|Photo: Carl Brunn|
The father - Randall Jakobsh
The oldest sister - Pawel Lawreszuk
Ori, the second son - Hrolfur Saemundsson
The oldest daughter - Sanja Radisic
Ther second daughter - Camille Schnoor
The youngest daughter - Suzanne Jerosme
The husband of the oldest daughter - Johan Weigel
The strange woman - Marika Meoli
Conductor - Justus Thorau
Director - Ewa Teilmans
Set design - Oliver Brendel
Costumes - Andreas Becker
Lighting - Dirk Sarach-Craig
Philippe Boesmans (b.1938) was a leading light of the Belgian avante-garde and the Liege school of Henri Pousseur until in recent years he abandoned it all for New Romanticism. His latest opera, Au monde, premiered at La Monnaie in Brussels in 2015 and received its first German production in this staging by Theater Aachen, which opened last December. Based on a stage play by Joel Pommerat, who fashioned the libretto, it combines the dramatic worlds of Chekhov and Maeterlinck to depict the not exactly clear relationships within a rich industrialist’s family: we have three sisters, two brothers, a husband of one of the sisters and the ageing father, as well as an ‘unknown woman’, whose presence appears to trigger events. Shades of incest, lesbianism and abuse colour the sexual politics; some of the 20 scenes are described in the synopsis as being ‘perhaps a dream’ – the world of the Belgian Symbolists seems to be re-evoked in this modern setting. And Boesmans makes the musical link, too, by using a language that at times could have come from the pen of Debussy (the French word-setting certainly brings Pelleas to mind), coupled with a 21st-century take on the late-Romantic styles of Mahler and Strauss. It’s well crafted, as one would expect from a composer of his experience, but also felt a bit Ersatz, a bit pastiche, and has the rather stylistically incongruous Leitmotif of Sinatra’s ‘My Way’, mimed at salient points by the strange woman and voiced offstage by the father (only one character, the second son Ori, is given a name).
Ewa Teilmans’s production sleekly presents the two-hour span of the opera with only the odd brief hiatus for unaccompanied scene changes (Boesmans seems unsure whether to provide interludes or to stop and start between scenes). The basic shell of Oliver Brendel’s set doesn’t change, but apertures open, furniture appears and disappears and the distinction between reality and dream is subtly blurred. Justus Thorau conducted the score with relish, though the orchestra’s strings – apparently notated by the desk – sounded undernourished and a bit fragile at times. The cast was uniformly good, but special mention must be given to Camille Schnoor’s focused and eloquent portrayal of the second-eldest sister, the opera’s most important role, and to the superbly varnished tone of Hrolfur Saemundsson’s Ori, the character whose return from the army to take over the family business just as he goes blind precipitates the drama. There are many loose ends in the narrative, as one would expect from a story told in half-lights and half-truths, and even a second reading of the synopsis post-performance did little to help, but for all the drawbacks, it was an opera that engaged brain and heart.