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27/07/2005

From the Feuilletons is a weekly overview of what's been happening in the German-language cultural pages and appears every Friday at 3 pm. CET.. Here a key to the German newspapers.

"Tristan" flops

Critics haven't found much good to say about Christoph Marthaler's premiere of "Tristan and Isolde" which opened the Bayreuth Festival on Monday night. Gerhard Rohde reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of gurgling singers, a bellowing orchestra and a failed interpretation. "The portrayal of loneliness, lostness, hurt feelings and destroyed relationships – in other words, very contemporary facets of human existence – were buried in comedy and increasingly grotesque moments of farce. Marthaler's melancholy, which is close to Shakespeare's comedies, disappeared in the breadth of the stage and the unleashed audio deluges."

Likewise, Reinhard J. Brembeck, writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, experienced a "bankruptcy of all things 'Tristan'". According to Brembeck, none of the characters appear to feel anything at all. Not even Tristan and Isolde, after imbibing the love elixir. "They both drink it down, then sit at opposite ends of a couch, sensing that something has happened. But neither suspects for a moment that it could be love, despite four hours of sex and love-drunk music. They've never heard of that, they haven't experienced it and they've never seen it in another person." The music offered little respite. "Conductor Eiji Oue, a newcomer to Bayreuth's acoustically treacherous orchestra pit, is enamoured of pragmatic solutions, volume, high pressure music-making and premature climaxes (...) Oue missed a great opportunity to offer a musical contrast to the DDR-tristesse of the Marthaler/Viebrock world." And to round it all off, Brembeck reports of a "further scandal: the comprehensibility of the text. Presumably it was being sung in the original language, in some variant of Celtic. At any rate, it's almost impossible to understand a word." Oops.


Salzburg premiere a mixed blessing

The Salzburg Festival opened with a production of Odon von Horvath's "Tales from the Vienna Woods". The critics were divided.


Gerhard Stadelmaier in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung gushes praise for the actors Thomas Loibl and Juliane Köhler, before turning his attention to the production itself. "A sarcastic adherence to the text results in the most intelligent against-the-grain brushing in many seasons. What is staged is not what might be implied but rather what is actually said. There is no unmasking. The production rides on the power of the words alone. There are no beasts on parade hiding behind the sentimental kitsch of empty words. What is shown are people coiling themselves round the last scraps of life and love they have left. An odd labyrinthine writhing of worms. Barbara Frey builds up an enraptured confidence in this tangled mess and then dampens it slighly with the ironic ambience."

Christoper Schmidt in the Süddeutsche Zeitung also came out content. "Barbara Frey is also keep to sharpen the edge on Horvath. ... An orgy of groping and fumbling, and no sexual connotation left untouched. In tone, forced sharpness and abrasive physicality, the sentimental scenes are dissected with a glass cutter and the Austrian accent sounds like a language learning tape. This harshness is compensated for with some slapstick numbers. ... But the decisive factor is the attitude of the actors who give their characters up to justice without batting an eyelid."

While Barbara Villiger Heilig in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung found the actors in "Tales from the Vienna Woods" to be excellent, she was not impressed by the directorial achievements. "Barbara Frey directs the actors head on, with feeling but without any real plan. As a result, indecisiveness underpins the long evening. Despite dramaturgical interventions (the script is a collage of both versions of the original), there is a lack of structural dynamics."

Peter Michalzik in Frankfurter Rundschau was similarly unamused. "It's clear from the start that nothing is going to happen between Alfred and Marianne – and there's no excitement ersatz. The child is atmospherically dead from the start. Strangely though, this doesn't come over as frosty or nihilistic, but harmless and complaisant."


Die Welt, 27.07.2005

Irshad Manji, who has written a plea for an enlightened Islam (more here and here), calls Muslims to take a more critical look at the Koran. She believes the denegation of problematic passages in the book is wrong. "A high-profile gathering of 22 clerics and scholars at the London Cultural Center produced a statement, later echoed by a meeting of 500 Muslim leaders. It contained this line: 'The Koran clearly declares that killing an innocent person [is] tantamount to killing all mankind.' I wish. In fact, the full verse reads, 'Whoever kills a human being, except as punishment for murder or other villainy in the land, shall be regarded as having killed all humankind.' Militant Muslims easily deploy the clause beginning with 'except' to justify their rampages." (complete article in English here)

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