Are hugs downright human

Falcon (Onur Abaci), Emperor (here: Marco Jentzsch)

Two worlds collide

By Bernd Stopka / photos by Björn Hickmann

The outgoing General Music Director Toshiyuki Kamioka has the last new production of his term in Saarland The woman without a shadow Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal put it on the repertoire of the State Theater and thus not only fulfilled a personal wish, but also made a very special gift to all those involved and experienced for his departure from Saarbrücken.

Barak (Olafur Sigurdarson), the one-armed man (Hiroshi Matsui), the one-eyed man (Markus Jaursch), the hunchback (János Ocsovai), empress (Marion Amman), wet nurse (Dalia Schaechter), dyer (Sabine Hogrefe)

Dominik Neuner is responsible for both staging and stage design in this production. He pursues two thoughts in the scenic design: Firstly, the break-in of Keikobad's spirit world into the world of people as an element of the plot, and secondly, the historical background to the creation of this extraordinary art fairy tale and its completion in the time of the First World War. The unified stage design with symbolically used different play levels and movable elements shows a partly unfinished-looking, partly destroyed, church-like building on which a giant moon has fallen (one involuntarily associates the "moon mountains" mentioned again and again in the libretto, which separate the two worlds). Behind the destroyed church windows you can see the strong branches of a stage element that later turns out to be a bare or dead tree, which looks almost a bit surreal. Through the side portal of the building you can see figures with gas masks wandering across the backstage in the background. At the beginning and at the finale, these characters cross the stage together with a woman pushing useful things in front of her. Together with a soldier's corpse that is moldering in an artificial water basin in front of the church, they form the most obvious references to the atrocities of the First World War, which is otherwise mainly present through costumes (Susanne Hubrich) and props. Sure, the directing team did their homework and questioned the time and circumstances of the creation. The article about it in the program would have been completely sufficient, because making it visible on the stage does not help the piece, it only burdens it with the pale aftertaste of “I know what!”.
This is particularly unfortunate because the direction is pouring water into the wine of a very excellent personal direction. Through economical actions, sometimes only hinted at details, sometimes with quite conventional elements, it appears extremely haunting and human. It never lapses into wild actionism and - this is particularly worth mentioning - it leaves the viewer plenty of room for their own associations, interpretations, thoughts and to enjoy the very excellent musical side of this production.

Dyer (Sabine Hogrefe), wet nurse (Dalia Schaechter)

After the appearance of the gas mask wearers, who have some unspecified connection to the wet nurse, the messenger of spirits appears in front of the moon on the top level of the game in armor that combines elements from different ages. The emperor steps down one level behind the destroyed windows to hunt, while wet nurse and empress later with large luggage (the last belongings of war refugees?) Enter Barak's world through the windows. An oversized bag is particularly important to the Empress, it will accompany her throughout the evening. Barak brings goods from and for the black market home in baskets and in a rucksack and, while unpacking, looks briefly but longingly at a children's shoe. This is an example of the many small gestures and subtle hints that refine the person directing so impressively. His brothers are indeed marked by the sufferings described in the textbook. The argument between Barak and his wife, who is not a wild fury, but a longing, desperate woman with a wounded soul (after all, she was sold to Barak as a beggar's daughter), succeeds in a most haunting manner. Maybe she even wants to love him - and yet she can't. When Barak touches her and hugs her lap, she freezes and seems to split off a part of herself that cannot endure this, but somehow has to accept it. The trauma of a rape? That could have happened to her in war - but also under many other circumstances.
As a truly Mephistophelian apparition, the nurse flatters herself with unsettling, bitchy, ingratiating, even almost wrapping cunning with the dyer and shows her in an illuminated mirror that she has built into her top hat, her own beauty adorned with tiara and noble clothes. She does not show her a youth for her personal happiness. Instead, she turns the face of the dead soldier in the water to the Empress and does not promise her erotic happiness, but perhaps the happiness of the end of the war and the return of all the missing and the resurrection of all those who have fallen.
To roast the fish, the nurse heats up the fire in the cannon stove with teddy bears, while the dyer writhes in abdominal pain at the prospect of selling her ability to be a mother. The arriving Barak finds his mattress in front of the church door and prefers to chew bread on an edge instead of tasting the fish, which the sensitive, ignorant man is not at ease with.

