On Friday I went to see how Roland Geyer’s Hoffmann restaging worked out, and wrote a review for Bachtrack:
Having no budget for costumes, Geyer has raided the wardrobes of past Theater an der Wien productions to fashion a tableau vivant of operatic characters which comes to life as Hoffmann dons the magic glasses in the Olympia act. This motley troupe remains onstage for each subsequent tale but lapses into a purely ornamental role, most astonishingly in the Antonia act, which is done, Ariadne auf Naxos-style, as backstage melodrama. For a metatheatrical conceit to run out of steam just as commentary on the work is introduced is an absurd incongruity. Geyer had staged Olympia’s Doll Song as a catwalk number and a return to themes of image and narcissism comes with Giulietta, who flaunts a heroin-chic look and exhibitionist tendencies to no intelligible dramatic end. As with Antonia’s backstage woes, the dinner party setting of this act missed a few opportunities too many, and a Venetian reference in the guise of gondola-shaped sauce boats lowered onto the dining table with great solemnity was really quite bizarre.
This new production may be a mess, but Geyer – who, let us not forget, masterminded the Theater an der Wien’s wildly successful relaunch after Ioan Holender and practically the entire critical establishment predicted the Viennese would never learn to love stagione – is, well, ned deppat, and possibly even crazy like a fox. Fabric measured by the hectare is the surest way to a Viennese critic’s heart, and accordingly the reviews have been very kind indeed. But putting the history of opera on stage as mere decoration – honestly, I wanted to hug a Herheim DVD – is Staatsoper-grade emptiness of the kind Geyer himself took another shot at only a few days ago. And really in every respect this production belongs am Ring. Geyer talks about Frauenbilder, or the perception of women, and that is where his Personenregie is, to put it kindly, focused, to the exclusion of everything else. But I am at a loss to say what Olympia’s limited repertoire of catwalk moves, which involved legs, legs, legs, and more legs, and Giulietta’s pantie-exposing antics – yes, Geyer went there, repeatedly – might be telling us (Antonia wasn’t telling or even showing us anything, because she was a expressionless android). If this sounds vaguely like Bieito, well, it wasn’t.
And then there were the plain silly things – the corny stage elevator reveal for Antonia’s mother, Nicklausse straddling Hoffmann at the end (the sexual awkwardness of this staging was really quite breathtaking), and the
Consciousness-Raising Blinding Floodlights of Truth,
which, unbelievably, scarred our retinas only to prevent us from seeing scenery changes. In
the Brecht trade this egregious gaffe is known as the erm, ‘Epic fail’.
But enough of Geyer, who thankfully has promised to remain an able Intendant and not return to the Regisseursessel any time soon. I last saw Marlis Petersen when she was more or less full-time on the Lulu circuit, but didn’t find her as convincing here as I thought she might be. John Relyea was great and hopefully we may be seeing more of him at the TadW. Riccardo Frizza’s conducting I was far too kind about last time round. And when I write that Roxana Constantinescu’s Nicklausse was less memorable than before, that might have something to do with Geyer cutting all of her Kaye/Keck-inserted material from the Giulietta act.
Image credit: Werner Kmetitisch