A concert of bodies: With this staged version of Gioachino Rossini’s little mass Nico and the Navigators whisks us off into a world of religious scepticism.
“Supported by the excellent pianists David Zobel, Alevtina Sagitullina and Jan Gerdes on the harmonium, we hear a ‘Petite Messe solonnelle’ magnificently sung by all participants. In the case of the exceptional solo soprano Rebecca Gerdes even on an absolute world class level … Also the Croatian mezzo-soprano Kora Pavelić, the Serbian-born tenor Miloš Bulajić and the Belarusian baritone Nikolay Borchev are convincing not only vocally in the delicious farce about the ambivalence of human feelings. They all survey the plump life for a possible approach to faith, doubt along with tongue-in-cheek humorous irony. Rossini schau oba! They understood your grandiose mass between truthfulness and tastefulness, lucid spirituality and pompous opera tone. Together with a type-strong small choir, the performers Yui Kawaguchi, Martin Clausen, Charles Adrian Gillot and Patric Schott follow the path of the music deep into their souls. Sometimes heaven and hell, sometimes guilt and bad conscience, they pantomime with a sophisticated canon of movements the stylistic variety of the church music premiered in 1864 in the private chapel of the Parisian nobleman Comte Michel-Frédéric Pillet-Will.”
Petite messe solennelle
Sacred music or profane music? Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) placed the question surrounding the relationship between the sacred and the profane at the centre of his “Petite messe solennelle”. In 1864 – that is, 34 years after his previous work for the stage – the composer dedicated this latest work to God, pleading, by way of precaution, that he was actually born for the Opera Buffa: “As you well know! A little science, a little heart, that’s all. Be blessed, then, and admit me to Paradise.” Strong words, at once humble and demanding. But where can this Christian utopia be found in this day and age? How do we reach it while living in the secular society of the here and now? And how does one hit that note that Rossini once described as semi seria – half serious, half playful – in reference to its tongue-in-cheek contrast with the character of the Missa Solemnis?
In recent years NICO AND THE NAVIGATORS have set themselves on a path which now, after Franz Schubert (Wo Du nicht bist) and George Frideric Handel (Anaesthesia), leads them to Rossini, the third composer to provide Nicola Hümpel and Oliver Proske’s Berlin-based performers with the musical motivation for a poetic adventure. One thing that certainly is new is that on this occasion the Navigators are teaming up with a choir, conducted by Nicholas Jenkins, and which Rossini has reduced down to twelve voices – in parallel with the number of Jesus’s disciples, to whom this highly accomplished gourmet, a veritable composer of flavours, made an allusion in a reference to his second passion: “Twelve is also the number of disciples in the famous guzzling scene Leonardo painted in his fresco, known as The Last Supper; who would believe it? Among your disciples there are those who hit the wrong notes!! O Lord calm yourself, I pledge that there will be no Judas at my feast, and that mine will sing your praises as they should and with love.”
NICO AND THE NAVIGATORS work in such a way that their own life experiences inform the process in rehearsals even more than art-historical and biographical approaches to the work, with their backgrounds comprising different cultures and languages being brought into play. In this way tender relationships as well as shocking conflicts can develop, then grow and dissipate with and in the music. The text of the mass, which has already been charged with deeper meaning by Rossini, is thereby additionally expanded and enriched with intimate testimonials of faith and doubt. The spare instrumentation of the original version for two pianos and a harmonium offers the ideal requirements for a concert of bodies which asks for freedom in chains – that is, for that paradoxical experience that you can also find in the firmly bound up and simultaneously endlessly liberating music of Rossini. That which is most holy meets that which is most profane – sacred music or profane music?
