Sunday, April 3, 2011

Argentina meets Semperoper - That really Ba'rocks

Last Sunday my first encounter with Poppea. This evening then premiere. What would really expect me and the crowd? Some specialities like the orchestra pretty much on same level as audience and the stage overarching the orchestra dip, and lots of really old and unfamiliar instruments to be seen and heard.

But let us start from the beginning - BTW I am writing this blog post in English, as different nations were acting on stage from Argentina, Canada, via US-America to Romania and others, and I would like to let my opera friends outside Germany be part of the journey of tonight's surprise.

1643 - the probable birth year of "L'incoronazione di Poppea" - transferred to 2011 quite a stretch. Should we stick to the old stuff? Of course not, that would not be Semperoper-Style. Florentine Klepper, the current house stage director at Oper Basel is giving her debut at Semperoper, thought different. Taken from the old times are the music (with some surprises as you will see later) and the libretto, most of the rest around the story is adapted to modern times - which actually makes it pretty easy to take the story into current society stage setting.

Short synopsis of story (to be also found here), to have the guiding leash:
Quelle: Matthias Creutziger
"A woman is aiming for the top. Poppea loves Nero, who is (not by coincidence) the ruler of Rome. She skilfully conceals her past and disarms all adversaries until there is nothing which can hinder her coronation.However, Monteverdi not only portrays the life and loves of a high society dream couple. This glamorous existence is counterpoised with the world of the servants and employees, who have their own desires, dreams and ambitious plans. And from the lowest rung of the ladder, things can look completely different …" 

Having seen Entführung aus dem Serail by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lately it is rather challenging to adapt to the baroque instruments and music - this counts not just for me but also for quite a few others whom I talk to during the break. These instruments don't have the large volumes rather the subtle differences and this definitely takes time - within the timeframe of over three (3!) hours no problem at all.

Monteverdi's last opera is more suited to the current times, as we may expect when reading about the baroque era. It is all about group dynamics in an society "closed circles" on the top with little open flow into the lower ranks and back up. Doesn't that sound familiar? However Poppea, a rather clever woman with sex appeal and clear goals knows to play the "group dynamics game". Reminds me very strongly of system dynamics and Donella Meadow's work on it. Of course she is not the only one in the game, others interact and for that to make more transparent (as it is not normal in life, where one mostly just has a key hole perspective on the complete field of action) a great white-orange stage construction leads into the "Semper-Sky". As in Rusalka there are several stories going on in parallel and on different stage levels, which (if you haven't read about the story beforehand) can be quite challenging and tiring - opera is not just about singing, the costumes, the stage, but even more the underlying story that knits all together.

I could probably write till next morning, so much has happened during the pretty "kurzweilig" (a reminiscence on Ray Kurzweil) performance - almost three and a half hours of play. One major finding was the diversity of appreciation of the to modern times adapted play till the break. On my left I had the feeling, that the elderly man was not amused at all (he later left the house earlier) and meeting some folks from Hellerau during the break, they really liked the setting and play. Always a good sign, when at break time there is some kind of stillness in the ongoing action. A feeling of uneasiness as one don't know what is going to come, and when and where the climax arises.

While I was strolling around the hallways at Semperoper, getting the feeling of how the play is appreciated or what bothers people. Talking to some people I know, from the Technical University and Gebäudeensemble Hellerau, I realized that some additional background activities like the Introduction Matinees (the next one is for "Street Scene" on 12th of June) are not yet well-known to regular Semperoper visitors.

Two rings and the masses move (interestingly everybody knows what the rings have to mean - despite the different countries, languages and cultures they come from - common understanding exists amongst humans, without putting it into words, just sounds) back inside. This second part of the opera should be really one of surprises. Seeing a baroque guitar playing Argentinian conductor putting the tango feeling into Semperoper within a baroque opera was quite a suprise. With his Argentinian counterpart, Franco Fagioli (Nerone), on stage this duo was the driving force putting everything else in motion around Poppea.

This is not yet finished, and will be continued, as there is so much wisdom within this wonderful opera. Well worth to reflect and bring into real world in more detail.

So what are the four questions and its answers this time on Presencing Status?

  • Good: An awesome playing Nicole Heaston (Poppea), great stage construction offering lots of different stage levels, where different sub plays took place, always transparent and to be fully seen by audience; Rubén Dubrovsky (conductor) playing baroque guitar himself (!); seeing all the protagonists from last Sunday's Introduction Matinee again (especially Vanessa Gokkoetxea, Timothy Oliver, and Georg Zeppenfeld); great timely play connecting to the current situation in the state, region and city of Dresden (in the "wild life" out in the city the processes are not as transparent as we could experience them here at Semperoper tonight - time to learn from the performing arts, especially the field of opera (!)); standing ovations & Bravo screams & yelling of the fans of the ensemble on stage - wouldn't have thought of that before the break (!).
  • Tricky: due to the uprisen orchestra the sound of the instruments in the beginning of the performance somewhat overwhelmed the singers' voices (this leveled over the course of the time), bound to one fixed seat made me somewhat nervous (so many different perspectives to take to understand the play on stage); I'd like to have longer breaks especially during operas as complex as "L'incoronazione di Poppea"and "Rusalka" are.
  • Learned: when there is a dip and you feel uncomfortable (as large parts of the audience seemed to feel at first part till the break), the inner process of "letting go" prepares best for what new emerges; it is the uneasy emotions that make us grow and adapt to new circumstances in life (and over three hours spending at the opera is quite some time ;-)) better than before.
  • Action: definitely hone and finish this article (WIP work in progress), and for next time engage some friends to come along, guiding some opera talk after the performance (Cinderella on 9th of April will first try - meeting in the Café Alte Meister next to Gemäldegalerie - who else is coming? [for reserving a table])
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