The entire interior of the Komische Oper has been swathed in white. Netting hangs from the ceiling and over the sides of the circles. The auditorium seats have been removed and replaced with a gigantic white platform, slightly fluffy, like Halloween spiderwebs or the fake snow of an Antipodean shopping-mall Santa.
Susanne Moser and Philip Bröking, succeeding Barrie Kosky after his enormously successful decade at the helm of Berlin’s third opera house, wanted to launch the new era with a major statement. Unfortunately, it looks like a high school musical on a budget.
Refugees, unjust imprisonment and torture, a catastrophic flood — the subjects of Luigi Nono’s Intolleranza 1960 are depressingly topical. The work literally caused a riot at its 1961 Venice premiere; the strange thing is the extent to which it now appears dated. That, presumably, was why director Marco Štorman and designers Márton Ágh and Sara Schwartz decided to present it in a timeless landscape of ice and snow.
It goes horribly wrong. The chorus members are dressed in unflattering white body stockings and veiled baseball caps, like so many bee-keeping worms. Is this meant to be science fiction? Is the fake snow actually sand, or nuclear fallout? But no. When, three-quarters of the way through, one of the characters, An Algerian, breaks a layer of “ice” to bathe in water, it becomes clear that we were supposed to believe in the snow. Too late. The protagonist wears a thin shirt and sandals, and at no point does anybody “act cold”. Why this monumental abstraction for a work whose themes could not be more topical?
Conductor Gabriel Feltz saves the day, to the extent that this is possible, by maintaining stringent musical standards despite the impractical fact that the orchestra is placed around the third dress circle and the singers are down on the floor. The chorus, required sporadically to doff and don the baseball caps, sings with force and conviction.
Sean Panikkar is spectacular in the central role of Emigrant, with a strong upper register, musical intelligence and truckloads of charisma. Deniz Uzun and Gloria Rehm, as the “bad” and “good” women in his life, both deliver highly expressive and note-perfect performances. Tom Erik Lie’s Algerian is solid and comforting.
If you can think away the mashed-potato decor and imagine a concert performance, this Intolleranza is worth hearing.
To October 3, komische-oper-berlin.de
Source: Financial Times