“MEA CULPA, UNAPOLOGETICALLY”

Schlingensief Piece Visits Munich. On the heels of a successful Munich Opera Festival, the Bavarian State Opera is ready to start its fall season. The festivities begin Sept. 13 with an already sold out two-performance run of Christoph Schlingensief’s Mea Culpa.

Take one each of these ingredients: Bach, Beuys, Goethe, and Grieg, Jelinek, Kálmán, and Kierkegaard, Mahler and Nietzsche, Schoenberg, Schubert, Schumann. Peter Tosh, Wagner, and Slavoj Žižek. Stir well. Follow assembly instructions. At the end of the Christoph Schlingensief-prescribed venture, you should end up with Mea Culpa, Christoph Schlingensief’s “Ready-Made Opera”.

Mea Culpa is Schlingensief’s ultimate piece of Narcissism-cum-art, the elaborate and ostentatious response to—and his public grappling with—his lung cancer diagnosis from last year. It’s the third time he’s tackled the subject of his own mortality and there is a refreshingly childish, sulking petulance about his droning on about his imminent death. The artist at the center of everybody’s attention—an, albeit deadly serious, dream come true. The capstone of Schlingensief’s cancer-trilogy.

Were Schlingensief a lesser director, it would be no more than theatrical exhibitionism on the theme of building an opera house in a remote location. (Replace Schlingensief’s Africa with the Peruvian jungle and you have Werner Herzog’s Fitzcaraldo.) But biting mockery of everything and all within reach—including himself—turns this analytic regurgitation and reassessment of Schlingensief’s own Bayreuth Parsifal production into a theatrical coup de main that left Peter Michalzik (signandsight.com) elated, calling the premiere at the Vienna Burgtheater an encouraging, mature work, at once elegiac, exhibitionist, parodistic, exhibitionist, and buoyant.

Schlingensief will work through the causes for his dis-ease, his relationship with his deceased father, and his artistic martyrdom again when the Bavarian State Opera—headed by Nikolaus Bachler, the former director of the Burgtheater—offers two performances (September 13th and 14th) as the prelude to its opera season. More play than opera, Mea Culpa on the stage of the Bavarian Opera not only points to Bachler’s background as a theater man, but also to his willingness and indeed emphatic interest in bringing interesting stagings to his house even when they were not premiered there. Or alternatively share with other opera houses stagings that originate from Munich. Co-productions are not means to save money, but become ways to spread a little further those opera productions that meet Bachler’s exacting standards.

Case in point is the Metropolitan Opera’s season opening Tosca (directed by Luc Bondy), which was among the first co-productions of the Bavarian State Opera (and La Scala) that Bachler got to announce after becoming the Intendant in Munich last year. Whether Schlingensief’s ingenious-juvenile Mea Culpa or Karita Mattila’s Bacio di Tosca, it would seem churlish to assume most audiences to travel so frequently between New York, Munich, and Vienna that sharing key productions could be a detriment, not a boon for opera audiences. After decades of co-production reticence, the Munich Opera is beginning to act on that realization, and Schlingensief and Tosca the first tastes of that policy change.

By Jens F. Laurson
11 Sep 2009

PlaybillArts, Features: Opera