by Megan Meister

A shot of the interior of Berlin’s Komische Oper with a sold out house for Handel’s XERXES

I am heading for the airport in a few minutes for my flight back to Dallas, but I wanted to report on yesterday while it was still fresh in my mind.

Yesterday afternoon I met with a colleague I hadn’t seen in several years who is a casting consultant for several opera houses in Europe, including Munich and Glyndebourne.  It was great to catch up and compare notes on singers and productions each of us had seen and share “war” stories.

I then spent some time with soprano Katie Bolding, the former Dallas Opera chorister who moved to Berlin last year to pursue a singing career.

She sang the role of Countess Ceprano in RIGOLETTO in her solo debut with TDO in 2011, and has now been engaged as a principal singer at the opera house in Gera, near Leipzig, starting in the fall.  She is off to China next week for some big gala concert, so things seem to be going very well for her.  I am very proud of her and admire her resourcefulness in launching her European career.

Last night I attended a performance of a new production of Handel’s XERXES at the Komische Oper.  It just opened last week to rave reviews, and contrary to the performance of IDOMENEO I had attended the night before, it was completely sold out.

The production was staged by Norwegian Stefan Herheim, who is now one of Europe’s most important directors.

It was dazzling!

The set, by Heike Scheele, was an enormous turntable that when spun around showed both backstage and onstage of an eighteenth century theatre.  This allowed the audience to see all sorts of theatrical machinery of the period utilized in imaginative ways, as well as all sorts of backstage shenanigans.

There was, of course, some overt sexuality that would make American audiences uncomfortable, including a graphic scene with a randy sheep, which was played for laughs, and a gang rape of one of the sopranos, that most certainly was not.

The singing ranged from acceptable to outstanding, but the most arresting timbre was the dark chocolate tones coming from the mezzo playing the supporting role of “Amastris”— Katarina Bradic.

The plot of XERXES is very convoluted, with everyone in love with the “wrong” person.  The two sisters “Romilda” and “Atalanta” were dressed identically, as were most of the men (mostly sung by mezzos in “travesty”) which didn’t help clarify who was who.

It took a while to figure it all out, but I think that this confusion was part of what Mr. Herheim intended.

I didn’t quite “get” why the chorus all came on at the end in their street clothes, though.  I have seen this in a number of European productions, and it must MEAN something.

I just keep thinking that it is done so the chorus can get out of their make-up and costumes and go home earlier.  I would hate to think that this is done so the theatre doesn’t have to pay an increment of overtime, but that surely can’t be the reason!

The sets and the rest of the costumes must have cost a fortune, though.

This opera house is almost completely subsidized by the government, so I suppose I shouldn’t worry…

It was a lovely way to spend my last night in Berlin, but now I am eager to get home.

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