Sunday, October 23, 2011

'Simplicius Simplicissimus' - simple is something different

Friday evening in Dresden, a cubicle behind Semperoper, the name is program: Semper 2. New approaches to opera are created here, and the open room offers quite some experiences one never can make happen between the audience and the players, singers, and dancers in the large house.

15 min to start (at 7pm sharp) the crowd is awaiting to be let in. The tension rises, as normally ("But what is normal?") one is allowed around 30 min early to enter. Something is different, yet one does not get details.

Opening - the eyes see no stage in the middle, rather 128 (or 125?) wooden boxes where the audience is going to sit, the stage is draped around the walls - this is going to be what Edgar Schein, MIT Sloan School of Management, and scholar of Kurt Lewin, a German-American psychologist with Jewish roots, calls a "cultural island", the ordinary is shifted significantly out of the normal expectance, and yet there is not much room to flee the situation. Curiousity, and paid ticket definitely outweigh the anxiety that arises already.

This situation reminds instantly of a paper written by Edgar Schein with the title "The Role of Art and the Artist". Why is arts relevant to other elements of society like business or government? - that's his initial question. Let's see whether, and how this new piece created by Manfred Weiß and his team will play out.

"First, art and artists stimulate us to see more, hear more, and experience more of what is going on within us and around us."

Being the audience in the middle, sitting on plain boxes, let's the mind stay anxious, moving around in 360° as the play goes on around on the installation around the walls.  It could happen that you instantly get in "conversation" with your neighbors bumping in each others' feet. Erik Nielsen, the conductor this evening is standing merely a few meters away, the orchestra around him, and almost part of the audience. One feels connected, one feels the real work of what a conductor is providing for the whole process: being the facilitator of a rather complex process.

"Second, art does and should disturb, provoke, shock, and inspire."


Copyright: Matthias Creutziger
Going to the opera often is expected to be nice. This evening certainly was different. Valda Wilson, Australian soprano, and a member of the Junges Ensemble, played her debut as "Simplicius Simplicissimus". What had sparked at last year's opening at Albertinum with "The Inner Voice" where she had sang as part of the ballet performance choreographed by Jiří Bubeníček, principal dancer of the Semperoper Ballett, clearly now became apparent: here is a voice "diamond"beautifully harnessed over time. Who had the chance to experience, and hear her in "Pussy in Boots" earlier this year could see her amazing capability not only concerning her voice, but additionally here playing skills. Congratulations to Valda, who inspired once again, that you can, and should play roles in life you are not naturally familiar with. The outcome is amazing!!!

Karl Amadeus Hartmann was already 1934 in the first draft of this opera about the gruel times of the Thirty Year War very distinct with the persons, and it did not make it difficult "to see" Hermann Göhring moving on stage. Matthias Henneberg amazingly brought this part over, and one could see some frowning in the audience, as this connected back to a not often in this city talked about time, when innovation in arts often got diminished as "Entartete Kunst" by the governement. What that meant for Semperoper can be experienced via Verstummte Stimmen (after a presentation at Semperoper and Staatsschauspiel Dresden in the summer - this opera could spark further engagement in learning about it, and its relevance for today's art).

"Third, the artist can stimulate us to broaden our skills, our behavioral repertoy, and our flexibility of response."


The tension between the narration of a 17th century play by Grimmelshausen and the "seen" reality of the 1930's clearly shook the audience's minds, and the receptive thinking about what this opera with a music quite unfamiliar, led into some improvisation by all.

"Fourth, the role of arts and artists is to stimulate and legitimize our own aesthetic sense."


The time during this evening once again showed that "beauty" is not only what the large audience, critics, and voices define as that, "beauty" lies also in the new ways of expressing intentions as Karl Amadeus Hartmann, on the edge of the arts and living society back in the day, intended to do. The adaption to our times with still the anchor points to the past (the costumes of the 17th century, the military uniform, the haircut of the dancer) brought the memories up, even though only a few of the audience might have experienced the 30's themselves. Playing such a piece in itself is an amazing BEAUTY.

"Fifth, analysis of how the artist is trained and works can produce important insights into what is needed to perform and what it means to lead and manage."


Different to the performance on the large stage here the artists, are all part of one audience, WE. And everybody can see each other's emotions and reaction, a quite unique situation for opera singers, who normally in productions are detached more from the audience which is also sitting in a rather dark room. On Friday it was like being all together on the same blanket (or wooden piles ;-)).

My resume of the evening: STUNNING and calling for more!!!

Doing what is often done by me after such an experience to capture the assets of learning, is the Presencing Status (stating four short questions):
  • Good - an opera played in a very unfamiliar setting, creating a "cultural island", emotionally touching, and opening the heart; great debut by Valda Wilson as Simplicius expressing not just her awesome voice (BTW where does that amazing soprano spring up from? How many "Valda Wilsons" are around us, and would only need the right mentor to see the awesomeness to make them strive forward to their highest potential?) also her natural talent as an actor (via mimic and gestic alike (!)); what impresses me every and each time is how opera singers and the orchestra get accustomed to the unique closeness to the audience, they even for themselves experience encounters they often can't get on the large stage (where seeing the audience during the performance is something of impossibility;
  • Tricky - minor details as the 4 million lost souls during the 30 Year War (Dreißigjähriger Krieg, 1618-1648), and the to be further accustomed joined action of the in the audience distributed singers of the choir; my ears are still not really accustomed to German opera texts (what counts is the wholeness of the performance - and this has been exceptional in every aspect (!))
  • Learned - subtle signs such as uniform, first name made clear the connection to the 30's and the background on what the opera was intended to show and express; the Dresden audience is more flexible to adapt to new circumstances as thought (today after heading out of the introduction to 'Alcina' the newest production, an old lady (clearly in her late 70's/ early 80's told me how much she liked the performance even with the (for her for sure) shocking elements within the play connecting to the time between 1933-1945 in Dresden) - this may be even the most encouraging feedback on such productions, that fit into the row of 'Street Scene' by Kurt Weill also played on large stage; holding the tension, even when emotions seem to overwhelm you, tears are about to flow as memories come up, will emerge in the collective consciousness;
  • Action: definitely see the performance at least a second time in order to experience the development (as I always do, especially with productions, that are either catching diverse reviews or little attention in the beginning of the play); reading & writing on "cultural islands" and how an opera house like Semperoper can play a major role in providing such a space for making innovation (in the technological, and even more in the social sense (!)) possible.
Add ons/ Ergänzungen (in German):

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