In 2010 Berg’s Wozzeck was produced in Russia for the first time since 1927. The production, at the Bolshoi, was directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov. Few people familiar with his work will be surprised to learn that Tcherniakov does not see Wozzeck as a down trodden and impoverished soldier. In fact he doesn’t see him as downtrodden and impoverished at all (unlike, say Calixto Bieito who transplants the action to a chemical plant but leaves the power relationships pretty much intact). Rather, Wozzeck is a sort of 21st century salaryman leading a life of modest prosperity but crushing boredom with Marie and their son in a city inhabited entirely by other such families. What’s missing is anything that resembles sensation or “life”.
Calixto Bieito’s production of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov recorded at the Bayerische Staatsoper in 2013 is, unsurprisingly, strong stuff. The central concept is that the political classes “don’t give a fig” for ordinary people and that’s as true , or truer, now than in early modern Russia. In such a world, where the people are manipulated into acting as their “betters” demand, is it possible for a person like Boris, who has risen to supreme power through manipulation and violence, to have a conscience?
Calixto Bieito has a reputation as one of opera’s “bad boys” but there is nothing particularly shocking about his production of Carmen filmed at Barcelona’s Liceu in 2011. The action is updated to maybe the 1970s (there’s a phone box and a camera that uses film) and there are lots of cars on stage. For Bieito, this is a story of people living on the margins where sex is a commodity that women use as a trade currency and where violence, especially toward women, is endemic. It’s enough to disturb, as this piece did its original audience, without being gratuitous.
Calixto Bieito’s 2002 production of Don Giovanni from Barcelona’s Liceu theatre is a drink and drug fuelled nightmare. The general atmosphere will be familiar enough to anybody who has been around the “entertainment district” of a large city around chucking out time. Besides chemical stimulants and a great deal of enthusiastic bonking there’s also lots of violence, some of it quite disturbing, and buckets of blood but, as far as I could tell, only one rape. It’s bold and never dull but I think it stretches the libretto to its very limits and perhaps beyond.
Until very recently one of the few good restaurant options within easy walking distance of the COC offices and the Kitten Kondo (since only a couple of hundred metres separate them) was a pretty decent locavore resto called Veritas. I’ve seen COC General director Alexander Neef in there more than once. Alas Veritas is no more. It has been replaced by what looks to be a hideously trendy and overpriced bar called the Pacific Junction Hotel. What’s a bit disturbing though is that this doubles the number of eateries in the ‘hood with Stiegl on tap (the other being the rather good, but also overly trendy , breakfast/brunch spot Le Petit Dejeuner. Stiegl is, par excellence, the beer of Regie. If beer features in a production by a controversial European director one can pretty much guarantee it will be Stiegl. Is this an omen? The 2012/13 COC season has Atom Egoyan, Peter Sellars, Robert Carsen and the Alden brothers directing 6 of 7 productions (surely enough to induce apoplexy in the National Post‘s Kaptainis). Are the hop leaves predicting a further shift away from the Lotfi Mansouri aesthetic? With this much Stiegl around can Herheim or Bieito be far behind?
I’m a bit of a fanatic about numbers so I tend to check the blog stats quite a bit. WordPress has pretty useful statistical tools really. Among other things one can track the search strings used to find one’s site. Here’s a screen cap showing that data from the beginning of this blog:
I’m completely at a loss to explain why “Calixto Bieito” and related terms should be represented thirty times more often than anything else.
After what seems like an interminable series of reviews of DVDs that don’t do full justice to the product on stage I finally got to look at one that presented the production almost as if one had been in the theatre. It’s an Opus Arte disc of Calixto Bieito’s production of Berg’s Wozzeck staged in Barcelona in 2007. Bieito is seen by many as the epitome of Regietheater directors and many people will write off any of his productions without further ado. Not me. I found this Wozzeck by turns powerful, compelling, revolting and sometimes puzzling but never dull or disrespectful.