The feXm jury met on 13 September. The venue was the Kunststiftung NRW in Düsseldorf. New to the round was not only the Staatstheater Darmstadt, but also the expert team of Susanne Blumenthal, Rainer Nonnenmann and Moritz Lobeck. Thirty-six applications had to be assessed in advance (the year before there were twenty-nine). Five finalists were chosen after a long day. As always, a few more would have liked to be shortlisted. They are now invited to an in-depth discussion with the jury on 26 September at the NRW KULTURsekretariat.
Among the NOperas! projects to date, “Kitesh” is the most elaborate. As in Halle, all departments in Bremen, which has two NOperas! productions in its repertoire this season, were involved in intensive work. Wisely taking into account that “Kitesh” had been “lying” for a year and a half, Bremen added an additional ten days to the agreed rehearsal time. All the effort, as the premiere shows, has paid off.
Kitesh” still consists of three parts. One in the city space (the audience is divided into groups), one in the foyer (everyone goes their own way) and a third in the traditional situation of the peep-box stage. An armed Hun storm in the stalls and wild escapes in the tiers, however, don’t really let you settle down even there.
In the opera business, whole generations of singers can be channelled through a successful production. The main task of every assistant director is to show the respective new cast ways and actions that have been developed and rehearsed by others. It is therefore better for a director not to make his work too dependent on the external appearance, personality and individuality of his premiere cast. “Hauen und Stechen” have made a name for themselves with a concept that works exactly the other way round and frees the singer-actor from being a puppet. With the largely new cast in Bremen, a new play with changed figures, characters and emphases has emerged.
“Kitesh” in Halle was a spectacle of still roughly hewn building blocks, improvisational lust patched up what was still rather unfinished. Hardly anyone complained that they could hardly follow the plot – the spectacle outweighed that. In Bremen, finer lines were now drawn that made many an interpretative intervention in Rimsky’s opera more comprehensible and wrested a new and perplexing reading from its convoluted reassurance of the afterlife.
Rimsky’s Kitesh opera was premiered in 1916, the same year as Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony. It has many enchantingly beautiful passages, but is hardly free of folkloristic kitsch in others. It is daring to simply orchestrate it downwards, when Rimsky’s much-vaunted strength seems to lie above all in the magic of the orchestral colours. In Halle, my opinion was confirmed that this could hardly go well. In Bremen, I heard it differently. Freed from all wafting and embedded in the contemporary sounds of Alexander Chernikov, Rimsky’s melodic inventiveness now comes to the fore. His music seems quotation-like or folklore, but hardly folkloristic any more.
The elaboration of the almost uninterrupted double action of stage action and simultaneous enlargement of scenic details through the observation of a live camera has also become more precise. When Kitesh sinks, the sinking trench and the film projected over it now interlock in such a way that ahs and oohs can be heard from the audience.
The rush for “Kitesh” was great and so Bremen sold additional tickets for the following performances, despite the crowds that had to be accepted for the first part.
A wind machine caused a red flag to wave while the main rehearsal was still in progress. It changed colour in the main dress rehearsal. What worked in Halle in 2020 suddenly doesn’t work anywhere in Europe. There are people who think that one should not play pieces by Russian composers at the moment. On the contrary, playing them now seems more important than before.
The grounds of the Blickfelder Festival are outdoors at the so-called Turbinenplatz directly behind the Zurich Schiffbau. Despite the festival, not many people are out and about here on this Sunday. A place in the shade seems more desirable to most than participating in an urban space project that leads up and down the Zurich hills in the scorching heat. “You’ll pass two fountains, take enough water with you anyway!” is the instruction. And off we go on an audio- and video-controlled scavenger hunt that infamously leads twice along the Limmat, where half of Zurich is cooling off in the river.
“Vier Viertel” is about the world of experience of children from four different districts of Zurich and at the same time serves as preparation for “Fundstadt”, i.e. the NOperas! project that will be performed in Gelsenkirchen and Bremen next summer.
For their audio-and-video walk, HIATUS have invented an audiovisual guidance system that will also be used later in “Fundstadt”. At first I’m annoyed by how complicated it is to put on the whole outfit: a combination of tablet, headphones, cape and hood. Then I quickly begin to realise how sophisticated it is. On this day, the hood protects me not from rain, but from heatstroke. When it comes to crossing streets, the tablet tells me to take off my headphones.
I meet four Zurich children on the way through the four Zurich districts. Hear their voices. Hear their music. I see them appear as ghostly figures on the tablet in the very scenery where I am stopping.
Four quarters, that means about an hour’s walk through different Zurich milieus. Does it seem to me, wrongly, that even the two toughest girls in Zurich’s Wunderland lead a more suspended life than perhaps some girls in Gelsenkirchen?
