Cher Public

Love vs. politics, plus poison

The first stop on The Cieca and Dawn Regietournee 2015 is the Stuttgart Opera, which La Cieca thinks she would be perfectly happy with if it were her “home” opera house. Even a midseason revival of a five-year-old Verdi production crackled with excitement last night.

By this point in her career, La Cieca finds it takes a lot to keep her awake and alert after almost 18 hours of travel (which in this case included last-minute improvisation of rail transport from Frankfurt to Stuttgart because apparently you can’t get there on Saturday morning or something.) So your doyenne didn’t hold out much hope for this performance, especially when the unit set (nested concrete-colored boxes) revealed Luisa (Adina Aaron) lying, apparently dead, down center during the opening chorus. (The scrappy orchestra playing in the prelude also inspired a bit of concern, but conductor Marco Comin settled in quickly.)

But, luckily, it turned out that Luisa was merely sleeping, as in the libretto, in fact, and very quickly this Markus Dietz production resolved itself into a visual metaphor for Sturm und Drang: call the look “steampunk Wozzeck,” mostly in black and white against video projections in muted painterly tones. The outcome of the piece was in little doubt from the beginning, since Luisa’s friends were mostly in black and a couple of the village maidens sported “Day of the Dead” skull headdresses.

If this very dark interpretation of the piece might make more logical sense in a production of the bleak Schiller than the sunnier Verdi, it was at the very least consistent and serious throughout. Luisa and Rodolfo’s idyll obviously never has a chance in Mr. Dietz’s vision, and I can’t disagree with him: these children are doomed, and in a way it’s their own fault for insisting on being so hyper-romantic in such a cruel environment.
What I found most fascinating was the shift in the balance of sympathy between Rodolfo and his father Walter. The young nobleman here is a walking mass of conflicts, immature and easily angered. He accessorizes every outfit of knee-high military boots, setting up a dissonance in his first appearance in puffy white shirt and mane of curly hair. By the time he shows up at Luisa’s house with the fatal bottle of poison, he’s gone full Gary Oldman in a black top hat and dark glasses: this is a boy who likes to put on attitudes up to and including playing at murder-suicide.

In general the production is most responsive to the music: the villagers arrive with bouquets of red roses for Luisa in the first scene, then, when the music of the opening chorus is quoted to open the tragic final act, the same villagers deliver black roses to the Miller house, which is now literally enshrouded. Luisa tangles herself in the stage-spanning burial cloth as she sings of her utterly unrealistic fantasy of roaming the world with her father as vagabonds.

The show highlights Stuttgart’s pinpoint stage mechanics, with drops and scrims rising and falling in elaborate choreography, and entrances and exits similarly devised with the use of multiple stage elevators. But it’s not at all a cold production: rather, I’ve never seen such ferocious acting in this piece: you really thought Rodolfo would slash Luisa’s throat in the act one finale, for example, and in the “letter scene” Wurm smeared red lipstick onto Luisa’s mouth, then forced her to her knees to sign the letter with a kiss.

The two basses stole the show: Attila Jun (Gurnemanz here on our previous visit) as Wurm, seeming to take a lascivious pleasure in how his voice thundered through the auditorium, and the young Adam Palka as the ramrod-stiff aristocrat Walter. His is a gorgeous basso cantante, absolutely world-class, and I think we’re going to be hearing a lot more of him in coming years.

If the young lovers (Ms Aaron and tenor Dmytro Popov) oversang a bit (eventually she went flat on top and his tone turned hard) they both are real Verdi singers, with bit, colorful voices and a bold, grand sense of phrasing. Mr. Popov in particular I would be very interested to hear in Russian and Czech repertoire, and his huge steely top register I think may eventually lead him to Wagner.

And Evez Abdulla is a baritone any opera house any opera house would be glad to have on its roster: if there’s nothing glamorous or distinctive about the basic sound, it’s a full, exciting voice that’s steady even in Miller’s very high tessitura.

So, nothing to complain about on the first night of the tour: Verdi as eldritch music drama.

