Concerts & Opera

Zimmermann's masterpiece in Komische Oper Berlin



Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s “Die Soldaten”, written in 1965 is a brutal shock opera. Günter Wand and then Wolfgang Sawallisch were invited to conduct the work’s première and both turned it down as unplayable. Michael Gielen eventually took up the challenge and it was a great success, all performances were sold out. It is a disturbing work; Zimmermann was a depressive and committed suicide five years after the work’s composition. The work is now recognised as a 20th century masterpiece like "Moses and Aron”, “Lulu” and “Wozzeck”.

Komische Oper in Berlin in co-production with Zurich asked to Catalan director Calixto Bieito to put on stage the opera and he has set it in the Sixties, time of the Vietnam War and the Cold War. The entire orchestra, all dressed in combat gear, is on a spectacular yellow metal scaffolding set positioned at the back of the stage designed by talented designer Rebecca Ringst. The pit completely covered  is  the stage brought forward into the hall  so that all the major action takes place in the auditorium, almost in the lap in those unfortunate enough to have selected the front row. This had disadvantages, limiting fluidity of movement and creating an almost concert-like situation but the show is really great.

The chorus of soldiers and officers march in and out underneath the orchestra and some soloists appear on moving lifts within this metal framework, supposed to resemble a prison, or climb up tall metal ladders into the top boxes at the side of the stage. The main protagonist, Marie, superbly sung and acted by young Danish soprano Susanne Elmark, is an ordinary young woman seeking love and adventure who ends up as a prostitute for the soldiers and noblemen. At the beginning of the opera, the young innocent face of Marie, as a small child, is portrayed on three video-screens, two within the auditorium. At the beginning of the third Act, after the interval, as life deteriorates, we see a dead rat being attacked by maggots. On stage a percussion section is wheeled to the front of the stage for added effect. A jazz combo enters onto the stage and plays from time to time, for example when the soldiers throw a party. In general the opera is an assault on the senses.

Susanne Elmark was triumphant. Her facial expressions were often depicted on the video screens and she entered right into the part. Singers who particularly stood out were Martin Koch as Desportes, Noemi Nadelmann as the Countess and Christine Oertel as Stolzius’ mother. Conductor Gabriel Feltz (and a second conductor at the very front of the stage) worked hard to keep all the goings-on together and received plenty of approbation. Most sexual perversions and some torture were presented on stage as usual in Bieito's shows. Marie was in a constant state of undress, at the end she poured blood on herself and stood, Jesus-like, as though crucified at the front of the stage.

The final curtain arrived surprisingly with no booing but with an enormous success for all singers and the creative staff of this very special show.

Massimo Corsini
Berlin, 15.06.2014



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