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Loney's Show Notes

By Glenn Loney, October 2010.
About Glenn Loney

Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.

Met Opera's Tosca Moves To Munich, Plus Glowing White Box Figaro & Big White Chairs for Brecht/Weill Mahagonny!

Report on the Annual Munich Festival at the Bavarian State Opera, Plus Powerful Productions at the Second Tier Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz

Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
in a White Box! *
, Fresh from the Metropolitan! *
Colorful Watering Cans for L'Elisir d'Amore!
Meanwhile, Across Town at the Gärtnerplatz Theater
Bert Brecht & Kurt Weill's Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny

Even as Munich is in the midst of its Annual Opera Festival, workmen are already putting up the immense tent frames for the Oktoberfest!

Despite the terrible loss of life in Post Industrial Duisburg when would be Ravers panicked at the small entry to the large field where the Love Parade was to be celebrated, Munich's Oktoberfest Planners are sure such a tragedy couldn't happen in Bavaria's Capital.

Perhaps the Münchners would be so drunk on Löwenbräu & other local brews that they wouldn't even be able to panic?

Getting in the Spirit, Munich's Stadtmuseum am Jakobiplatz is now showing a 200 Year Survey of the Oktoberfest, from 1810 to 2010. Two Hundred Years is a long time, so there are a number of beer kegs on display…

Fortunately, no one was drunk or panicking at the Bayerische Staatsoper, even though some of its always outstanding productions are Too Modern for some Opera Conservatives.

You won't get drunk at the Opera on either its beer or its champagne--which Germans prefer to call Sekt. Surrounded by such a dressy crowd, you wouldn't want to embarrass yourself, would you?

As Your Reporter had not been able to come to Munich for the past two summers--Bedbugs in 2008 & Brain Hemorrhages in 2009--he had missed a number of new productions. So I requested Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Don Carlo, Le Nozze di Figaro, Die Schweigsame Frau, L'Elisir d'Amore, & Tosca.

Because the Economy is not doing so well in Europe either, press ticket allocations have been reduced, so I was given tickets only for Le Nozze di Figaro, Die Schweigsame Frau, L'Elisir d'Amore, & Tosca.

In the event, I had to be in Bregenz for its Festival when I was scheduled to see Richard Strauss' hilarious Die Schweigsame Frau, based on a play by England's Ben Jonson: Epicoene, or the Silent Woman.

Looking at production photos of the operas not ticketed, I realized I had already seen them--or earlier Incarnations of them at the historic National Theater.

I had hoped to share with readers a video interview with the brilliant conductor, Kent Nagano--from Fresno, CA--who is the General Music Director of the State Opera. I also asked for an interview with its new Intendant, Klaus Bachler, recently arrived from his Intendancy of Vienna's Burgtheater, famed for Drama, not Opera.

Both requests were turned down. But I got some sense of the new Managerial Policies when I took out my tiny Kodak™digital camera to photograph a beautiful floral display in the opera foyer: NO PHOTOS!

No matter, really, as I have photographed this famous opera house, inside & out, many times over the decades. But now there are Uniformed Young Women on guard, but they will graciously answer any questions you may have, as well as open the doors to the Auditorium.

Oddly enough--as at the Metropolitan Opera, which also has a No Photography Policy inside the auditorium--the Command/Request to put your Cameras away & turn off your Cell Phones during the performance is blithely ignored by those who absolutely must have shots of the glittering interior, especially with their own faces in the foreground.

Photography of Curtain Calls now seems to be taken for granted: Ushers can no longer rip out roll films from Digital Cameras. Nor can they force people to Delete the images when several hundred opera lovers are simultaneously flashing away…

But the Neo Classic National Theater is surely worthy of photography, both in its halls & foyers & in its lavishly decorated auditorium. After all, it was a bombed out shell for almost twenty years after World War II. Only in 1963 did it have a Gala Re opening, with Claire Watson & Jess Thomas on stage.

Before this time, the Main Stage was the Prinzregenten Theater, a Jugendstil jewel built around the Jahrhundertwende to be a Wagner Theatre to challenge Bayreuth, where Wagner had never managed to build the Theatre Temple he envisioned: the original Festspielhaus, still in use, was only a Provisorium

The lovely 18th century Court Theatre, the Cuviélles Theater--designed by a dwarf!--was also used for small scale, period inspired productions: Ideal for Mozart & Baroque Operas… But it doesn't really have enough seats to justify a major production, making it more suitable for small concerts & Liederabende.

