Thursday, 27 September 2012

On the fringe of infringement

While the second night of the sirene Operntheater’s epic fringathon didn’t quite live up to its billing, those who were there aren’t likely to forget Franziska Sörensen’s extraordinary Récitations pour voix seule in a hurry. The musicality of Georges Aperghis’s writing tends to shine through in all but the most incompetent performances, but here the various non-pitched noises – dry retching, shrieks, titters and the like – were even more improbably expressive than usual, with the moments when the soprano is given voice in the conventional sense no less eloquently phrased. While unabashedly theatrical, the piece also strives to forge an emotional bond of some intimacy and here the audience members taken by the gushing nonsense patter seemed as concerned with the character’s fate as those who sought to look through or past it. Quite whether this mysterious creature is blessed or to be pitied was a question Sörensen rightly left open.

The retweaked staging by peripatetic ensemble Oper Unterwegs proved as gleeful as the version performed last year at a Viennese swimming pool, with the stringing of a hammock a comedic improvement on similar business with a sunbed (the struggle to get a high-heeled foothold making a witty punchline of the ‘Je m’excuse’ tic), while the entrance of an aloof cyclist offered a more touching and fitting reflection on the work’s themes of isolation and human indifference than the daft inflatable double bed which had previously floated into sight. I must admit I missed Sörensen giddily wailing her way down the pool’s flume, but in every other respect this pared down staging was preferable despite being trimmed down to what sounded like just seven or eight out of fourteen numbers. A more obviously linear narrative than before was initially some cause for concern until I recognized it as greater focus brought to bear, with the story of a sheltered innocent compelled by the emotional poverty of her circumstances to don a rucksack and venture out into the world leading to a character caught in an internal conflict between hope and fear. With the ingenuity of Aperghis’s writing showing a poignancy, both in the staging and Sörensen’s singing, that I have yet to encounter in any other performance or recording, the work seemed every bit the superior postmodern companion piece to La Voix Humaine.

The rest of the evening saw some pointlessly tasteless transgressions of political correctness. Two dances, ‘Burka Baazi’ and ‘The striptease of the bearded lady’, scored as fragrant wisps of tonal nothingness by Akos Banlaky, had nothing more to offer than the would-be titillating proposition of men in burqas flashing fake breasts. The Kafka short story Der Jäger Gracchus, put on again by Oper Unterwegs, didn’t involve any singing, while Olga Neuwirth’s taped incidental music was kept brief – almost as if Unterwegs had to pay for it by the minute – and proved not as interesting as I thought it might have been. In a strange bit of Regie one of the Gracchus dialogues was done as a Japanese guided tour party inspecting the site of the boat and presumably where Gracchus died, though in Japanese translated abominably (ほとんど漢字覚えてないけど、話すのはまだペラペラな方) from a German text full of ugly stereotyping. Why the director felt moved to indulge in borderline racism was not made remotely clear in dramatic terms.

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