Under the title of LoveAffairs, the Tischlerei of Deutsche Oper Berlin was the scene for four new productions (Nachtigall, Musical Land, Querelle and Fall, presented by eleven scholarship holders from Deutsche Bank’s “Academy of Contemporary Music Theatre” in the disciplines of composition, direction, dramaturgy, set design and cultural management. Since 2012, the Tischlerei (carpenters’ workshop) has served as a second performance space for the main house.

As soon as the audience arrives, we hear piano music in the background and see the singer Gideon Poppe and two dancers in the middle of the stage area, as well as the orchestra on the platform. We can make ourselves comfortable on cushions, stools or folding chairs. Everything feels like we’re on standby for the performance, which was spectacular from the very first glimpse. The piano music gave way seamlessly to the first production Nachtigall, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s fairytale The Nightingale and the Rose. Composer Birke J. Bertelsmeier and librettist/director Nina Dudek develop the ideas of love which are the dreams of the Nightingale in Wilde’s original, and turn them into a musical mono drama.

In contrast to the nightingale’s serious question “What is Love?”, the following piece, Dariusz Przybylski’s Musical Land, makes a playful impression, with fantastical stories invented by the librettists (Amy Stebbins and Felix Seiler). They use this to ask an altogether different question: what might be the future of the musical? Characters from musicals such as Maria from The Sound of Music, Annie and Evita Perón are portrayed by Alexandra Hutton, Christina Sidak and Laila Salome Fisher, singing both in operatic and Broadway musical styles, applying irony and humour appropriately to each setting. To that question thrown into the pot at the beginning, Musical Land has a short, brutal answer: the arrival of atonality and twelve-tone music is the death of musicals! At the end, Arnold Schoenberg murders everyone on the stage.

Next up was Bertelsmeier’s opera Querelle, based on a Jean Genet novel which deals in both heterosexuality and homosexuality, drug dealing and murder; the opera gives this dramatic novel a new staging. Whereas Lysiane is the only female character in Genet’s original, Bertelsmeier composes for a female chorus. In contrast to Lysiane’s stately appearance, the other singers wear jockstraps to represent male genitals. From there, neither men nor women can be recognized, and ultimately they can be described as people who have been liberated from their sexual identity, people who can live with love independent of gender. Together with this opera piece went a musical presentation of various layers of time. Aside from this, everything one could see on the stage was synchronised with various videos projected onto a pair of screens, overlaid with both live and recorded music. The singers onstage reflected the actions on screen, thus blurring the present and the past. The complexity of this experimental treatment of time caps the achievement of these young dramatists.

The scholarship holders completed LoveAffairs with Przybylski’s Fall, which is concerned with randomness and the effect of chance in love. The work’s genre is memorably described as being “chance opera”, since throughout the production, the sequence of the music, for orchestra, children’s choir and two singers is specified by the output of a random number generator. At the beginning and end, the music will be the same for every performance, but in the middle section, although the same stopwatch runs, each performance is different, this one-off nature of the music being deliberate and significant. The duties are shared between three conductors for each of three groups of musicians, who are required to blend three different tempi into a single unit. Although the three ensembles are playing independently of each other, they achieved music that was in harmony at all times.

A small chamber ensemble, assembled from members of the Deutsche Oper Orchestra and conducted by Martin Nagashima Toft, accompanied all four of these contemporary opera pieces. Although musicians weren’t always able to cope with the solistic demands the score made on them, the ensemble as a whole played outstandingly in each of the different styles. In these four pieces, the original ideas of eleven young artists were truly fused into one. It was an intense and groundbreaking evening of music theatre, which left a lasting impression of a new future for the genre.

Translated from German by David Karlin