Thursday, July 05, 2007

Radical Stuff


[Items on display in the DDR Museum]

So I finally found Bruce and we had a nice chat over tea and cake at a Konditorie around the corner from the hotel. There was a mix up with the room reservations and we got a small room with a double bed. Bruce had the foresight to order a rollout cot yesterday morning. Given the problems with his back, I've given Bruce the bed and I'm sleeping on the cot. He offered to pay for the entire room, but I'm not going to let him.

We made our way (after getting slightly lost -- we ended up at the Staatsoper instead -- another reason why I still need to carry a map) to the Komische Oper, just in time to buy tickets to their unusual staging of Mozart's "Abduction from the Seraglio." The original involves a hero whose beloved has been captured by pirates and sold into the harem of a pasha. Together with his servant, whose beloved has also been captured, they succeed in breaking into the harem and in the end, rescuing their girlfriends. All in all, a light-hearted story.

The version we saw last night had very untraditional staging. Actually rated NC-17 (no one under 18 was admitted, I noticed in the program), the story was reset in a big city brothel, with the pasha recast as a pimp, and the women in the harem as prostitutes. Lots of scantily clad singers, simulated on stage sex, and a great deal of violence as the chief pimp slaps and abuses the women to keep them in line.


[A scene from the new staging in Berlin]

Much of the scenery was designed to draw connections between advertising, prostitution, and the objectification and violation of women. There are scenes of shocking violence -- include the mass murder of all the female employees other than the two girlfriends -- and the play ends on a very dark note. Instead of the two couples successfully fleeing the corrupt harem, the main hero dons the clothing of the dead pimp, and having taken over the pimp's role, his beloved commit suicide.

As we were heading out, I asked Bruce if Constanza had indeed shot herself (I had been focused on another part of the stage), and a German man next to us said yes, but that he didn't understand why she did. I told him I thought it was because she had lost all hope having seen her beloved take on the role of the chief pimp. It became clear that the German absolutely hated this production and told us we shouldn't hold it against the play.

Bruce absolutely loved both the staging and well as the performance. I thought that the performances were great and that the idea behind the unconventional staging was interesting, though it clearly does violence to Mozart's intention of a light comedy.

Here's a brief excerpt from the Deutsche Welle review [http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,1245750,00.html]:

A Violent, Drug-Addled, Hooker-Filled Opera Angers Sponsors
Berlin's theatre-goers are notoriously hard to shock. But Spanish director Calixto Bieito's production of Mozart's "Abduction from the Seraglio" has got audiences pretty hot under the collar.

When Calixto Bieito premiered his dystopic version of Abduction from the Seraglio at the acclaimed Komische Oper in Berlin last Sunday, angry punters walked out in their droves while others applauded a brave adaptation of Mozart's classic opera.

The media was equally polarized. While the tabloid Bild ran the headline "Is this what taxpayers money is spent on?" the daily Die Welt dubbed it "the most important production of the year."

[snip]

There was no shortage of hecklers on Sunday either, with the performance punctuated by cries of "Fire the director!" and "Poor Mozart!" from the more conservative members of the audience. Nonetheless, others present described it as "sensational!"

Berlin's senator for culture, Thomas Flierl, also defended Bieito's production in an interview with Bild, arguing that "the depiction of blood, sex and violence is a true reflection of social phenomena."
[end of excerpt]

It was 9:30 when we left the theater (which is very ornate on the inside, in contrast to its communist-era exterior), so we took a cab back to the hotel and had a late light supper.

This morning, Bruce slept in while I went to the Jewish Museum. I wanted to time the visit and see about arranging tours for students. I got a brochure on the sorts of tours they arrange (mostly for high school students), and I think it won't be hard to customize it to my group. I think the most helpful for my students would be to skip quickly through the medieval period and early modern period (maybe 20 minutes), and instead focus on the changes of the 19th and 20th centuries.


[Daniel Liebskind's J├╝disches Museum in Berlin]

I had a sandwich for lunch in the cafe and was pleased to see they had some vegetarian options. Then I came back to meet Bruce. Our first stop was the DDR Museum, an example of "Ost-algia" that has been growing in Germany. I first came last year, a few weeks after it opened, but now it is very, very popular.

This was my first time traveling with Bruce since he started using a wheelchair, because he finds it difficult to stand for long periods of time. It takes some getting used to. I had to learn how to take curbs and so on. Bruce has been very patient with me.

After the museum, we stopped for some cafe und kuchen at a bakery off Alexanderplatz. We hoped to visit the Fernsehturm (the TV tower built by the East German government) and take the elevator to the top floor to see the view, but there were two flights of stairs from the lobby to the box office and the elevator to the roof, and there was no accomodations for people in wheelchairs, so we left.


[The Berlin Fernsehturm]

I took Bruce on a walking tour of the former Scheunenviertel, which was the old neighborhood of Ostjude (eastern Jews) in the first decades of the 20th century. Very little of it remains as it was then, and most of the buildings are the charm-free communist era construction one sees a lot of here.

After that we headed back up to Prenzlauer Berg to make an appointment for Bruce to get some deep tissue massage work tomorrow to help his back (I've got a list of medical terms to google in a few moments). We got back to the hotel just ahead of the rain. It was pouring a little while ago, but now it's stopped again. The forecast for the next three days is more of the same: intermittant rain. Still, it's better than last year's heat and humidity. The only problem is that the hostel in Krakow lost my only other pants when I put them in for cleaning, and there's only so long I can wear these. I'm hoping that it warms up enough to wear my shorts.

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