Friday, 27 March 2015

Le grand macabre – Aalto Theater, Essen – 18 March 2015

Nekrotzar (Heiko Trinsiger) summons Piet the Pot (Rainer Maria Röhr)

Photos: Matthias Jung

Nekrotzar – Heiko Trinsiger
Piet the Pot – Rainer Maria Röhr
Astrodamors – Tijl Faveyts
Mescalina – Ursula Hesse von den Steinen
Gepopo/Venus – Susanne Elmark
Prince Go-Go – Jake Arditti
White Minster – Jeffrey Dowd
Black Minister – Karel Ludvik
Amanda – Elizabeth Cragg
Amando – Karin Strobos
Ruffiack – Mateusz Kabala
Schobiack – Swen Westfeld
Schabernack – Michael Haag

Opera Chorus & Statisterie of the Aalto Theater
Essen Philharmonic (Essener Philharmoniker)

Conductor – Dima Slobodeniouk
Director – Mariame Clément
Designer – Julia Hansen
Video – fettFilm
Dramaturge – Janina Zell

Amando (Karin Strobos) and Amanda (Elizabeth Cragg)
György Ligeti’s magnum opus about the end of the world is a gift to the imaginative director. And Mariame Clément hasn’t held back in her new staging for the Aalto Theater in Essen. It is relatively sparing in scenery – certainly compared to the striking giant human figure that dominated the much-travelled La Fura dels Baus version – but crammed full with visual jokes, often of a deliberately puerile phallic nature, and clever characterisation. The evening begins with Piet the Pot emerging from the seat in the stalls he had rather obviously been occupying – can of beer in hand – since the audience had begun assembling, and a tail-suited Nekrotzar rises from the orchestra pit into the auditorium as a supposed ‘conductor’ of the events that are to follow.

Octavian and Sophie (Amando and Amanda) then take the stage and to his lover’s delight, the young knight of the rose whips out his erection, taking the concept of the trouser role to new extremes as the two head off to ride out the unsuspected apocalypse in the ‘Orchester-graben’. Piet is a computer nerd – complete with long greasy hair and a workstation surrounded by the remnants of lonely takeaways – who is summoned by Nekrotzar to play his new online game, ‘Le grand macabre’. Their internet messaging and Piet’s subsequent choosing of his gaming characters and weapons is projected on to a screen suspended above his desk, as those props materialise into the setting for Astrodamors and Mescalina’s den of sado-masochism. When Mescalina conjurs up Venus, the goddess rises on Botticelli’s shell but is obviously on a physical downer given her wrinkly body-stocking and droopy boobs.

Prince Go-Go is the incumbent of the Oval Office, where the White and Black Ministers bicker violently (the Black Minister is a Thatcher-like drag gorgon), and his chief of the secret police, Gopopo, is an android-like robot (cue more priapic jokes with the Statue of Liberty’s torch). Despite the stage directions, we see nothing of the imminent comet, but the music and the visuals take over for the big event, and as if to prove nothing happened after all, we are faced with a proscenium-sized blow-up of a Breughel painting which gradually comes alive with the opera’s characters taking the place of the painter’s originals. Finally, Clément recognises the profundity in the closing scene where a new Adam and Eve rise to suggest a new, possibly less debauched future.

The Essen cast and orchestra did Ligeti’s opera proud, from Heiko Trinsiger’s mesmerising, black-voiced Nekrotzar to Jake Arditti’s playful countertenor Go-Go and Susanne Elmark’s stratospheric Gopopo, if the latter didn’t perhaps reach Barbara Hannigan’s extremes of expression in her famous Mysteries of the Macabre performances. Rainer Maria Röhr was a likeably roguish Piet and Tijl Faveyts a suitably downtrodden Astrodamors, and all the smaller roles were taken with distinction. The players, from car-hornists to the solo instrumentalists who invaded the auditorium during Nekrotzar’s summoning of the apocalypse (an end he becomes too drunk to see through), together brought out all the sonic marvels of Ligeti’s writing under the firm but flexible handling of conductor Dima Slobodeniouk.

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