Saturday, July 12, 2008
Review: Die Soldaten at Park Ave. Amory
Reviews of Die Soldaten, the mid-20th Century opera by Bernd Alois Zimmerman at Park Ave. Amory, have been generally positive. The reviewers comment on the amazing technical feat achieved by director David Pountney of having the audience on a moving platform that traverses the length of a 10-foot 9-inch stage. They never fail to dwell upon the technical nature of the music, led by conductor Steven Sloane, which is based on a 20th century Germanic invention of the 12-tone scale, and performed by a 110-piece orchestra, a percussion ensemble, a jazz combo, along with the 40-member cast. Reviewers also generally comment on the astounding vocal skills of these singers. And they give a brief run down of the plot of the misadventures of a sweet girl, Marie (the incredible Claudia Barainsky), who loses everything, including her dignity, virginity, money and father in the quest for love. The New York Times even called it "a miraculous realization of an opera once deemed unperformable."
It is so much more. More than opera, more than drama. Pure art. Resonating. Reverberating. Opening windows to parts of your soul you haven't looked at for a long time. For me, it was total immersion.
The first scene: A 110-piece orchestra strikes a chord of total tension. Soldiers march down a narrow ramp, carrying a bed that could be a coffin. Marie and her sister follow, wearing brown shirts, come skipping down the narrow stage, alternating with a goose step they laugh at. The audience moves with them, leaving the outside world behind, drawn--slowly, slowly--into their world. A bed, a love letter, a dreamy boy who's fallen in love with the girl next door. A mother who wants him only to work. Marie's sister, telling her not to believe in love. That the end of happiness is always pain. Acting that shifts from expressionistic movements to naturalism.
As we move into this scene, tears stream down my face. This "total theater" which the author Zimmerman sought, has been achieved in its entirety. It's so beautiful to be allowed to abandon the self. Like a rock 'n' roll show, but so much deeper. More than spectacle. My heart is being twisted in and out of knots.
Back out. The exterior world. Soldiers in a bathhouse, chastisizng the chaplain.
Back out. A bar scene, with the playground mentality in full swing. In this mix: an amateur Nietzschean philosopher that the others laugh at, while demonstrating that they act exactly as he describes. Overtones of World War II. And I. And the one before that. And the one after that. And before that. And after that.
And so on. Scene after scene, you move through a study of the ideas that have guided the acts of the human race for the last 2,500 years. And all lead to this incredible sensation that the only beautiful thing left to us is not love, but art. And that art has been turned into a whore no one respects anymore. That's just what the boys of the playground called her. And in some ways, that's what the critics call Die Soldaten: focusing so much on the technical aspects of the show, the 12-tone music, the plot--as if it all was just some good blow job, well worth the $50-$250 ticket price.
But Marie was never a whore. And she's not just some chick that falls for three guys in a kind of speed dating routine and ends up getting raped--in a scene so shatteringly staged that I shudder from it still. The tears came again as we moved into this horrific scene, which was staged like a film. Marie transformed into three Marie's, all being simultaneously, visciously raped by Santa Claus-like figures, and men in tuxedos wearing terrifying pig masks (the rich at play; overtones of Eyes Wide Shut).
No, Marie is art. Real art. Pure art. The kind that doesn't whore itself out for financial gain or love. In the final scene, after she sees her father and he fails to recognize her, the father (god?) walks away up the stage toward the corpses of the men Marie loved once. Marie--or, what's left of art--walks toward the audience moving in time to fading music. Moving toward us, but never past us. For we are moving backwards--in thought, in mindset, and in our ability to recognize art for what is: all that we have left of love.