Bluebeard's Castle, Bartok / Gianni Schicchi, Puccini

Komische Oper, Berlin

17th April, 2015

Aversion Therapy

So, it's come to this. Surely the German Regietheater tradition — now in its fourth decade, no longer classifiable as a mere "terrible-twos"-style phase one hoped the culture would outgrow — is in its final throes? When its tropes have become so rote, so predictable, so stale, that a production by a highly successful director might as well have been invented by a game of operatic Regie MadLibs? Actually, MadLibs might have produced more interesting results.

The Komische Oper's double-bill production of these two works from 1918, the comedy Gianni Schicchi (Puccini) and the contrasting dark fable of Bluebeard's Castle (Bartók) , under the director C.B. (who shall here remain nameless, since one doesn't wish to feed his bloated ego any further), fails to meet any of the criteria of art: that it entertain, move, enlighten or transcend.

More giggles were elicited from the pre-show cell phone announcement than by anything in Schicchi, which C.B. staged aggressively as a kind of gross mockery of something (Italians? opera? Regietheater itself?), with stock "Italian" characters (slutty girl in leopard-print dress; mama's boy in bike shorts) prancing and preening with repetitive, canned gestures, and randomly engaging in "shocking" behaviours such as eating shit (!) and having strange simulated opera-sex (!). Actually, the acts were not random : they were calculatedly timed to occur during the most beautiful music, as if Puccini's wink regarding his own lyrical facility in Schicchi were not sufficient; we need a man's ass bared during "O mio babbino caro" to point out to us how truly godawful the aria must in fact be, Kiri Te Kanawa's international record sales to the contrary.


All of this would be forgiven if the end effect were in fact funny. However, the poor singers struggled to bring out any humour when their characters, their interactions, and their timing had been so apparently and so distastefully dictated to them, robbing them of any invention, spontaneity, or joy in their performing. One felt their grim, professional determination, and that was all. And although the role of Gianni Schicchi himself was sung by Günter Papendell (possessing one of the finest voices of the evening), it was really the director playing the con artist from on high: swindling the singers, the audience, and not to mention the German taxpayers who fund the Komische Oper, and taking it all for himself.

Bluebeard's Castle fared little better, although some committed (again, grimly determined) performances by the two leads, Gidon Saks and Ausrine Stundyte, as well as some interesting set design (Rebecca Ringst), compensated somewhat for more lazy and predictable Regie (awkward, violently simulated sex; so many blood packets).

Yes, Bartók's fable is a dark one; but his music is also full of light, at times evoking Debussy in its watery, murky waves. The orchestra however, under Henrik Nánási, also failed to bring out the luminosity of the Bartók (or the Prosecco effervescence of the Puccini), with playing that was thick and sluggish.

Ringst's set presents the depths of Bluebeard's "castle" as a series of decaying façades that peel away one after the other, revealing ever-more humble and claustrophobic spaces. The innermost, windowless chamber is a men's public bathroom, with its lineup of urinals and its mirrors that become smeared with blood. One senses that we have reached the underground bunker not of Bluebeard's psyche, but of C.B.'s: where his heart should be, there is instead a cold porcelain urinal.

One wishes the director would get his psychotherapy elsewhere, and not on the public's dime.

Bottom line: This shit is getting old.


Georges Briscot



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