August 5, 2021

Romeo Castellucci full of life Mozart's 'Requiem' | Culture

Everything pointed in Aix-en-Provence to a new time: completely renewed graphic design, Pierre Audi as the new general director and successor of Bernard Foccroulle, the first time that an opera by Giacomo Puccini has been performed in the more than 70 years of the festival's history Provencal and, in what seemed like a clear wink full of double meanings, presence at the music opening of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (almost the head composer in the city of Cézanne), but not one of his operas, as it has always been the usual, but of its last composition, the Requiem, staged by Romeo Castellucci.

Had it been in his hand, the Italian director himself would have unleashed the tremendous storm that broke out over Aix late on Wednesday afternoon and that seriously endangered the opening, at ten o'clock at night, in the Théâtre de l 'Archêveché, an extraordinary space in the open air and at the risk, therefore, of the climatology. But the miracle was done and, although one hour late, that new time began, with clean air and a refreshed atmosphere. The weather seemed to prelude what Castellucci proposes in his original proposal: life as a constant cycle of extinction and renewal of which everything and everyone is a trivial part. The condition of unfinished work of the Requiem, the multitude of legends accumulated around him, the death of Mozart before he could conclude his composition, essential elements of Amadeus, the work of Peter Shaffer that would take the director Miloš Forman to the cinema, nothing is of interest to an essentially conceptualist director like Romeo Castellucci, who prefers to see in this mass of the dead, paradoxically, a celebration of life.

His proposal is at a simple and complex time, a habitual dichotomy in his montages. On the one hand, it reminds us insistently that everything is finite, that the world has been and will be much more than what we are given to know; on the other, it inoculates a festive character to this intrinsic transience of life. Almost like a litany, on the back of the stage there are projected names of everything that has become extinct, of what has irremediably disappeared. While the Kyrie eleison starts what Castellucci calls the "Atlas of Great Extinctions": animal species, plants, hominids, natural spaces, languages, religions, buildings, works of art, in an incessant route that starts in prehistory and reaches our days. The last extinctions are precisely those of today, those that haunt us, and here the list leaves the objective tone and enters other territories: grass, friendship, amazement, sadness, dust, water, darkness, the dream. Even the music we are listening to right now: nothing will be left.

Even the music of Mozart's 'Requiem' will also end up dying out.

Even the music of Mozart's 'Requiem' will also end up dying out.

Castellucci makes everything start with the daily ritual of going to sleep. An older woman, alone, smoking in front of the television, lies on her bed. Then the few pieces of furniture in his bedroom will be covered in black, but the stage will turn into objects of constant metamorphosis: the black of the walls is torn off and everything will turn white, then it will be painted partly before our eyes with the primary colors, then it will be torn off again, the ground will be covered with earth and, in the end, everything will fall when the ground rises, showing on its surface the remains, or wounds, of what has happened up to then. On the stage will be only a baby of three or four months with his toy. If Christof Loy raised in his recent montage of Capriccio at the Teatro Real A modernization of the theme of the Three Ages, Castellucci does the same with a girl, a young woman and the older woman we see lying at the beginning of the show. The baby who dismisses the work, alone, in the end is the fourth age and a powerful symbol that death gives way to life, that after the storm, the rainbow marks the beginning of a new time, the light taking the witness of the dark.

Romeo Castellucci and the musical director, Raphaël Pichon, do not enter into the controversies about which parts of the Requiem he actually composed Mozart or about the greater or lesser quality of the sections completed by Süssmayr. But that condition of unfinished work opens the door wide open to incorporate to its sequence of episodes many other music, all of Mozart, except two fragments in plain singing located at both ends of his proposal: the gradual Christus factus est and the antiphon of the mass of the dead, In paradisum. The rest of the insertions are mostly hidden pieces from the catalog of the Salzburg artist: the supposed original version, with a male chorus, of the Music for a Masonic funeral (presumably, in the reconstruction of Philip Autexier, although nothing is indicated in the program); a juvenile Miserere mei, located immediately before the Introito of the Requiem: the terminal Mozart and the boy of fourteen, side by side; a motet in D minor (the main tone of the work) with Latin text, which is an alternative version of one of the choirs of Thamos, king of Egypt and whose references to "dust and ash" are exploited visually by Castellucci; A simple Solfeggio sung miraculously by a boy of no more than five years, Chadi Lazreq, also solo performer of In paradisum at the end of the work; a Amen supposedly destined by Mozart for the Requiem, of which the choir sang only the 16 bars that have been preserved, thus abruptly interrupting the escape; another Latin motet barely known, Quis comprehendat, before the Offertory; Y O Gottes Lamm, a "German sacred song" with a basso continuo, dated in 1787, which has all the traces of a Lutheran choir, sung magnificently by Sara Mingardo alone.

