"The cravings of youth are too good for this world. The best of us is buried alive." (Die Soldaten, Act III)
Let me get right to the point: I feel very, very fortunate to have been one of the 1,000 or so persons in the Park Avenue Armory for last night's performance of Bernd Alois Zimmerman's riveting twelve-tone opera Die Soldaten, the opening event of this year's Lincoln Center Festival. Without question, it was one of the most unique and remarkable nights I have ever experienced in the theater, musical or otherwise. A happening, in every sense of the word.
This production of Die Soldaten was imported from Germany's RuhrTriennale, founded in 2002 by incoming City Opera director Gerard Mortier (who, incidentally, plans to bring the Ruhr production of Saint Francois d'Assise to the Armory in December 2009.) David Pountney's production is notable for its extraordinary technical achievements, including audience bleachers that glide the entire length of the Armory's drill hall on six railroad tracks. (The Times has a video which gives some sense of what's involved.)
But, this was not mere theme park gimmickry. The sliding seats contributed two key elements to the experience of this notoriously-scattershot opera. One was to bring us as close as possible to the singers, who performed what is essentially a cabinet domestic drama. The other was to leave a visible trail of the action via a narrow catwalk running the length of the drill hall, much of which is revisited in an intentional blurring of time.
Past music events have reportedly had trouble with the acoustics in the long, high drill hall. But, with only slight amplification on the singers and the orchestra split on both sides, the sound was crisp, clear - and often bone-jarring. I can't imagine a more perfect marriage of art and technology.
For me, the clear standout among the performers was Claudio Otelli, who sang the role of Stolzius: a man of meager means who falls in love with a local girl (Marie, sung by Claudia Barainsky), only to see her fall for a wealthy Baron (Peter Hoare) who in turn abandons her. Reflecting Stolzius' slow descent into madness, Otelli literally spit out his words, reminding me at times of Klaus Kinski's portrayal of Wozzeck. Searing and raw.
There are three more performances of Die Soldaten at the Armory: July 9, 11 and 12; all performances are at 8p. The tickets don't come cheap (unless you're a lucky stiff like me and know someone in the Lincoln Center Press Office) but if you want to experience a truly unique spectacle right in your backyard, don't miss this.
On a side note, I sat adjacent to Steve last night. I won't give away his thoughts - you'll be hearing them here soon enough - but it was great to catch up with the busiest classical music critic in town. Outside of general concerns about the sustainability of music criticism these days, he told me his biggest regret these days is not having enough time to blog, or see non-classical shows. Never thought I'd consider myself fortunate not to get paid to do this gig... (More pics after the jump)