„full-body poetry that sounds excellent…“
It was not surprising that the theater troupe Nico and the Navigators should be back at the Bregenz Festival, for the ensemble around Nicola Hümpel is one of the best that the German music theater scene - the innovative one, of course - has to offer. Exciting was the fact that this year, the artistic director David Pountney and his "Art from Time" director Laura Berman, who always focuses on new things, came up with an old Rossini mass. The expectations regarding a not only new, but also surprising garb had been fulfilled yesterday evening on the very well occupied workshop stage at the Festspielhaus. And in this respect it is not tragic that the "Petite Messe solennelle" had already been seen in several places before it landed - as an Austrian premiere - on the workshop stage at the Festspielhaus in the center of this year's streamlined KAZ program. Everything that Nicola Hümpel (direction), Nicholas Jenkins (music) and Oliver Proske (set design) approach seems fresh anyway. As a group that does not focus on the clownish, but always on a profound and sometimes abysmal humor, to give sacred works a wide berth does not apply here. Eye-twinklingly illustrated Gioachino Rossini was not inhibited by reverence when, years after he had already put composition aside and devoted himself more to cooking, he accepted the request of a count and his wife for a mass. The fact that the not so small, extraordinarily orchestrated work, first performed in 1864, does not deny the creator of many entertaining operas, also justifies the tongue-in-cheek discussion that the Navigators decided to have a few months ago. May questions of faith be asked to the sound of a mass traditionally structured according to the liturgy? The answer is yes, and without reservation. Nicola Hümpel doesn't make the mistake of getting into criticism of Catholicism. The figure of a scientist is introduced and contrasted with that of a priest. Instead of a text-rich discourse, there are some text fragments complementing the mass and, above all, physical theater, which comes across so poetically that one spontaneously agrees with the opinion that clever questions do not need an answer at all. Whoever gets involved in this mechanism, which is driven by dance in an immensely exciting way, will experience the awakening of the senses that this troupe demonstrates. A choral choreography grows here into great theater, which does not build itself up into a scenic oratorio, but contains many small but significant individual moments.
„a unique and remarkably intelligent production…“
For a few years now Paris's Opéra Comique has structured its monthly programme of shows around a centrepiece production, meaning it often has wonderful surprises up its sleeve. So it was at April's festival, during which audiences could discover a unique and remarkably intelligent production, albeit one that was potentially confusing for a few spectators. The Berlin-based theatre company and director Nicola Hümpel presented a new take on Rossini that surpassed even the month's centrepiece (“La Muette de Portici”). On tour in Europe following its premiere at the Weimar Arts Festival last September, this Petite Messe was unfortunately only in Paris for two nights. The stage, designed by Oliver Proske, is a triumph, and although at first glance it seemed to be a little squeezed into the venue at Rue Favart, this impression quickly faded in the face of the overall coherence of the production. An extremely curious, Fassbinder-esque figure dressed in a hood and sunglasses and a second figure by the name of Benedikt (yes, Benedikt!) represent the clash of faith and reason in this staged version of the work. Nicola Hümpel permits herself a few dialogues as an addition to the score, which, as harmless as they may seem, are never just idle chitchat (by turns in German and English, with a bit of French thrown in). One couldn't really claim that Hümpel's view of things embraces religious rituals (the mystery of the Eucharist is viewed rather mockingly), but neither could one attribute her vision to the delight she may take in “shocking the bourgeoisie”. The director is intimately acquainted with the New Testament and she returns to it again and again for inspiration in tackling Rossini's oeuvre. This results in a performance which flows with astonishing ease and is singularly hard to put into words. Perhaps it suffices to mention the two semicircular stage elements which whimsically signify first Jesus's walking on water and subsequently – now standing on end and propped up against each other – the passing through of a narrow portal, an image that is cheekily reminiscent of the metal detectors we walk through in security checks. At the end of the evening, as the Agnus Dei is heard, all the singers and performers are once more to be found lying on the stage, eyes directed towards heaven, arms stretched out wide and imploringly, then vengefully clenched into fists: an image that beautifully reflects the spirit of this Petite Messe solennelle, balanced between faith and scepticism, spirituality and materialism. The twelve singers (including soloists Laura Mitchell, Ulrike Mayer, Milos Bulajic and Nikolay Borchev) prove to be the equals of the four performers and dancers. You could nitpick if you wanted to, but it is much more important to emphasise the degree to which all those involved are integrated into Hümpel's scheme – including the great pianists David Zobel, SooJin Anjou (grand piano) und Jan Gerdes (reed organ) and the conductor Nicholas Jenkins, all of whom are protagonists in this subtly drawn production.
