Perhaps the bet has not given the best results at the box office, but the very risky programming put forward by Pierre Audi in his first year as artistic director of the Festival of Aix-en-Provence itself has produced some extraordinary artistic returns. The exciting and almost metaphysical staging of Requiem of Mozart by Romeo Castellucci and the fetishist and somewhat antioperistic Tosca proposed by Christophe Honoré (more aware of his own navel than of connecting with the audience) have given way to two resounding successes: an intense and unsettling staging of Jakob Lenz, by Wolfgang Rihm, and a full-fledged claim to Ascent and fall of the city of Mahagonny, by Kurt Weill, like the great opera that undoubtedly is, represented at last with the perfect proportions of fidelity and imagination and with an outstanding musical performance, of a quality also unprecedented until now. The commitment to contemporary creation, usual in recent years in Aix, has had a fruit, however, more than inconsequential in the world premiere of Les Mille endormis, by Adam Maor.
After the lack of focus and the constant dispersion that left reduced almost to nothing the emotional discharge that should be inseparable from any good staging of Tosca, with Jakob Lenz we attend just the opposite experience. Andrea Breth immerses us from the first beat in the disturbed mind of the poet Jakob Lenz and in it we will continue to be distressed by his anguish and the tear caused by his unreason until he exclaims, repeated and paradoxically at the end of the opera, the word "konsequent"(Logical). The composer Wolfgang Rihm and his librettist Michael Fröhling start from the literary material provided by the story Lenz, by Georg Büchner, which was incomplete after his death in 1837 (only twenty-three years old) and which is part of a real episode: the trip, advised by his friend Christof Kaufmann, to the mountainous town of Waldbach, in the Vosges, to that Lenz was cured of his upheavals by the Protestant pastor Johann Friedrich Oberlin, whose notes taken during Lenz's stay at his home were the writer's main inspiration. Büchner's style is concise and surprisingly modern: not in vain does his surname give name to the greatest literary prize in the German language. He is generous in repetitions, ellipses, colloquialisms and unusual poetic images, something that is familiar to us because of his Woyzeck, influenced by Die Soldaten from Lenz himself, literary sources both of Wozzeck by Alban Berg and of Die Soldaten by Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Jakob Lenz it is the third vertex of a perfect triangle of suffering, neurosis and despair.
Composed only 26 years and a meager means (three soloists, a small choir of six voices, four children and a surprising instrumental group of only eleven instrumentalists: two oboes, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, percussion, harpsichord and three cellos ), Rihm poses a radical opera, compressed, essentialized to the maximum, transposed at all times from the split mind of the protagonist. It is impossible to do justice with words to the recreation of the Austrian baritone writer Georg Nigl, a suffering, disembodied Lenz, who hears mysterious voices speaking to him, who believes he sees and hears his beloved, who, thinking she is dead, tries to return her to the life, that finishes rubbing itself by the body its own feces. With the spontaneity with which he moved in the middle of an inclement tessitura of two and a half octaves, and different varieties of Sprechgesang, joined to a portentous stage performance, Nigl left everyone mired in uneasiness because the end of the play, when Kaufmann and Oberlin decide to tie his friend's feet and leave him immobilized on a bed in a straitjacket, does not leave a single loophole to optimism. What Nigl does with his voice -small, but with a beautiful timbre and a dreamy falsetto-, his body and face must be among the best incarnations of a character that have been seen on an operatic stage in recent years.
The low Wolfgang Bankl, who replaced in extremis the indisposed James Platt as Oberlin, and the tenor John Daszak (well known in Madrid for his interventions in Death in Venice Y Bomarzo in the Royal Theater) like Kaufmann they fulfill too well as unsuccessful healers of the sick, although the other great miracle comes from the small group of two sopranos, two contraltos and two basses that give life to the mysterious "voices" heard by the deranged mind of Lenz and , above all, of the instrumentalists of the Ensemble Modern, directed with a domain, a dazzling knowledge and authority by Ingo Metzmacher, a specialist in these repertoires and an equally extraordinary director of Wozzeck Y Die Soldaten. Knows highlight the classical elements of the score, that there are (a sarabande, a Ländler, a "quasicoral"), while enhancing its irrevocable modernity.
With very few elements of props, in a grayish, gloomy scene, with almost constant presence of that water in which Lenz does not stop submerging in search of refuge and black rocks as a transcript of the mountain (essential in the transformation of the eighth scene), Andrea Breth, a great drama of the German theater, made with this portentous Jakob Lenz its presentation in French stages. In the tenth scene he turns the unfortunate poet into a modern Christ on the way to Calvary, making him bear the cross of his sufferings that, once the spectacle is over, have also become ours.
With Ascent and fall of the city of Mahagonny, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill built a perfect anti-utopia, destined to stir consciences, which was premiered in Leipzig in 1930 amid a great scandal, promoted largely by the brown shirts of the National Socialist Party: Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya had to open I walked to the theater between his screams and the posters that denigrated them. The opera is, of course, a daughter of the Weimar Republic, of the inconceivable inflation of those years, of the unique Berlin frenzy, of the false Nazi promises of the construction of a new empire. That is why here there are no individual protagonists: "The city itself is the main character of the work," Weill wrote. Even his songs (some very famous, like the Alabama Song, which were later made by The Doors and David Bowie, among many others) "are an expression of the masses, even when they are interpreted by an individual as the spokesperson of the masses".