“Vier Viertel” is a nice and inspiring starting point for thinking about and further discussing “Fundstadt”, a project that, unlike the one in Zurich, is also to include live-action theatre. Gelsenkirchen and Bremen are to be short-circuited with each other. But how do you show Gelsenkirchen in Bremen and vice versa? And how can one at the same time stick to showing the children in “their” milieu? What takes the place of the lonely Zurich scavenger hunt adventure when whole groups of visitors are sent on their way together in “Fundstadt”?
We are still at the very beginning with “Fundstadt”.
NOperas! is launching a new call for projects. The fifth – and thus the second within a second three-year season.
Alongside Gelsenkichen and Bremen, Darmstadt is now on board as the third house. Darmstadt is an important venue in the German music theatre landscape that has repeatedly attracted attention with its daring and special projects.
NOperas! has taken a rather bumpy and winding road so far.
“Chaosmos”, the first project, premiered in Wuppertal. Rehearsals for the continuation, which started later in Halle, had to be cancelled because of the lockdown. Everything else shifted from the stage to the digital world and “Chaosmos” mutated into an interactive film project, which then found its place on the websites of the participating theatres.
Germany’s stages had opened again when “Kitesh” was then launched in Halle. Hygiene regulations complicated the rehearsals. There was a very successful premiere, but due to illness, the second performance was already dominated by short-notice cast changes. Others then fell ill and the third performance had to be cancelled.
Corona meanwhile turned the theatres into a marshalling yard where trains constantly change tracks instead of setting off at some point. Wuppertal and Bremen had to postpone further development of “Kitesh”. Then the Wupper burst its banks, flooding the Wuppertal orchestra pit, ruining the technical equipment and many expensive musical instruments. Wuppertal was literally up to its neck in water and cancelled “Kitesh”. With a delay of one and a half years, only a second stage of development is now pending in Bremen.
Meanwhile, other difficulties arose in Halle. The artistic director changed prematurely and Halle therefore dropped out of NOperas! As with “Kitesh”, only two houses were now involved in “Obsessions”.
With the last call for proposals, the second three-year season began in 2021. Gelsenkirchen took the place of Wuppertal. In times when most theatres tried to save themselves with repertoire hits like “Carmen” and “Magic Flute”, no quick replacement could be found for Halle’s departure. From the outset, therefore, this call for tenders was restricted to only two cities (Bremen in addition to Gelsenkirchen).
The current tender will run for six weeks. With Darmstadt, a third high-calibre theatre is now involved. Kirsten Uttendorf, Darmstadt’s opera director, managed the Akademie Musiktheater Heute (AMH) for a long time, a support programme of the Deutsche Bank Foundation for young musical theatre talent. Many took part in it who now belong to the créme of the independent music theatre scene.
So NOperas! has just made it back to its original model with great difficulty. Will we find ourselves in calmer waters? The signs for culture in Germany are stormy. It will probably take a lot more stamina.
Five weeks were spent working in Bremen. The result is a play that draws equally on the personality of each participant. A play in which everyone is a leading actor.
An ensemble with no division of tasks. Everyone sings, plays and speaks. The fact that one can recognise who is a singer, who is a professional actor and who belongs to the Oblivia collective only reinforces the impression of mutual rapprochement in the common crossing of boundaries.
Covid still struck after the dress rehearsal, Timo Fredriksson from Oblivia spends the premiere in quarantine. In a play that draws on the personality of everyone involved, no one is actually replaceable. Alice Flerl, Oblivia’s dramaturge, who in Bremen, unlike in other productions, should not actually be on stage herself, steps in, takes over the actions he has developed. There’s no other way if the premiere is not to fall through.
Yiran Zhao accompanied the rehearsals and took up suggestions from instrumental improvisations. The result is music that serves the scene at every moment, sometimes even taking a back seat to the action of the performers, but never abandoning the complexity of contemporary sound language and ultimately cannot do without a conductor. Therefore, the idea of including the instrumentalists in the scene could not be sustained. Only at the end of the piece do they themselves become actors.
Those who improvise need something to improvise about. For Oblivia, themes are above all a means to an end. The scenic material, which started out as a collective improvisation about obsessions, does not always reveal its origins later on, and can turn into the abstract, because in the end it is only form and scenic rhythm that count when it is put together. Some of the audience may have had false expectations as a result of the announcement texts. “I liked it, but I didn’t really understand anything,” said one person after the premiere. “Was there anything to understand?” replies his companion. Her gaze, devoted to the image and not looking for a story in the performance, was certainly the more appropriate one.
Long applause. Many in the Bremen audience broadened their understanding that evening of how many different paths musical theatre can take today.
