I don’t like beer or loud parties, so what could be worse than Oktoberfest? At least, that was what I thought when I insisted I would not attend. My fellow Munich Fulbrighters managed to convince me that it was a crime not to visit at least once, though, so I donned a discount dirndl and braved the crowds. As it turned out, there’s a lot to enjoy at the Wies’n, even if you don’t want to drink any beer.
I attended with Eric (another Fulbrighter) and his visiting friend Julia. (In a funny coincidence, it turns out Julia is a Gates-Cambridge Scholar this year, so we ended up meeting several times in Cambridge as well.)
This is it, guys. The Mozart opera seria I haven’t stopped singing to myself for the past two years. The one I wrote my Master’s dissertation on. I’ve seen it live before, but never in quite the crazily costumed glory of the Bayerische Staatsoper’s production. Bachtrack secured my tickets, so the review is exclusive to them. Sadly, the editor doesn’t seem to have added photos this time, but you can check out the Staatsoper’s own photos and videos.
After my lasttwo experiences at the Volkstheater, I had low expectations for their Die Leiden des jungen Werther. I expected an ironic butchery of one of my favorite novels. Instead, I got a beautiful, sensitive, heart-rending adaptation.
When I was looking at the Munich theatre calendar a few weeks ago, I had a brilliant idea. Strauss’s Die schweigsame Frau was playing at the Staatsoper. At the same time, a new play called Das schweigende Mädchen was playing at the Kammerspiele. While these probably didn’t have much to do with each other other than the titles, wouldn’t it be fun to see them both and write a joint review?
As it turns out, my brilliant idea was not so brilliant, because I have no clue what happened in Das schweigende Mädchen. It was an unstaged reading, and the lack of stage action made it difficult for me to follow the plot (and also nearly put me to sleep). It doesn’t really help that this contemporary piece was about the NSU trials, which I hadn’t heard of and knew nothing about. It drew parallels (or rather, opposites?) between the trials and the Bible, and the eponymous girl was sometimes the virgin Mary. The characters seemed to be a judge, three angels, Jesus Christ, and two prophets (or maybe they were the same person—they were identically dressed and mimicked each other’s gestures). There was a bit about cats going to heaven. And that is literally everything I can tell you about this play.
(I’m also singing in the rain, but that’s just because I like to sing while I walk, and Munich has been having dismal weather lately.)
I spent my year at Cambridge swearing I would not join a college chapel choir. A free meal and some voice lessons were not worth the commitment of two rehearsals and a service each week. Of course, immediately after arriving in Munich, I joined a church choir (also Anglican) and committed to two rehearsals and a service each week in exchange for voice lessons (and no free meals). Makes perfect sense, right?
As soon as I decided to accept my Fulbright in Munich this year, I researched two things: theater and opera. I knew there was a lot of art to see (after all, that’s why I chose Munich), but I also wanted opportunities to get involved. The amateur opera scene turned out to be non-existent, but the amateur theater scene here is pretty vibrant. There is even an English-language company, Entity Theatre! (I don’t think my German is good enough to get me cast in German-language shows.)
Entity won’t be casting a new play until winter, but last weekend they had a fun event: a 24-hour theater festival. Basically, you give some groups of actors guidelines and tell them to return in 24 hours ready to perform a short play. In that time, they have to write it, direct it, learn their lines, make acting choices, collect costumes and props, plan a simple set, do a quick tech run, and maybe even catch a little sleep. I’ve done it before, but we had a dedicated writer/director that time, so there was a bit less pressure on the actors. Not so in this case!
I’m no enemy to non-traditional stagings of classic plays (or operas). You can only see the same basic period staging so many times before it puts you to sleep. (We’ll leave aside the fact that I haven’t actually seen a period staging of Goethe’s Faust, because I suspect pretty much every theater-going German has. As an American, I’m hardly a good representative of the audience demographic.) That said, Regietheater is a risk. A concept can work really well or fail completely.
But there’s another, particularly painful category of Regietheater, where the initial production concept is insightful and sensical, but the director simply can’t pull it off. That’s where this Faust fits. Faust (Jan Viethen) in an interdisciplinary scholar, with his biology-botany-chemistry-physics-anatomy lab (that’s a guess based on the set and props) manned by a team of exhausted postdocs, Wagner (Andreas Tobias) chief among them. He’s seen academic success in many fields and is thoroughly fed up with the impossibility of true discovery. “Habe nun, ach! Philosophie, Juristerei und Medizin, und leider auch Theologie durchaus studiert” and the impossibility of seeing “was die Welt im Innersten zusammenhält” become motifs, repeatedly frequently throughout the play both by Faust and (mockingly) by others. When Faust grabs the blender from his shelf and begins mixing various unlabeled pills with a flask of alcohol, his impending death seems chillingly plausible. He is stopped by the sudden appearance of Mephisto—jointly played by the ensemble of postdocs, who have turned into devils. (Warning I was not given: full-frontal nudity in this scene!) As a start to an intriguing Faust, this is all very promising.