Author Topic: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'  (Read 3848 times)

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Offline (poco) Sforzando

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lukeottevanger

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2008, 03:38:06 AM »
That's rail fares for you....

Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2008, 03:39:02 AM »
That's rail fares for you....

Maybe I can get a discount if I drive in.
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Offline Brewski

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2008, 01:47:22 PM »
Lisa Hirsch, on her blog Iron Tongue of Midnight, has some wildly contrasting reviews here.

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Offline Brewski

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #5 on: July 09, 2008, 06:01:13 AM »
More reports on Die Soldaten, from Steve Smith in Time Out New York, and Peter Matthews on his blog, Feast of Music (with many photos).

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Offline Brewski

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #6 on: July 11, 2008, 10:55:41 PM »
It is now about 3:45 a.m., and I have just returned after talking about Die Soldaten for some four hours with a composer friend who also went.  I am sure many people were up late discussing it, since it is hard to imagine something that would match it.  The production is mind-blowing in its scope: it must have cost a fortune. 

I am too tired to write much at the moment, but if I were able to go tomorrow night I would absolutely see it again.  What these amazing singers, musicians, set designers, mechanical engineers, lighting designers, and above all sound designers have accomplished is quite a feat.  Perhaps amazingly, the entire production is miked and yet I have never felt so positive about the process; it tamed the space in a way that I could not have imagined. 

In 2009 New York City Opera is bringing the Ruhr Triennale production of Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise to the same space.  In tonight's program there is a photo that is intriguing enough to make me reserve tickets this very minute. 

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Offline Brewski

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #7 on: July 14, 2008, 08:43:40 AM »
Here is Alex Ross's article on the opera in this week's The New Yorker.  There is also a slide show with six more photos from the production, here.

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Offline (poco) Sforzando

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #8 on: July 15, 2008, 05:59:29 PM »
There have been a lot of reviews already both pro and con on this opera and its most unusual production. This was in fact the first time I had seen it live, as I unfortunately missed the production at the NYC Opera in 1991. I prepared for the evening by watching the DVD from the Stuttgart Opera, where it was performed more as a period piece in 18th-century costume, though unquestionably there was much that was innovative about the staging.

The production at the 7th Regiment Armory was designed to make the most of this huge ungainly eyesore occupying the full block bounded by Lexington and Park between 66th and 67th Streets. This staging was first conceived for last year’s RuhrTriennale in Bochum, Germany, and used the same cast, orchestra, and conductor. On this occasion the stage was a long, narrow strip in the center of the venue; here in New York there was less available space, and so what emerged as the stage that formed a T shape. The audience was seated on bleachers that could be literally moved back and forth to give greater or lesser closeness to the singers, while the main orchestra was situated at the far left and a smaller percussion ensemble at far right.

I suppose it gives some sense of my reaction to this opera that I find it more interesting to talk about the staging and the potential use of this space than about Zimmermann’s work itself. I would sum up my reactions to the experience in three ways: 1) I found the performance itself gripping and at times unbearably tense, 2) I was not convinced for the most part that the music reached the level of the Berg operas, the work’s most obvious ancestor, and 3) this production was a fascinating if not entirely successful break from the traditional proscenium stage, with considerable potential.

Unquestionably, Zimmermann was an angry man who poured his rage into this tale of Marie, the young girl who is seduced by the chance of marrying into the higher ranks of the military, but then abandoned and finally raped. Strong stuff, and I was utterly drawn in to the last act with its rape scene and Marie’s devastating fall into prostitution, where in attempting to beg a few coins from her own father is met by his failure to recognize her. Shades of Lulu’s descent into whoredom in London, and there are so many points in comparison with the Berg operas that I suspect Zimmermann was deliberately trying to outdo his great predecessor. Here instead of the Doctor, Captain, and Drum Major, we’ve got an entire regiment of brutal soldiers all itching to ravish Marie.

