Petrushka & L’Enfant et les Sortilèges
Komische Oper Berlin
Tiago Alexandre Neta Fonseca as Petrushka in Barrie Kosky and 1927's staging of Stravinsky's ballet
Photo by Iko Freese | drama-berlin.de
IN LATE 2012, the British theater group 1927 made its debut at the Komische Oper Berlin, collaborating with intendant Barrie Kosky on a dazzlingly inventive Zauberflöte that remains the house’s most popular production. Four seasons later, the innovative troupe was back with an equally ingenious vision for a double-bill of Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Maurice Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges (seen January 28). If the end result was less overwhelming than that earlier outing, this had to do less with the skill of the production than with the choice to present two disparate works side-by-side.
As with Zauberflöte, this double-bill was a riot of continuous animation (by the brilliant Paul Barritt), combining stop-motion and collage with techniques drawn from silent cinema. Petrushka unfolded as an agitprop carnival featuring screaming Russian-language signage, a zany haunted house ride, a cartoon cutout of a boozy carnival bum as the magician and a cameo from a wacky sideshow called the Canine Cosmonaut Cossacks. The cast of characters was whittled down to the main love triangle in this reimagining, but even here things were somewhat tweaked. Suzanne Andrade and Esme Appleton, the 1927 team members that shared directing credit, decided that the object of Petrushka’s affection should be an acrobat, rather than a ballerina. Accordingly, his rival was a circus strongman, rather than Stravinsky’s Moor. Pauliina Räsänen and Slava Volvok wowed the audience with their high-tension acrobatics. Petrushka, played by Tiago Alexandre Fonseca, was a lovable dope pantomiming his way through this constantly churning funhouse of a production. The KOB orchestra led by Markus Poschner played the revised 1947 score at a breezy clip without doing much to highlight Stravinsky’s bold colors or revolutionary harmonies. The one thing lacking from this cartoon Petrushka was any sense that this was a ballet.
Nadja Mchantaf in the title role of Ravel's Enfant et les Sortilèges at the Komische Oper Berlin
Photo by Iko Freese | drama-berlin.de
The visual delights kept coming after intermission with the Ravel. The whimsy and constant invention that characterized the first part of the evening were cleverly matched to Colette’s libretto. With sets by Pia Leong and costumes by Katrin Kath—both members of 1927—this Enfant felt closer in spirit to Zauberflöte than the Stravinsky had, largely due to the clearer dramatic progression of its tableaus and the presence of singers who interacted with the animated wizardry of the production, in contrast to the pure pantomime of Petrushka. Ten ensemble members and guest singers shared the operetta’s twenty-one roles, often singing from off-stage, as in the famous duo miaulé, which took the form of a cat-and-mouse game between the terrified child and two oversized felines. Aside from this, the intricate inner-workings of the horloge comtoise and the renderings of the animals that populate the work’s second part—bats, owls, dragonflies, frogs and squirrels— were among the segment’s most impressive elements.
Nadja Mchantaf, who sang the title role in Massenet’s Cendrillon here last season, embodied Ravel’s problem child with spunk and a touch of callousness. With the other singers doing double or triple duty, it was difficult for any one performer to truly stand out, although Talya Lieberman, a new ensemble member who made a memorable impression earlier this season in Die Perlen der Cleopatra, sounded radiant as The Fire (here reimagined as the sun), The Princess and The Nightingale. The Komische Oper still doesn’t have all that much experience with French repertoire, which may explain why the company’s chorus was replaced by the Vocalconsort Berlin, a local ensemble who were attentive and coordinated in their various guises (trees, animals, shepherds et cetera). As with the Stravinsky, Poschner led the KOB orchestra in a fluid reading that held few surprises and, in general, could have benefited from a more pointed attack. It seemed to confirm that with this double-bill the Komische was putting visuals front and center. —A. J. Goldmann