A girl who embodies one of the Four Ages hangs on the wall under the label of the missing lakes.

A girl who embodies one of the Four Ages hangs on the wall under the label of the missing lakes.

Everything makes sense, and everything finds an answer in the visual proposal of Castellucci, to which some could complain that leaves the music in the background, but that criticism would be a misinterpretation, since, for once, what is seen and what that is heard form an indissoluble unity: the striking visual images (the girl hanging on her back on the wall, the members of the choir posing in different foreshortenings in front of a black car disfigured after having suffered a brutal impact on its front part, the singers wrapped in black veils thrown on the floor, the symbolic final apocalypse) go hand in hand with music, although its symbolic and conceptual charge is so strong that we do not stop at the usual considerations about the quality of musical performance. We are so absorbed by this fusion of images and sounds that the secondary remains, at last, preterred.

However, it would be unfair not to record the admirable musical versions directed by Raphaël Pichon to Pygmalion, his orchestra of period instruments and, above all, the chorus of the same name. The members of the latter have to do practically everything, from dancing to undress, and everything is done without the musical quality, singing at all times from memory, is affected not a whit. In several moments it is danced, but in no case as a ballet conceived from the composition of Mozart in the usual way, but as part of the original conception of Castellucci: to highlight the festive, popular, celebratory aspect of life. That is why the dances are simple and are performed by singers and extras, not by professional dancers, and that is why there is not a choreography as such, but an emulation of traditional folk dances, such as the one that accompanies May with white and red ribbons that go intertwining during the Hosts of the Offertory.

To anyone who has seen recent shows by Romeo Castellucci, as the shocking Moses und Aron who presented the Teatro Real or the scarcely frequented oratorio by Alessandro Scarlatti, The cousin omicidio, with which he celebrated the Paris Opera a few months ago his tercentenary (also with an outstanding presence of children in the final outcome, as has happened now in Aix), you will not be surprised by anything written so far. He, who has imagined many theatrical shows before appearing in the opera, moves like nobody else in the ambiguous territories, full of historical references, full of interstices through which to slide interpretations, prone to philosophical readings. East Requiem of Mozart, for which he has conceived the set design, the costumes, the lighting and the staging itself, could only bear his signature: he began to represent himself on the verge of extinction one day and concluded the next born, leaving in the minds of all that the mass of deceased of Mozart is, or can be, fundamentally, a reflection on the passage of time, on the succession of the days, on the processes of creation and destruction, on our insignificant greatness, of the end – and these are his own words – understood as origin. Cornered by dispensable all the legends around the last work of Mozart and on if he was in the end his true addressee, Castellucci makes us see clearly that we are all of us who are listening and attending our own requiem.

Catherine Malfitano (left) teaches Angel Blue how to sing 'her' Tosca character in the first act of the opera.

Catherine Malfitano (left) teaches Angel Blue how to sing 'her' Tosca character in the first act of the opera.

In the Tosca of the filmmaker Christophe Honoré happens, in some way, the opposite of that indissoluble fusion of music and theater, or of theater and music, that the Italian director had achieved. There are so many things that happen on stage, and on the double screen above it, that Puccini's music becomes practically dissociated from the plot and the parallel subplots designed by Honoré, to the point that a hypothetical viewer had never seen or did not know the argument of Tosca -If it is possible that this possibility can occur in a cultured public like that of Aix, even though Puccini now recalls for the first time at the festival- he will have had serious problems to demarcate it from all the layers that cover it.

The key is to grant an unusual role to a veteran singer already retired, but suddenly involved in a new production of Tosca, an opera of which she herself has once been a reference interpreter. This is Catherine Malfitano, whom we see in her own home, listening to an album of her famous interpretation with Plácido Domingo as Cavaradossi and directed by Zubin Mehta, recorded in Rome in its three real stages. The guests who arrive at their house are the interpreters of the work, whose first act they are prepared to rehearse, with lectern and score, under their watchful eye and receiving their advice. In fact, it is she herself who begins to sing the first sentences of Tosca's role until her compatriot Angel Blue (the singer announced nominally for the role) makes it his own from "innanzi alla Madonna" Malfitano seems to unfold in the singer and in the Marquesa Attavanti, since it is she who provokes the jealousy of Blue, without stopping to make of herself when, for example, she shouts an extemporaneous "Brava!"To the young soprano to show her approval of what she has sung. Honoré's interventionism goes so far as to modify even the libretto (Cavaradossi sings "davanti alla Prima Donna" instead of "davanti alla Madonna "), that Malfitano literally interrupts the representation to speak in English with his pupil or to replace the portrait that Cavaradossi paints by an old framed poster of a representation of Tosca at the Royal Opera House starring Catherine Malfitano, praised in procession during the Te Deumy kissed by Scarpia at the end of the act.

