Frankenstein’s creature at the foot of the Salzburg Fortress

Frankenstein’s creature at the foot of the Salzburg Fortress

The Schauspielhaus, which overlooks the back of the Feste Salzburg, can almost be described as an insider tip. Although it is the largest independent theatre with a fixed ensemble, it surprisingly does not really get much attention beyond the region. Wrongly so. Because it offers a great variety of productions with currently 10 premieres per season. The second production this season, “Frankenstein”, is the responsibility of Jérôme Junod, the current theatre director and head dramaturge. He made his debut at the theatre last year with “King Arthur”, his own new version of the historical material. Due to a lockdown, this remarkable production was unfortunately only performed a few times. Now he has written his own stage version of Mary Shelley’s play, which was written in 1816, and given it a very special, novel drive.

The story can be imagined metaphorically like a Russian matryoshka doll – as a play, in a play, in a play. One after the other, different narrative strands develop, starting and ending with Roberta Walton. This one – richly endowed with male dominance – is an adventurer of the purest water who wants to reach the North Pole with a small crew on her own ship. Petra Staduan embodies not only this female free spirit, but just as magnificently the condemned Justine in the penitential lift, as well as the rebellious Agatha, who denounces the inequality between rich and poor. As Walton, she is almost constantly present on stage and listens to the stories of the young Victor Frankenstein.

The latter, rescued by her from the Nordic ice hell, tells her about his youth and study years at the university in Ingolstadt under the dominance of two cranky professors. These supported him to the point of absolute self-sacrifice in his endeavour to turn dead matter into living matter and create an artificial human being. Antony Connor and Olaf Salzer have the laughs on their side in these delightfully created roles. They also prove their comedic talent as sailors and switch just as skilfully to the serious characters of Frankenstein’s father and a blind revolutionary.

Wolfgang Kandler embodies the inquisitive young scientist who soon has to realise what misfortune he has brought upon his and his family’s lives with the creation of his “creature”. Magdalena Oettl in the role of Elisabeth, his fiancée, also frames the narrative as a new character introduced by Junod, Margaret Saville, a society columnist who is allowed to experience an amazing character development. Paul Andre Worms’s main character, Henry, childhood friend of Victor Frankenstein, is his complete opposite not only in terms of character structure but also visually. Cheerful and fun-loving, helpful and open, he is nevertheless murdered by Frankenstein’s monster out of a thirst for revenge.

Except for the very last scene, the latter appears in black, tight-fitting trousers with a large, black hooded jumper in such a way that one can hardly make out his face. (Costumes Antoaneta Stereva) Hussan Nimr, as Frankenstein’s creature, is permanently in motion, with a dark, threatening voice, and makes his unnatural origins clear through his animal-like movements. He makes off on all fours, he climbs nimbly onto scaffolding and usually stands with his head bowed while he tries to tell his story. It is the ambivalence of this character and, above all, the recognition of why he himself has become a monster, which is very touching and gives the story in the Schauspielhaus in Salzburg its very own colouring. Bernhard Eder provides live musical accompaniment to the action, both vocally and on electric guitar and electronics, thus lending it additional emotional moments.

Junod’s interpretation of “Frankenstein” does not rely on horror effects and the generation of goose bumps in the first place. Instead, it impresses with a finely crafted psychogram of an outsider whose greatest shortcoming is his loneliness, which he tries to sublimate through feelings of revenge and thus becomes a mass murderer. A successful evening of theatre in an autumn in which world history is unfortunately teeming with monsters.

This article was automatically translated with deepl.com

Why is this Shakespeare so unknown?

Why is this Shakespeare so unknown?

When the name Shakespeare comes to mind, most of us probably think of the royal dramas such as Lear, Macbeth or Hamlet. But to find someone who has seen Coriolanus, you have to search a long time. The theatre company “wortwiege” has just remedied this with its festival “Europa in Szene”. The theatre maker and professor of directing at the Max Reinhardt Seminar, Anna Maria Krassnigg, invited two former students of her directing class to the current festival edition to show their final projects. Azelia Opak dug deep into her research and, with an ensemble of young but already established actors and two members of the “wortwiege”, presents the rise and fall of the Roman patrician Coriolanus. It is the last Shakespeare work and is generally considered mature. Its varying interpretive authority may perhaps be to blame for the fact that it is not often performed.

Coriolanus (Photo: Julia Kampichler)

Coriolanus, drilled for battle from childhood, applies for the office of Roman consul, pushed by his mother. He has sufficiently earned the merits for it; he could show more than 20 scars to the people, as was customary before taking office, in order to prove himself loyal to Rome. He could – if it were not for his indomitable pride. It is this pride that finally brings him down. A few centuries after Shakespeare, there will be a second character called Michael Kohlhaas who will be just as unbending as Coriolanus, even if the motive is different.

But until that happens, Opak shows Shakespeare’s characters in all their psychological differentiation: Coriolanus (Lukas Haas), the indomitable one, who for once does not remain true to his principles, but otherwise can be considered a stubborn man par excellance. It’s great how Haas can talk himself into a fury that is almost frightening. His mother Volumnia (Judith Richter), who, like today’s sports mothers, demands everything from her son in order to be able to bask in his glory. Menenius Agrippa (Jens Ole Schmieder), a member of the elite caste, who supports Coriolanus with well-meaning advice so as not to endanger his own position. Tullus Aufidius (Philipp Dornauer), Coriolanus’ multiple loser in battle, is just waiting to take revenge at the right moment. Despite his youth, Dornauer mimes a hot-blooded fighter, but puts a large portion of thoughtfulness before each of his actions. Junius Brutus (Paul Hüttinger), one of the first tribunes of the people, quickly learned how political intrigues work. Although his external attributes, such as a thick silver chain around his neck, indicate his closeness to the people, Hüttinger nevertheless imbues his tribune with a great deal of deviousness and cunning. Finally, Sicinius Velutus (Uwe Reichwaldt), second tribune of the people, who, in Opak’s direction, muddles his way through all dangerous situations like an Austrian civil servant-Slavin and has the audience’s sympathy on his side.

An extremely clever stage design (Felix Huber) separates the long stage space. A round revolving door – the front in gleaming gold, the back painted pitch black – indicates whether the action is taking place in Rome or with Rome’s enemy, the Volsces. After the last battle won, Coriolanus smears blood with his own hands on the large mirror in the stage apse, making it clear that his battles have cost more than just one human life.

The idea of accompanying the production with live music is not only great, but also makes dramaturgical sense. Boglarka Bako and Marie Schmidt repeatedly intonate Beethoven’s Coriolanus motif with slight variations on their string instruments. This also underlines those moments in which the patrician sees himself completely in his element as a popular leader and aristocratic ruler who takes the right to make his decisions without the people, whom he actually considers annoying and dispensable. The two musicians sit left and right at the back of the stage in such a way that they can be seen but do not disturb the play on the limited stage.

The production not only lives from the fact that it shows different views of a successful state and their respective representatives. The production also lives from strong, emotional moments, such as the one in which Coriolan’s mother throws herself on her knees before him and begs him for mercy for Rome. The way she clings to him shortly afterwards clearly shows the fateful connection between her and her son. Judith Richter remains indelibly in memory with this scene. But Jens Ole Schmieder also succeeds in showing what high acting is in an almost wordless performance. The way he pushes the tribunes to the side of the stage with short, disparaging snaps and doesn’t let them take their seats in the middle gets under your skin and makes him deeply despicable at this moment.

Who is good here and who is evil here is ultimately not really discernible. As in real life, there is no real black and no real white in this play. What remains is the realisation that politics used to be made by people, just as it is today. By people who, on the one hand, are where they are by virtue of their own will and, on the other hand, have conquered a place for themselves thanks to family or political networks, for which they are prepared to make personal sacrifices, but also to go over dead bodies.