The culinary celebration of the second act is sparse, but spreads the feeling of happiness at having something to eat in times of war. With the begging children (and their mothers watching them), the falcon appears, an injured soldier in a red uniform, blinded by poison gas, with a tattered K and K flag on his back, who struggles to climb the stairs to the church windows to get there then to be found again later by the emperor. On the way to the “threshold of death” he confronts his master, who, however, takes a determined step on the path that was opened for him by the drifting apart of a movable stage element. The scene in which the empress professes to sympathize, to renounce, does not want to build her happiness on Barak's suffering and thus becomes human and capable of motherhood, is a forceful success. Just as impressive is the change in the dyer who makes her sale of motherhood seem like an almost unreal incantation and who only sees her husband as the right man when he becomes energetic and wants to kill her. The nurse gives him the knife for it. Only at the last minute is it taken from him by someone else's hand. The drifting apart of the front stage elements then seems a bit too discreet as an environmental disaster.

At the beginning of the third act, Därberin and Barak stand behind the same narrow wall, so close and yet so distant. Nurse and Empress are actually sitting in a boat, subtle projections suggest water. The scene before the wet nurse was finally expelled from the spirit realm (She did not adequately guard the empress, which was her task, so the emperor was able to win her over. The wet nurse cannot and could not make up for this mistake, hence the punishment “according to the law “.) Is one of the greatest singing moments of the evening.
Why the injured hawk repeatedly appears suffering and crawling is just as difficult to understand as the fact that he is also the guardian of the threshold and one wonders why these two figures have been merged into one.
The "petrified" emperor seems to be enclosed in a wall cutout. At first it seems strange that the water of life is supposed to be the puddle of dirty water through which everyone wades and leaves behind the dirt on their shoes. But aren't these traces of real life? This is one of the moments that make the viewer an offer for their own interpretation. A hooded hat with a black tuft of plume gives the decrystallized emperor authority, but even with this he remains lonely in the finale. Only the Empress is happy, kneeling in the middle of the stage and happy to have become a person. But what use is her lonely happiness now? Barak and his wife run past each other one after the other and when they really do find each other, they do not find each other, are frightened and ashamed of each other. Barak's cheering song seems very strange in this situation. There is no reconciliation, no joy, no hugs. Shame and hurt are too great. Barak and Därberin turn away from each other. The nurse appears as if in a trance and holds the rope of the boat in her hand, which she was supposed to bring back into Keikobad's world, into her world (one thinks of Ariadne, who, full of longing, does not want to let go of the thread). Yes, where else should the woman go - she doesn't know anyone among the people she hated so much.

Nurse (Dalia Schaechter), Empress (Marion Amman)

In addition to a very appealing staging (apart from some overly shallow and little or no help at all for the story pointers to the time of origin) one can experience a very excellent ensemble of singers in Saarbrücken. Above all, Sabine Hogrefe should be mentioned here, who does not fashion the dyer as a nagging, poisonous woman, but as an injured woman who lets her longings become expressive with beautiful tones. "My soul has been fed up with motherhood before it has tasted it," she sings with longing bitterness to soften the stone, to name just one example. With her evenly formed, pleasantly timbred, warm mezzo-soprano, she gives the figure an incredibly impressive, strong, unusual, but thoroughly convincing dimension. Seldom has the dyer been heard singing so beautifully and cultivated, rarely so moving and getting under the skin.
Dalia Schaechter is hardly inferior to her as a wet nurse. It is fascinating what a wide range of vocal and representational possibilities she has at her disposal: colorfully blooming, insidious, bitchy, persuasive, demonically declaiming and whispering, but not out of vocal need, but as a variant of expression, because she can also sing seductively and that is not a matter of course in the role of the wet nurse.

