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TerraceTalk · L’incoronazione di Poppea

31 JUL 2018

published in: Opera, General

Jan Lauwers, Elke Jansons © SF / Anne Zeuner
The fact that he wanted to present Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea had long been clear to him, Artistic Director Markus Hinterhäuser explains during the Terrace Talk with Jan Lauwers. However, he had been lacking inspiration as to the director. Therefore, in a moment of indecision he walked out onto Hofstallgasse, and intuition made him call Jan Lauwers. His reaction was one of surprise, but when asked by the festival’s artistic director whether he could imagine ever staging an opera, he responded that there was only one opera he could imagine directing. To which Hinterhäuser replied on the phone: “And I will tell you exactly which one – Monteverdi’s Poppea!”

Markus Hinterhäuser was right in this, and now expresses his delight that Jan Lauwers is directing this marvellous work, Poppea, in Salzburg. The dramaturge Elke Janssens was also surprised – she has been working with Jan Lauwers for 15 years, and he always maintained that he would never stage an opera. “I am fascinated at the way Monteverdi thinks about music and opera – these thoughts are very compatible with my way of working with my Needcompany,” says Jan Lauwers, who is responsible for directing, set designs and choreography. He considers it a very strange coincidence that Monteverdi formulated the same idea in 1630 – to view opera not as a machinery of reproduction, but as a series of individual productions. “Monteverdi creates enormous musical freedom in this piece,” Jan Lauwers declares, and this very freedom is what he wishes to stage, as a total work of art. Every evening should be new. Conductor William Christie, who is due to arrive in Salzburg next week, is also convinced of this concept. “He will not conduct in the conventional sense, using his hands,” says Jan Lauwers. “He considers himself part of the ensemble – in our production, every singer, every performer, every musician is of equal importance, they all meet at eye level, and therefore, every evening can be new,” says the director. “In this manner, we wish to create entirely new moments, bringing a different atmosphere to the stage.” He does not dictate to the singers whether they are to stand on the left or right of the stage; they make those decisions, while his role is to offer them possibilities. The singers should have the chance to explore their own feelings on stage. – Of course singers used to receiving clear instructions initially reacted with fear. However, with enough rehearsal time this approach can be tested, and a relationship is forged.

He does not consider himself a stage director, but a theatre maker, says Jan Lauwers. His background is in visual arts, and so he uses the theatre as a means to create a total work of art. As an artist, he always begins with a blank slate with nothing given; the director of an opera already finds many variables determined: the text, the music, the sequence of scenes – the special challenge for Lauwers is to find the right timing. He adds that he has seen many productions of Poppea that contained too much frivolity and humour – “I disagree. There is hardly any humour in this opera. Perhaps some cynicism, but you have to tread very carefully with cynicism,” he declares.

Regarding the exercise of power, men and women are equal in Lauwers’ staging. Monteverdi uses countertenors, for example for the important role of Nerone. In this production, Kate Lindsey takes on this role. “When it comes to sheer cruelty, men and women have nothing on each other here,” he explains.

Elke Janssens asks how he manages to create a coherent total work of art. “I see the stage as a kind of arena in which everything takes place,” the director responds. “The floor is covered with naked and dead bodies from the baroque and renaissance eras, so that the performers on stage literally have to walk over these bodies.” There will be castration, manipulation, and killing on stage – it is an arena for conflicts, simultaneously cruel and beautiful. Monteverdi wrote absolutely beautiful music for this terrible story. – And that is exactly where Jan Lauwers sees an opportunity: art and beauty as a weapon against the cruelty of humanity. “We live in a world in which Erdogan is closing the theatres, in which Trump says he has never read a book, in which Putin is corrupt – we must ask ourselves what the answers can be,” says Jan Lauwers.

In total, there will be 50 persons on stage – each of them an individual source of energy, in the eyes of their director. It is about sensuality, about the fragility of these bodies. In the middle of the stage is a performer constantly turning in a circle – over the course of two or three hours. “To me, history is a lie, for we learn nothing from it. I am placing this historical epoch at the centre of the action, and the performer who is constantly turning, like a whirling dervish, represents real time. It was important to me to capture that.“

Find the whole talk with Jan Lauwers here.

More information and tickets here.