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Leos Janacek - From the House of Dead (Festival Aix-en-Provence 2007)
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Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Conductor: Pierre Boulez
Arnold Schoenberg Chor
Chorus Master: Jordi Casals
Alexandr Petrovic Gorjancikov - Olaf Bär
Aljeja - Eric Stiklossa
Filka Morozov - Stefan Margita
Tall Prisoner - Peter Straka
Short Prisoner - Vladimir Chmelo
Commandant - Jiri Sulzenko
Old Prisoner - Heinz Zednik
Skuratov - John Mark Ainsley
Cekunov - Jan Galla
Drunken Prisoner - Tomas Krejcirik
The Cook - Martin Barta
The Priest - Vratislav Kriz
Young Prisoner/A Voice - Olivier Dumait
A Prostitute - Susannah Haberfeld
Don Juan/Brahmin - Ales Jenis
Kedril - Marian Pavlovic
Sapkin - Peter Hoare
Siskov - Gerd Grochowski
Cerevin - Andreas Conrad
Es geht um das Zusammenleben oder besser das Vegetieren in einem Lager, nicht nur im Gulag, sondern generell. Welche Verhaltensmuster ruft eine solches Vegetieren hervor.
Einsamkeit, Schmerz, Verlangen werden von Chereau in einer glänzenden Personenregie auf die Bühne gebracht.
Die Bühne symbolisiert das Eingesperrtsein in hohen Mauern, eng, bedrückend, perspektivlos.
Die Interaktion unter Menschen in solchen Extrembedingungen findet mit einem hervorragenden singschauspielerischen Gesamtensemble statt, dass sich in Selbstentäußerung kundtut. Hautnah, realistisch und sicher kein Genuss.
Hier wird plastisch in Bilder gesetzt was z.B. Hannah Arendt rein theoretisch in ihrem Buch " Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft" darstellt. Terror als jede Individualität tilgender Faktor. Der Mensch als Kompensations-Handlungs-Ruine, mehr nicht.
Es entsteht ein makabrer, fast irrealer Kosmos des Agierens, gestauter Emotionen, agressiven Ausagierens, verlorener Hoffnung, nostalgisch kompensatorischer Rückbetrachtung. Oper als Realbezugs-Drama in drastischer Schärfe. Ohne Kaschierung, Leiden pur.
Beeindruckend die Leistungen aller Agierenden in der Penetranz des Schrecklichen.
Es wäre unangemessen hier einzelne hervorzuheben, dieses Konzept lebt als Gesamtdokument in Bildern und Tönen.
Pierre Boulez dirigiert strukturiert, aufschlüsselnd, farbstark.
Insgesamt kein Genusstheater, wie auch bei dieser Thematik, deshalb so stark. Aber nur für Seher, die sich das "antun" wollen.
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Janacek's music is astringent, slightly dissonant but tonal and often strangely lyrical. The amazing musical renaissance of his final years, one in which he discovered his true musical voice during his sixth decade, is reminiscent of Rameau. This uniquely modern lyricism and his expert choice of material makes Janacek one of the most important opera composers of the early 20th century. If you are unfamiliar with his work, this DVD is a fine place to begin. It is a superb performance in every way. Boulez conducts the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the Arnold Schoenberg Chor with his typical steely precision. His emphasis on sonority is perfect for this opera. Voices and instruments are sharply defined, crystalline in sound but without brittleness. The conductor's musical vision is like an edifice built of soft marble: the structure is polished and solid, adamantine but pliable. The effect is both warmly human and coldly monumental. It is a fierce, incendiary performance that will leave you marveling at how much impact a 100 minute opera can provide.
In director Patrice Chereau's brilliant 2007 production, all of the singers are splendid. This is a true ensemble performance. The costumes are nothing more than the filthy rags of the gulag. It is not pretty, nor should it be. The set consists of towering gray prison walls enclosing a drab, depressing prisonyard. The angular walls suggest a massive, impersonal labyrinth. The sole symbol of hope in this sorrowful opera is a tattered wounded eagle: much like Beckett's solitary tree, with its single leaf tenuously fluttering in the breeze, in Waiting for Godot. The images are searing but disturbingly familiar, for this universe is also wounded. The random brutality we witness is life in its most basic and cruel guise. We spend all of our lives trying to keep this version of life at bay. We don't always succeed. This opera is for those times. You won't soon forget this masterful production.
The opera was filmed in July 2007 in high definition and looks splendid. Sound in PCM stereo and DTS 5.1 is crystal clear. The DVD contains a 48 minute bonus making of film as well as the 100 minute opera. There are the usual DGG menus.
One of the finest DVDs of the year, this is an exemplary performance that is most strongly recommended.
Stephane Metge has made a film using the production by Patrice Chereau and Pierre Boulez (together again 30 some years after their famous Bayreuth Ring) and what a film it is.
Boulez, almost literally seems to conjure this stunning performance from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. From its haunting, jangly opening I was brought to mind of Strauss and Prokofiev and how all three use the orchestral colors in the boldest possible - and not always most subtle ways. The score is a wonder of violence, tenderness, dreamlike and gritty realism. It is magnificent.
Metge's camera work gets right into the middle of things, roaming through Richard Peduzzi's stark mile high walls with a voyueristic violence that thrusts the viewer into the world of this terrible place. Pulling episodes from Dostoevsky's tale, Janacek's opera is virtually plotless, yet this which is not to say "nothing happens" because there is plenty to focus on, as these hapless gulag prisoners live, suffer, dance, dream and reminisce of their lives outside these walls. Note I didn't say dream "of happier times" for the stories they tell of their pre-prison lives are as terrifying and violent as the world they create for themselves within the walls.
As Alexandr, Olaf Bar's entrance is terrifying stuff, clearly a man of some means, besuited and bespectacled, the guards and inmates encircle and strip him, hurling his glasses into the courtyard. When he later emerges near the end of the act, filthy, shackled, and blindly crawling across ground, it's tough not to weep But, as in life, there are occasional acts of kindness and one such here between Alexandr and the boy prisoner Aljeja (a remarkable and heartbreaking performance by young tenor Eric Stoklossa) is sufficient to remind us these are still human beings, still part of the family of man, still "us."
John Mark Ainsley is a riveting presence throughout giving seering performance as Skuratov. Mad with grief, and imprisoned "for falling in love" - we watch his pathetic tale played out as he changes his garments, his mind seeming to hold the focus of his love story to keep him centered - but clearly not working. Mostly silent during the 3rd act, Ainsley still manages to give a tour de force performance - simultaneously chilling and touching. It is a stand out performance from an ensemble filled with amazing work.
The at the center of the second act - and perhaps the longest sequence of the opera - is a harrowing "pageant" a ballet of depraved sexuality played out by some of the prisoners for the entertainment of the rest of the gulag. The symbolic meanings of what goes on are made clear without feeling obvious. It is stunningly choreographed (as is most of the movement seen throughout) by Chereau's collaborator Theirry Thieu Niang.
Centering on the lives and stories of these men, Chereau tends to keep the spectacles down, but he cannot resist giving us several arresting coups de theatre, particularly at the end of each act. Each of these is, in their own way, visually stunning and complimentary to Janacek's amazing score.
Everything comes together perfectly, every element of the score, drama, characterizations and visual elements serves to bring this difficult work to life and when it's brief 100 minutes are over, every feeling, every emotion was felt both deep in my bones and raw on the surface.
There is a fascinating 48 minute feature on the "making of" this production which, likewise, is not to be missed.
I am thrilled that the Metropolitan Opera will be featuring this production in its 2009/10 season and wild horses won't be able to keep me from being there.