About Die Tote Stadt and Salome
Extracts from essays by students from the Ecole Polytechnique – the 2007 graduate year
Course manager: Violaine Anger
[…] However, the greatest difficulty is in fact that all of this, all this diversity in opera, must blend into one general impression, into a unity to express a meaning and feelings. The aesthetic coherence of one moment with the performance as a whole, retaining the spectator’s attention on what the director wishes to show him, (whether it be highlighting a musical phrase, a symbol or an intellectual reflection) are the great challenges facing the director. […] For example, I noticed that visual effects move me, particularly when they coincide with the music. Thus, in Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt staged by Willy Decker, I particularly appreciated the procession scene. Here, the interaction of the shadows and light behind the tulle in addition to the Flemish symbols of Catholicism, which underlined Paul’s mysticism and the solemnity of the moment, a pause in the long nightmare of this opera, combined the visual aesthetic with the purity of the children’s choir.
“Good performances are those where you realise that everything is there, without being aware of it. It is infinite”.
[…] Sometimes even, without going as far as dissecting the opera we are attending, we feel almost lost, as if something important were eluding us. We are often so wrapped up in the drama acted out before us that we wonder whether we are not sufficiently enjoying the score. Or else, we can be so captivated by an effect of the staging, which combined with a melodic phrase strikes us so intensely that we forget the dramatic meaning itself. […] Since opera brings together so many artistic fields, how can it be absorbed all at once? From this perspective, opera truly becomes something infinite. We never reach the end; we are submerged by a performance, which is greater and richer than our capacity for immediate perception. For we humans, such abundance is an evocation of the infinite, something that we cannot apprehend all together, at the same time.
The moments I preferred in my experience of opera, were in fact the ones when I felt harmony between all the different operatic components. […] The moments I most appreciated in the different operas I had the chance to see as part of this course, were the ones where the music, the singing and the staging blended, all expressing the same feelings and idea. I am referring to these powerful moments like at the end of Salome, when she holds Jokanaan’s head in her hands. This scene made an impression on me because I felt immersed in the performance. The music, Salome’s voice, the acting, “all that” came together and I was absorbed by the scene. An important element also being that I was fully enjoying this moment without questioning the staging, the music etc... All the conditions come together so that we may appreciate the performance. We feel it without either being able, or wanting to, at that moment in time, analyse why we like it.