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Britten, Death in Venice:
Soloists,Orchester, Chor und Ballet des Staatstheaters am Gärtnerplatz.
New Production. 24. 7.2009. (JMI) 

Direction: Immo Karaman.

Sets: Kaspar Zwimpfer.
Costumes: Nicola Reichert.
Lighting: Wieland Müller-Haslinger.
Choreography: Fabian Posca.


Gustav von Aschenbach: Hans-Jürgen Schöpflin.
Traveller (several roles): Gary Martin.
Apollo: Yossemeh Adjei.
Tadzio: Michael Langner.

The Munich operatic programme is one of the largest and richest that exist today in any city of the world. Besides the traditional National Theatre, where the regular Opera season and most of the Festival takes place, there is the Prinzeregenten Theater, smaller and a kind of copy of Bayreuth. To these theatres we must also add the Cuvilliés, a jewel of a baroque theatre from the 18th century, located within the Residenz. Some important landmarks in the history of Opera were premiered here, among them Mozart’s Idomeneo. There is also a fourth and more popular theatre located in the Gärtnerplatz, from which its name comes a horse shoe shaped theatre of around 800 seats, with a program covering opera, operetta, musicals and ballet. Obviously the casts in this theater are nothing like as grand as those provided by the Bayerische Staatsoper: rather like the relationship between Covent Garden’s Royal Opera and the London Coliseum. 

I decided to take the chance to see this wonderful Britten opera at Gartnerplatz, because of the good memories that Death in Venice left me with in Barcelona after seeing the most beautiful Willy Decker production there. This new Munich production had its premiere only last month and its direction is by Immo Karaman, a young German director of Turkish origin, who has done some remarkable work several other German theatres. If the Decker production impressed because of its beauty, then Karaman’s production is not directly comparable but it does have one of the best stage direction that I've seen in some time. Karaman very cleverly mixes humor and melancholy, making spectacular use of extras, the chous and ballet dancers. Tadzio and his Polish family are interpreted by the dancers, which is a genuine innovation. The mass movement on stage is spectacular with great contributions from the chorus members and extras. In a single and simple set, Karaman gets very fast changes of scene with movements of a few propa and an outstanding lighting. The action takes place in the 30s and has lively costumes. The choreography is outstanding in an excellent and surprising production.

David Stahl is the principal conductor at the Gartnerplatz, where he has been conducting regularly for the last 13 years. He gave a very good musical reading of this difficult work, controlling the numerous forces on stage perfectly. The Orchestra des Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz is obviously not the Bayerische Orchester, but it offered a very good performance. All praise is due too, to the chorus both as singers and actors.

Gustav von Aschenbach was interpreted by the German tenor Hans-Jürgen Schöpflin, who also sang the role at Barcelona’s Liceu last year. This character is on stage and singing from beginning to end and demands an excellent artist with more than just a voice - exactly what Shöpflin offered.

As Aschenbach’s alter ego, the incarnation of evil, and singing several roles there was baritone Gary Martin, who is part of the regular theatre company. His work was very convincing on stage: he has a rich voice in the middle range although slightly tighter above that.

Apollo was interpreted by countertenor Yossemeh Adjei who sang correctly and he looked every in the god on stage. All the many secondary roles were interpreted by soloist from the theatre chorus and special mention should also be given to the non-singing characters Tadzio (Michael Langner) and Jaschiu (Onur Birsov).

The theatre had a few empty seats. The audience was more informal than at the main Festival and gave a very warm reception to all the artists, specially to Schöpflin, Martin and Stahl. I assume that Immo Karaman was cheered at the premiere. He certainly deserved to be.

José M Irurzun

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