Komische Oper, Berlin
|Tao-Jin (Erika Roos) and Tsing-Sing (Tom Erik Lie)|
Images: Thomas M Jauk
Prince Yang – Sung-Keun Park
Princess Stella – Julia Giebel
Tsing-Sing – Tom Erik Lie
Tschin-Kao – Juri Batukov
Yan-Ko – Joska Lehtinen
Pe-Ki – Annelie Sophie Müller
Tao-Jin – Erika Roos
Lo-Mangli – Violetta Madjarowa
Frank Hilbrich (director)
Volker Thiele (set designs)
Gabriele Rupprecht (costumes)
Werner Hintze (dramaturgy)
Franck Evin (lighting)
Chorus of the Komische Oper, Berlin (chorus master: André Kellinghaus)
Orchestra of the Komische Oper, Berlin
Maurizio Barbacini (conductor)
Daniel-François-Esprit Auber stands as one of the composers chosen by the Paris Opéra to garner the façade of the Palais Garnier. Yet, if not quite forgotten, he remains for the most part a composer to be found in the history books rather than upon the stage. We read of La Muette de Portici both as the first grand opéra and as the work associated with the Belgian Revolution of 1830, though rarely if ever we do hear it. Nevertheless, we hear a reference – conscious or otherwise, and I tend to think that it must have been the former – in one of the most celebrated and widely-esteemed of all nineteenth-century operas, about which more below. Likewise, we read of Gustave III, if only because its ball scene had about three hundred people on stage, a hundred or so of them participating in the ‘Galop’. Occasionally we hear the odd overture or aria, but it is a rare thing, for which gratitude must certainly be accorded the Komische Oper, to hear one of Auber’s stage works in full and to see it staged. Were the composer’s contemporary detractors right? They are certainly an impressive bunch, including Schumann, Mendelssohn, and the greatest French composer of the century, Berlioz.
Yet, throughout his life, Wagner esteemed Auber highly; indeed, Cosima records in her diary, the following comment, quite a compliment when one considers what the Master would say about most of his contemporaries: ‘A heartless fellow, Auber, but a genius.’ In Mein Leben, he recalls assuring ‘M. Auber, whom I used to meet regularly at the Café Tortoni in Paris to eat ice-cream, that, under my baton, the chorus of the mutinous soldiers hatching their conspiracy in his Lestocq had been sung by a full military company, for which he thanked me in astonished delight.’ Moreover, turn to that opera I mentioned earlier, Götterdämmerung, specifically to the theme with which Gutrune rejoins Siegfried in the second act; it is identical to a theme accompanying the bridal procession in La Muette de Portici, generally considered the first grand opera. Gutrune is, in Wagner’s characterisation from Opera and Drama, the personification of French opera, ‘a coquette’; when she sings ‘May Freia greet you [Siegfried] in honour of all women,’ the equivalent line in Auber’s chorus is: ‘Deign to hear our prayer and bless, bless, this happy couple.’ As I said, the reminiscence is at the very least akin to conscious quotation.
|Pe-Ki (Annelie Sophie Müller) and Tsing-Sing |
Save for one relatively attractive number (perhaps more ‘French’-sounding than the rest) in the third act – perhaps, by then, I really was clutching at straws – I found Auber’s music inoffensive but quite without character. Coloratura writing at least offers something for admirers of such things; I should be tempted to describe it as dramatically unmotivated, but cannot imagine what ‘dramatically motivated’ would mean in such a context. Almost every other number – I exaggerate only slightly – sounds like an act finale, though of course it is not (more is the pity).
|Stella (Julia Giebel) and some Venusians|
Frank Hilbrich, who admits in the programme that he did not know the opera before being approached by the Komische Oper to direct it, presents a staging rather in the house style. There is quite a bit of ‘German humour’, involving throwing bananas, strange ‘nude’ costumes, a host of gorillas and a couple of pandas. Costumes are a mix of ‘Chinese’ and ‘modern’, likewise the sets. As if to make up for lost time, the final minute of the production allows a good number of people to shed some of their clothes and briefly, briskly to copulate. But the reader should neither salivate nor frown, for this is not Calixto Bieito; it is arguably a little more entertaining than the opera itself.