Commanding the largest opera house in Berlin, Deutsche Oper has programmed a widely spanning spectrum of 36 operas in its 2017-18 season. For those in the mood for discovery, the six new productions in the mainstage lineup themselves vary greatly, underscoring a protean outlook on the scope of this art form.
The unveiling of Reimann's L’Invisible in October is certain to be a major highlight. Based on a trio of short plays by the Symbolist poet/playwright Maurice Maeterlinck – also the source for Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande – L’Invisible is the distinguished 81-year-old composer’s ninth opera and marks his return to Deutsche Oper, which commissioned four of his previous operas – the last of which was his remarkable adaptation of Kafka's The Castle (in 1992).
Reimann, a native of Berlin, based his trilogie lyrique on Maeterlinck's plays The Intruder, Interior, and Tintagile’s Death, setting the opera in the original French of his source material. The company describes the three plays that are linked together as "variations on the themes of the inescapable fact of death and people’s helplessness when faced with it." The production unites General Music Director Donald Runnicles and the hotshot young Russian stage director Vasily Barkhatov, who interned at the Komische Oper and makes his company debut.
Likewise making his Berlin debut is the celebrated French stage director Olivier Py, who contributes his vision to Deutsche Oper's ongoing Meyerbeer cycle with Le prophète, a mega-hit in Paris in the mid-19th century that defined the spectacular style of French grand opera but has since become a rarity. Its story of the abuse of religion, climaxing in the anti-hero's decision to participate in a suicide attack, has chilling relevance for today. The cycle, which began in 2014, continued this past season with the staging of another all-too-à propos Meyerbeer work, Les Huguenots, a tragic story of religious persecution. Our critic praised that production for its "genuine tragic heroism and pathos," whilst Py's staging of the same opera in 2011 earned Opernwelt's "Performance of the Year" Award.
Taking on Meyerbeer's fiendish bel canto demands are the tenor Dmitry Korchak and the mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine as the titular Jean de Leyde and Fidès, respectively – one of the most intriguing mother-son relationships in opera. Enrique Mazzola, who has proved his expertise in this style of French grand opera in DO's previous installments of its Meyerbeer cycle, is the conductor.
If the apocalyptic climax sounds downright Wagnerian, that's because Wagner was indeed a keenly envious observer of Meyerbeer's enormous success – and spitefully denounced the him, even as he borrowed a few ideas from the older master. Having presented the final rounds of its legendary Götz Friedrich Ring at the end of the current season – with a brand-new staging by the ever-controversial Stefan Herheim on the horizon to replace it – Deutsche Oper casts its gaze back to the three canonical Wagner operas pre-dating the Ring: The Flying Dutchman (a revival of the 2016-17 season's new production by Christian Spuck), Tannhäuser (in Kristen Harms' production), and Kaspar Holten's Lohengrin – all of which will be conducted for at least part of their runs, as was the Ring, by Runnicles, who remains among the most passionate Wagnerian conductors at work today.
Two of the new productions cast a fresh look at extremely familiar classics. Have you seen your fill of Carmens? You might be surprised by elements of the story underscored in Ole Anders Tandberg's new staging, which presses its harsh realism in lieu of stereotyped "local colour." The Norwegian director's harrowing account of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mstensk will also be revived. Company favourite Clémentine Margaine returns as Bizet's matchless heroine, with Charles Castronovo as the love-stricken Don José and Ivan Repušić, General Music Director of Staatsoper Hannover, in the pit.
Rolando Villazón meanwhile puts on his director's hat for a new production of Die Fledermaus that promises a cathartic dose of the absurd, with Runnicles addressing the sparkle and wit of Johann Strauss Jr's score.
Bel canto is also one of the themes underlying DO's season. Rossini fans will rejoice in a new complete staging of Il viaggio a Reims – still recalled by veterans from Claudio Abbado's semi-staged account in 1992 in the Berlin Philharmonie. The sought-after director Jan Bosse leads this ensemble-rich opera, with a luxury cast including ten bona finde Rossini specialists and conductor Giacomo Sagripanti to elicit Rossinian panache from the orchestra.
From the repertoire items, DO brings back Katharina Thalbach's Il barbiere di Siviglia, and Pretty Yende will bring the sad and madly beautiful heroine to life in Lucia di Lammermoor. DO has additionally programmed a pair of concert performances of Maria Stuarda starring that incomparable Donizettian, Diana Damrau.
There's no shortage of Puccini – La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Turandot – and, along with the standard verismo double bill of Cav/Pag, a concert performance by Puccini's younger contemporary of a rarity by Francesco Cilea: L'arlesiana, with tenor Joseph Calleja taking the part created by a young Enrico Caruso.
Off the mainstage, the Tischlerei, Deutsche Oper's studio for experimental ventures, presents the world premiere of Frankenstein, a music theatre work commissioned by the company and directed by Maximilian von Mayenburg, as well as a continuing collaboration with the Munich Biennale and a "music theatre research project" in which refugees and young Berliners explore issues of identity.
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Article sponsored by Deutsche Oper Berlin.