In October, it will continue in Wuppertal. First, workshops for musicians and singers. The premiere will be at the beginning of December. The large-scale scenic structure found in Bremen will be retained in Wuppertal. Everything else – including the music – will take on a new form with new participants. Opera, drama and dance are under separate artistic direction in Wuppertal. Unlike in Bremen, it seemed impossible at first to work across the disciplines. Thanks to the efforts of the Wuppertal music theatre directors, members of the local theatre and dancers from the Pina Bausch ensemble are now also involved.
2019 – 2021
Under the management team of Florian Lutz and Michael von zur Mühlen, Oper Halle formed one of the most experimental opera houses in Germany. Their participation in the first three-year season of NOperas! ended prematurely with Florian Lutz’s departure to the Staatstheater Kassel after the productions of “Chaosmos” and “Kitesh”.
2023 – 2024
The Staatstheater Darmstadt is a multi-genre theatre with music and dance theatre, drama and concerts. More than 500 employees work here in front of and behind the scenes to bring numerous productions – from plays and concerts to ballet and dance theatre to musicals, operas and operettas – to the various stages in the theatre and in the city every season. In addition, guided tours, introductions, discussion formats and workshops invite exchange and contact. The State of Hesse and the City of Darmstadt have been the sponsors of the State Theatre since 1972. Its new building, designed by the architect Rolf Prange, was one of the defining theatre buildings of the 1970s when it opened.
Uta Plate is a theatre maker, lecturer, director. After studying applied cultural sciences (University of Hildesheim), her publication “FREMD BLEIBEN” on intercultural theatre work was published. From 1999-2014 she was head theatre pedagogue at the Schaubühne Berlin. Since 2014, Uta Plate has been working internationally as a freelance director and lecturer. Her main focus is: intergenerational projects (“LEBEN LÜGEN STERBEN”, Theater Neumarkt, Switzerland, 2014, film: “WIR SIND GESTERN HEUTE MORGEN”, Theater Strahl. Berlin, 2020) Work with socially disadvantaged groups (Theatre in Jail, New Zealand, 2016), site specific projects (“A WAY”, Aarhus, Denmark, 2016), documentary theatre (“YOUTH MEMORY”, Deutsches Theater Berlin 2015 / “HIER.STEH.ICH.”, Deutsches Theater Berlin, 2017 / “30.nach.89. .”, Deutsches Theater Berlin, 2019), projects with young people (“GET UP STAND UP”, Bürgerbühne Dresden, 2017), theatre work with refugees and locals (“SERVUS SALAM”, Residenztheater Munich, 2017), Bürger:innentheater projects (“SCHÖNE NEUE WELT: FAMILIE 2.0”, Schauspielhaus Graz, Austria, 2019, “LA MÜDADA”, Theater Chur, Switzerland, 2020). She also teaches as a lecturer at the universities of Berlin, Gießen, Hildesheim, Hanover, Copenhagen (Denmark) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).
Lukas Rickli works as a pianist in the field of contemporary music, improvisation and theatre music. Lukas Rickli is a founding member of the Zurich “Kukuruz Klavierquartett” (performances at the “documenta 14” in Athens, among others). In the theatre world he is active both in the independent scene (e.g. with Boris Nikitin at the Vienna Festival) and at the municipal theatre (e.g. in Chur: “LA MÜDADA” (2020) with Uta Plate, in Zurich “PIANOFORTE” with Ruedi Häusermann). Lukas Rickli studied piano with Jean-Jacques Dünki as his main subject and free improvisation with Fred Frith and Alfred Zimmerlin as his minor subject at the Hochschule für Musik in Basel. He received composition lessons from Jakob Ullmann. He lives with his family in Basel.
Duri Collenberg studied piano at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) in the class of Hans-Jürg Strub and composition with Mathias Steinauer. He completed his piano studies in summer 2010 and studied composition at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam with Willem Jeths and Wim Henderickx from 2011 to 2015. At Theater Chur he was engaged as musical director/composer for two productions: “LA MÜDADA” (premiere 01.10.2020) and “NOTLÖSUNG” (2014). With the artist trio “frölicher | bietenhader | collenberg” he regularly occupies places of the most diverse kind – a reservoir, a silo, a Bergell residential palace, etc. – in closely interwoven image/sound installations. He is a founding member of the “Kukuruz Piano Quartet”, a group for experimental concert and theatre music that maintains an active concert schedule at home and abroad – both in and deliberately alongside the tried and tested temples of high culture. The quartet has performed in productions with directors Ruedi Häusermann (“PIANOFORTE”) and Boris Nikitin (“24 PICTURES PER SECOND”) on various European theatre stages.