Dhe performance of Wagner’s “Walküre” at Berlin’s German Opera a few days ago could not least be experienced as a signal of a spirit of resistance tensing all forces against the unfortunate circumstances of the time. If only work and interpretation alone were spoken here, three days later Barrie Kosky delivered the passionate statement of a person concerned at the start of the season of his Komische Oper: One will not destroy the “enigmatic sacred dreams” of art, this “food for the soul” let: “Shit Corona!” With which the general manager of the house and director of the evening not only spoke the word for the day, but also demonstrated dramaturgical sense – because with a similarly hearty sequence (“Shit Life!” in the translation by Erika and Elmar Tophoven) was half an hour before Samuel Beckett’s monologue “Rockaby” had gone into his last shoot.
When it came to real crisis management at Behrenstrasse, the approach was initially contrary to that of the colleagues in Charlottenburg – absolutely minimalist. Because there was nothing more than a rocking chair, a bed – and Dagmar Manzel. Or more precisely: at the beginning, in Beckett’s monodrama “Not Me”, first of all just her mouth, fixed in the middle of complete darkness by a spotlight, acoustically framed by the booming catastrophe sound; then, in “Rockaby”, the whole woman, dressed in black, teetering, dying in the rocking chair, with almost no internal movement and voiceless except for a four-fold repeated “More!” as the last mobilization of lethally commuting memories – the actual text is played from the tape. Only after these mystical-magical (and into mutual darkness for both sides, actress and audience, exhausting) scenes of absolute reduction does the curtain rise, and in front of the bare firewalls of the stage, the last part of the trilogy of Arnold Schönberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” – now also developed into space and supported by action, but still sparse, spartan: skin and bones, bread and water.
The game matters
The effect of this last change lies not only in the visual departure, but also in the acoustic. For now, five musicians from the house orchestra join in, coordinated by Christoph Breidler with aplomb and unpretentious precision. After a six-month break from playing, it may perhaps be viewed as a kind of preliminary command – like the entire performance as a prelude to further activities. And if you know what can be swallowed up and drooled in Schönberg’s “Pierrot” chamber ensemble, then the awake-transparent, almost elegant performance of the quintet was a hopeful omen for everything to come.
This also applies to the way in which the musicians carried their vocal partner less on their hands than took them into their midst in a friendly and caring manner. In the first of Beckett’s monodramas, the actress was confronted with the challenge of an excessive, rushing torrent of speech – a diarrhea-like verbal evacuation broken down only by a few aggressively screeching interjections that tries to puke up a whole botched life in a quarter of an hour. But now it was about a highly artificial form of music-related, precisely rhythmic declamation, which should not derail into babbling babble or cuddly pseudo-singing. The punch lines change from text to text, nothing can be foreseen, mysticism of suffering, lunar night raptures and sadistic malice are packed together in a very small space. If there is a unifying feeling between all of this, then it is that of an aimlessly drifting longing, which is lost in ever new dreams and exaltations. In the pleasurably confrontational, profoundly sarcastic and at times cynical assembling of the barely joinable, Schönberg’s cycle is something like the break-in of Dadaism into the music world and a glimpse of postmodernism, beyond all sonic achievements.
Dagmar Manzel sometimes declaimed treacherously witty and nimble, sometimes somnambulously absent or with the sweetly overflowing pathos of Catholic wax madonnas, always understandable syllable for syllable. But that alone would only have been half the battle; what Kosky had developed with her in the tiger circling and circling the bed frame, playing with pillows or a small teddy bear, what she herself in the form of reduced formulas or ironic stencils, always consistently circled poses and mines – often from a certain, quietly spaced half-distance – on top of that, it was a staging of what actually cannot be staged as a fragmentary whole. What remains unresolved; but that line in Hartleben’s Giraud translation that promises the miracle of inner liberation finally achieved: “I gave up all my displeasure …” – here it can also be used for the evening itself.