“Nico and the Navigators have created a kind of theatrical theology: scenes of the Iconoclastic Controversy concerning faith, heresy and superstition, the imperatives of doubt and dichotomy, questions of religion, ritual, humanity, yearning and psychological violence in a Christian utopia – all with jokes included…“
“Professions of faith in the 21st century” is what the Berlin-based independent theatre troupe Nico and the Navigators term their new creation, which was commissioned by the Weimar Arts Festival. Or an "oratorio as image theatre", based on Gioachino Rossini's "Petite Messe solennelle". The mixture of singing, acting, dance, slapstick and tragicomedy can even set in motion a music theatre version of a Latin Catholic ritual mass, as happened during its premiere at the Theater Erfurt. The production will be shown in the middle of November in Berlin's Radialsystem, and in April and June 2012 in Dijon, Paris und Bregenz. For two hours non-stop the performance troupe “navigates” its way through the different parts of Rossini's mass with all the weight of expression of outlandish physical and image theatre. Thirteen years ago Nicola Hümpel und Oliver Proske, the founders of this collective of “whole-body poets” began to develop their aesthetic at the Bauhaus Dessau. Their “Menschenbilder” cycle, performed in Berlin's Sophiensäle, earned them their first positive reviews. Now, following performances of the works of Schubert and Handel, they have taken on the old maestro Rossini's mass, which he composed 34 years after his last opera. In it melodic fervour and elegance sit nonchalantly alongside simple accompanying figures played on two pianos. Nico and the Navigators have created a kind of theatrical theology: scenes of the Iconoclastic Controversy concerning faith, heresy and superstition, the imperatives of doubt and dichotomy, questions of religion, ritual, humanity, yearning and psychological violence in a Christian utopia – all with jokes included. Such “professions of faith” are not intended to answer anything, but simply to pose questions. Nicola Hümpel's conception and direction of the piece, in combination with Oliver Proske's set, which comes apart to form various stage props, conjure up a round dance of seemingly everyday people caught up in elaborately stylised or trashily exaggerated images and sketches, which don't so much duplicate and update the mass texts from 'Kyrie Eleison' to 'Agnus Dei' as associatively fray them and set counterpoints to them. Movement is everywhere: four soloists and eight choristers are constantly coming and going, even the three instruments, two pianos (SooJin Anjou, David Zobel) and a harmonium (Jan Gerdes), are pulled hither and thither over the stage. Even the sprightly British conductor Nicholas Jenkins, former assistant to Marc Minkowski, keeps altering his position and letting himself be drawn into the action. Improvisation is one of the troupe's principles and as such is practiced in exercises and workshops: singing voice, role play, individuality are all equally important. In amidst the different parts of Rossini's mass, there are often episodes slipped in which feature the characters as different examples of situations found in life and faith: a priest, psychiatrist, shaman, a rationalist or scientist, a down-at-heel mafioso, a seraphic angel figure dressed in bright red (a bizarrely eddying Yui Kawaguchi, who moves with agile dance steps): they are all symbols of the schism of human existence, of ambivalence, of the abyss of feelings.
„It is the lightness of the choreography within the abundance of enigmatic images, the dazzling humour, the virtuoso grotesqueness and the nonsensical, playful activity that make this production so compellingly entertaining, so full of delight and tension in equal measure. And it is Rossini’s music, flowing so effortlessly, artfully elegant and yet seemingly artless, that structures this breathlessly disturbing search for meaning within a wide array of images. A philosophy in movement, a dance on the projection screens of agnosticism, perfectly timed imaginings of distractedness – high art indeed from Nico and the Navigators…“
