"Tannhäuser", an opera from Richard Wagner, a stage directing from Burkhard C.Kosminski
In 2013, Burkhard calls me and ask me if I would like to work with him on his first directing for an opera.
That remembered me of Yoshi Oida, who many years before, after some years of working together on theatre directing, asked me: « Jean, do you like opera? ». My answer to Yoshi was: « well, I do not know much about it and there are, in operas works, many moments that I found very beautiful, but this way of expression and of acting feels to me not natural, so I am not a big fan »..
The work that Burkhard had to realise for the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf, was the directing of Wagner opera`s « Tannhäuser ».
The opera from Wagner tells the story of Tannhäuser, a minstrel, who left his friends and his love, because he has been seduced by Venus. Losing his interest in the profane pleasures, he decide to return back to his homeland and is warmly received. But, during a minstrel contest in which the singers had to improvise about their idea of love, Tannhäuser create a blasphemous scandal and he is banned out of his homeland.
He has to go to Rome to ask for his redemption to the Pope. His redemption is refused and the story ends in a dramatic way with the dead of his first love Elisabeth, followed by Tannhäuser himself who die full of remorse.
For Burkhard, as he tells himself tells, the important thematic in this story is guilt. In Wagner´s libretto, Tannhäuser fault was to have been seduced by Venus and spend a part of his life enjoying sex and other carnal pleasures.
Nowadays, in our modern society, such a thing is not anymore considered as an horrible crime. So his question was, what should have done someone so horrible that the Pope would not even accept to give this person his redemption ?
The idea of Burkhard´s directing was to transpose the story of Tannhäuser to Germany in the after-second war time, during the reconstruction of the german V.th. republic. Tannhäuser´s friends were then young convinced nazis, and Tannhäuser himself follow the group even if he was not so convinced. The idea of this directing was to raise the question about the state of the guilt feeling about what happened at nazi time, now in the german fifth republic?
When Burkhard explained to me his idea and some details he had in mind, I told him that this idea was very interesting, but will certainly create a little scandal.
He was of course conscious of this but, « why not ?.
The work went very well, and the result was beautiful. Burkhard`s ideas and Florian Eti´s stage scenery were great.
The show was opening on a very strong scene. A huge stage-bright box like a giant aquarium was rolling up from the back to the front stage with inside some naked persons which will walk on place and die from gas represented by a white smoke invading the aquarium… No doubt about what it was going to tell about.
The first went on as we imagined, as a good scandal. All ready by the shocking opening scene, some voices in the public were to be heard, and as the next scene started, some persons began to stand up and leave.
The public who was contesting this directing, respected the artists performing and did their best not to disturb the musicians and the singers. Also the applause at the end were warm for the performing artists, but when the « black » appeared, we received strong « Booh! » and many aggressive reactions. On the other side, some part of the public did appreciate our work and ideas and we hear some « Bravo! » in the middle of the loud negative reactions.
Well that was to except, and I do not think that any of us was disappointed. What was not expected, and very disappointing, was that two days later, the director of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein will make a public announcement in the press to declare that consequence of the complains that he received from certain people from the public he was forced to cancel the coming performances and reduce the presentations of this programm to a performance without stage scenery, and without costume.
The complains were that some persons of the public declared having been « so shocked » by what they saw, that they did need some psychological support in the following days to get along with the shock…
This is the most unbelievable thing that I ever heard in all my live. Well, I can imagine that something else happened, like maybe some complain coming from high level as from some people feeling directly concern by what has been showed and which could bring the director of this opera in an unsure position about keeping his job if nothing was done about this situation…?
In what it concerns me, I was proud to work with someone as Burkhard who had the courage of his ideas and stand strongly behind his artistic freedom. I all ready did appreciated very much his honest engagement and love for his art which was theatre, and this « Tannhäuser story » brought me even more respect for him.
(if you wan to read more about « Tannhäuser »)