Munich. Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz. 26-V-2022. Ernst Krenek: Jonny spielt auf, opera to a libretto by the composer. Director: Peter Lund; choreography: Karl Alfred Schreiner; Decor: Jürgen Franz Kirner; costumes: Daria Kornysheva. With: Alexandros Tsilogiannis (Max); Elena Fink (Anita); Ludwig Mittelhammer (Jonny); Mathias Hausmann (Daniello); Judith Spießer (Yvonne); Holger Ohlmann (Manager); Juan Carlos Falcón (hotel manager/station employee)… Orchestra of the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz; director: Oleg Ptashnikov
Very representative of the 1920s, Jonny remains an attractive and problematic cultural object.
After its stunning success when it was created in 1927, Jonny spielt auf by Ernest Křenek went through a long purgatory, from which he only really emerged when the series Entartete Musik de Decca included it in its catalog in 1993, in a recording conducted by Lothar Zagrosek. The opportunity to see him on stage, however, remains rare: the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz, Munich’s second opera house, had hosted the opera since 1928, and he had been heckled there by far-right thugs, Nazis and others, such as all over Germany. This new production intends both to make the work known and to reflect on this political violence.
The work first. The term eclecticism is a very weak word to describe it. There is jazz, of course, the one whose eponymous character is a star, but there is also in the work a Künstlerdramaan artist’s drama, in the style of Distant sound by Schreker, the main female character is reminiscent of the Marietta of The Dead City of Korngold, and of course we do not forget that Křenek was no stranger to the ambitions of the avant-garde represented by Schönberg in his time. Jonny is also a Zeitoperone of those operas that aim to capture the spirit of the times, as precisely Overnight by Schönberg, which is almost contemporary with Jonny. The libretto written by Křenek for his own use is full of the desire to entertain the viewer, from the peaks of the Alps to a grand hotel in Paris, ending in a train station from where the road to America starts, and everything ends in songs . Jonny is certainly not one of those soul-elevating masterpieces, but it is an effectively entertaining curiosity, which the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz nicely demonstrates in Peter Lund’s staging. He tries to integrate the reception of the work in his time into his work; it has thus attracted a new controversy, by trying to reflect the contemporary malaise around the blackfacingso much so that the theater has decided to forego any make-up for the central character – the quiet racism of the libretto, as it was practiced in its time, is somehow evacuated: it should be possible to show on stage this discomfort which is ours in understanding that critical representation is anything but a complacency to the clichés of the original work.
What the staging can however show without arousing hostile reactions is the insertion of the work in its time, through an aesthetic Babylon Berlin, and by working around the crowd, sometimes shown in the superficiality of its quest for pleasure, sometimes threatening, aggressive, carrier by its conformism of all social violence. A skilful decor allows the show a great fluidity, a speed that goes well with the work: the staging does not bring it the depth it does not have, but it makes it the effective entertainment it must. be.
The cast has the merit of consistency, especially for the male roles, the composer Max (Alexandros Tsilogiannis) as a pure representative of black expressionism, Jonny (Ludwig Mitterhammer) as a mischievous spirit, the violinist Daniello (Mathias Hausmann) as a man of world, surrounded by effective supporting roles. Only Elena Fink does not have Anita’s brilliance, with an overly dull tone that deprives her character of her power of fascination; the other female role, that of the servant Yvonne, is much more brilliant thanks to Judith Spießer. In the pit, Oleg Ptashnikov perfectly assumes the stylistic plurality of the work, at the cost of a certain lack of clarity in the most modern parts of Křenek’s writing. The Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz as a company, whatever the case may be, is here up to the task it has set itself, that of giving the public the opportunity to discover in the best possible conditions a complex work exciting destiny.
Photo credits: © Christian POGO Zach
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