Nico & the Navigators dazzle in Rossini's 'Small Mass' We will remember how 'music theatre' initially gave good old opera a leg-up onto the merry-go-round of its possibilities and helped it to gather momentum – with each rotation came new images, for each generation its own in-depth sharpening of the image. Nico and the Navigators is the name of this Berlin-based theatre troupe, which, using a mix of styles incorporating song, acting, dance, slapstick and tragicomedy succeeds in producing a music theatre version of a Latin Catholic ritual mass, which had its premiere at the Theater Erfurt, as part of the Weimar Arts Festival: in close to two hours, without an interval, the group of performers, down to the last member of the company, use the expressive force of body language to 'navigate' their way through Gioachino Rossini's 'Petite messe solennelle', here labelled “Oratorio as image theatre”. Nicola Hümpel and Oliver Proske, both around the age of forty, are the founders of the collective of “whole-body poets”, which began to develop its aesthetic thirteen years ago. After founding the company at the Bauhaus Dessau they first gained international recognition with their 'Menschenbilder' cycle in Berlin's Sophiensaele. And now, following on from the Schubert production 'Wo du nicht bist' and the Handel pasticcio opera 'Anaesthesia', they have moved onto Rossini's late-period mass, which the composer decided to create 34 years after his last opera. The aged maestro of Opera buffa, mellowed by his years in Paris, dedicated it to his dear God, to whom he humorously addresses the following: 'You know it well! A little science, a little heart, that is all! So may you be blessed and grant me Paradise.' A piquant ambivalence resides in the sentences just as it does in the opening of the performance: Rossini's music nonchalantly mixes melodic fervour with a nod to the most simplistic accompanying passages, Nico and the Navigators bring to it a kind of theatre theology, building up the elements of a staged controversy over image worship that takes in faith, misbelief and superstition, doubtful and dilemma-ridden commandments, questions of religion, ritual, humanity, desire and psychological violence in Christian utopia, jokes included. Yet these 'statements of belief in the 21st century' do not mean to answer anything, but rather to simply ask questions – in a flood of music gently rippling through the parts of the Latin mass for soloists, choir and instruments. Nicola Hümpel's conception and direction of the piece, combined with the revolving props of Oliver Proske's stage, offer a round dance of seemingly everyday people caught up in elaborately stylised or trashily exaggerated images and sketches, which don't so much duplicate and update the mass texts from 'Kyrie Eleison' to 'Agnus Dei' as associatively fray them, counterpoint them. Movement pervades the whole: four soloists and eight choristers are constantly at work, even the three instruments, two pianos (SooJin Anjou, David Zobel) and a harmonium (Jan Gerdes), are repeatedly brought on and off the stage. There is no stability; everything flows, even the agile British conductor Nicholas Jenkins alters his position and often lets himself be drawn into the action. One of the principles by which Nico and the Navigators work involves a game abounding with improvisation which has been practiced and worked out in long rehearsals and workshops. The singers of the production are cast according to their ability to perform – singing voice, role playing and individuality are equally important. Before two pianos glide onto the stage and choristers populate it as if by accident for the Kyrie, it begins with informal prose: again and again spoken sections infiltrate the parts of Rossini's mass, with four pantomimic performers acting almost as instances of different situations brought on by life and faith: one who we identify as a sort of priest, psychiatrist or shaman; a rationalist or scientist; a down-and-out mafioso, and a seraphic angel-figure in red, the whirling Yui Kawaguchi, with her wondrously supple mime and dance. Each of them varies the symbols of the schism of human existence, the ambivalence felt in front of the abyss of feelings. It is the lightness of the choreography within the abundance of enigmatic images, the dazzling humour, the virtuoso grotesqueness and the nonsensical, playful activity that make this production so compellingly entertaining, so full of delight and tension in equal measure. And it is Rossini's music, flowing so effortlessly, artfully elegant and yet seemingly artless, that structures this breathlessly disturbing search for meaning within a wide array of images. A philosophy in movement, a dance on the projection screens of agnosticism, perfectly timed imaginings of distractedness – high art indeed from Nico and the Navigators. During the 'Agnus Dei' the singer of the aria pulls the performer by the sleeve for so long that he appears to no longer have any will of his own. Performers dislocate themselves in wild rhythms or fall to the floor, two dancers combine in a pas-de-deux-cum-fight. The 'Amen' at the end of the Credo is annoyingly repeated by a single singer until another buys her silence with cash. The end is greeted with an ovation. The Rossini-Navigation project moves to Berlin's Radialsystem in autumn. Next year it will travel to France, Austria and Luxembourg.