The Royal Stables behind the National Theater--the Marstall: Stables of Mars, the God of War--has been used for scenery storage & for special small productions. But it is now eclipsed by an architectural astonishment of spikey silvery forms--Frank Gehry, eat your heart out!--called Pavilion 21 MINI Opera Space.

Unfortunately, I was not able to make contact with anyone in the Press Office--they always seemed to be "coming back soon"--who could tell me more about this new Venue or give me a press ticket to see one of the offerings.

I did find a booklet, however, that listed the shows. Among them: Adrian Howells' Footwashing for the Sole, Steven Cohen's Golgotha, Christoph Schlingensief's Remdoogo--Via Intolleranza II, Lucia Ronchetti's Narrenschiffe, Toscapiraten, & The Phantom Carriage, Stummfilm mit Live Musik.

Of the three productions I did see, I'll begin with the most impressive…


Figaro in a White Box!

Just one look at Munich's handsome & innovative production of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro & a metaphoric Light Bulb goes on over my head: "This has got to be a Jürgen Rose design!"

Not that Rose is the only innovative designer often on view on the stages of the Bavarian State Opera--they enlist the Best for their opera productions--but that he is, like Lucifer, a devilishly clever Bringer of Light!

The Figaro he has designed for director Dieter Dorn--Intendant of the State Drama Theatre next door, the Residenz Theater--is glowing with Light, elegantly Period in chairs & costumes, but pared down to Essentials.

The Basic Set is a deep White Box, distinguished only by blue doors in the right & left stage walls, with a larger blue double door upstage, anchoring the sight lines. For the first three acts--all Interiors--the doors & their frames may be changed but the walls remain a vibrant white, lit from behind.

Furniture is kept to a minimum, but Figaro needs his bed frame in Act I, not later. Period chairs are lined against the walls in Acts II & III, but they are different for each Act. This also helps focus attention on the characters & their actions, rather than offer visual distractions.

Rose also designed the costumes, so they are the major design elements to indicate Period & to suggest Character.

Act IV might seem to pose special problems for this Basic White Environment, as it takes place at night in the Almaviva's formal garden, with various characters trysting & hiding behind hedges & in Pavilions, depending on darkness to aid their sexual adventures. Or to frustrate those of others…

No Hedges? No Pavilions? No Problem!

Rose & Dorn--there's a Botanical Match: Roses & Thorns!--have the cast cover themselves with white sheeting & lie low when they need to be unseen! But there are no Period Chairs in this glowing garden…

I've not been able to see Munich stagings since 2007, but I do seem to remember a Così fan tutte that also occurred in a White Box. This one was more obviously lit from above & behind on the sides: it was also not so subtle as the newer Figaro.

But what's most important is how the Artists brought this Beaumarchais/Da Ponte bittersweet comedy to vibrant Life.

You know--despite Count Almaviva's abject pleas for Forgiveness from the Countess at the close--that his eye will be restlessly roving again soon…

Barbara Frittoli was an insecure, worried Countess, who only seems to come into her own when she has put on her elaborate Court gown & handsome wig.

Susanna [Camilla Tilling], on the other hand, doesn't need fine feathers to emphasize her innate ability to handle any potentially difficult situation with relative ease--including keeping her husband to be, Figaro [Ildebrando D'Arcangelo] in line.

Mariusz Kwiecien, as Almaviva, is wonderfully thwarted at every turn, but, unlike Mel Gibson, he doesn't need a course in Anger Management. He only needs to remember Noblesse Oblige, instead of le Droit du Seigneur

As the love enflamed & presumably genitally tumescent Cherubino, Anna Bonitatibus manages to be both boyishly rascally & ardent, without suggesting Lesbian Overtones, occasionally a problem when women must impersonate men.

There was no mistaking the feminine desperation of Marcellina [Heike Grötzinger], willing to cancel Figaro's debt to her if he can be forced to marry her. What a shock--for both of them--to discover he's her Long Lost Son!

Completing this excellent & lively cast were Ulrich Ress, Donato Di Stefano, Kevin Connors, Alfred Kuhn, & Evgeniya Sotnikova. Juraj Valchua conducted, lending an even more International flavor to the event.


Tosca, Fresh from the Metropolitan!

This new Tosca--staged by Luc Bondy & set designed by Riccardo Peduzzi--had already been premiered at the Met last season. Nonetheless, a local paper could not resist calling the Met's efforts a "Dress Rehearsal."

Because the production is so bare & spare, a number of Old Guard Met Patrons were very distressed with it, preferring Franco Zeffirelli's splendidly detailed evocations of the actual scenic locales in Puccini's powerful opera.

