Postcard from Germany: Kiel

Though much of the city was rather artfully rearranged by the RAF during WWII, the remaining parts old city and park were wonderfully serene. As it was a long trip from Koblenz, R and I took our time to wander the harbor and visit some of the pop-up breweries from the Netherlands and Belgium, offering cherry and raspberry beers to go with currywurst and waffles. Before heading into the opera house, we sat by the lake near the opera house and grabbed some coffee before being introduced to one of the more effective opera productions I’ve seen in a while.

In the final act of the opera, a neon red set of fallopian tubes (I think?) illuminated the stage as the opera’s heroine Scylla, meets her demise. Her boyfriend, Glaucus, was dressed as a bright blue sea monster with golden wings. Her nemesis, Circe, was dressed boobless black lace number. I mention the more absurd elements of the production, perhaps because they actually helped to tie Leclair’s Scylla et Glaucus together. Just like the division of the orchestra between the strings, winds and continuo, the color scheme on stage helped separate the characterize the figures on stage, adding a dramatic quality to the manner in which earth-nymph falls in love with fish-boy.

But the most interesting part of the production was the extent of hybridization of the costumes, the dancing and gestures of the singers. Many of the chorus members wore togas, often in distinctive colors and accompanied by Marvel super hero masks. The ballet dancers incorporated contemporary dance with baroque french traditions. The singers used both rhetorical gestures and improvised stage movement, depending on the intensity of emotions on stage.

In the same way, the orchestra mixed and matched with different aspects of historical performance. Some of the players brought along baroque bows, while others used their modern bows. The flutists played wooden with modern keys, while the brass used natural trumpets and the percussionist an animal skin timpani. In Kiel, as in many opera houses in Germany, orchestras aren’t booted out for period instruments to come and do the baroque operas. Instead, harpsichordists and conductors are brought in to conduct, and there’s an unspoken agreement to be flexible with trying historical performance techniques on modern instruments. It was nice to see an example of the gradual eradication of lines between the HP world and something opposite thereto, as if there’s a mediating space in the middle where adaptability and nuance are negotiable.

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