Saturday, July 16, 2011

Komische Oper 'Festival 2011

Contrary to yesterday --when I considered buying a ski-jacket!-- today Berlin is bathing in summer, so this blog entry will be relatively short.

It's the Festival time at the Komische, the season's finale when they present all the new productions unveiled in 2010-2011. On the stairs --after entering the theater-- several young girls and boys carrying platters with glasses of white wine or water offer you your welcome drink. You climb up a flight of stairs to the house's atrium, and there is a cool string quartet performing the chamber music by Mozart, thus preparing you to smoothly immerse in a peculiar world of Mozart's Idomeneo, prepared by my favorite director of this generation, Benedikt von Peter (BvP).

Before I go on and blog Idomeneo (in my next entry -- tomorrow morning), I feel I must say once again that this is my dearest opera house as a whole: its atmosphere, its architectural eclecticism, its human size, and especially its artistic program suit my taste wonderfully; I admire their ambition to create something new, to go beyond traditionalism and atrophy of opera productions revolving around the big names often singing the roles they are not supposed to..., I admire their high musical standards with opera composers being the brightest star of the evening, and I admire Andreas Homoki who is not only the theatrical genius who revolutionized the opera producing business, but also the man who runs this house impeccably: always opened to up and coming directors, but with an eye to recognize charlatans, and also open to the old guard of inventive directors who are able to combine creativity with  experience and make some thrilling operatic moments.

Is there something to criticize? Yes there is: all the operas are performed in German, which can sometimes be really bad. For operettas and opéras bouffes the translations are welcome. For the standard operatic repertoire, instead, the German translations can be tough. Even though BvP and Lange cleverly make a romantic projection of Idomeneo --which smooths out the break of language limpidity induced by the German translation-- it is still awkward at times [for example, Zeffiretti lusinghieri was definitely lost in translation.] OK, it is not quite at the level of how bad sounded Rigoletto in German (at the Komische, in what remains the only intelligent production of this opera I've ever seen), or Don Giovanni in English (at ENO, that I refused to blog about), but it still spoils the beauty of how the original text fits the music and vice versa.

What's the point in producing the translations of famous operas in this day and age, with all the global communication and openness going on? My only guess is laziness. In fact this reminds me to the audio-books consumed by those who are illiterate or lazy to actually read the books and maybe let their imagination work and develop. Why not Don Giovanni and Rigoletto in Italian? Illiterate people do not go to opera anyway, and those who aren't [illiterate] won't struggle too much by reading the sur(b)titles.
Newly brewed beer mixed with the raspberry juice and then bottled: I guess you have to be a native Berliner to enjoy that (which I am obviously not)

So, Idomeneo! I tried to read some critics this morning and got tired very quickly -- disappointed to discover that the German critics can be as lazy and/or thick as their French colleagues.

Last night after the show a discussion about the production was organized, in presence of Patrick Lange and Benedikt von Peter who also took questions from the crowd. I could not stay long but it was interesting to screen the kind of questions being asked.

BvP was kind and calm when answering but ultimately I believe this was a good therapy for him because he was forced to face the reality and realize who is consuming his shows.

One man asked why he wasn't following the approach by Olivier Py who saw a homoerotic connection between Idomeneo and Idamante (sic!) Another guy was interested to know why the director and conductor did not organize this production as to culminate with the famous quartet aria, like it was the case in a production he'd seen in Salzburg ~20 years ago (I kid you not!) Another question was about Arbace --who is absent in this production-- and why they did not blindly stick to the libretto; since they didn't [blindly follow the libretto] don't they feel like they'd betrayed Mozart?!  (Zzzzzz!)... Seriously, some scary sh*t -- but that's what you get, and you have to keep in mind that your highly intellectual shows may shoot far too high above many.

Herheim is not intellectualizing as much as von Peter but the similarity between him and BvP is that you --as a spectator-- have to be constantly on your toes trying not to miss one of numerous threads he's weaving through the rich fabric of his productions. Herheim understood, after his famous Entführung in Salzburg, that he overestimated his public, toned down his deconstructing urge and made it more spectacular. I believe Benedikt has to understand that too. His "post-freudian" look at the world around him works well with Parsifal [people expect to see something like that in Parsifal], but a mental barrier for it to work in Idomeneo is higher and requires maybe too big an effort on the spectators' side.

I hope Benedikt reads this (I am actually sure he does): even at the Komische many folks [and especially critics!] come to see an opera they already know. They want to see something slightly different, perhaps a tad politically incorrect, but they do want to feel comfortable and good about themselves, without feeling bullied to make an intellectual leap. This was a thrilling show, but I hope the questions after the show frustrated you and showed you the level of frustration these guys felt after missing a few main ideas of your production. Keeping this in mind while letting your creativity fly will make your shows a broader popular success too.

Having said that, I absolutely loved the show. More on that in the next entry (tomorrow morning, hopefully)

Today I found the best pastry shop in Germany so far [Kantstrasse, S-Savignyplatz]!

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