Gripping as I said, and there can be no question of Zimmermann’s sense of pacing, the power of his response to the horrors of the drama, the disgust he shows towards the oafish and brutal military men who violate his heroine. Yet I don’t think Zimmermann’s musical imagination reaches Berg’s. For one thing, the characters are not sharply delineated musically; unlike Wozzeck where each personage is musically recognizable, Zimmermann seems to throw his anguished intervals and tortured dissonances like a trowel on his musical canvas. Blasts of brass, sharp strokes on the percussion can come at any time in this opera, whether they feel integrated with the vocal texture or not. Perhaps only in the third act, where Marie, her sister, and the Countess who is mother to one of Marie’s soldier-lovers, is there a five-minute span of time where Zimmermann shows he has a lyric side. But although Marie has three such soldier-lovers in the opera, I could not distinguish any of them musically or even dramatically.

In Berg’s Wozzeck, the climactic event is Wozzeck’s murder of his Marie, followed by his descent into total madness and his (possibly unintentional) suicide. In Die Soldaten, the climactic event is obviously Marie’s rape and her degradation into prostitution and beggary. Berg’s response to Wozzeck’s fate, and it has been criticized as sentimental or out of place, is a D-minor elegy intended not to idealize Wozzeck but to lament the fate visited upon the wretched of the earth. Zimmermann’s response to Marie, far more musically brutal, is to reduce the texture primarily to tutta forza rolls on multiple snare drums, as Marie finally wanders off from her oblivious father. This seems to me to focus on the differences between the two works, and the insufficiency of the Zimmermann. It is unquestionably powerful, yet it somehow lacks musical variety and nuance.

It would be hard to fault the singing, acting, or playing. (Well, one reviewer – I think it was Anne Midgette - tried, finding the conducting of Stephen Sloane to lack flexibility. Who could tell.) But the real star of the show was undoubtedly the transformation of the Park Armory itself. (I attach a diagram so you can get the main idea.) With the use of a movable audience, it was possible to zoom in and out of intimacy with the actors, an approach I think that was inspired by film, but here it’s not the camera zooming from long shots to close ups but the audience. Unlike the proscenium stage, which has some degree of width but not much depth, here the stage was all depth but virtually no width. And because of this, the set was inevitably minimal, as any kind of elaborate stage setting could not be accommodated as it would be in the proscenium theater. But the stage allowed for some unusual effects that Zimmermann apparently wanted, such as positioning characters at multiple points along the main axis. Given the many short scenes, characters from the scenes before and after the current one could be present on stage simultaneously, thus fulfilling Zimmermann’s wish that the action take place at once in the present, past, and future.

There were some problems. Not with the mechanism, which purred back and forth with amazing quietness. But despite the steep raking of the audience area, sight lines were troublesome. For the first half I sat in row H to the right, which meant I could not see much of the stage immediately to my left. After the break, friends pointed me to a location much farther back in row T, which turned out to be far superior as being higher up gave me a wider, unobstructed view. The presence of two people on wheelchairs showed there was handicapped access, but to get to the higher seats one had to climb quite a few stairs, and I overhead a woman halfway up the platform in a panic that she could not go any farther. Surely an escalator or some other kind of mechanical transport could be devised for people not in sufficient physical condition to climb mountains. The acoustics are reverberant, and discreet mikes were necessary for the singers, but probably a lot of orchestral detail was lost. And will any other opera make good use of two orchestra pits that are on either side of the audience?

That the producers spent a fortune on the technical elements was reflected in the horrendous ticket prices, and having done all this for one opera, they hopefully will not abandon the concept. Already Messiaen’s St. Francis is scheduled in the Armory for 2009, under the stewardship of entering NYC Opera director Gerard Mortier. It will be interesting to see if I can sit through five hours of Messiaen; my standard joke towards the Vingt Regards is that Dix would have sufficed, or even Deux. But one thought that occurred to me is that here New York finally has an appropriate space for complex antiphonal works like Stockhausen’s Gruppen and the Berlioz Requiem.
« Last Edit: July 15, 2008, 06:02:54 PM by Sforzando »
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Offline Brewski

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #9 on: July 15, 2008, 06:58:01 PM »
An excellent, thoughtful commentary.  Your focus on Berg is right on the money, as is the slight weakness in characterization: I don’t think I could attempt to distinguish between many of the main characters.  However, in Zimmerman’s defense, they are cogs.  (At least, I felt so.)