The fact that the play seems to be made for the casemates in Wiener Neustadt is another plus point of the production. The other performances are framed by salon talks, but also a new format. With “speeches”, speeches by famous people are reenacted, which one usually only knows from hearsay. Another great artistic idea that illuminates the large field of “power”, which is ultimately the subject of “Szene Europa” in the casemates of Wiener Neustadt, from a different angle.

This article was translated with deepl.com

When the risotto starts to smell

When the risotto starts to smell

The ‘Musiktheatertage Wien’ programme by Thomas Cornelius Desi and Georg Steker offers the audience an almost breathtaking range of different performances. This is shown alone by the two thematically diametrically opposed productions “Chornobyldorf” and ‘European Kitchen Encounters: VR-Bania’.

This ‘virtual reality project with taste’, as the subtitle says, comes from Austrian director Carmen C. Kruse and Italian composer Manuel Zwerger. They travelled to the Italian town of Verbania on Lake Maggiore and interviewed different residents on the subject of food. The interviews were edited into small sequences that could be seen with the VR glasses just like the preparation of a risotto – to be precise, a “risotto giallo con salciccia”, cooked by the performer Anna Piroli. She was supported by Leo Morello with a fine soundscape in which one could hear the scraping of the knife on the wooden board just as alienated as the rhythmic trickling of the rice grains into the pot. Snarling, vibrating, tapping, he supported Piroli with all kinds of percussion instruments, just as silent film music was made in the old days. The only difference was that the auditory repertoire was much more contemporary.

VR-Bania (Photo: Nick-Mangafas)

The audience was invited to follow the cooking procedure as well as the interviews with movements on the swivel chairs on which they had been placed. The highlight of the performance, however, was that while the videos were being played in the kitchenette of the WUK behind the audience, this dish was actually being prepared, and thus the olfactory events merged with the videographed ones to form a live experience.

VR-Bania (Photo: Nick-Mangafas)

The subsequent dinner with the director and the composer provided an opportunity to talk not only about what had been seen, but also about what had gone before. This part in particular should be emphasised, because it is the experience of togetherness that one cannot feel while wearing the VR glasses that gave the performance its real spice. It is what audiences need now more than ever when they are exposed to theatre experiences. Videos, feature films or recorded plays can be watched post Corona in droves in front of the video screen at home. The conversation with people you don’t know, but who at least have a common denominator – the desire for theatre – this conversation and this exchange cannot be replaced, but should be intensified – as exemplified in this production.

This article was automatically translated with deepl.com

Chornobyldorf – a look back and one forward

Chornobyldorf – a look back and one forward

In the darkness of the hall, a man’s voice becomes audible. It tells of how what is being spoken is actually the end of a letter; a letter that was never sent, but will nevertheless be written one day. Shortly afterwards, his voice is visually accompanied by a woman whose portrait appears on a video. While the man speaks and recites a long poem in Ukrainian, she begins to express herself with onomatopoeic sounds in an unknown artificial language. Although – if you don’t speak Ukrainian – you can neither follow the content of the man’s voice nor know exactly what the woman wants to say, you get a feeling that what is being conveyed here results from experiences that are painful.

In fact, the title “Chornobyldorf. Archeological opera” is already a hint that one reference of this new opera is the tragedy of Chernobyl. The combination with the noun affix ‘dorf’ came about because the ensemble visited Zwentendorf and its surroundings at the beginning of the work. The nuclear power plant in Austria, which never went into operation, and the one in Ukraine, whose construction began in 1970, before the country’s independence, prompted the Ukrainian cultural creators to come up with the idea of a global view of the subject of nuclear power plants and their dystopian effects; regardless of where these reactors are located, they pose a cross-border threat to humanity.

The opera is set between the 23rd – 27th centuries, in a time when we have long been history and will be gone. It is based on the assumption of a world-spanning catastrophe in which the survivors must once again become aware of their identity. In a future in which new rituals are created and yet everything that happens interpersonally in societies consciously or unconsciously draws on historical models.

The seven chapters, which merge into one another without a break but still recognisably, bear the headings: Elektra, Dramma per musica, Rhea, The little Akkorden girl, Messe de Chornobyldorf, Orfeo ed Euridice and Saturnalia. In this way, the two composers Roman Grygoriv and Illia Razumeiko on the one hand take up great Greek myths, which became the primary breeding ground of European art production. On the other hand, they refer directly to Slavic musical traditions. This artistic interlocking, in which different musical stylistic means are used, makes one thing clear: the people who are on stage here and all those who worked on this opera see themselves as deeply belonging to Europe. The current discussion about admitting Ukraine to the EU is legitimised in a quasi cultural-historical way in the historical references that are made here. But what makes Europe, the individuality of the countries and their different ethnic groups, is also vehemently expressed. Again and again, historical musical quotations – transformed into modern sound images – are replaced by Bosnian-Herzegovinian and Ukrainian folk tunes. Lamentations as well as wedding songs are sung in their typical melodic line. Unison lines separate into a briefly audible microtonality that is centuries old and yet sounds new and fresh. Seconds detaching themselves from it, already almost purely felt, as well as subsequent seventh leaps intensify the emotionally painful expression. Mahlerian chord progressions, sung chorally, and a fugue by Bach that seems to go out of control, lay a music-historical trace in that core of Europe that literally set the tone from the Baroque to the last century.

All this is met by a wealth of new sound material: weird string sounds, the most diverse, sometimes strongly accentuated rhythms, played on a percussion construct assembled from various found objects (Evhen Bal), as well as electronic additions that make wind atmospheres or a threatening, indefinable drone audible.

Chornobyl Village (Photo: Anastasiia Yakovenko eSel)

A rapid succession of images, supported by video inserts showing fragile human figures in Ukrainian landscapes, frequent changes of persons and costumes as well as the creation of emotional alternating baths, create an abundance of theatrical events that wash over you like a tsunami. At the same time, one is drawn into the sometimes somnambulistic events in such a way that it is difficult to put one’s cognitive abilities above one’s own strong feelings.

The almost surreal, yet at the same time highly romantic “coronation” of a young accordionist, supported by a video feed that expands the space, is replaced by religious sounds and images. A fitting Agnus Dei, sung in a classical-harmonic structure, is interrupted by a similar, but explosively punk-like one. Shockingly, one finds oneself in the here and now, in a state in which romanticism no longer finds a place. Euridice’s entombment, the lament of her Orpheus, is realised in a visually powerful choreography in which the nakedness of the participants particularly emphasises their fragility and need for protection. The finale is a saturnal orgy around a cardboard portrait of Lenin turned upside down.  Everything that has previously accumulated in inexpressible feelings and suffering, everything that is difficult to talk about, dissolves in this wild, exuberant scene in which one would like to dance along oneself. The fact that the end with its wind noise is reminiscent of the beginning of the production may well symbolise an eternal cycle. A cycle in which the existentially human is ultimately lived over and over again, but is also reinvented, indeed must be reinvented. When nothing is the way it used to be, then one has to fall back on what lies dormant deep within the human being, but also what distinguishes him as a living being on earth. He is a being that is constantly reforming and adapting and yet still carries within him his supposedly cut roots.