“with imaginative imagery they interpreted the extraordinary mass composition by Gioachino Rossini and with a playful musical approach they posed questions of religious philosophy rich in associations…”
Nico and the Navigators interpreted Gioachino Rossini's "Petite messe solennelle" imaginatively and wittily Nico and the Navigators, the successful and original music theater troupe around Nicola Hümpel, gave a guest performance of Rossini's "Petite messe solennelle" at the Bregenz Festival. During the performance, singers, musicians, actors as well as a dancer interpreted the extraordinary mass composition by Gioachino Rossini with an imaginative visual language. Rich in associations and with a playful musical approach, religious-philosophical questions were posed in the space, which allowed a variety of individual interpretations. The twelve choristers performed admirably, demonstrating their great mastery not only in singing but also in acting. Gioachino Rossini set a monument to himself with his late work, the "Petite messe solennelle", which also distinguished him as an artist with a pronounced sense of self-irony and humor. At the same time, this unusual mass composition radiates a serene seriousness that is unparalleled. The Berlin music theater group "Nico and the Navigators" made use of these compositional qualities for their individual interpretation of this "small festive mass". Outstanding singers Above all, the twelve singers under the direction of Nicholas Jenkins impressed with their musical performance. Soloists were Laura Mitchell, soprano; Ulrike Mayer, mezzo-soprano; Milos Bulajic, tenor; and Pauls Putnins, bass. Despite a multi-layered choreography and countless acting cues, they came across as relaxed and confident. The musically demanding mass parts sounded humorous, sometimes with almost too much ambiguity, and the contrapuntal voice-leadings were particularly noteworthy. Unusual instrumentation The "Petite messe solennelle" is set for two pianos and harmonies, and it was in this instrumentation that "Nico and the Navigators" presented the work. Thus, the singers and musicians stayed very close to the original version and achieved a pronounced stringency. Well solved was the positioning of the instruments, which could be variably positioned on the stage on rolling tableaus. SooJin Anjou and David Zobel on the pianos as well as Jan Gerdes on the harmonium made music in the service of the choristers and highly concentrated. Ironic social criticism To translate the mass composition into a music theater performance, director and ensemble leader Nicola Hümpel introduced three protagonists and a dancer. In whimsical, witty and sarcastic dialogues, Peter Fasching, Adrian Gillot and Patric Schott addressed a search for meaning. Among other things, religious representatives were experienced as seducers and people who talk about wanting to listen, but are most concerned with themselves. All protagonists were corrupt in their own way and in different contexts. An abstruse esotericism and the wellness boom as well as the longing for the idyll in the countryside were presented as a substitute for religion. A simple but extremely refined stage design and a grandstand construction, which contained numerous surprising elements of use, enriched the performance. Dancer in a class of her own The dancer Yui Kawaguchi was in a class of her own. Her dance contributions seemed entirely inspired by the music, infused with an infectious humorous streak and an acrobatic lightness that significantly enriched the performance. Thoughts on the direction of KAZ "Nico and the Navigators" made a guest appearance as part of the Bregenz Festival's "Art from Time" track. They offered profound entertainment at the highest level and received much acclaim on the workshop stage. However, this performance does not seem to me to be appropriately placed within the framework of "Kunst aus der Zeit" (KAZ). As is well known, this "third mainstay" of the festival has been massively cut this year, with only three events taking place as part of the KAZ. It is symptomatic that precisely the advanced art forms have fallen victim to the austerity programs. Immediately after the 2011 festival season, Laura Berman, the artistic director of Art from Time, was - to put it casually - "immobilized." From the "Art out of Time" program track, I expect music and music theater forms that are truly at the cutting edge of our time, that do not point backward into the future, but are actually forward-looking.
“enchanting scenes that put a smile on your face. Rossini would certainly have had a great time this evening…“
Inspiring, full of fine humor and also disturbing: Nico and the Navigators in Bregenz. Already Gioachino Rossini spiced his "Petie Messe solennelle" with humor, which is expressed in a "Letter to God". But even the title "Little solemn mass" is a tongue-in-cheek understatement, since the composition, with its hour and a half duration and numerous interludes, corresponds to a full-blown "Missa solemnis". A work, then, that is quite capable of being doused by the effervescent imagination and enchanting humor of the Berlin troupe "Nico and the Navigators". Their Rossini production could be experienced on Wednesday and Thursday evenings in the workshop stage of the Festspielhaus as part of the Bregenz Festival's art-out-time program. It is obvious that the Catholic beliefs are not visualized here one-to-one. Rather, we see and hear a musical theater that plays with the manifold themes of life. Love and hate, trust and resentment, openness and lies, compassion and arrogance, all this and much more comes to life in dance, song and on two pianos and harmonium - these instruments were originally used by Rossini. Unbelieving Benedict But the spiritual questions are by no means swept under the carpet. A kind of monk, who pretends to be wise and enlightened, repeatedly enters into a discourse with a non-believer, piquantly named Benedict. Certainly neither of them has the truth, but perhaps a modicum of it resonates in the many enchanting scenes that put a smile on one's face. The breathtaking dancer Yui Kawaguchi dances a veritable pas de deux with the small and somewhat round tenor. A farmer recounts in gnarled English a mystical experience that brought him the tear from the eye of his favorite cow. The great bass aria "Domine Deus" from the "Gloria" is interspersed with a dwarf-shaking scene among men, as might happen in a bar at night. Or the monk and Benedict play on seesaws and the latter gets into a whirl, which demands all kinds of acrobatics from the performer. "Nico" is the director Nicola Hümpel, who came up with all this together with the actors and actresses and their management team, and who was now a guest at the Bregenz Festival for the third time. This time the musical part was also excellent. Under the conducting of Nicholas Jenkins, who was integrated into the scene, the twelve singers, the two pianos and the harmonium sounded fabulous. Stormy applause. Rossini would certainly have been delighted with this evening.