When, shortly after the performance began, a young camera appeared in hand, not a few had to suffer a shudder when recalling the overdose of videos filmed live on stage two days before in Tosca. However, the fears proved to be unfounded, since everything that is projected on the screen adds, and never subtracts, helps, and never hinders, the main action. The Belgian director demonstrates understanding the work from the first scene, when the three founding fathers of Mahagonny break into an almost naked scene, three heartless criminals willing to make the virtue of necessity (the failure of the truck in which they flee from the police) and found right there a new human settlement to literally catch anyone who recalls in it. A new city in the middle of nowhere, like that "city planted in the desert, surrounded by landfills and rubbish dumps," which is how María Zambrano describes Galdosian Madrid in Walking trails. And, in this case, a city failed to fall prey to the worst bourgeois vices. The singers chosen for the roles of the widow Begbick (Karita Mattila), Fatty (Alan Oke) and Moses (Willard White) are already far from their vocal splendor, but they are perfect choices, because they make the three scoundrels perfectly credible with their performance and, in Mahagonny, what is sung is probably much more relevant than how it is sung And there is no better way to corroborate it than to listen to Lotte Lenya to realize how little importance Weill had for a beautiful vocal timbre or at the height of her beauty. On the other hand, both he and Brecht thought that an epic opera like this should be antipsychological: here the important thing is the message, not the medium or its transmitter.
With very few elements (and live footage contributes greatly to the excellent results), Ivo van Hove molds a scenario in almost permanent metamorphosis to place each of the different independent scenes (an anti-Wagnerian argument) in its proper context. The solutions of the Belgian director for the typhoon of the first act, the way to capture the gula-sex-boxing-alcohol sequence that sustains the second, or the farewell of Jimmy and Jenny (with the duet of the cranes that Weill composed in the last moment at the request of the director of the theater of Leipzig in which the opera was released) and everything that happens after the death of Jimmy in the third are, once again, brilliant occurrences faithful to the combative spirit of the work, called "to have a impact beyond their own time, "as Weill said of the Mahagonny original 1927 for Baden-Baden, precursor and trampoline of the later opera.
Ivo van Hove has also known how to get the maximum acting performance not only from the three singers already mentioned, but from the entire cast, led by the tenor Nikolai Schukoff and the soprano Annette Dasch. The first is a Jimmy whom we see notoriously transformed from his initial timid appearance (in that prodigy of Verfremdung brechtiano which is his first sexual encounter with Jenny) until his final execution, after which his corpse is lifted up by the inhabitants of the failed Mahagonny. It is hard to believe that Dasch is not the uninhibited and heartless bitch who arrives with her fellow workers to the newly founded city in search of money and easy clients. She always sings in style, without recreating herself in the beauty of her timbre, but always seeking to give credibility to her character: seeing her do so good as a bad girl has been a very pleasant surprise. From the rest of the cohesionadísimo distribution, it is essential to mention the good work and the excellent voice of the Dutch Thomas Oliemans (present also in his day in Madrid in the distributions of Bomarzo Y Billy Budd).
Like in Jakob Lenz, he was also responsible for the fact that, from the pit, the music was in perfect harmony with the scene, an essential architect so that the extraordinary success of the premiere of this new production at the Gran Teatro de Provenza could be achieved. It is hard to resist saying that you should never have addressed yourself better Ascent and fall of the city of Mahagonny of how Esa Pekka Salon did it on Saturday in Aix-en-Provence at the head of the Philharmonia Orchestra. With an incisive sense of rhythm, shaping the immense timbric richness of the score with care, making it oscillate naturally between its classical heritage (the corals, the fugato which describes the typhoon, the passages written in a simple counterpoint to two voices, the Bachian imprint of some choirs) and its constant popular and jazzistic details, the Finnish director leaves behind the previous orchestral approaches to this work, which he places in another dimension intensity (what a final chorus!) and polystyrene. Weill, sometimes so reviled, needs convinced translators: Salonen is and has managed to convince everyone. It was, in short, one of those few operatic evenings in which everything works, everything fits, nothing out of tune. It is a co-production with several theaters (Metropolitan of New York, Flanders, Amsterdam, Luxembourg), so that whoever wants to see represented, really, and in capital letters, both the Ascent and the Fall of the city of Mahagonny, should not miss it, because joys as resounding as this are beans told in the opera houses.
He applauded himself much more than he deserved, especially considering where we came from (Jakob Lenz) and where we were going (Mahagonny) the opera Les mille endormis of the Israeli composer Adam Maor, we must suppose that a Lebanese Pierre Audi self-homage to the area of the world that saw him born. The play, premiered in the theater of the Jeau de Paume, has numerous flaws, but the main one is perhaps that it is not well known what it is, since it mixes with little luck comic and tragic elements, reality and fantasy, some interesting flash and much conventionality The worst thing is that the musical resources of the composer seem exhausted shortly after starting the work, on the contrary, for example, of what happens in Jakob Lenz, as radical now as in 1978, and full of different solutions to the infinite challenges that have always posed, and still pose, the composition of an opera. The libretto (in Hebrew) is poor, the staging of the librettist himself (Yonatan Levy) is clumsy and the musical performance did not fly at a great height either in the small orchestral group (eight instrumentalists) commanded by the director Elena Schwarz or in the four vocal soloists. As it happened last year with the equally failed Seven Stones, the attempt to enrich the repertoire with these commissions to young composers and vaguely avant-garde projects is very commendable, but just as the operas by Wolfgang Rihm and Kurt Weill are still as enjoyable and relevant today as the day they premiered, Les mille endormis seems sadly born with the expiration date printed on the score.
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