None of the artists would have dreamed, when the opera was created, that so much of what is shown in it would be given a topical reference. The horrors of war and the suffering that is currently taking place in Ukraine resonate strongly in the reception at the moment. The threat to the earth posed by technological progress, hybrid forms of human beings practising artistic genres that can nevertheless never be animated by them, this too is contained in “Chornobyldorf”. It is to be hoped that the opera, after its premiere in Rotterdam and the second station in the WUK in Vienna, on the occasion of the ‘Musiktheatertage Wien’, may experience many more stations. And it is to be hoped that the ensemble will receive the message from the audience that a work like this, especially in difficult times, is one that is needed, and even more: that it also contributes to survival. In view of the brutality of the events, one singer said during the audience discussion that she was no longer convinced that theatre could achieve anything. The experience of violence, which suppresses everything, is too diametrically opposed to this idea.

May the statement “vita brevis, ars longa” give her and the ensemble a small shift. May it offer them a glimmer of hope that art outlasts life and thus also this, their production. It will be available to later generations one day – in whatever way – and offer a glimpse into that current present which is so hard to bear for the Ukrainian population, but also for all the other, suffering participants.

This article was automatically translated with deepl.com

You can find all kinds of things in a landfill site

You can find all kinds of things in a landfill site

If you have ever wondered who the narrator is who constantly looks over the shoulder of the anti-hero Brenner in Wolf Haas’ crime novels, you should attend a reading by the author himself.

In Graz, the venue for such a reading was moved at short notice from the casemates on the Schlossberg to the Orpheum. The venue on the Schlossberg was difficult to reach by cogwheel railway due to maintenance work. Despite the fading, extended weekend and the heat that had just set in, the hall in the Orpheum was not badly filled. While readings usually take place in bookshops, someone like Wolf Haas actually fills larger halls. On the one hand he has a loyal reading community, on the other hand many know him because of the film adaptations of some of his books. In it, Josef Hader plays Inspector Brenner, who soon leaves the police force and then has to solve many a case on his own.

On the one hand, it is this special character that fascinates the reading public. This grumpy, solitary and at the same time lovable man slips into criminal cases against his will and without doing anything.

In the process, he – like the majority of the audience – has to deal with everyday adversities, which he tries to avoid in a highly unconventional way. On the other hand, it is also the easy-going language that appeals to many. Despite this lightness, profound world problems are discussed en passant, as if they were marginalia. This special mixture guarantees great reading pleasure.

His new novel “Müll”, from which Haas read in Graz, also contains all these factors. He not only lent his voice to the narrator, but one could get the impression that the narrator is a kind of alter ego of Wolf Haas. However, with the paradox that this alter-ego, were it to be brought to life, would not have much in common with the writer himself. For Haas leaves the impression on stage of a calm, level-headed and intellectual person with a high capacity for linguistic expression. His narrator, on the other hand, speaks with umpteen repetitive standing sentences like “You don’t believe that”, “Don’t ask” or “You mustn’t forget one thing” and loves to make comments in sentences without verbs. In “Rubbish”, this slang adapts like a second skin to the characters in it: They are so-called “Mistler” of a Viennese rubbish dump who find a dismembered corpse in their rubbish tubs. There is a reason why Simon Brenner is among them. He works there himself and considers his job to be the best he has ever had. Whether Udo or Mr Nowak, whether the young intern or Brenner himself – Haas succeeds in creating wonderful character studies of men who, as permanent employees of the City of Vienna, know a lot of bosses about them. Nevertheless, they are proud rulers in their working environment, deciding who may or may not deposit manure for free. They keep a watchful eye on the correct placement of waste in the tubs provided for this purpose and that a little tip usually leads to special helpfulness – who is not familiar with this procedure in Austria?

Brenner lives in a chic flat high above the rooftops of the city – but only as a “bed-walker”. As such, he uses empty flats to spend the night, with the noble aim of leaving no trace.

The great art of Wolf Haas is the interlocking of socially relevant themes with a crime story in a language that – although artful – comes across as loose and fluffy, as if he had picked up and written down every sentence in beer-swilling inns or at tent festivals. Whether it’s the rubbish problem or the organ mafia, whether it’s relationship stress or bourgeois ways of life, there seems to be nothing that Haas can’t deal with profoundly and humorously at the same time. At the same time, the tragic story of a man whose body parts ended up in a landfill is served up in easily digestible morsels.