Seeing it only once at the Met--before Munich--I also thought it looked too Elemental. But seeing it again at the National Theatre, I've changed my mind. It works very well & the very spareness helps to focus attention on what is really happening emotionally in the narrative.

Of course the passion is already there in Puccini's score, powerfully so, but now it doesn't have to compete with Grand Architecture in a richly gilded & costumed Pageant.

Marco Armiliato conducted forcefully, as this staging has a throbbing physicality that's often missing in Puccini Pageants.

As at the Met, Karita Mattila was the passionate, envy blinded Tosca, with the sensational Jonas Kaufmann as Cavaradossi--also at Bayreuth among the Giant Rats of the new Lohengrin.

A Nasty Piece of Business was the Scarpia of Juha Uusitalo. The unfortunate Angelotti was sung/played by Christian Van Horn, with Kevin Connors as Spoleta.

What still does not work is Tosca's Suicidal Leap from the parapet of Castel Sant Angelo. It looks like a large doll being thrown out a window…

Bring back Zinka Milanov jumping over the wall onto a trampoline! [And, supposedly, bouncing back up in full view of the audience on one occasion!]


Colorful Watering Cans for L'Elisir d'Amore!

Adina & Nemorino's miserable little Italian village--apparently on the fringe of another one of those European Wars--is a veritable Wasteland.

An Empty Space, almost in the sense of Peter Brook's theoretical/theatrical Empty Space: it is waiting for something Magical to fill it, to bring it to Life!

Initially, it seems to be a ratty, tatty, rubbish strewn village square, with a street light Stage Right & an abandoned telephone pole Stage Left.

Suddenly, Paratroopers drop down into this mess. Not the Magic the Villagers were looking for.

Adina, who has scorned the poor--in almost every sense--Nemorino, soon becomes infatuated with Belcore, a soldier. But she has also been reading the tale of Tristan & Isolde, with its famous Love Potion.

Magic suddenly arrives with what could be a colored light blinking Flying Saucer but is, in fact, the Traveling Vehicle of the Quack Doctor, Dulcamara. Fortunately for Nemorino, he deals in Magic, Spells, & Potions, just like Gilbert & Sullivan's John Wellington Wells…

It's not the Potion that makes Nemorino suddenly so popular with all the girls--making Adina jealous, realizing she really loves him--but the fact that his Uncle has just died, making him a wealthy Catch.

If Tristan were really King Mark's nephew--as is supposed by some--had the King suddenly died, Tristan would have been not only His Heir but also Isolde's husband. Without all that Wagnerian Music & Tragedy!

In David Bösch's lively staging of The Elixir of Love in Munich, he & his designers--Patrick Bannwart, Falko Herold, & Michael Bauer--have tried to suggest the advent of Dr. Dulcamara as a cross between a Circus & Las Vegas.

Colored Lights flash & twinkle. Balloons rise to form a large Heart. The village girls don colorful, attractive outfits. They even try to make the Desert Bloom, with a gaggle of colorful Watering Cans!

Rolando Villazon was scheduled to sing Nemorino, but--as all too frequently recently--was forced to cancel. This gave Pavol Breslik a wonderful opportunity to show both his vocal & dramatic talents. He even looks a bit like Leonardo Di Caprio!

Nemorino's military rival, Belcore, was very Macho in the person of Fabio Maria Capitanucci. He might even had had the rank of Captain in the show…

Ambrogio Maestri was a magical Wizard of Ozzy Dulcamara, with Nino Machaidze as the scornful Adina.

This is a charming, though cluttered, staging, with lots of Neon & blinking lights. Dulcamara's caravan looks rather like a huge round Bomb--a cast iron air balloon--rather than the conventional Gypsy Wagon.

But, as director David Bösch says in the richly illustrated program: "Better Kitsch than Cynicism!"


Meanwhile, Across Town at the Gärtnerplatz Theater

For decades, Munich's Gärtnerplatz Theater was beloved as the home of Operetta: famed & tuneful works from Vienna, Budapest, & even from Berlin. It had been constructed in what was, Pre Hitler, predominantly a Jewish center.

They loved shows like Der Bettelstudent, Blume von Hawaii, Wiener Blut, Lustige Witwe, Land des Lächelns, Opernball, Viktoria und Ihr Hussar, & Die Dollarprinzessin.

When was the last time you saw Der Evangelimann or Der Vogelhändler: "Ich bin die Christl von der Post!"

But in the 1960s, Intendants' ambitions began to expand at the Gärtnerplatz.

