At the start of their artistic directorship at the Komische Oper, Susanne Moser and Philip Bröking left no chair next to the other: During the summer break, the entire stalls were removed to make room for an expansive installation: stage designer Marton Agh transformed the hall into a desert of ice, White fabric stretches up to the second tier, above which the orchestra is placed. The audience, on the other hand, occupies the stage, where steeply rising rows of benches are installed, as well as the 1st tier and the seats around the playing area.
Double leadership removes spectator seats: Barrie Kosky’s successors wanted to offer something spectacular at the start of the season. And at the same time give a foretaste of the time from autumn 2023, when the Komische Oper wants to perform in unusual places throughout the city while its main building is being renovated and expanded. The choice fell on Luigi Nono’s “Intolleranza 1960”, a key work of the 20th century, premiered 61 years ago in Venice, with which the composer wanted to counter the then usual form of literary opera with something innovative.
It largely dispenses with plot, instead offering a kaleidoscope of the real horrors of its time. A guest worker who is drawn back home experiences a mining accident in Belgium, French torture in Algeria, and a catastrophic flood on the Po River. The Afro-American civil rights movement is a topic, as is resistance against the Spanish dictator Franco.
But none of the suffering can be seen that evening. The stage snow retains its purity over the 80-minute playing time, no blood soils it, no traces of environmental destruction color it a dirty grey. In addition, it seems to have no temperature, because the actors move on it as if it were a flokati. If you pass your hand over it on the way to your seat, you will notice: This snow is nice and fluffy.
The whole setting is poetic, even magical. A Christmas production for children could take place here, or a romantic bel canto opera. And in fact, director Marco Storman consistently avoids anything visually disturbing. Its protagonist – the tenor Sean Panikkar, who moves vocally as smoothly as he does physically – seems to be a kind of dreamwalker, who moves somnambulously through the white expanses, assembling a symbolic boat from wooden fragments for himself and his black-feathered companion.
The main character of the evening is: the choir
Deniz Uzun plays it as happily as if she were Papagena from The Magic Flute, and lets her coloratura glitter like ice crystals in the sun. The following also appear: the actress Ilse Ritter, who recites her texts in a composed manner, Gloria Rehm in a robe of the Snow Queen, Tom Erik Lie and Tijl Faveyts as “the Algerian” and “the tortured one”, who perform seemingly ritualistic actions and therefore above all remain voices , and – as the main characters of the evening – the choral soloists of the Komische Oper, reinforced by the Vocalconsort Berlin.
David Cavelius prepared them musically for their complex tasks, which include every imaginable type of acoustic expression, from whispering to screaming. Just as demanding is the movement choreography that Marco Storman intended for them – and which they implement with virtuosity, because in the collective scenes they always remain a group of individuals, because each and every one of the crowd is recognizable as a human being.
And from above, almost like heavenly music, the orchestra sounds, hugely cast with twelve percussionists, harp and celesta in addition to the traditional symphony orchestra strength. On screens attached to the balcony parapet, one can follow how conductor Gabriel Feltz coordinates the events across the airspace with far-reaching, overly clear gestures.
That seems very sovereign – and for the listener of the year 2022, Luigi Nono’s twelve-tone avant-garde score also sounds much less provocative than expected. In the works of the Italian it is always the quiet, intimate moments that unleash the greatest power, but at the “Intolleranza” premiere on Saturday even the dissonant outbursts, the extreme volume eruptions seem aesthetically coherent, even downright beautiful. Just like the whole look of the staging with its white wadding.
These are not the associations the communist composer once intended, committed contemporary Nono, who wanted to bring opera to the working class and use art to transform consciousness. But it does show how important it is to keep questioning masterpieces of the past, especially those whose premiere was not so long ago that nobody can remember the historical context. Because the really important pieces do not become obsolete, but continue to grow as time goes by.
Further performances only on September 25th, 27th and 29th and October 1st and 3rd.
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