As a surplus, Haas offered the audience of his reading a highly amusing story about the difficulties of translating his texts into Japanese. In “Müll”, translation heads will start to smoke at the latest at the point where “Spuckerl” is the name of a small cleaning trolley that Brenner puts into operation – clearly unauthorised. The scene in which he involuntarily cleans the shoes of hundreds of passers-by in Vienna due to a defect in the vehicle’s spraying system, which cannot be switched off, is not only one of the most humorous in the book. It also shows Haas’s literary skill in making a complete film scene play out in the reader’s mind with just a few sentences.

Conclusion: Readings by Wolf Haas are worthwhile. Reading his books anyway.

This text was translated automatically with deepl.com.
 

Only stagnation means freedom

Only stagnation means freedom

Imagine your radius of experience is limited to four walls and you don’t mind at all, you even find it comfortable. Imagine you have your own assistant who takes care of everything for you. Call her Isadora and talk to her like your best friend. Imagine that everything is so conveniently arranged for you that you can even receive friends at the virtual lunch table. Imagine you are completely independent of the outside world and happy as can be – only you never go outside because you are afraid of it.

This is exactly the setting Caroline Peters offered with the Ledwald group in the play “Die Maschine steht nicht still”. The production is a paraphrase of a text by E.M. Forster’s “The machine stops” from 1909 and was created as a reaction to the pandemic in which most of us became much more dependent on computers and the internet.

Amazing visuals by Eric Dunlap, a permanent live camera guide by Andrea Gabriel (also responsible for recorded videos) and a perfectly coordinated light and sound design by Lars Deutrich add an electronic layer to the performance that is not only absolutely zeitgeisty, but also makes sense here. The text, adapted by Caroline Peters, tells of a woman who receives a call from her father one day. Like her, he lives 2.5 km away from her in a setting like the one described above, wants to tell her something and asks her to take to the road and come to him not just virtually but in the flesh.


This initial situation puts his daughter in a quandary, as she is supposed to leave her protective environment against all orders and go into a terrain of which she has no idea what awaits her there. Mindcontrol has progressed so far that any experiment outside of one’s own four walls no longer seems desirable and the maxim applies: standstill is progress and what I don’t try can’t go wrong. Towards the end, however, the daughter actually succeeds in freeing herself from her monitoring companion Isadora, who immediately invites comparison with Alexa, Siri or other currently active electronic helpers. In addition to the description of everyday life, which Peters renders with high acting skill, whether it is a cooking recipe she wants Isadora to implement, taking voice calls or watching video lectures, she is fascinating in multiple roles in the scene at the table with her invited friends. They have all been recorded by her beforehand and, at the push of a button, gather around the laid table in virtual space to – as is familiar from real life – show off, look frightened, be amazed or be admired, just like the respective characters.

Lars Deutrich on the electronic sound machine and Andrea Gabriel in the role of the mute Isadora, who captures everything with her live camera and also saves it, are permanently present on stage. Both Peters and Gabriel wear poison-green costumes with a spider pattern – a symbol of imprisonment in the web, which is nevertheless perceived as chic and essential. (Costumes Flora Miranda) It is not only the illusionistic setting that impresses, but also the text, which has a whole series of dazzling sentence pearls such as: “Since the pandemic, we know that viruses and technology grow exponentially”, “Knowledge is a kind of fiction”, “Deep Intelligence is also just another kind of cheating” or “To time its loop, to the loop its freedom” – a rewrite of the Hevesi slogan emblazoned over the Vienna Secession. These are just a few, few statements that one would like to read at home because of the further abundance of philosophical ideas, bon mots and visions of the future.

The clever, open ending leaves a taste of relief and fear at the same time and in no way glosses over the digital future we already find ourselves in.

This article is automatically translated with deepl.com
 

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