Jürgen Flimm has bowed out of his role as Intendant of the Staatsoper Berlin after eight years in which the company’s opera house on Unter den Linden underwent extensive renovation work. During his stewardship of the company at a temporary home at the Schiller Theater, Flimm kick-started a focus on contemporary music, including the annual Infektion! festival for new music theatre work.

Laura Aikin (Singer) © Clärchen und Matthias Baus
Laura Aikin (Singer)
© Clärchen und Matthias Baus

This year’s edition of the festival ended with the German première of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Ti vedo, ti sento, mi perdo, directed by Flimm, and first shown at La Scala in Milan in 2017. This was Flimm’s parting gift to the company, and the result of a long-term working relationship with the Italian composer. Having already staged the composer’s Lohengrin and Macbeth in Berlin, Flimm has experience of working with Sciarrino’s sparse and enigmatic music theatre.

In Ti vedo, ti sento, mi perdo, Sciarrino indulges his fascination with the Baroque. The opera is subtitled “Waiting for Stradella”, referring to the Italian composer who died in mysterious circumstances in Rome in 1682. The Beckettian link is clear: the opera depicts a noble family awaiting the arrival of the famed composer for the première of a new theatrical work, yet Stradella never arrives, and instead comes news of his death.

Christian Oldenburg (Finocchio) © Clärchen und Matthias Baus
Christian Oldenburg (Finocchio)
© Clärchen und Matthias Baus

The opera is punctuated by overtures and arias written by Stradella and reorchestrated by Sciarrino, the basis for a piece shot through with echoes of a Baroque sound-world refracted through the Italian composer’s unique musical style, which is quiet yet intensely active. This is reflected in Flimm’s staging, in which the visual excess of the Baroque is constructed and deconstructed, at times quite literally. At the beginning of the production, a team of befrocked servants construct a stage-within-a-stage for the rehearsals of Stradella’s new work, onto which a series of ornate tapestries are lowered.

Both the musical score and Flimm’s staging are finely crafted and offer a wealth of compelling aural and visual material. At its best, the overall effect was akin to a sublime landscape painting rich in detail and impressive in its scope. However, the performance I saw – the penultimate showing of a five-performance run – dipped in energy during the second half, meaning Sciarrino’s musical tics – wind harmonics, glissandi vocal writing – started to become repetitive and trite.

Anna Basti (Tänzerin) and Anna Olkhovaya (Dancers) © Clärchen und Matthias Baus
Anna Basti (Tänzerin) and Anna Olkhovaya (Dancers)
© Clärchen und Matthias Baus

On the whole, however, the ensemble cast was excellent, with a stand-out performance from US soprano Laura Aikin as the Singer, gliding effortlessly from Sciarrino’s demanding vocal writing to Baroque arias. Charles Workman and Otto Katzameier made a good double-act as the gossipy Musician and Writer, and Thomas Lichtenecker and Christian Oldenburg excellent as the clownish Solfetto and Finocchio. French conductor Maxime Pascal gave an assured performance co-ordinating a chamber orchestra and on-stage string quartet, belying his 32 years of age.

***11