Director Andrey Maslakov claimed during the premiere of his “Fidelio” on February 12 at Kiev’s Modern Music Theater that no one could conceive a war or even a bombardment of Kiev. The production had been scheduled for Beethoven Year 2020, but had to be postponed due to the epidemic. Beethoven’s lone opera had never been performed in Ukraine before, and a planned performance by the National Socialists in 1943 was canceled.
Despite fierce opposition, artistic director Jens Neundorff von Enzberg has invited Maslakow’s production to the Meiningen State Theater, where it was only seen once before the invasion. Exit permits for actors aged 18 to 60 who must be ready for military service in Ukraine were already extremely difficult to get through diplomatic procedures. The transit of the stage set and costumes across Romania and Hungary was also an adventure that came close to failing several times. The filmmaker designed the equipment himself.
It’s unclear how the daring guest performance would have been accepted in the absence of this backdrop. Maslakov and his company present Beethoven’s Freedom Opera as a confrontational director’s theatre: at times humorous, full of sexual trash, and more frequently simply unpleasant. Maslakov sets “Fidelio” in 1950s Stalinism, with frequent visits to the toilet in the apartment of “comrade” Rocco (Oleksander Kharlamov). Vodka is frequently consumed over the toilet bowl. However, Leonore also enters the small room with her big aria, where she removes a plastic penis from beneath the masculine disguise and places it on the table.
Broken German has coarse undertones.
While the Kiev ensemble waited for the stage set to be brought to Meiningen, the often harsh interim texts were translated from Ukrainian into broken German. But it’s not just text additions or heckling in the middle of an aria – “Bring the ashtray!” – that might be annoying chevaliers. Beethoven’s music incorporates Fidelio’s irritated appeals to Marzelline, as well as quotes from other composers. Before the appearance of Minister Peter Ilitsch, Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” is played instead of the normal Leonore Overture.
On February 12th, director Andrey Maslakov was able to celebrate the premiere of his show at Kiev’s Modern Music Theater.
Historical film footage of the Russian dance classic may be seen, with politicians laughing in the crowd in one montage. Gaddafi, Lenin, Castro, and Gorbachev, above all dictators. And then there was the fall of the Berlin Wall. The show is unable to send a clear political message. Maslakow is also skeptical about the conclusion: The minister in tails and top hat poses for the camera with a foolish smile while Pizarro (Dmytro Kyrychek) is violently humiliated by the crowd and eventually hanged. And Leonore, who is lauded for her excellent fidelity to her husband, is given a kitchen apron so Marzelline can teach her to cook. But why, in the end, does Leonore shoot the entire ensemble (one thinks of Tarantino films)? Puzzles that are still being worked on.
Yuliia Aliekseieva as Leonore and Serhii Androshuck as Florestan both have outstanding vocal performances in their two major arias. The choir is provided by the Coburg and Meiningen theaters, and the orchestra is provided by the Meininger Hofkapelle. You occasionally discover that the impulsively scheduled guest performance had only a few practices, but you accept this because of the hardships that this trip entails. A change of podium exemplifies the ongoing cultural interaction between Ukraine and Germany: the first act was conducted by Kyiv’s Sergej Golubnychny, and the second by Meiningen’s general music director Philippe Bach.
Everyone who attended the event is presented on the screen in a form of credits at the conclusion, just like in the cinema, before a very long round of applause begins. The ensemble, cheerful and full of energy, reveals itself once more in their parts’ gestures. The lettering can be read as “Freedom is contagious.” “Culture will not end the conflict, but it can help to slow it down,” Neundorff von Enzberg argues. Understanding, not war, is the objective, according to this Fidelio.
The Meiningen production was a one-time event, but other guest performances are planned (though no dates have been set), including in Coburg, Heidelberg, and Siegen. And perhaps the ensemble’s conscript men’s exit permit, which was originally issued until May 25th, can be extended once more.