It was excessive midday in a disused hangar at Tempelhof airport, close to the middle of Berlin, and the Komische Oper was troubleshooting its new swimming pool.
The director Tobias Kratzer, talking right into a microphone, stopped a bunch of extras and refrain members throughout a rehearsal of Hans Werner Henze’s “The Raft of the Medusa,” which can open the Komische Oper’s season on Saturday. And the raft, made up of benches designed to seem like they’re floating within the water, was refusing to shut on cue.
This hangar, a part of a posh constructed by Hitler’s regime within the Thirties, has been used for artwork installations and sports activities because the airport closed practically 16 years in the past. Now, it has been outfitted with 1,600 seats and a 15-inch-deep swimming pool stage.
And whereas the Komische Oper, one in all Berlin’s three main opera firms, embarks on a multiyear renovation of its theater, the hangar is the primary of many websites — together with a short lived base on the disused Schiller Theater, a former brewery and a tent exterior town corridor — the place it should mount performances.
“The Raft of the Medusa,” an oratorio, was impressed by the 1819 portray of the identical title by Théodore Géricault, which was itself primarily based on the 1816 wreck of the French naval ship Medusa. Lifeboats had been utilized by officers and clergymen, and the roughly 150 enlisted males had been left on a swiftly constructed raft constituted of what might be salvaged of the ship. After a number of miles of being towed by the lifeboats, the raft was minimize unfastened by officers trying to save themselves. For 13 days, the survivors floated adrift with little meals and water, ultimately resorting to cannibalism to remain alive. Only 15 had been ultimately rescued, and accidentally. The occasions grew to become an emblem of the just lately restored French monarchy’s indifference to the plenty.
Henze, who selected the subject material for the oratorio within the heated political yr of 1968, subtitled the piece “Requiem for Che Guevara” and scored its ending with the rhythm of the protest chant “Ho-Ho-Ho Chi Minh.” At its premiere, college students hung Che Guevara banners from the conductor’s podium; communist and anarchist teams raised purple and black flags, and fought each bourgeois viewers members and each other; a choir from West Berlin refused to sing underneath the purple banner; and police violence led to the efficiency being canceled earlier than it started.
For Kratzer, the piece has political and inventive significance properly past the Sixties. “It gets more universal year by year,” he stated. “From a distance from the politics of the day, it can be read as being about the crisis of refugees.”
At Tempelhof, the hangars subsequent to the one the place the Komische will carry out, in addition to elements of the airport’s tarmac, have been used for refugee housing since 2015.
“The raft can be read as a metaphor for every country which will remain inhabitable after the climate crisis,” Kratzer added. “And then it’s also a metaphor for man in space, for being on a finite planet in the eternal universe. The further you are away from the concrete scandal of ’68, the more all those elements open up.”
Starting with “The Raft of the Medusa,” every of the subsequent 5 Komische Oper seasons will open with a large-scale efficiency within the hangar. That is how lengthy the renovation of the corporate’s home, within the middle of Berlin, is anticipated to take. The constructing’s backstage and lots of technical programs date from the Sixties; the objective is to renovate and protect the ambiance of the 1892 operetta theater whereas including trendy stage know-how and a brand new wing with accessible lobbies, new rehearsal rooms and dressing rooms.
“The current house is not up to today’s standards,” Susanne Moser, the corporate’s co-director, stated in a German-language interview together with her management accomplice, Philipp Bröking. “Thankfully the Berlin Senate has agreed to make a major investment in the Komische Oper, Berlin and the art of opera. And what luck that Berlin has an empty theater, the Schiller Theater, that can be a base for us.” (Most performances will happen there.)
Disruptions like this are at all times costly, in addition to dangerous. The firm — whose repertory is broad, together with musicals, operettas and operas — bought 90 p.c of accessible tickets final season, and has spent current years saving cash to pay for site-specific performances and a discount in seats per season in the course of the renovation. And though “The Raft of the Medusa” is hardly standard-issue fare, its six-show run is bought out.
“Our public loves the quality of productions,” Moser stated, in noting that even revivals get a minimal of 4 weeks of rehearsals. “They love difference. They want to be surprised.” Komische Oper attendees, she added, are likelier to be regulars at a wide range of cultural occasions moderately than solely opera followers.
Kratzer stated in an interview that the size of the Tempelhof hangar makes it attainable to stage the Henze in a representational manner. “You can have this image of 154 people on this tiny raft in the water,” he stated. “On a stage it would always look too big. Here, you can see the scale.”
Each singer might be geared up with a microphone. The baritone Günter Papendell, a Komische Oper stalwart who will painting the Everyman sailor Jean-Charles, described in an interview the challenges of swimming, combating and dancing within the shallow water whereas preserving a microphone dry.
“If the microphone gets wet, then the tone will cut out, and no one will hear me,” Papendell stated in a German-language interview. “So I have to be up to my neck in water, do some water acrobatics, and keep everything from here up dry.”
The rating, nevertheless, is gentler to sing than some up to date music, stated the soprano Gloria Rehm, who will painting the mythic character of Death, a siren who tempts the misplaced sailors to surrender and cease combating to outlive. In a German-language interview, she laughed and let unfastened some spiky coloratura. “It’s not like that, but almost bel canto in how it sits in the voice,” she added.
Bringing Henze’s oratorio into the current concerned rethinking the position of the narrator, named Charon, after the Greek demigod who brings souls from the land of the residing to the land of the useless. Usually forged with a patrician (and white) actor, right here it’s performed by Idunnu Münch, a mezzo-soprano of shade; the viewers will see one thing of a reversal of the standard sight of a white narrator describing individuals of shade in disaster.
In a German-language interview, Münch stated that her studying of her half would emphasize its musical qualities. “There are many places in the score where speech is rhythmic, and many places where specific pitches are marked,” she added, “and I’ve never heard them on recordings.”
Kratzer has directed the character to be much less of a passive observer. “Less Brechtian,” he stated. “As soon as you do it scenically, she can’t be neutral.” Singing a lot of the time from a small lifeboat rowing across the wrecked raft, the character might be within the acquainted place of witnessing catastrophe and feeling unable to assist.
“Empathy alone is not enough,” Kratzer stated. “She would love to help, but there are more than a hundred on the raft and even five would sink her lifeboat. This is the tragic dilemma.”
Despite the danger of a moist microphone, Papendell described his hopes for “The Raft of the Medusa” and the Komische Oper’s coming nomadic interval with fun and one phrase: “Revolution!”
“It’s good to leave our home behind for a while and play in some other places. In a place like this,” he added, gesturing across the hangar, “to be able to make music theater — I feel unbelievably happy.”