The new opera house
The Theater an der Wien numbers among the most beautiful theatres in Vienna and has one of the richest traditions, too. It was built in 1801 in the spirit of Mozart by Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist of The Magic Flute. A host of major theatrical works have been premiered here, for example Beethoven’s opera Fidelio.
In 2006, the Mozart Year, the Theater an der Wien was reopened as the city of Vienna’s new opera house with a gala featuring Plácido Domingo, and will now stage performances all the year round. The Theater an der Wien is a marvellous addition to the internationally renowned operatic scene in Vienna and underscores the city’s reputation as a centre of culture and music. Beyond Mozart Year 2006 operas from the baroque period to the present day will be staged to the very highest artistic standard.
Programme for the 2014/15 season
If theatre is a kind of play that shows us realities we would otherwise be unable to see, it seems reasonable that play itself is repeatedly taken as a subject of theatre. This should be palpable as soon as you enter the foyer of the Theater an der Wien and pass Valie Export’s glass installation Anagrammatische Komposition mit Würfelspiel (after W. A. Mozart) (“Anagrammatic Composition with Dice (after W. A. Mozart)”). The theatre provides the symbols capable of explaining to us the aimless playing we call life, because it is only that which is played out on the stage that makes sense of our existence.
Friedrich Schiller said, “man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays”, and his words can be taken to refer both to “living” stage plays and play with “lifeless” cards. Playing encourages intellectual analysis, it teaches humility in defeat and, in Schopenhauer’s words, offers us every opportunity: “Fate shuffles the cards and we play.”
So theatre describes the place where the play in the true sense takes place, since the Greek term théatron means the place where we follow (the) play. Thinking about the ticket, which is a kind of card that allows us to join the play, gave me the idea of evoking the 2014/15 season using playing card motifs which show on the one hand the faces of significant people (the leading men and women) and on the other, two words as symbols that conjure up realms of play that are reflected in our lives or may be able to explain it. This was the origin of the 16-part “card deck” in this programme.
With the opening concert played by the Vienna Philharmonic under the new star conductor Gustavo Dudamel “Saison – Beginn”, (Season – Beginning) featuring Russian works, we show the “Macht – Kampf” (Power – Struggle) in Tchaikovsky’s rarely-played opera Charodeyka; a conflict between the love-struck, the grasping and the covetous at both a personal and a political level. Composed 130 years ago, the work nevertheless appears to have been written for today. The games played by the powerful remain a latent threat for the oppressed.
The influence of politics on composers was, however, often mutual and stimulating. Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, made her former singing teacher, Christoph Willibald Gluck, her protégé and brought him to the Paris opera where he made his breakthrough with the reformed opera Iphigénie en Aulide and, with Iphigénie en Tauride, created a masterpiece of musical history. Director Torsten Fischer has condensed these two works into a “new” Iphigénie evening, where here too there is “Flucht – Gefahr” (Escape – Risk).
Although Georges Bizet composed one of the most frequently performed operas in history, namely Carmen, he did not live to witness its triumph at the Opéra-Comique. His early opera Les pêcheurs de perles also failed to ignite much interest initially. During his lifetime Bizet, like the protagonists in the opera, met with “Miss – Gunst” (enviousness). Despite the exotic nature of the material, the Frenchman created a work free of folklore but full of imagination that demonstrates the great interest in non-European cultures prevalent in the 19th century. However, the young Dutch director Lotte de Beer will show what sort of mirror this opera holds up to us in times of reality shows and C-lebrity jungle antics.
Fascinated by the extremes of sensuality and abstraction in Alban Berg’s Lulu, Olga Neuwirth was inspired to take a fresh look at this mythical female figure from a women’s point of view. A jazz musician’s daughter who grew up with jazz, she transfers part of the plot of her American Lulu to the social context of the racist white South, and Lulu, Geschwitz and Schigolch become Afro-Americans whose story is told against the background of the US American protest movements of the 60s and 70s. In Neuwirth too, Lulu is “Frei – Wild” (fair – game) in our “respectable” society.
