Komische Oper Berlin:”Clivia”

Komische Oper Berlin, season 2013/2014  
Operetta in three acts, libretto by Charles Amberg and F. Maregg
Music Nico Dostal  
Musical arrangement by Kai Tietje
E. W. Potterton, industrialist from Chicago  STEFAN KURT
Clivia Gray, film actress  CHRISTOPH MARTI
Yola, his cousin   ANDREJA SCHNEIDER
Lelio Down, journalist oft he Chicago Times PETER RENZ
Gustav Kasulke, inventor CHRISTOPH SPÄTH
Caudillo / Valdivio  MAX GERTSCH
Film director / Díaz  MARKUS MERZ
1st gentleman / assistant producer  JAN PROPOROWITZ
2nd gentleman / production manager  VOLKER HERDEN
3rd gentleman / Rodrigo  SASCHA BORRIS
First gaucho  MÁTÉ GAL
Chorus soloists and extras of the Komische Oper Berlin
Orchestra of the Komische Oper Berlin
Conductor  Kai Tietje
Chorus David Cavelius
Director  Stefan Huber
Stage  Stephan Prattes
Costumes    Heike Seidler
Coreography  Danny Costello  
Light  Diego Leetz
Sound design  Matthias Reusch    
Berlin,  20th April 2014

 What is operetta supposed to be like? A combination of glamour, pretence, catchy music, diverting entertainment? One could theorize about the topic but it is easier to see something that brings this combination to life in every aspect. Berlin’s Komische Oper chose Nico Dostal’s biggest success “Clivia” to present an operetta as exactly what it is and what it is not, either. The result is a most entertaining three hour theatre event. It is the story of the Hollywood star Clivia Gray who is to shoot a new film in Boliguay, a fictitious South American country. The venture is financed by the US industrialist Potterton and jeopardized because the film crew does not have a work permit for the country. But there is a solution: a sham marriage between Clivia and the Boliguayan gaucho Juan Damigo makes her a citizen of the country and the film crew can cross the boarder. The sham marriage soon turns into a love affair. Potterton for his part pursues his own interests and prepares a coup to overthrow the new Boliguayan government and save his investments in the country. The coup fails and the new passionate love is at stake the more so as Juan turns out to be the revolutionary leader and people’s president of Boliguay. Clivia proves not guilty after all by having not known about Potterton’s true plans behind the film shoot, which paves the way for a happy end. Hollywood and its stardom, “dollar diplomacy” and American imperialism, a military coup supported by the US – the authors of “Clivia” mix up the political and social issues of the early 1930s in a fascinating way and prove once again how close the genre of operetta used to be to current time events. We cannot find out for sure any more if Nico Dostal and the playwright Franz Massarek who used to sign as a writer with the pseudonym F. Maregg had the so-called Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay in mind for the background of the operetta. The name Boliguay suggests so. The two countries waged war against each other in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In the first act the stage (design by Stephan Prattes, costumes by Heike Seidler) looks like a Carmen setting with palm trees. The frontier with a closed barrier is clearly visible in the middle of the stage. Later it is opened for the Boliguayan female army of Amazons in sexy light-blue uniforms led by the resolute Yola. She falls in love with the journalist Lelio Down who is at first expelled from the country. The opening scene is big theatre with three singing gauchos, dancers, a stuntman etc. It turns out to be a scene shot on a film set. Potterton shows up to make clear that he finances everything and therefore controls everything and everybody including the film star Clivia. She appears in a big show scene with chorus, ballet, and the well-known melody of Man spricht heut nur noch von Clivia. Producer Stefan Huber develops the action scene after scene with all elements and clichés of operetta but never gets lost in details. There are elaborate ballet scenes (choreography Danny Costello) in folkloric costumes as well as a tango act. The revolutionary president of Boliguay comes up as the gaucho Juan Damigo who meets Clivia for the first time. It starts the game of who is who, who knows what, pretence and reality. The sham wedding takes place with all pomp and circumstance like a Hollywood film and the couple enters a big card-board tank on which they enter Boliguay along with all the film crew. The plot cannot do without the comic character of Gustav Kasulke, an odd inventor from Berlin who eventually sells his sleep machine “Snoozewell” to Potterton. Christoph Späth plays the partwith the typical Berlin dialect and humour and makes most out of the hit Man muss mal ab und zu verreisen supported by the enchanting Amazon soldiers’ ballet. Stefan Kurt convinces as the unscrupulous industrialist Potterton both as a singer and actor. He changes suits on stage while it is changing from the papier-maché of the first act to a big show staircase of the second with the orchestra around it like a big band. Peter Renz as the journalist Lelio Down is highly competent with his operetta-experienced tenor. A few years have passed by since he could show his full abilities as a lyrical tenor in the very successful production of “The merry widow” by Lehár. Yet the stars of the production are the so-called Geschwister Pfister consisting of Andreja Schneider as Yola, Tobias Bonn as the gaucho Juan Damigo, in fact the revolutionary president of Boliguay, and Christoph Marti in the title role. It was a brilliant idea of Komische Oper director Barrie Kosky to engage the three for the production. After doing an operetta about 20 years ago they have starred in very successful individual show programmes. Now they are back with an operetta in a big opera house. Andreja Schneider is not the usual soubrette but the powerful and self-confident Yola. She manages the music well including “Wonderful girl” as a duet with Lelio, a song by Nico Dostal that was added by Stefan Huber and the conductor Kai Tietje instead of the Astrologer’s song in the 3rd act. Tobias Bonn has a nice operetta tenor with secure top notes and his acting ideally fits into the production making a point as the major male character torn between his revolutionary leadership and private life as a loving man. Clivia’s soprano part had to be transposed for Christoph Marti’s baritone but he is just fabulous in the title role giving it all the glamour of an operetta diva. The fact that Clivia is played by a man does not have any meaning to the production and most part of the audience merely forgets about that after a few minutes. There is no gay component in it. Clivia’s famous song Ich bin verliebt does not fail in its effect in a fountain with two big swan figures and you do not even miss the usual coloraturas of a soprano. The cast is completed by Max Gertsch who was once a member of the Geschwister Pfister group, Markus Merz, Jan Proporowitz, Volker Herden, and Sascha Borris. Máté Gal, Matthias Spenke, and Bernhard Hansky are a great musical gaucho trio. The attractive professional dancers add to the highly entertaining evening as well as the chorus soloists and extras. Kai Tietje creates an adequate sound with the well-disposed orchestra of the Komische Oper. Photo Iko Freese