Finally after being in Berlin for 2 weeks I have seen my first piece of Regietheater**. For those not aware of the term see the Wikipedia definition below, suffice it to say, in the context of this blog it is a shorthand way of saying: “Very weird production that, while featuring a lot of colour and movement and at times being highly entertaining, during which I really did not have a clue what was going on”.
The show in question was Carmina Burana, performed at the Deutsche Oper in a production by Friedrich Götz What follows is a detailed and fairly long-winded description (to those who know my story-telling, this will be unsurprising, but I just don’t want you to miss a moment of the production, after all I couldn’t!)
The production begins simply enough with the curtain rising to the fantastic sounds of O Fortuna, played sumptuously by the Deutsche Oper orchestra and sung brilliantly by the chorus. I am already smiling in anticipation of the massive wall of sound that is about to hit me in the centre of the third row of the audience as the orchestra pit rises-up on hydrolics, simultaneously with the curtain, lifting the orchestra almost to stage level. In the centre of the stage a female dancer in a pale grey body suit (The Dancer) is bound by ropes, tied up for a sacrifice. So far, so Carmina Burana.
The Dancer stuggles free from ropes, once freed she dances joyfully, finding pleasure in her freedom. She stops and hides when the Baritone enters dressed in a white linen suit (is she an animal running from human contact or is she just embarrassed at having been caught dancing?). The Baritone, while singing, makes reference to a banner which contains pictures (a sun, a flower, a singing bird, two naked people making the shape of a letter F and an egg). This lecture seems to liberate the Dancer to enjoy her dancing and her body.
The Baritone leaves and the Dancer is then joined by a Muscle-Bound Man in very high-cut fluoro green speedos and a fluoro green executioners mask (at this point I suppressed the first of many spasms of giggles and brought myself back under control by musing on what his purpose was). It seems his purpose was to walk around looking muscley. His muscles and fetching green speedos encouraged the Dancer to find tins of paint in primary colours. With these she enhances the features of her face and body, smearing paint on her eyebrows, breasts and buttocks – this does not seem to impress the Muscle-Bound Man and he walks off.
Two people in egg costumes with phalluses on their heads then descend from the roof and swing suspended in the air, the Dancer swings with them for a while. She then walks off stage (probably to clean all the paint off her) and the Eggs keep swinging. Finally they leave the stage as well.
The Baritone then comes back on with the chorus and sings a drinking song (I assume it was a drinking song as they had bottles of beer in their hands, but at this point I am not confident that anything was what it seemed).
After the Baritone falls down drunk another man (the Tenor) comes in looking like he may have stepped off a vintage plane, except that his helmet has a swan on it. He sings the tenor aria about a swan dying in a fire while pictures of Leda and the Swan flash up on the screen behind him. An Old Woman with very big breasts and a very big bottom comes in and gives the Baritone and Tenor some chicken drumsticks and puts lots of salt on them (that is she salts the drumsticks and the men, they also see fit to put some salt down their pants, I am not sure why?).
The Male Chorus take pins and pop the breasts and bottom of the old woman – it turns out these appendages were only balloons and the Old Woman is the Dancer from before. She is wearing sexy underwear and red stilletos under her old woman outfit and is then ganged raped by the Men’s Chorus.
A chorus of children dressed as Parisian-Mime-Artists then enter the stage, they are carrying perspex boxes with dolls dressed in sexy underwear. The entire Parisian-Mime-Artists-Children’s Chorus are pregnant (I have no idea what they represent, but they sing very nicely).
Just when you think it could not get any more German a pair of bright red lips tipped on their side descends from the roof with a slit down through which the Soprano soloist enters wearing gold lamé and a very blonde wig.
This aperture is then used as an entrance for a grim reaper like scythe followed by a dancer in a skeleton costume, (costuming note – the skeleton is not anatomically correct, there are no ribs but many circular bones in the chest area). This dancer possibly represents death, so for clarity between describing the two dancers I will call her Death (although I admit, that I am now understanding very little of the production and she may not represent death at all).
The Soprano seems to comfort the Dancer, then the Baritone enters takes off all his clothes and gets into a bath – I think this was meant to comfort the Dancer too. The Dancer seems to be comforted and gives what can only be described as a lap dance to the Baritone (he looked like he was very much enjoying his job at this point). Two children enter at this time a Girl in a red party dress and a Boy with a hobby horse. After rejecting his hobby horse twice the Girl gets on and rides off with the Boy (no prizes for guessing the symbolism here). The Dancer and Death have a little pas de deux here using the scythe as a dance barre.
The chorus has re-entered wearing corsets and feather boas over their black trousers and white shirts. Everyone seems to be getting very friendly, including the Soprano, the Baritone, and the Dancer who has taken off almost all her clothes, but is still dancing very beautifully.
The Soprano gives the Dancer a cloak to put on and are joined by the Baritone. They are then joined by the Muscle-Bound Man and Death. They all hug and a large crown descends from the ceiling and encircles them all. The Pregnant-Parisian-Mime Children’s Chorus enter sucking on giant multi-coloured lollipops and are joined by the Corset-Clad-Chorus, they sing the final reprise O Fortuna to end the piece. The Eggs come back on and light a couple of flame throwers, adding a little fire-power to the final tableau.
At this point I am happy to surrender to the fabulous waves of sound being created by chorus and orchestra and forget about what any of it might mean.
For those of you wanting to do the same here is a little clip from youtube of O Fortuna (sadly not being performed by the DO chorus and orchestra, and more sadly without the visuals I experienced last night).
**”Regietheater (German for director’s theater or producer’s theater) is a term that refers to the modern practice of allowing a director (or producer) freedom in devising the way a given opera (or play) is staged so that the composer’s original, specific stage directions (where supplied) can be changed, together with major elements of geographical location, chronological situation, casting and plot.” Wikipedia