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March 17, 2014 5:40 pm
An IQ test in eight parts, each longer and more complex than the last, is not necessarily what you expect when you buy a ticket to the opera. Add a shredder, the sounds of newspaper tearing and packaging tape unrolling, appalling hairstyles, dull questions and a warped sense of humour, and you have the basis for IQ. Enno Poppe’s irreverent reflection on the nature of tests as applied to humans is a quirky addition to this year’s Maerzmusik Festival in Berlin.
Poppe’s music theatre work is always both whacky and cerebral, combining complex microtonal layers with a sense of the playful. IQ, staged at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, also owes something to the tangled novels of David Foster Wallace. The tedium of the everyday is examined so closely that it twists in upon itself, like a word repeated so often that it loses all meaning.
Anna Viebrock’s sets and costumes gently mock the tragic self-importance of fringe science. Like old sci-fi films, a look back at what earlier generations considered futuristic is inevitably cringe-inducing. To heighten the sense of general disorientation, Poppe has his instrumentalists acting, his actors singing, and his singers playing instruments, with all of them swapping roles with bewildering ease. The tester and the tested, the testing and the testy – all become increasingly tangled as the evening spirals to its anarchic close. The composer conducts. Poppe veers from jazz to variegated shades of atonality; his score and Marcel Beyer’s libretto are acerbic and refreshing.
The cast and the musicians of Klangforum Wien must all be off the scale of any standard test, but they wear their brilliance with nonchalance. IQ makes a mockery of navel-gazing. Have you ever wondered just how smart you really are? Have a little Poppe and get over it.
Both darker and more flippant, Austrian “Musicbanda” Franui’s Schau lange in den dunklen Himmel (Take a Long Look at the Dark Sky), at the Sophiensäle, explores isolation and madness through the music of Robert Schumann and the texts of Robert Walser. In the course of a short, well-constructed evening of burlesque psychodrama, baritone Otto Katzameier plays Freud to actor Daniel Christensen’s tortured poet. Franui’s arrangements weave well-known snippets of Schumann into a musical psychoanalysis of the composer’s nightmares; the whole is in memory of French visionary Thierry Kazazian.
IQ first saw the light of day in 2012 at the Schwetzinger Festspiele, while Schau lange was premiered at the KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen in 2011. The centrepiece of this year’s Maerzmusik was Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, which dates back to 1975. This year’s festival has focused on not-quite-new music. A little more risk would go a long way; on the other hand, second and third airings matter too.
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