Spirit messenger (James Bobby), dyer (Sabine Hogrefe), wet nurse (Dalia Schaechter)

Olafur Sigurdarson (the only member of the ensemble in one of the leading roles) does not sing the Barak with the noble tones of a cavalier baritone, but also lets the rough of the craftsman resonate with a robust timbre, the voice is full but never too soft and he has ample reserves for a final, true one Cheers. For the sick Marco Jentzsch, Torsten Kerl stepped in at short notice as Kaiser, who last sang the part at the MET and was just on the way to Bayreuth. He blends himself confidently into the production, lets you hear the substantial tones of a heavy heroic tenor rather than brightly shining heights and has the staying power for an extremely slowly taken "falcon, falcon, you found again ...". Marion Amman was announced before the performance because of possible breathing problems due to a cracked rib, but held out without any deficits. As Empress one could wish for a lighter, clearer voice, but with her rather dark timbre and sometimes darkened highs, she makes the part very haunting and has her strongest scene in the second act. If he wasn't on stage as a handsome young man may appear, János Ocsovai gives the youth vocal brilliance and beauty. Likewise Onur Abaci, who leaves the best impression as a falcon and guardian of the threshold. Up to the three maidservants, the guards of the city, choir and children's choir and, last but not least, the powerful-voiced James Bobby as the luxury cast of the ghost messenger, the performance leaves the extremely happy impression of a singing festival, even a musical highlight.

As the center of this starry sky stands at the podium of the highly concentrated and passionate Saarland State Orchestra, the departing General Music Director Toshiyuki Kamioka, who succeeds in the extremely difficult balancing act of conjuring up the pull and magic of the music in large arcs and under intense tension and thereby repeatedly working out interesting details and those To sound out the score not only in terms of size, but also in depth. Even the chamber music passages sound full and indulgent where you can indulge. He sometimes chooses unusual, both fresh and very slow tempos, but is always dynamic and full of tension. There are moments when you take your breath away, such as the tremendous musical tension in front of the wonderful singing of the city guards. The very good acoustics in my place put a sonorous crown on the overall experience.


A great musical moment and also very successful in terms of scenery, were it not for this unenlightening idea of ​​visually including the First World War as the time the work was created.

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Production team

musical direction
Toshiyuki Kamioka

Production and stage design
Dominik Neuner

Susanne Hubrich

Jaume Miranda

Assistant director
Catherine Molitor

Caroline Scheidegger

The Saarland State Orchestra

Opera choir and children's choir
of the Saarland State Theater

of the Saarland State Theater


The emperor
Torsten Kerl (premiere)
Marco Jentzsch

The empress
Marion Amman

The wet nurse
Dalia Schaechter

The Spirit Messenger
James Bobby

Voice of the hawk /
Guardian of the threshold of the temple
Onur Abaci

Voice of a youth
János Ocsovai

A voice from above
Judith Braun

Barak the dyer
Olafur Sigurdarson

Dyer, his wife
Sabine Hogrefe

The one-eyed one
Markus Jaursch

The one-armed man
Hiroshi Matsui

The hunchback
János Ocsovai

Three servants
Yuna Maria Schmidt
Valérie Condoluci
Alexandra Paulmichl

1. Children's voice /
1. Solo voice of the unborn
Yuna-Maria Schmidt

2nd child's voice /
2. Solo voice of the unborn
Valérie Condoluci

3rd child's voice /
3. Solo voice of the unborn
Onur Abaci

4. Children's voice /
4. Solo voice of the unborn
Alexandra Paulmichl

5. Children's voice /
5. Voice of the unborn
Judith Braun

Voices of the guards
James Bobby
Markus Jaursch
Hiroshi Matsui

Children's voices
Children's choir Cantamus

additional Information
can be obtained here:
Saarland State Theater