Die Gezeichneten at the Komische Oper Berlin

Die Gezeichneten (The Branded), opera in three acts, sung in German, with German surtitles
Music by Franz Schrekerm, with the Libretto also by the composer, based on the 1904 play Hidalla by German playwright Frank Wedekind.

This review is for the performance of 11 July, 2018.

Conductor: Stefan Soltesz
Director: Calixto Bieito

Cast

DUKE ANTONIOTTO ADORNO - Joachim Goltz
COUNT ANDRAE VITELOZZO TAMARE - Opera Lively interviewee Michael Nagy
LODOVICO NARDI, PODESTÀ OF GENOA - Jens Larsen
CARLOTTA NARDI, HIS DAUGHTER - Ausrine Stundyte
ALVIANO SALVAGO, A GENOESE NOBLEMAN - Peter Hoare
GUIDOBALD USODIMARE - Adrian Strooper
MENALDO NEGRONI - Ivan Turšić
MICHELOTTO CIBO - Tom Erik Lie
GONSALVO FIESCHI - Johnathan McCullough
JULIAN PINELLI - Lucas Singer
PAOLO CALVI - Samuli Taskinen
GINEVRA SCOTTI - Katarzyna Włodarczyk
MARTUCCIA, HOUSEKEEPER AT SALVAGO - Christiane Oertel
PIETRO - Christoph Späth
FIRST SENATOR - Johannes Klügling
SECOND SENATOR - Tobias Müller-Kopp
THIRD SENATOR - Tim Dietrich
A GIRL - Mirka Wagner
A BOY - Emil Ławecki

I wasn‘t much looking forward to this opera, dating to 1918 in the „modern“ idiom, though Luiz kept telling me that it was a gorgeous score. As usual, he was right. Regardless, the house probably was not half full, an unusual situation for any of the Berlin opera houses.

As a reminder, the plot:

An island of lust outside the gates of Genoa, missing and abused high-society children, a physically deformed patron of the arts – these are the ingredients of Franz Schreker’s The Branded. Not for the faint-hearted, in other words – a superlative psychological thriller! Star director Calixto Bieito, the internationally celebrated soprano Ausrine Stundyte, Peter Hoare, and the former ensemble member Michael Nagy – now a regular performer at all the major opera houses – bring to the Berlin public this late Romantic psychological masterpiece.

The opera began with a large photo backdrop of a ferris wheel - indicating the island of Elysium that lies at the heart of the opera - against an otherwise white backdrop. The graphics gradually become more intense and, in the second act, finally are photos of young boys - bearing more than a little resemblance to the images of missing children once seen on milk cartons.

The idea, of an island owned by a rich and physically disabled man who has pledged to turn the island over to the local population, runs into the obstruction of a group of young swells who are friends of the rich man, who have been using the island as their refuge for kidnapping young local women and assaulting them on the island. They are not interested in giving up their pleasure island. Calixto Bieito, as is his wont, turns things a bit on their head to make the situation one of pedophilia, featuring both young boys and girls.

The opera‘s libretto is dark and relentless. The score is richly instrumented with some gorgeous melodies and intense singing from the cast. The lead character, Alviano Salvago, sung by tenor Peter Hoare, was passionate and focused throughout his lengthy time on stage. The other standouts were Ausrine Stundyte‘s Carlotta, who was a terrific actress and passionate singer. The strongest singer of the night was baritone Michael Nagy, a former Komische Oper ensemble member, whose steady baritone was easily the best voice of the night.

The unpleasant subject matter combined with Calixto Bieito‘s choice of how to stage the opera, proved to be too much for some of the audience, who left at intermission, grumbling various things about „disgusting“ and „second rate opera“. Unlike Luiz and a friend here in Berlin, who found the production over the top, I was not offended and thought Bieito succeeded in making his point, enjoyed myself and in becoming acquainted with the opera.