‘Gianni Schicchi’
‘Gianni Schicchi’

If Calixto Bieito’s new production of Gianni Schicchi and Bluebeard’s Castle makes a strong case for pairing these one-act operas, his lewd humour and sadomasochist displays offer little psychological insight. Both works premiered in the year 1918, and the dark journey of Bluebeard and Judith emerges as a counterpart to the paradise of the young lovers Lauretta and Rinuccio.

Yet Bieito undermines these masterful scores with cheap thrills. During the overture to Gianni Schicchi, already the music is overwhelmed by a screaming dance over Buoso Donati’s corpse. It isn’t long before his nephew Rinuccio is eating faeces from a bedpan. During Lauretta’s beseeching aria “O mio babbino caro”, Rinuccio strokes the bare buttock of his cousin, Gherardo, while Buoso’s brother-in-law cries out the inserted line, “Non morir!” (Don’t die).

In contrast, the doctor Maestro Spinelloccio, whose Bolognese accent typically elicits laughs, represents the “Berlin school” of medicine. Not that proper Italian singing was ever a priority at the Komische Oper, which was originally founded for German-language productions in 1947. The tenor Tansel Akzeybek and soprano Kim-Lillian Strebel almost prove exceptions as Rinuccio and Lauretta but they cannot hold their own against the blaring house orchestra under general music director Henrik Nánási.

Bluebeard’s Castle follows without intermission. Here the conductor maintains a saturated romantic sound, but at the expense of the details in the woodwinds and percussion which so vividly tell the story through Bartók’s score. In Bieito’s reading, Judith is as much aggressor as victim as she insists on penetrating her murderous lover’s abode.

The pair skulk into Buoso Donati’s vacated bedroom before the set dismantles to reveal backstage. The castle’s treasure chamber rolls in as a wall of urinals (stage design: Rebecca Ringst), where Judith slams Bluebeard against the mirror and finger-paints with blood.

By the time we reach the fifth room the theatre has become the castle, with trumpets calling from the balconies. The deranged Bluebeard stands before the audience in Judith’s sullied blouse and pumps (costumes: Ingo Krügler), only to smother her to death in post-coital rage. The bass-baritone Gidon Saks and soprano Ausrine Stundyte gave fierce, emotionally ripe performances but struggled to maintain their weight against both the orchestra and Bieito’s kinky gags.

To March 19, then April 5-17 and July 8, komische-oper-berlin.de

Get alerts on Life & Arts when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article