Luisa Miller, Staatsoper Stuttgart. May 2, 2015. Musikalische Leitung: Marco Comin, Regie: Markus Dietz, Szenische Leitung der Wiederaufnahme: Magdalena Fuchsberger, Bühne: Franz , Mitarbeit Bühne: Christof Piaskowski, Kostüm: Anna Eiermann, Licht: Reinhard Traub, Video: Judith Konnerth, Chor: Johannes Knecht, Christoph Heil, Dramaturgie: Angela Beuerle, Albrecht Puhlmann

Conte di Walter: Adam Palka, Rodolfo: Dmytro Popov, Federica d’Ostheim: Ramona Zaharia, Wurm: Attila Jun, Miller: Evez Abdulla, Luisa: Adina Aaron, Laura: Josefin Feiler, Mit: Staatsopernchor Stuttgart, Staatsorchester Stuttgart

Photos: Martin Sigmund

  • Krunoslav

    Bad guys wearing Ray Bans onstage -- what an unaccustomed image!

    • manou

      Ah, but a great touch of originality here “…mostly in black and white against video projections…“.

  • Thanks for the great review, La Cieca. Looking forward to the rest of your European adventure.

  • Stefan

    Thanks for the great review. I find Stuttgart a fabulous house to visit. Very little here is conservative which means you will probably love or hate whatever productions you see. On my last trip 2 years ago I was blown away by Calixto Bieito’s Parsifal which found to be one of the most intense evenings I’ve ever spent in the theater but it is hated by many. I was in total reverse the next night with his Hollander – hated it and finished out with a double of Schoenberg’s Die glückliche Hand which I found fascinating and Janacek’s Osud which was boring on my last night there.

    It’s never a dull moment in Stuttgart and I love a challenge.

    • Henry Holland

      Just the clips I’ve seen from Bieito Parsifal make me wish I’d seen it in the house because I’ve read it’s never coming out on video even though it was filmed.

      I’ve only been to Stuttgart once, I loved it there. The Schlossgarten by the opera house was wonderful to wander around in and the Staatsgalerie had a nice collection of 20th century painting.

      I loved the opera house itself, I was up in the balcony for a performance of Die Gezeichneten and I felt totally involved in the performance. It was an *amazing* performance by the production crew, the singers, the orchestra and especially Lothar Zagrosek, who was much more at home with the piece than on the Decca recording made years earlier. Photos of the production:

      http://www.publicopera.info/opera200203/gezeichneten_stuttgart.html

      They didn’t take the standard third act cut, the choral singing was fantastic. Alas, the men kept most of their clothes on during the orgy, boo! However, when Gabriel Sade’s Alviano loses his mind at the end of Act III > that incredible ending in the orchestra, it was like a 1000 volts went through me. Easily the greatest night I’ve ever had in an opera house and as an added bonus, the 20-something guy who took me to the train station afterwards was totally gorgeous.

    • Chanterelle

      I did that weekend, too! Loved the Parsifal, was lukewarm about the Hollander, and hardly remember the double bill — I vaguely remember some inflatable dolls. Stuttgart is a terrific house--definitely user friendly, even if the productions are challenging. But they work hard to develop an engaged audience. The pre-performance lectures are great, even with minimal German.

      • Stefan

        It is a great house and has great sightlines overall from what I can remember.

        The Schoenberg had the inflatable doll almost the height of the stage. At one point it turned and fell over backwards and the jilted lover climbed all over it while singing. It was GREAT!

  • Feldmarschallin

    Bahnreisende müssen sich von Dienstag an auf den bisher längsten Streik der Lokführer im Tarifkonflikt bei der Bahn einstellen.

    Der Ausstand soll im Personenverkehr sechs Tage lang vom 5. Mai (Dienstag) um 2 Uhr morgens bis 10. Mai (Sonntag) um 9 Uhr dauern, teilte die Gewerkschaft am Sonntag in Frankfurt am Main mit. Im Güterverkehr soll bereits ab Montag um 15 Uhr gestreikt werden. Es wäre bereits der achte Streik in dem Tarifkonflikt.