It is all very convoluted, very elaborate, very pinned, but at the same time enormously confusing, and the effort that the viewer devotes to understand and unravel what is really happening, or to decide if it attends to the main action, to the two or three parallels , or one of the two screens in which both close-ups of what is happening in real time (there are two cameras on the stage filming at all times) as pre-recorded close-ups, is detrimental to the enjoyment of the opera itself. Director of the recently released Live fast, love slowly He wanted to show too much genius, to twist the original plot in excess to fit his own and to introduce oblique cinematic references (obvious, of course, those of The Twilight of the Gods of Billy Wilder, as he himself has admitted), so that the experiment works, since there are almost as many things that make sense as those that lack it.

There is something in his proposal of the driving idea that articulated Robert Carsen's production in which all the action is represented in a theater: Tosca is, after all, an opera singer who Puccini does not show us playing his profession (yes to Cavaradossi, or Scarpia, or his minions), but the best opera turns out to be his own real life. Honoré ends up incurring, instead, a defect similar to the one that lastró the Carmen by Dimitri Tcherniakov released here in Aix two years ago, in which the artifice of representing Bizet's opera as a prescribed therapy to cure some type of addiction of the patient / singer that embodies Don José marks the whole course of the show, even though it only works punctually and episodically in the middle of a cluster of distractions.

Joseph Calleja and Catherine Malfitano in the third act, almost concertante, of 'Tosca'.

Joseph Calleja and Catherine Malfitano in the third act, almost concertante, of 'Tosca'.

The second act of this new Tosca is something more unitary (although we continue in Malfitano's kitchen and bedroom, with a Scarpia misplaced) and, for the third, Honoré closes the pit, raises the orchestra to the stage and makes sing Angel Blue and Joseph Calleja (Tosca and Cavaradossi ) in a gold suit and tuxedo in a full-fledged concert version, under the watchful eye, of course, of Malfitano (who at first has claimed the music of the shepherd boy) and with a small model of the Castel Sant'Angelo in a side of the stage – the only vaguely realistic concession – at whose side the painter will die symbolically and very little credibly. There are visual references to other famous roles sung by Malfitano (Lucia, Butterfly, Salomé: more daggers, more suicides, more blood), but summarizing Honoré's many interventions is almost as exhausting as contemplating them.

If the dramaturgical essence of melodramma of Puccini is seriously blurred by the extreme interventionism of the French director, the musical part is also irremediably affected by the incessant scenic bustle. While the previous night it was impracticable to stand on that kind of consideration, absorbed as we were by the great experiment of Castellucci, now just the opposite happened and the interpretive deficiencies were magnified. It helped little from the pit a functional and nervous direction, but shallow and little sound density, of Daniele Rustioni to the front of the orchestra of the Opera of Lyon, co-producer of the new production. Joseph Calleja sang with as much detachment as detachment, almost spectator before protagonist. Their fragile highs, a slightly ungainly song line and their few acting conditions did not help make us suffer with their sad fate. Aleksei Markov composes a solid Scarpia, well sung, though insufficiently evil or lascivious. Angel Blue is vocally more suited to the role of what you would have imagined previously: her voice has widened, her bass has gained weight and she sings with good judgment, with the very evident mole of an Italian deficient and not very understandable. It was the most applauded at the end (also after Vissi d'arte, who had to sing about silent projections of this same aria sung by Maria Callas, Leontyne Price or Renata Tebaldi), also because he was the one who knew how to better connect with the public and make his double role credible: the real and the feigned. There is still no news, however, of that new Leontyne Price that Placido Domingo prophesied in his day.

Catherine Malfitano expresses very well, and with commendable dedication, everything Honoré asks her to do, which is not little, and probably never dreamed of returning to step on stage with the doses of prominence with which she does it here. His adventures as prima donna from a time gone by, as the French filmmaker has conceived it (applauded and booed at the end in equal measure), it interests little, or nothing, more if we compare it with that of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, where the pieces do fit and point to a disturbing outcome. Here nothing disturbs, nor does it excite, and that, in Puccini, is almost a crime of lese majeste.

(tagsToTranslate) romeo castellucci (t) fill (t) life (t) requiem of mozart (t) festival of aix-en-provence (t) start (t) new (t) new (t) stage (t) pierre audi (t) artistic director

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