Reviewed by Michael Eagleton
Landestheater, Linz, 31 May 2008, in repertoire until 1 July
When Paul Hindemith’s Neues vom Tage was premiered in June 1929, at the Kroll Opera in Berlin under Otto Klemperer, its librettist, Marcellus Schiffer, was probably just as notorious a figure in Berlin as its composer. They had already collaborated on the palindromatic ‘Sketch with Music’ Hin und Zurück seen two years earlier at Baden Baden, but Schiffer, Berlin-born and -bred, had been an integral member of the cabaret scene there since 1921 when he was among the group led by Trude Hesterberg, who opened the notorious Wilde Bühne cabaret stage in the basement of the Theatre des Westerns. He had contributed the lyrics to such infamous cabaret revues as Es liegt in der Luft (‘There’s Something in the Air’), which starred his wife, Margo Lion, alongside a young Marlene Dietrich, to be followed later by Rufen sie Herrn Plim (‘Send for Mr Plim’), both with music by Mischa Spoliansky.
The targets of Schiffer’s particular wit were, more often than not, the power of the media, and consumerism, and this production by Gabriele Rech in costume and stage design by Nicola Reichert at the Landestheater in Linz certainly recognised the first of these, briefly acknowledged the second, and still managed to add something of its own. Eduard and Laura, a perfectly matched couple in Cassandra McConnell and Alik Abdukayumov, soprano and baritone, argue over breakfast in a room setting straight out of a Habitat catalogue; the Marriage License Bureau is all grey and functional, while the Office of Family Affairs where the handsome Herr Herrmann holds court, admired by a bevy of smartly dressed secretaries hugging their laptops and steering their office chairs in neatly choreographed routines, is much more stylish. In the Museum, where Laura and Herr Hermann are to rendezvous to provide grounds for divorce, the statue of Venus (six of them, actually) comes to life – one grabbing a violin to accompany the ‘grand opera’ kitsch duet, another holding out a hand to grab Eduard’s potted plant, which he has been carrying around all evening as a sort of comfort. As for the infamous bathroom scene, in which a naked (almost) Laura sings of the delights of running hot and cold, the inevitable complications arising from one bathroom connecting two hotel rooms were exploited to the full, culminating in the entire hotel staff dressed in a lurid salmon pink with their chorus of ‘Oh, how embarrassing’.
Eventually, the increasing interest of the newspapers in such extravagant goings-on leads to Eduard and Laura becoming victims of their notoriety, and the evening concludes with them both sitting in the stalls of the Landestheater watching another couple, exact look-alikes, having their breakfast, while singing that ‘we are nothing but a story and live in the mind of the reader’. Projected at the back of the stage are newspaper headlines, current and historical, about the divorce rate, Mussolini, Paris Hilton naked in the bath….. Such is the price of today’s cult of the celebrity.
Alexej Kosarev, tall dark and handsome, looked the part as Herr Hermann, but his tenor did not match his stature. There were no weak links in the smaller parts – Christa Ratzenböck as Frau M deserves a special mention, and the Linz Bruckner Orchestra under Marc Reibel played like clockwork, even in the fiendish Overture, which string-players must dread! This was an evening deliciously and completely over the top, just as it should be.