    Fernbus.de is an option.

    • Fluffy-net

      oder flixbus.de

    • phoenix

      Rail strike scheduled to begin tomorrow? Feldmarschallin suggests this as an alternate:
      https://www.berlinlinienbus.de/index.php?lang=en

    • Lohengrin

      You are lucky to reach Nationaltheater by bike (except hard raining ;-)).
      I will take an earlier train on Sunday to be right for Forza.

      • Chanterelle

        So potentially bus to Dusseldorf (not too bad), and then a flight to Berlin--Dusseldorf isn’t Podunk, and apparently Germanwings has some bargains lately. So much for a run out to Frankfurt or Strasbourg tomorrow. Drama offstage…

  • maxe

    Cieca:

    does that mean you could not FLY to Stuttgart?

    Quote

    By this point in her career, La Cieca finds it takes a lot to keep her awake and alert after almost 18 hours of travel (which in this case included last-minute improvisation of rail transport from Frankfurt to Stuttgart because apparently you can’t get there on Saturday morning or something.)

    Unquote.

    Perhaps it is because a lot of Germany, well, Europe is so much ahead when it comes to trains, flights etc. It started with the French (yes, THOSE French) when they built a high speed rail line from Paris to Lyon. Try to find a flight these days. Followed by high speed lines from Frankfurt to Stuttgart (train time airport to inner city Stuttgart one hour 15 minutes), from Frankfurt to Cologne (train time 55 minutes; no more flights at all), and you see why it is very hard to take to the air between all those places. Heck, even Paris-London, which in the not too distance past was stricktly flown by wide body jets, is now served by air comparatively little, thabks to the Channel Tunnel (Paris-London downtown to downtown by train two hours, flight time remote airport to remote airport one hour, need I say more). On top of that, Frankfurt Airport is blessed with a long distance train station right on the premises, served by all the fast trains. And a full service station at that.

    But, again, from my vast travel experience and the observation of Americans abroad, even here in Canada, they have a hard time to grasp that THEY ARE NO LONGER in the United States, and just perhaps in something more progressive and even better…

    Grin.

    M…

    • Chanterelle

      Uh, you didn’t get the part about the rail strike?

  • Saw Luisa Miller in Frankfurt in 1996, perhaps my introduction to Regie. (No: Des Hugenotten in Berlin in 1988.)

    The best part, in Frankfurt, was the two panels of the triangular playing area (lower floor Miller’s cottage, upper floor — though there was no floor to speak of — the Count’s castle) that slid aside to show us the chorus sitting in two cheap diners. Women were knitting. People were gossiping. Then the panels would close.

    When Wurm fled the stage after the “duel” with Rodolfo, the panels slid back to show the men in the diners watching a soccer game (or maybe a fight) on TV, acting out punches and cheering the team on. And when Luisa was dead, Rodolfo seized a soda bottle from one of the diner tables and brought it down on Wurm’s head, killing him.

    At the time I didn’t know quite what to think. In retrospect, I enjoyed myself immensely (among other people).

    • phoenix

      Coincidentally, I also saw that Huguenotten in Berlin around that same time -- with same cast as on the commercial DVD Deutsche Staatsoper release. Maybe a year later (or before? memory fading over here) I saw it as Les Huguenots in London (I remember I liked the London cast better than the Berlin one). In London, I do remember meeting a charming veteran singer who had sung Marguerite da Valois in her younger years -- also remember the orchestra issuing press releases calling for the reinstatement of the cuts imposed by the conductor and complaining about the two-act one-interval version ROH used, but to no avail. I prefer the 2 interval version they did at Bard College (2010?).
      -- Hans, you have a remarkable visual memory. I also saw that same Luisa Miller production. but not in Frankfurt -- it was in another nearby Germany city (perhaps Mainz) with Michele Crider and Keith Ikea-Purdy as the lovers. I remember the sets but not the staging, as you do. I also remember liking Ikea-Purdy but not Crider.