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