Zimmermann – Die Soldaten
Wesener – Jens Larsen
Marie – Susanne Elmark
Charlotte – Karolina Gumos
Weseners alte Mutter – Xenia Vyaznikova
Stolzius – Tom Erik Lie
Stolzius’ Mutter – Christiane Oertel
Obrist – Reinhard Mayr
Desportes – Martin Koch
Pirzel – Hans Schöpflin
Eisenhardt – Joachim Goltz
Haudy – Takada Tomohiro
Mary – Günter Papendell
1. junger Offizier – Edwin Vega
2. junger Offizier – Alexander Kravets
3. junger Offizier – Máté Gál
Die Gräfin de la Roche – Noëmi Nadelmann
Graf de la Roche – Adrian Strooper
Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin / Gabriel Feltz.
Stage director – Calixto Bieito.
Komische Oper, Berlin. Sunday, June 15th, 2014.
This will be a difficult one to write. This staging of Zimmermann’s masterpiece was a total sensory overload that horrified and gripped in equal measure. There was so much detail on the stage that it was impossible to take it all in on first viewing, rather, one had to go with it and let the staging and this incredible score take the viewer on a horrifying journey. Because ultimately this was a show about the audience as voyeur, we saw what was taking place on stage, we were complicit in it and by doing nothing, condoned it. That seems to be the central tenet of Calixto Bieito’s image of the work and it is an exceptionally powerful one.
At the start of the evening we were greeted by images of a young girl, an image of innocence before the horror of her adult life. As the evening developed, we saw Marie’s disintegration from respectable, yet perhaps not quite the most intelligent, daughter to a humiliated wreck of a woman, ruined by the men (and women) she had come into contact with. The set itself was fascinating – the action mostly took place underneath a structure on top of which the orchestra was placed as was the conductor (an assistant conductor cued the singers from where the pit normally is). This was an ingenious solution to being able to accommodate the supersize orchestra with limited pit space. Stairs on either side of the platform were used for exits and there were also hydraulic platforms at the back of the structure that were used to lift characters up and down. There was also a highly imaginative use of video (Sarah Derendinger). Hand-held cameras were used to illustrate the action from various points of view and these were projected onto the screens at the side and rear of the stage. That way we got to see Marie admiring herself by looking directly into the camera as if into a mirror or Desportes’ face as he was being fellated by Marie. There were times when the live action shots segued seamlessly into previously-filmed footage. It was hypnotic and fascinating to watch.
Above all this felt like a visual manifestation of Zimmermann’s sound world. It was a very musical staging that seamlessly combined the score and the visuals to produce a total Gesamtkunstwerk. Zimmermann’s score can be loud and aggressive but it also has moments of incredible beauty and intimacy and Bieito’s staging reflected this with his highly intelligent use of the very large cast.
Musically it was also a performance at the highest level. Susanne Elmark gave us a career-defining performance of fearless virtuosity. She sang Zimmermann’s angular lines as if they were the most natural thing in the world. The voice has a bright yet dusky quality combined with incredible ease in the highest register. She was also fearless dramatically and gave us an unforgettably harrowing performance. Outstanding. Karolina Gumos, who impressed me greatly in this house as a fine Octavian, was also superb as Marie’s sister Charlotte. The voice has a warm richness that is wonderful to listen to and she also sang the music with great ease. Noëmi Nadelmann, costumed as a trailer-park Joan Collins and a voice that could strip paint, was magnetic in the role of the Countess de la Roche.
Takada Tomohiro’s Haudy was deeply impressive, the voice a good size and also warm in tone. Jens Larsen’s Wesener was also a real asset to the cast with his dominating stage presence and generous tone. He was devastating in the final scene as he pushed Marie away. It would take a much longer post than this to detail all the fine performances tonight but suffice it to say that this was a major achievement for the Komische Oper’s ensemble and guests.
The Komische Oper’s orchestra played with great precision and extreme power when required. They also played with wonderful delicacy particularly in the trio between Marie, Charlotte and the Countess – imagine a Rosenkavalier trio written fifty years later. The jazz combo also made a real impact. Gabriel Feltz’ conducting gave the singers enough room but also didn’t hold back. Tempi were well chosen and he held his massive forces together with great skill, especially so as they were scattered around the set.
The final scene with the cast looking on at Marie, broken, was heartbreaking and terrifying and will stay with me for a very long time. Notably so with the Priest standing at the top of the stage, surveying the scene yet doing absolutely nothing to stop it happening as if to say that organized religion is also complicit in this horror. Bieito closed the work with bright spotlights shining on the audience as if to say, by watching this you let it happen.
This is a great evening in the theatre. It is not easy to watch nor is it fun. What it does do is question the nature of society and the fact that there are horrors taking place in front of us yet we do nothing to stop them. For anyone going to see it who isn’t completely fluent in German or who is unfamiliar with the work, I would strongly recommend reading the libretto in advance. There is so much detail in the staging that it is impossible to take one’s eyes off the stage to read the multilingual seat-back titles. This production confirmed my feeling that Bieito is the finest stage director in opera today. It is also a major triumph for the Komische Oper and a real company achievement.