“It is unquestionably powerful, yet it somehow lacks musical variety and nuance.”  That was basically Alex Ross’s final word, as well, and I can go with it.  The piece ends with a lengthy bludgeoning, sonically, which is exciting, but not the most ultimately musically satisfying.

Interesting you mention the seating.  When I was exploring the back of the set I thought, Man, to all those people up at the top actually have to climb stairs?  Apparently so.  But I felt that those higher up were able to get more out of the experience.  My seat in row O was fine, but I wouldn’t have wanted to sit much further down.  (Online ticket purchases were warned against the first four rows, with bad views of the subtitles.)

It will be interesting to see if the space lures other things.  After seeing this, I am hugely excited by the Messiaen, and what staging might be possible.  Although that said, I think virtually anything there will have to be miked, hopefully with the sophistication that we observed here.  And that said, Zimmerman’s score responds gratefully to sonic manipulation, but what about others?  I’m not sure I’d want to see say, Don Giovanni, although I did allow a few thoughts about a Ring Cycle staging.

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uffeviking

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #10 on: July 15, 2008, 07:25:30 PM »
Well deserved Kudos to Sforzando and Bruce for your thoughts about this opera. All I can do is read it with awe at the guts of the producers to present such a happening to the audience. I too have the Stuttgart production, but have not watched it for some time. Is it possible this Armory performance could be filmed for a DVD? I think it might be a hit and even get a Gramophone high rating!

Yes, Bruce, by all means: Der Ring des Nibelungen in the NY Armor with either Pierre Audi or Olivier Py directing!  8)

Offline zamyrabyrd

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #11 on: July 16, 2008, 12:16:09 AM »
One wonders if the idea of moving the audience came from Disneyland...
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Offline Wendell_E

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #12 on: July 16, 2008, 02:50:09 AM »
Is it possible this Armory performance could be filmed for a DVD? I think it might be a hit and even get a Gramophone high rating!

The Ruhr performance with the same cast is already available at the Ruhr Triennale website.  It says it's a region-free, NTSC disc:

http://www.ruhrtriennale.de/en/online-shop/dvd-cd/dvd-die-soldaten/#

Yes, much thanks to Sforzando and Bruce for their comments. 
“Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” ― Mark Twain

uffeviking

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #13 on: July 16, 2008, 05:23:27 AM »
Wendell, you Doll,  :-* - thanks for the URL to the Ruhr Triennale, I didn't know it existed. I just love their output, got it always from a British retailer, now I can go direct! 

Offline Wendell_E

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #14 on: July 16, 2008, 05:49:50 AM »
But it seems they don't ship to the U.S.  I don't see any non-European countries in the list.   :'(

So what's that British retailer you mention?  I checked amazon.co.uk and mdt, but they don't list it.
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uffeviking

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #15 on: July 16, 2008, 06:06:07 AM »
Ooooooooooooops! It was MDT I was talking about, they usually have all the Euroarts, etc. products, but of course I only read your email and started to crow too early, should have gone to the small print of the Triennale.  :-[

Now what do we do? If a DVD exists, it should be available some place. TC, where are you? He usually gets the 'unavailable' opera discs!  8)

Offline Anne

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #16 on: July 16, 2008, 07:16:35 AM »
If it's available, mdt will get it for you.  If they can't get it, it is not available.  That has been their reputation for the last 10 years.  I have never ordered from them but again and again other posters on bb's have praised them.  Good luck!

Offline Brewski

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Re: Audience Rolls Down Tracks During 'Die Soldaten'
« Reply #17 on: July 28, 2008, 07:35:31 PM »
More commentary, here, on Die Soldaten and Laurie Anderson's Homeland

--Bruce
"Do you realize that we're meteorites; almost as soon as we're born, we have to disappear?"

~Iannis Xenakis

Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY