Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Messiah – Theater an der Wien, 2009 (Part 2: Strange and Wonderful)

I noted in the previous post that Claus Guth has chosen to add a new layer of narrative to Messiah. He builds on the emotions and images from Handel's text, but doesn't stage the oratorio in a literal way.

The action begins at a funeral. People are sad, some are angry. In Every valley the minister (tenor Richard Croft) preaches comfort, but is uneasy, and seems to know more than he is telling. An angry man, perhaps the deceased’s brother (bass Florian Boesch) opens the casket to reveal that the deceased slashed his wrists. Another brother (?) (countertenor Bejun Mehta) freaks out, exhibiting remorse, fear, grief, and anger. Meanwhile, the chorus seem to be the people that are walking in darkness. Asking, questioning, reassuring, usually clustering together or moving close to walls, and almost always moving as a unit.

The flashback begins.

For unto us triggers a flashback to before the funeral, and we witness the events that led up to it. A series of loosely linked scenes show us a man (dancer Paul Lorenger) who is stressed by life and work, and is perhaps also obsessive-compulsive. He seems distant from his wife (soprano Cornelia Horak), who finds comfort with (a man we think is) her brother-in-law (Mehta).  We also see how Mehta’s wife (soprano Susan Gritton) and son (Martin Pollman) are affected by his betrayal, both of her, and of his brother.  The other brother (Boesch) storms around angrily. When the deceased is found, the scene was set to look like a murder, but this brother and the minister (who is also having a crisis of faith) both know better.
One can start to sense that Guth’s imagination was waning towards the end of Part 2—that he had to stretch to make his plot fit the oratorio. A few bits from here to the end are less successful. Some of Part 3 is painfully literal: the chorus waving pamphlets around during The lord gave the word; a foot-fetish thing in How beautiful are the feet; and the drunkenness during O death, where is thy sting?  Some are strange: The choir looking like the aftermath of an earthquake during But thanks be to God
But much is quite moving:
·  The man preparing to kill himself in a hotel room as his wife waits for her lover in a mirror image room during Behold and see if there be any sorrow—they each pick up a Bible and thumb through it at the same time, perhaps looking for comfort, advice, or a clue, as they each prepare to take a step they know will change everyone’s lives
·  The angry brother finding the dead body, and singing Why do the nations, and later, when the action shift back to after the funeral,  confronting the survivors and revealing the infidelities during The trumpet shall sound
·  The wife, returning from the funeral and dinner, finally at home by herself, sings If God be for us, who can be against us? Her deceased husband’s spirit returns to reconcile in a way; he lies down next to her and takes her hand, showing that he will be with her even though he is gone.

The weird and the exquisite:
"O death, where is thy sting" & "If God be for us" 

Throughout the piece, the characters act and react to life circumstances and try to find sense and solace in their dark times; convincing themselves that God is indeed still here, and that resurrection and new life—moving forward—are possible.
A lighter moment - The angel recitatives. 

In the next post, I will say a bit more about the staging, and summarize.

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