Carmen & other popular operas were imaginatively produced, with the theatre's rather younger repertory ensemble. This effectively made the Gärtnerplatz Munich's Second Opera house, if not quite its Second Tier theatre.

It also became the favored Munich home of the operas of Carl Orff.

American & British musical comedies even found welcome on its stage: West Side Story was a wonder! My Fair Lady was a charmer.

Now, as at the Staats Oper, the Gärtnerplatz has a new Intendant, succeeding Ulrich Peters. He is Josef Köpplinger, who has been chief of the theatre in Klagenfurt, which is, as he says, a virtual Monopoly, as there is no other theatre in this Austrian Provincial Capital.

But Köpplinger has worked at the Gärtnerplatz, having staged Emmerich Kálmán's Gräfin Mariza in 2004.

Although I did not have time to check out new Drama productions at the Residenz Theater or the Kammerspiel, I always make a point of seeing a show or two at the Gärtnerplatz.

Of course, there are also commercial theatres in Munich, as well as small theatres. Especially in summer, there are large Outdoor Spaces for concerts, plays, & operas.

[At the Münchener Künstlerhaus, Georg Jenisch was showing Carl Orff's Trionfo di Afrodite in his inimitable Figurentheater production. Trionfo is the third part of the Orff Trilogy that includes Carmina Burana & Catulli Carmina. Perhaps Jenisch should bring his powerful puppets to New York?]

As the Gärtnerplatz has not only an opera/operetta/musical comedy ensemble, but also a ballet/modern dance troupe: TanzTheaterMünchen, it can offer a very varied program.

I was able to see Körpersprachen III--Body Language, if you like--which was comprised of two works.

Christian Spuck's Sleepers Chamber, a Munich Premiere, was distinguished visually not only by the animations & contortions of the dancers, but also by the tall, thin dunce's caps they variously wore, plus the menacing silhouettes of the huge Grasshoppers that loomed around them.

In the program, Spuck notes that the Schläfer Phänomen exists in the most contrasting areas: the "Sleeper" who seems a Good Citizen but who is also a member of a Terrorist Cell.

Also, in Nature there are plants & insects that can change, transform themselves, go Underground. There are Heuschreken--or grasshoppers--in the desert that emerge only every 2 or 3 years…

You could appreciate the dance performance per se, but it did help to read the program!

The second work was a World Premiere: Gustavo Ramirez Sansano's Everything. Fascinating, but not quite that comprehensive.


Bert Brecht & Kurt Weill's Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny

This is exactly the kind of production that makes the Gärtnerplatz so special.

Instead of creating some bizarre suggestion of a Klondike Gold rush town--or American Suburbia, as was done one year at the Maggio Musicale--the dominant image of this Mahagonny is Chairs, large & small.

Thomas Schulte Michels staged & created his own unusual Visual Environment for this stunning revival of the jazzy Brecht Weill between the wars Social Satire.

This seems to be a show about White Chairs, some of which get larger & larger, until, at last, an Immense White Chair dominates the stage.

Some of the doomed characters cannot manage chairs that are too big for them, just as the bizarre sexual freedom of Mahagonny is more than they can handle…

Schulte Michels' boldly colored, heavily brushed designs for the production make this program a real "Keeper."

An interesting note: Trinity Moses [Stefan Sevenich] becomes Dreieinigkeitmoses, when Brecht's American names are Germanized.

Widow Begbick was archly played by Annn Katrin Naidu, with Heike Susanne Daum as Jenny. Wolfgang Schwaninger was the feckless Jimmy Mahoney, surrounded by Fatty, Jack, Bill, Joe, & Toby, played by Cornel Frey, Adrian Shjema, Gregor Dalal, Sebastian Campione, & Adrian Sandu.

Andreas Kowalewitz conducted the admirable Gärtnerplatz orchestra.

If you are able to take a trip to Munich during the Season 2010 2011, of course you will want to see major opera productions at the National Theater, but don't miss out on the splendid work at the Gärtnerplatz!

Premieres will include Grand Hotel, The Love of Three Oranges, Nutcracker, Fledermaus, The Castle [Dance Theatre, based on Kafka's novel], Freischütz, & Der Untergang des Hauses Usher--Philip Glass's opera, inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe tale.

From the Standing Repertory, you could also choose My Fair Lady, The Pirates of Penzance, Traviata, Butterfly, Martha, Carmen, & Gräfin Mariza. Not to neglect Orpheus in the Underworld, Hansel & Gretel, Boccaccio, The Makropulos Case, or The Wizard of Oz. Quite a range of choices!


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