How the Teatro Massimo changed the city of Palermo

“Non vi lascia- mo senza musica” is written on the large white banner above the famous stairs of the main portal, which are flanked by two mighty bronze lions, five words that testify to the special relationship between the Palermitans and their opera house, especially now in the Pandemic. “We won’t leave you without music”, this is how the crisis slogan of the Teatro Massimo could be translated. It’s the end of January, the Sicilian metropolis has just been shut down again as the “zona rossa”, restaurants and bars have closed, and never before has the streets of Palermo been so deserted. If you want to consume your brought food on a park bench in front of the Massimo, the Polizia Municipale will accompany you from the square in a friendly, but strong team.

Unlike many theaters and opera houses in Europe, however, the “Massimo” cannot be kept quiet. “Il crepuscolo dei sogni” – “Traumdämmerung” is what German opera director Johannes Erath and Massimo’s music director Omer Meir Wellber called their concert, which they simply added to their program. In an interview, Erath calls it a symphonic condensation of states in order to give the music a voice that was taken from it by Corona. The longing for music, for consolation is enormous, the premiere the next day will be followed by 30,000 people in the live stream, never before has the Massimo reached so many people.

Erath and Wellber have compiled a pasticcio from five centuries of music history, German, Italian, Russian literature, and the whole Massimo becomes a stage. In the center of the story a couple in lockdown stress, the doors locked, on artificial snow and mirror film a recurring Mephisto symbolizes the approaching cold. Snow in Palermo has never happened before! The symphonic cocktail ranges from the baroque to the 20th century, from Purcell to Korngold, from the shellac hit “Irgendwo auf der Welt” to Beethoven’s Fidelio, immediately after Wagner’s love death, of all things, Klezmer, a Mephistophelian Wellber sings a Yiddish wedding song in the video clip Lung-ill Violetta flashes as a Covid-19 analogy until everything culminates in the huge chorus of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele prologue – the singers are distributed individually to the boxes according to their distance.

“Not just entertainment”

Such a pandemic programming is typical for the young maestro Omer Meir Wellber, 39, chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, first guest conductor of the Semperoper and music director in Palermo for two years. “I can make music here and be socially relevant. I want us to dissolve the gap with the audience, opera shouldn’t just be entertainment, that wouldn’t be enough for me. ”Wellber – unmistakable – Barenboim student. This makes him the right man for Palermo. An inscription is carved over the main portal of the Massimo, it begins with “L’arte rinnova popoli” – art renews people, for two years Wellber has been showing how he imagines it.

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