Bradić; Pauly; Nico and the Navigators; Members of the Orchestra of Deutsche Oper Berlin, Gnann. Production: Nicola Hümpel. EuroArts 2059558, 100 mins., subtitled
In November 2012, Deutsche Oper Berlin inaugurated its newly built black-box theater, the Tischerlei, with a production by Nicola Hümpel's avant-garde theater group, Nico and the Navigators. Titled Mahlermania, the work is a loose assemblage of vignettes and dance sequences inspired and accompanied by Mahler's music. Tying the work together is a loose biographical narrative depicting key moments in the composer's life — his marriage to Alma, summers spent composing, Alma's affair with Gropius, and Mahler's death in 1911.
Four dancers are accompanied by an onstage chamber orchestra, which plays arrangements of Mahler's symphonies and song cycles. German baritone Simon Pauly and Serbian mezzo Katarina Bradić interact with the dancers as they sing. Acting as narrator is German TV actress Annedore Kleist, who also takes on the role of Alma. The composer's wife is cast as a superficial materialist who cares only for her social position and her furs. Kleist brings unexpected depth to the character at the end of the work as she drunkenly mourns her dead husband.
Despite Kleist's fine performance, the final product is a messy and alienating biographical jumble. Individual dancers represent multiple figures from Mahler's life, and sometimes two members of the ensemble seem to be portraying the same character. In true Regietheater fashion, Hümpel's choreography runs against the grain and text of the music. She incorporates slapstick antics reminiscent of the Three Stooges that are rarely funny and usually out of place.
Musically, the work does not fare any better. Pauly is consistently out of tune (despite the helpful fact that the orchestra is onstage with him), and the chamber arrangements of Mahler's thick orchestrations sound tinny. The piano arrangements of the Klezmer tune from Symphony No. 1 and the Adagietto from Symphony No. 5, however, are surprisingly enjoyable.
To some extent, Bradić redeems the work despite its many flaws with her intelligent interpretations. She sings Mahler's lied "Erinnerung" with tremendous poise and solemnity, and her dreamy repetitions of "Ewig, ewig" from the finale of Das Lied von der Erde — as well as her other shining moments — are the few reasons why this video might be worth a watch.
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