Puccini – Gianni Schicchi
Gianni Schicchi – Günter Papendell
Lauretta – Lavinia Dames
Zita – Christiane Oertel
Rinuccio – Tansel Akzeybek
Gherardo – Christoph Späth
Nella – Mirka Wagner
Betto di Signa – Stefan Sevenich
Simone – Jens Larsen
Marco – Nikola Ivanov
Ciesca – Anna Werle
Maestro Spinelloccio – Bruno Balmelli
Amantio di Nicolao – Philipp Meierhöfer
Bartók – A kékszakállú herceg vára
Kékszakállú – Gidon Saks
Judit – Ausrine Stundyte
Orchester der Komischen Oper, Berlin / Henrik Nánási
Stage director – Calixto Bieito.
Komische Oper, Berlin. Friday, April 17th, 2015
On paper the two works in this double-bill looked like unlikely bedfellows – Puccini’s comedy with Bartók’s psychodrama. Indeed, on the surface, the only apparent thing in common is that they were first performed in the same year – 1918. And yet, Calixto Bieito is not a director who takes a work for granted and prettifies it. Rather, he delves into the darker side of human nature and takes his audiences on a journey into the bleak heart of the human psyche.
The staging of Gianni Schicchi offered a rainy Sunday afternoon movie aesthetic. Inspired by the films of Luis Buñuel, in many ways this could have been any southern European community. Often, the singers addressed the audience directly while the interaction between the characters was clear and precise. There were plentiful laughs – Zita pulling out a large blow-up doll out of Buoso’s bed, the notary’s entrance carried aloft by the shoemaker and the dyer. Yet, I felt that the audience’s role was as an observer. Rather than feel sympathy for the characters and hope that they succeeded, we watched as they squabbled over the fortune. Rinuccio and Lauretta, couldn’t keep their hands off one another – Lauretta entering at one point lifting up her panties and at another they are seen screwing at the side of the stage – and there were clear echoes of their relationship in that of Bluebeard and Judit.
Musically, it was satisfying and introduced me to a number of new and interesting artists. Lavinia Dames delivered her big set piece with a blend of creamy and dusky tone and an easy line. Tansel Akzeybek brought a genuine Italiante warmth to Rinuccio although the top of the voice was somewhat lacking in resonance. Christiane Oertel’s raw yet fruity contralto with an enormous vibrato was a major presence on stage as Zita – great value and real comedy timing. Christoph Späth was a little tight of voice as Gherardo and Jens Larsen brought his customary resonant and large voice to Simone. Nikola Ivanov, a member of the Komische’s young artists program, was a notable presence as Marco, the voice warm and easy, a singer I’d definitely like to hear more of. As Gianni Schicchi, Günter Papendell brought warm tone with an interesting fast vibrato. The role was a good fit for him in a house of this size and there was no lack of power.
The Gianni Schicchi was followed immediately by the Bartók. I’m really not sure I can do justice to this staging as it was absolutely devastating. Here it seems that Judit and Bluebeard’s relationship is what might happen to Rinuccio and Lauretta. One thing that is immediately noticeable with Bartók’s score is how Judit is initially the dominant character but Bluebeard dominates the latter part of the opera. Bieito’s staging matched this exactly. This was an abusive relationship, perhaps started one evening in the washroom of a nightclub. There were no doors, rather everything was left to the imagination and from the very start, we were left to imagine what the doors really represented. The sets (Rebecca Ringst) and lighting (Franck Evin and Rosalia Amato) were revelatory – the set for Gianni Schicchi gradually dissolving into what we imagine Bluebeard’s castle to be. During the course of the opera, the sets changed constantly, from a claustrophobic living room to a men’s washroom to the outside of an imposing house. The colour so present in the Puccini replaced by sombre grey, punctuated only by copious quantities of blood. We were witness to the disintegration of a relationship – from Judit’s initial violence towards Bluebeard to his violating of her and her eventual murder. In a way, we knew this could only end one way but when it did, it was devastating. In other Bieito productions, I’ve had a sense that we as an audience have been complicit in this mistreatment of one of the main characters through our observation of it. Here I was left with a sense of the fact that these were two highly self-destructive characters whose only mistake was to find someone with the same self-destructive streak as themselves.
This was a highly physical performance executed with extreme dedication by the singers. Ausrine Stundyte gave us a fearless Judit. The voice has a velvety plushness that is perhaps somewhat soft-grained for this music but she convinced absolutely and totally with her complete command of the music and language and her total dedication to this harrowing staging. Gidon Saks didn’t quite have the weight at the bottom or the ease at the top for the part, yet he gave us an all-encompassing performance where he gave completely of himself throughout the whole of the opera. Yes, it was somewhat on the coarse side but this was singing and acting of such total commitment that one could not help but feel humbled by his sheer dedication to the task in hand.
Henrik Nánási conducted an orchestra on very good form. The Puccini was alive to the quicksilver moods in the score with a wide range of orchestral colour. For a Magyar conductor I expected much in the Bartók and here, I felt a little let down. The band made a magnificent noise at the fifth door and the sound world that Nánási conjured up at the sixth door was revelatory. And yet, I felt that he didn’t quite give the seventh door the importance that it ultimately needed. Many conductors treat the fifth door as the big moment and yet for me, the seventh door is where things really happen and here, I felt he pressed ahead a little too much. It was a highly promising reading certainly and one I hope he will return to soon.
Tonight we were given an insight into two sides of the human personality by a master director who enters fully into the human condition. It was executed by a fine ensemble cast with genuine chemistry who were completely dedicated to their director’s vision. It wasn’t an easy show to watch but it did give us a profound insight into the darker side of the human psyche. Executed with fearless dedication by a highly committed cast, this was a harrowing evening in the theatre.