends on other parameters.

If you're interested, check out the trailer here.

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