What Lies Beyond: Die Gezeichneten at the Komische Oper, Berlin

Schreker – Die Gezeichneten.

Herzog Antoniotto Adorno – Joachim Goltz
Graf Andrea Vitellozzo Tamare – Michael Nagy
Lodovico Nardi – Jens Larsen
Carlotta Nardi – Aušrinė Stundytė
Alviano Salvago – Peter Hoare
Guidobaldo Usodimare – Adrian Strooper
Menaldo Negroni – Ivan Turšić
Michelotto Cibo – Tom Erik Lie
Gonsalvo Fieschi – Johnathan McCullough
Julian Pinelli – Önay Köse
Paolo Calvi – Samuli Taskinen
Capitano di giustizia – Joachim Goltz
Ginevra Scotti – Katarzyna Włodarczyk
Martuccia – Christiane Oertel
Pietro – Christoph Späth
Ein Jüngling – Emil Ławecki
Ein Mädchen – Mirka Wagner

Vocalconsort Berlin, Chorsolisten der Komischen Oper Berlin, Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin / Stefan Soltesz.
Stage director – Calixto Bieito.

Komische Oper, Berlin, Germany.  Sunday, January 21st, 2018.

Having waited all my life to see Schrecker’s Gezeichneten on stage, it’s remarkable that there have been several high profile productions recently, all within the space of a few months.  I had the privilege of seeing Krzysztof Warlikowski’s staging at the Munich Opera Festival last July and comparisons are inevitable with tonight’s staging at the Komische Oper, directed by Calixto Bieito.  Warlikowski’s was a very visual staging, with stage pictures that seemed married to the sound world of the score in big, extravagant vistas.  Bieito’s is a lot more intimate.  Acts 1 and 2 take place exclusively in front of a white backdrop, with the action taking place at the front of the stage.  We know that there is something beyond this liminal place, yet at first we have no idea what.

Photo: © Iko Freese / drama-berlin.de

In many ways, what’s left unseen is more important that what is seen.  Bieito forces us to imagine what exactly – we know that the ‘kinder’ of the populace are going missing, being abducted.  The few clues he gives us seem to point to a pedophile ring, yet the true horror of the reality is one that’s left to us as an audience to conceive of.  This Gezeichneten is a sister staging to Bieito’s Zürich Fiery Angel – there, Renata’s face was projected onto the stage curtain; here, on the white backdrop before which the action takes place, we see images of nameless children.

What Bieito also brings to life is the sheer psychological damage suffered by the central trio of Alviano, Carlotta and Tamare.  The former, living in a childhood fantasy; she withdrawn and trained by her father to use sex as currency; the latter, desperate to prove his masculinity and maintain sexual dominance.  In so doing, Bieito forces our attention on these ‘gezeichneten’ (stigmatized), in a society in which the elites live beyond morals.

Photo: © Iko Freese / drama-berlin.de

Similarly, in Act 3, when what lies beyond the backdrop is finally revealed and takes shape before us, the effect is staggering – visually impressive, the idea of this Elyisum being Alviano’s happy place to which he escapes to return to childhood is fully brought home.  The fact that it was abused by the elite as a place to conduct acts of unspeakable horror against the children of the populace, renders it deeply disturbing.  I imagine that there are some who will be uncomfortable with how much is left to the imagination, who need to be spoon-fed.  Even though so much takes place in a small stage area, the personenregie is so detailed, that we feel that we are getting to know real, flesh and blood personalities.  I found it a mature and deeply effective piece of theatre.

Of course, the impact would have been blunted without the participation of some exceptional singing-actors.  Aušrinė Stundytė’s Carlotta was harrowing to watch.  A woman clearly having become used to use sex as a currency as a consequence of abuse – her journey as she realizes the reality of the true nature of what had happened to her was deeply affecting.  She poured out ecstatic streams of golden tone on high, and her dusky soprano is capable of great beauty.  It’s a very individual sound, big and warm, and fills the theatre with ease.  Combined with her exceptionally detailed acting, Stundytė is a remarkable artist.

Photo: © Iko Freese / drama-berlin.de

Peter Hoare was a brave Alviano, keenly sung with a nicely-placed, forward sound.  He was somewhat pushed by the very high, declamatory writing of the third act, however.  His diction was impeccable throughout and he threw himself fully into everything asked of him.  Michael Nagy gave us a masculine Tamare, sung in an exceptionally handsome baritone with a firm bottom and a bright, penetrating top that seemingly defied gravity.  It’s a voice of remarkable refinement, allied to a lieder singer’s attention to text.  Nagy rose to the challenging, declamatory writing of the third act with stamina to spare.  His stage presence was absolutely magnetic.

In the remainder of the large cast, it seems almost injudicious to single out individuals, although I will certainly do so.  Jens Larsen was big and resonant of tone as the Podestà.  Christiane Oertel was delightfully raucous as Martuccia.  Joachim Goltz’s Adorno was firm and even and Mirka Wagner offered us her crystalline and bright soprano as the Mädchen.  So often, first nights tend to be musically not quite settled.  This was most certainly not the case tonight.  Ensemble was spot on all night – especially noticeable with some very swift tempi.  The combined choruses sounded mellifluous in their off-stage interventions, although the sopranos seemed to have some internal disagreements over pitch when they appeared on stage.  The house band was on blazing form for Stefan Soltesz.  He found a transparency to the textures with gossamer strings, throbbing harps and twinkling celesta, fully bringing out the score’s twilight tinta.  The sound world felt seemingly delicate yet at the same time, full and warm.  As I mentioned, Soltesz led a very swift reading – with the best will in the world, this is a piece that needs a helping hand sometimes – but wasn’t afraid to pull back where necessary.  It did however feel that tension sagged in the Alviano/Carlotta duet in Act 2.

Photo: © Iko Freese / drama-berlin.de

This was an evening that showed the Komische Oper at its most considerable best.  Superbly sung and exceptionally played by the house band, it highlighted the work of two remarkable singing-actors in Stundytė and Nagy.  This was a psychologically disturbing evening in the theatre – one that made us reflect and look deep within ourselves.

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One comment

  1. In my opinion, Warlikowski’s Die Gezeichneten was the better staging. Nagy and Stundytė delivered a stunning performance

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