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Posts Tagged ‘Florian Boesch’

Although Schubert is probably the most famous and prolific Lieder composer, he had an unrequited love for opera that never resulted a stage work currently in the repertoire. He flirted too with oratorio, but his religious drama in three acts has only survived in incomplete form. Nobody knows if Schubert gave up composing it in the beginning of act II or if he composed further than the extant material. It seems that there is very little doubt about the incompletion of the work – apparently, the exalted final scene was a puzzle that the composer could not solve. In any case, one would be surprised by Schubert’s proto-Wagnerian use of a durchkomponiert structure in which the boundaries of arioso and accompagnato are blurred and by the sustained nobility of his melodic invention. If the subject is extremely non-theatrical, it is not really his fault.

It is, then, particularly curious that Claus Guth has decided to stage this unstageable work. For that purpose, Guth and Dramaturg Konrad Kuhn have completed the piece with Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question and “The “Saint-Gaudens” in Boston Common and choral pieces by Schubert himself plus Webern’s orchestral version of Der Wegweiser from Winterreise. I was surprised by how effective the connection of the incomplete aria and Ives’s piece for trumpet, woodwind and strings. What happened after that – it is probably my lack of imagination – did not add anything to the “story”, to Guth’s own scenario or to the issues discussed in the libretto, unless we consider that as an image of the impossibility of discussing the theme. In any case, the “action” is set in an airport lounge. A man knows he is going to die and, utterly alone in the crowd, projects his doubts and thoughts in different persons in the crowd before he actually dies. The second scene shows an empty version of the lounge – the “characters” from the man’s imaginary dialogues are now his family and friends, including the suicidal Simon. After his funeral (i.e., the end of Schubert’s composition), there are dream-like passages involving the chorus, the depressive Simon and a sense that life goes on. I still dislike the fact that August Niemeyer’s libretto does have an ending (which everybody knows from the Bible) and this has been disregarded. I also have a problem with some silly/lazy scenic solutions: since Nathanael speaks about Jesus, he is a priest; Jemina speaks of roses, so she spreads petals on the airport lounge ground; Maria is here a modern woman and when she becomes too XIXth century in behavior, she has a “what am I doing?!”-gesture. However, all that said, it is praiseworthy that Guth and his creative have actually tried to do something out of this – and the staging has many visually catchy moments. Also, the soloists and chorus members are exceptionally well directed.

I know Lazarus exclusively from Helmut Rilling’s recording. Conductor Michael Boder offers something far more dramatic and Sturm-und-Drang compared to Rilling’s Biedermeier spiritual serenity. The Wiener Symphoniker responded to this approach with lean and dry sonorities, aptly more classical than Romantic. The Arnold Schoenberg Chor has sung again with great polish and beauty of sound. This is a challenging work for soloists: Schubert requires the kind of instrumental and multicolored vocalità that does not go really well with orchestral sound. In Rilling’s recording, all soloists – with one exception – are Lieder singers aided by kind microphones who offer performances of apollonian beauty (and little drama). For instance, Sybilla Rubens (Rilling) is Schubertian grace incarnated, while Annette Dasch’s performance as Maria is wider in range, richer in tone and not less stylish and musicianly. Actually, this is probably the best performance I have ever heard from her. Stephanie Houtzeel (Martha) too sang elegantly and expressively, but was sorely taxed by Schubert’s incomplete aria (of which Camilla Nylund offers a most commendable account for Rilling). Çigdem Soyarslan (Jemina) is a name to keep – the tone is fruity and gentle and her phrasing is appealing and sensitive. Kurt Streit’s tenor has seen firmer and rounder days, but it is still a pleasant, clear voice – and he sings with great purity of line and excellent diction. Ladislav Elgr’s sound is healthier and better focused, but he is working hard here to produce a Schubertian sound. Both are somehow exposed by Jan Petryka, a tenor invited to sing a solo in Schubert’s choral piece “Nachthelle”, whose soaring high register and appealing mezza voce are everything this music requires. Florian Boesch offered a gripping, stylish and expressive performance of the score’s most interesting aria – and he could get a Tony for his acting. I still believe that there is more in his voice than he is actually using, but anyway he can do no wrong in Schubert.

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Because my German is not good enough to follow a whole play in that language, I decided to buy the original English text of Mark Ravenhill’s pool (no water), which happened to be the play performed in the Bayerische Staatsschauspiel on my free day in Munich. This was very convenient for my intent of seeing a play in Germany. I have been following the work of so many German directors in opera and felt like watching them “in their own field”, so to say. As for Ravenhill, I had seen some scenes on TV from the Brazilian staging of Shopping and Fucking some years ago and that was all.

I have to confess that reading the play was hardly an eye-opener. It seemed to be an interesting study about the old question whether art and the artist are the same, written in a rather innovative manner – no previously defined characters, just lines in which narration and action are intimately intertwined. I do not know how the play was staged in England – but I imagined very limited scenic elements and naturalistic almost Brechtian acting. But German dramaturgs can go really beyond that.

What striked me at first is the treatment to the text. I am used to staging of comporary works reverently respective to the text in which directors adopt a rather self-contained way. Director Florian Boesch, however, treated Ravenhill’s text as he would have treated Shakespeare or Schiller, in the sense that he proposed his reading of this text. I’ll explain myself – instead of trying to cleanse himself of his view in order to reach the core of the author’s vision, he rather added his own symbolic universe to to the written text. All I can say is that the experience proved to be – at least for me – illuminating. Boesch’s germanic view of Ravenhill’s play granted it the universality it could miss in the original version (also, the German translation brought a slightly more sophisticated register of speech to the text).

Pool (no water) is a nasty story about the visit of a group of artistic losers to their former colleague who has become famous and acknowledged and their sadistically vindicative response to an accident she suffers during their staying at her villa. Boesch goes beyond the nastiness and finds the raw cruelty and cynicism of the text – in a way only Germans could do. As conceived by Boesch, the whole staging could be descibred as a destructive allegory of the text. The minimalistic setting is progressively tranformed into an almost infernal chaos – every piece of prop is destroyed, torn apart to shattering effect. Something similar happens to the cast. In the end, they have exposed themselves, either stripped or covered themselves with ridicule, red paint or self-derision – all that performed with clockwork precision. It is indeed amazing the verbal and gestural expressive accuracy of these actors. I do not know if this is the usual standard of theatrical acting in Germany, but I haven’t seen that for a while, compared to the kind of “cinematographic” kind of acting seen in the other side of the Atlantic. No offense to Ravenhill – but I would really like to have the opportunity of seeing actors such as Michael von Au, Ulrike Willenbacher, Michael Tregor or Sophie von Kessel in a play by Ibsen or Strindberg, for example.

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