John Neumeier presents a very special work in progress of the staged “Ton – Art” (Tone). In 2007 he choreographed the first three parts of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio for the TAW. Now the director of the Hamburg Ballet has chosen this version as the basis of a new ballet in which six cantatas from Bach’s oratorio are used. The work receives its Austrian premiere in December and will be the Christmas highlight of our programme.
Often, fear of what is new and unknown causes us to cling to old structures. But the unknown attracts us just as much as it scares us. Vincenzo Bellini’s long-forgotten tragic opera La straniera portrays the unknown personified as the eponymous “stranger”. The principal characteristic of this “Traum – Frau” (Dream – Woman) is her elusive and mysterious identity which, unfortunately for her, incites sexual desire on the one hand and rejection and aggression on the other. For the first time, the TAW is showing an opera production with two different casts, with the title role being performed by turns by two exceptional singers, Edita Gruberova and Marlis Petersen, who could not be more different. A remarkable project which can only be experienced once in this form.
French theatre spread all over Europe, not only, though especially, in the 18th century, and aroused enthusiasm and strong disapproval in equal measure. “Not by wrath does one kill, but by laughter,” as Friedrich Nietzsche postulated in his book Also sprach Zarathustra, thus putting forward an unusual theory about the power of comedy. Few authors have reflected revolutionary trends more effectively in their comedies than the French writer Beaumarchais, creator of Figaro. “I must force myself to laugh at everything lest I be obliged to weep,” says the Barber of Seville describing his attitude towards the conditions of his era in the play of the same name. In his comedies and his actions, Beaumarchais’ liberal ideas challenged the injustices of his time. We also find this stance in the critical thinkers of today who, in the spirit of Kierkegaard, find the courage to raise their voices against the compulsions of a society in which materialism has come to hold sway: “Time and history have justified those who swam against the tide and clashed with the convictions of their
With the famous Beaumarchais trilogy (Le barbier de Séville / Le mariage de Figaro / La mère coupable) we present three masterpieces set to music and represented by the playing card phrases “Lust – Spiel” (Comic – Play), “Nacht – Schicht” (Night – Shift) and “Seiten – Sprung” (Illicit – Affair). In Vienna, there were always periods of interest in new things and the urge to discover something different in which a veritable hunger for new music prevailed. Over the last 200 years, no other theatre has been confronted more intensively with the permanent flow of new trends, the constant succession of changing tastes, traditions and fashions than the Theater an der Wien.
Consequently, the 2014/15 season sees us once again producing a premiere, in cooperation with the Bregenzer Festspiele. With Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald (Tales From the Vienna Woods) the Austro-Hungarian writer Ödön von Horváth created a biting satire on the hypocrisy and brutality of the petty bourgeoisie, naming the play ironically after the woods near Vienna that are idealized in the waltz of the same name. In the tragic tale of the sweet young girl Marianne and the honest butcher Oskar, the famed Viennese Gemütlichkeit turns out to be nothing more than empty words, the joviality to be cruelty not far short of a “Blut – Rausch” (blood – lust). Horváth himself had the idea of setting the piece to music, and thought of commissioning the composer Kurt Weill, but nothing came of the project. So it seems logical to entrust the task to the versatile HK Gruber, composer, conductor, chansonnier and Weill specialist. In his work, Gruber moves back and forth between
Viennese tradition and contemporary composition, between griping and rapping, and turns the Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald into modern musical theatre.
Last but not least I would like to draw your attention to the wide spectrum covered by our series of concert performances of opera at the Theater an der Wien and our five staged opera premieres at the Kammeroper.
I hope you enjoy our new programme for 14/15 and that you will continue to visit our opera house in large numbers.
“Then let us all be happy.”*
* from the closing chorus of Le nozze di Figaro: “Tutti contenti saremo così.”