| SALZBURG, Austria, July 28
SALZBURG, Austria, July 28 The Berlin-born
Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon left behind a body of
watercolours and text she called "Life? or Theatre?" before she
was killed at Auschwitz in 1943 at age 26, carrying her unborn
Salomon's life, which has inspired films, plays and a
musical, was turned into an opera that plumbed the depths of
human emotion in its premiere on Monday at the Salzburg Festival
With music by French composer Marc-Andre Dalbavie, staging
by Swiss director Luc Bondy and libretto by German-Jewish author
Barbara Honigmann, who used 85 percent of Salomon's own text,
the work was the season's most anticipated opera at the
prestigious festival in the city of Mozart's birth.
It did not disappoint.
Although a gang of uniformed Nazi toughs appeared at
strategic moments as a reminder of the inevitable ending, the
opera focused more on the difficult emotional and intellectual
problems Salomon faced as a young woman.
She only belatedly learned that her mother had committed
suicide by leaping from a third-floor window, and there was a
family history of suicide that haunted her.
Her first lover, who treated her badly, was a vocal coach
she and her stepmother shared as a partner. "You throw me
crumbs...and I am your dog," Salomon says of him.
Twice - at the beginning and at the end - she says she has
nightmares in microcosm that, in the real world, are "played out
For the production on what Bondy called a CinemaScope-size
30-meter(33-yard)-wide stage at a riding school converted into a
theatre, the artist's own works, many of them images of herself
or people she knew, were projected onto the back wall.
The clever set featured at least a half dozen doors the
singers and other cast members used to exit and enter.
At curtain, the cast of the two-hour-long production
received a tremendous ovation.
Among those taking a bow were French mezzo-soprano Marianne
Crebassa as Charlotte Kann, the alter ego Salomon created for
herself in her own "sing-speak" theatre piece cum artwork.
She was matched, both in costume and stage personality, by
German actress Johanna Wokalek, playing Salomon as a narrator
who also sang so the two roles eventually almost merged into
Dalbavie, at a press conference on the day of the premiere,
had expressed his concern about mixing narration with music and
singing, saying: "For me, it doesn't work".
"So I really tried to make it happen so that we are not
disturbed that when people sing and when they speak it's like
two different worlds," he said. "I tried to find continuity."
Another point of interest that arose because of the timing
of the premiere was whether it had taken on added topicality
because of the ongoing clashes between Israel and Hamas.
Bondy said one journalist had suggested that he had directed
it because he is Jewish and then pressed him to respond to the
assertion that "Gaza is destroyed."
"So I said to her this is a production about a Jewish
artist...the subject is the story of Charlotte Salomon," Bondy
said, adding that he had walked out on the interviewer.
As a composer, Dalbavie is known as an exponent of the
so-called "spectral" school which focuses on timbre - or shape -
of sound and how the human ear hears, often with melody getting
short shrift. But this score had tunes galore, including a part
of the famous "Habanera" from Bizet's "Carmen".
Other musical excerpts were from Bach, Schubert lieder,
Jewish folktunes, and a Nazi rally song. All were justified by
the opera's setting in high Jewish bourgeois society in Berlin
in the late 1930s, where Salomon's father was a surgeon and her
stepmother an acclaimed singer.
Dalbavie said it had been "very important" for him to use
these particular pieces, which he said helped link the opera to
Charlotte Salomon's musical world.
Honigmann said she has long been acquainted with Salomon's
work and felt the opera would widen the artist's appeal.
"This is to help keep alive the memory of someone who died
more than half a century ago, and to keep her work alive."
(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Gunna Dickson)