“Director Nicola Hümpel, in her third year at the Bregenz Festival, has once again provided a radiant highlight with a veritable flood of gripping images…“
After two hours of song and movement performance on the workshop stage on Wednesday, there was much applause for all participants. The Berlin theater group asked about the possibility or impossibility of faith in our time and kept closely to the original version of the mass, which Rossini had composed for two pianos and harmonium as well as twelve voices. However, these twelve singers did not act at all like the twelve apostles. With wry faces, they count money during the Credo. In the "Resurrexit," the resurrection takes place in the manner of an airport checkpoint. Doubts about faith are also expressed by a young man dressed in white, whose name is Benedict, of all things. The answer to his questions about faith is mostly a joke, breathtakingly articulated both in dance and song, with the helpless search for faith extending to all sorts of esoteric things. Director Nicola Hümpel, in her third year at the Bregenz Festival, has once again provided a radiant highlight with a veritable flood of gripping images.
“Their multi-layered approach to Gioachino Rossini and his ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’ captivated the audience on two evenings at the Werkstattbühne…”
We are used to singers being able to sing, play and dance in all situations. But that a pianist continues to play even when an actor is ruffling her hair, and that a conductor also turns out to be a passionate actor, is unusual. This is the third time that the Berlin troupe Nico and the Navigators have been guests at the Bregenz Festival as part of Kunst aus der Zeit (KAZ). Their multi-layered approach to Gioachino Rossini and his "Petite Messe Solennelle" captivated the audience on two evenings on the Werkstattbühne. There's a softly purring man in a brown hooded cloak with Buddhist-inspired recommendations and a mocking doubter named Benedict - they talk past each other in a whimsical English-German dialogue. There are many allusions, image quotations and cross-references, for example when the dancer Yui Kawaguchi with her gifted body language makes two carved "praying hands" bob like angels' wings. A variably used stage set, sometimes a choir podium, sometimes an altar, a prison or a confessional, can be disassembled into a psycho couch or a balancing seesaw. Twelve joyful singers unite to a homogonous choir, from which the solo voices (Laura Mitchell, Ulrike Mayer, Milos Bulajic and Pauls Putnins) emerge.
“a touching performance between mystical fervor and agnostic skepticism…”
Rossini's "Petite messe solennelle" inspired the Berlin theater group in its third Bregenz guest performance (after 2006 and 2009) to a touching performance that plumbed between mystical fervor and agnostic skepticism. After two hours of touching vocal and movement performance on the workshop stage, there was much applause for all participants. Rossini: "last mortal sin of my age". Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) wrote the mass, which premiered in Paris in 1864, as the "last mortal sin of my old age" for twelve voices, harmonium and two pianos, and did not orchestrate it until 1867. This late work marked his last public appearance as a composer. In his dedication, Rossini asked "Dear God" almost tongue-in-cheek and punningly whether this was really sacred music (musique sacrée) or miserable music (sacrée musique): "I was born for opera buffa, as you well know. A little skill, a little heart, that's all. So be blessed and grant me entrance into paradise. "Nicola Hümpel's directorial concept places the dance realization of the mass, as it were, from the perspective of a Faustian doubter and agnostic. Whether religious or non-religious basic attitude, played no role for the reception of the equally serious as cheerful, altogether in any case very impressive performance. Without direct liturgical reference, everything was in motion in this "Petite messe solennelle", spiritually as well as literally - the stage (Oliver Proske), the singers, the dancers, the conductor (Nicholas Jenkins), the two pianos and the harmonium
“Their reappraisal of important musical works of the past has led them on this occasion to take on Gioachino Rossini’s “Petite messe solennelle” and with it they have scored a real success…”
