dreams come alive in De Munt – Cutting Edge

The coin, ‘Pikovaya Dama’

With Pushkin an unequivocal epic about the power of reckless madness, with Tchaikovsky a psychologically complex interweaving of how on the one hand the desire for love and on the other an obsessive search for a winning combination in playing cards compete in the main character’s brain : director David Marton , who previously showed the desire to thoroughly rethink the large repertoire on various international stages, takes this duality as a starting point for his directorial concept ‘Pique Dame’. By the way, is Hermann the only one living in a false reality, a victim of delusions? Or do the main characters all construct a reality for themselves?

The most memorable passage of this ‘Pikovaya Dama’ is undoubtedly the very intimate aria in which the countess, masterfully played by the now advanced sixty-year-old Anne Sofie von Otter, recalls the bygone times she spent with prominent Parisian figures. In the preceding scene, when Catherine the Great’s arrival is announced, she is the embodiment of the (almost bygone) Tsarist era. She is a wandering atavism, a fossil for whom the world has been reduced to white and black, to right and wrong, to etiquette and decay. She has no capacity for adaptation, dictated by the superiority of her social status as well as by her age. Like a demented ghost, she happily dances herself to death, one last delicious kiss still wet on her lips…

Through Hermann’s eyes, however, the audience sees a completely different reality. Between nameless, advancing commuters, his life stands still – only pathological desires make him belch with the joy of life. Marton fills the scenery in which Hermann moves with reminiscences of the former Eastern Bloc: architectural uniformity in gray concrete, as a facade for a general moral decay that can be felt in escapades such as drinking and gambling. The patriotic songs, where children’s voices call for violence, find a nice contrast in the direction where the choir members present close their ears to what today sounds like unpleasant propaganda. In short, Marton conceptually tries to arrive at an interpretation that does not seem far-fetched in 2022.

Unfortunately, there are elements that the director cannot deal with clearly enough. Marton subtly tries to fit the folkloristically inspired choral songs into the internal experience of the individual characters, which succeeds well. The pastoral interlude, however, looks grotesque, and the company in historical clothing returns along the way as a visual leitmotif, albeit without dramaturgical depth. That Lisa, who despite Hermann’s pathological urges is capable of amorous reciprocity, moves through the remains of a city in progressive decay probably means that she foresees Hermann’s demise – and with him: his era. However, the performing artists allow themselves to be incorporated by the regime and at the end are once again ready to seal another disastrous result – a comforting image of how culture can survive thanks to culture, but also a warning that art as a political instrument is rarely impartial …?

Are these the only keys to Marton’s direction? Certainly not. The director leaves form and content partially open, and all in all, he provides too few elements that can lift the libretto as a whole. For example, the treatment of the chorus and supporting characters is either stereotypical or irrelevant. This ‘Pique Dame’ may be bathed in an atmosphere of a place behind the former Iron Curtain, but how does that setting correspond to the narrative? It never becomes completely clear, and then the direction falls short.

The management of Nathalie Stutzmann is well thought out and consistent in execution. Female conductors remain the exception rather than the rule, but the Frenchman proves with gusto that she did not earn her baton on the basis of a mandatory quota. from frivolous local color to a bloodcurdling depiction of the haunting landscape of Hermann’s mind: Stutzmann’s lecture covers the entire spectrum from which this opera gets its reputation. Not a single musical gesture is lost with her, and by understanding the score from the point of view of the voice – Stutzmann himself broke through like anything at the time – she never tends to want to outdo the vocal register instrumentally. Besides von Otter (Countess), Dmitry Golovnin (Hermann) and Anna Nechaeva (Lisa) occupy all the most prominent roles with flair.

Where Marton’s imagery tells too little and therefore hangs on, Stutzmann jumps and follows in the breach. A memorable ‘Queen of Spades’, although the emotional impact could have been many times greater.

Seen and heard in De Munt on 11/09/2022.
Photo copyright: Bernd Uhlig

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