To tell as many stories as there are members of an audience in a single evening: this is what Nico and the Navigators hope to achieve in their productions. This goal applies equally well to the latest work of this collective, which was formed in 1998 by director Nicola Hümpel and stage designer Oliver Proske. Their reappraisal of important musical works of the past has led them on this occasion to take on Gioachino Rossini's “Petite messe solennelle” and with it they have scored a real success. Running at slightly under two hours long, this long piece of image theatre tackles the theme of religiosity in our time: now, faced with all the wickedness of the world and caught as we are in the grip of a highly rigid late-stage capitalism, can we still trust the naïve words of the mass texts, or even believe them at all? Even Rossini, more of a scoffer than a sanctimonious old windbag, experienced doubts in 1863, upon completion of the commissioned opus. Does he not in one of his letters appeal to God for forgiveness for his placatory little mass? Nico und Co. play upon this distance the composer maintains from his own work. The piece remains true to Rossini's work, but nonetheless adds a countertenor, a dancer and actors, who express what is latent within the music and bound to appeal more to today's listeners. As a result the work is swept up in an overarching whole that is full of questions, uncertainty and doubt. Proske has created a white arch that curls across the stage of the Radialsystem, and in it he has concealed an ingenious and serviceable staircase. Right from the off, we can ascend. A man in a pale suit is talking to a barefoot penitent in a hood; he wants to know what is behind the door and whether it opens. He who wants answers must first listen, counters the hooded man curtly. The grand pianos are brought on, people appear, filling the stage with colour, the Kyrie begins, and also a dancer in red, possibly the devil, gets in on the mix. She is listening to her own music; whoever puts her headphones on immediately falls into raptures. The first disjunct. The devil sits amid the believers, one brushes the sublime phantom off and crushes the flowers given to him. It's not as if all questions have answers, reasons the penitent; but Benedikt senses the nothingness lying amid the galaxies. The devil actually opens an enormous door, mist billows out, the soprano sings like a mechanical doll, briefly tilts over. The devil directs each person into the right misty gangway. The penitent now gets it: he doesn't love people, he has lied, he asks Benedikt whether he would give up his seat for a pregnant woman on the bus. Words fail him, but that is not all; as the Agnus Dei is sung he is recognised as being guilty for all suffering and thrown to the ground. “If you have any questions” the penitent calls out to him from up high in the hall. This striking image puts a mischievous end to Rossini's mass and the discussion about religion. As expected, all questions remain open. Which is part of what makes the evening so exhilarating. Add to that the fine singing of the entire ensemble and a plea for humanity that is as witty as it is contemplative and you find yourself totally won over.
“an exuberant work of art straddling the ‚holy’ and the ‚damned’ and a piece of world theatre of the most entertaining and exciting kind…”
Nico and the Navigators use the openness inherent in Rossini's mass for a general meditation on faith and doubt that is light-footed, imaginative and amusing – all of which is perfectly in keeping with Rossini. What is shown is a kind of total work of art made up of dance, pantomime, acting and musical performance, but oddly enough it never seems overloaded, even though quite a lot is happening on stage (directed by Nicola Hümpel). Dressed in colourful sixties clothes, the twelve singers spread out on the stage and create alternative teeming pictures: here is someone chewing on a rose petal, there one of them is stroking the man in front's head, here someone is dancing to music, there one of them is standing stiff as a poker at the edge of the stage and silently moving his mouth. You don't have to understand everything and indeed you can't, and yet it comes across as strangely meaningful and enigmatic. Only exceptionally does the Navigators' imagery fall back on clearly decipherable and then quickly flat symbolism, as when at the beginning of the “Credo” material wealth and greed is referenced, with banknotes perpetually being waved or with one of the performers flagellating himself with his suit jacket. The dance of images is held together by an unobtrusively added background story. Two seekers after God keep on appearing amid the various sections of the mass to contest the clash between cool reason and spirituality. The latter, represented in the person of a solemnly purring monk (A. Gillot), ultimately collapses into compulsive self-mortification (“I ate chocolate last night. Oh God, I am a bad person). On the other hand, the pedantically hesitant and matter-of-fact Benedikt (P. Fasching) hasn't got much further by the end of the evening either. There is no one on stage who is not acting: even the conductor (N. Jenkins) is transformed into an actor and conducts the music with pantomime-style dramatisation. Despite all the activity on the stage, it goes astonishingly well, with the twelve excellent and alert singers also on hand to help the conductor. The result is an exuberant work of art straddling the “holy” and the “damned” and a piece of world theatre of the most entertaining and exciting kind.
“Rossini’s faith is reflected in the excellently choreographed choir and in the passionate words of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo and O salutaris hostia, accompanied by two pianos and a harmonium and fervently conducted by Nicholas Jenkins…”
(…) Director and choreographer Nicola Hümpel thinks that a childlike faith in the possibility of a good life still exists today, even if God has no particular role to play in it. Her stage designer Oliver Proske asks: what does paradise look like? In Erfurt at the “Pèlerinages” Arts Festival, a bridge of clouds arches over the stage. The mobile rostrum placed underneath it for the apostolic choir of twelve singers can be taken apart to form an oriental gate that is reminiscent of airport security. Even up there the fear of terrorists persists. An oriental gate is round. If you lie its two halves on the floor you have two rockers. God and his doubter, a certain Benedikt (like the Pope) rock away on them. Who the devil is God? The devil is a dancer, Yui Kawaguchi. God on the other hand loves to love. His opponent doubts it: “How should God have the faintest idea about love?” He is single, not even divorced. So Yui Kawaguchi hits the Chinese singing bowl until the church is empty. Rossini's faith is reflected in the excellently choreographed choir and in the passionate words of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo and O salutaris hostia, accompanied by two pianos and a harmonium and fervently conducted by Nicholas Jenkins. It is above all a cheeky piece, and physical. Nothing is more inconceivable than the devil, whom Yui Kawaguchi depicts as a goblin of unbelievable agility. The valiant dancing of the countertenor Philipp Caspari – the big surprise – stands up so well against hers, it is as if it's not just the almightiness of God at stake, but also that of opera. For Nicola Hümpel, as for Sasha Waltz or Heike Hennig, there is no law against an oratorio being danced. It is the body, outlawed by the church and withstood from Rossini's time right through to the Depression, that celebrates the work in such a way as to send spiritual superstition straight to hell. To make it dance.
“Anyone can do irony. But this ensemble manages to let the gaiety in Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle shine through wi¬thout denying its spirituality; it draws a picture of a composer who created a work in which he “put all of (his) little musical knowledge and worked with real love for religion”, and really gives new life to a piece of music that until now was destined to suffer an inconspicuous end in quite standard choral concerts…”
People expect Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle to be a poetic affair. Having had its premiere at the Weimar Arts Festival, you can now catch this performance by “Nico and the Navigators” at Radialsys¬tem. Nicola Hümpel and Oliver Proske have transformed a sacred work into an evening of music, dance and very little plot. The orchestra is replaced by two grand pianos and a harmonium, which are brought in on podiums that roll silently across the stage. The 20 performers are dressed in Prussian blue, rust red or dark autumnal colours (costumes by Frauke Ritter); they run, stand, jump about and touch each other. Conducted by Nicholas Jenkins, who is there to keep time as much as to enthusiastically join in the action, most of them sing too, and very beautifully (in particular the bass Nikolay Borchev and the mezzo¬soprano Ulrike Mayer). Yui Kawaguchi, however, dances: she is a Puck in a red hood whose arms and legs form razor-sharp horizontal extensions. And Adrian Gillott, dressed in a black penitent's cassock, con¬verses with Peter Fasching about God and the world, of course. When Gillott appears again during the Agnus Dei, dressed in white underwear and standing before a light mist-filled background, then the pro¬ductions draws together youth, great seriousness and lightness in an almost calming way. Anyone can do irony. But this ensemble manages to let the gaiety in Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle shine through wi¬thout denying its spirituality; it draws a picture of a composer who created a work in which he “put all of (his) little musical knowledge and worked with real love for religion”, and really gives new life to a piece of music that until now was destined to suffer an inconspicuous end in quite standard choral concerts.
“After ‚Cantatatanz’ at the Bachwochen, Nico & the Navigators present their rapidly growing Thuringian fan community with a world premiere in Erfurt for the second time. In an oratorical picture theater, the cult troupe from Berlin now takes on Gioacchino Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle – a late work with spartan instrumentation and rich potential for ironic refractions.”
After "Cantatatanz" at the Bachwochen, Nico & the Navigators present their rapidly growing Thuringian fan community with a world premiere for the second time. In an oratorical picture theater, the cult troupe from Berlin now takes on Gioacchino Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle - a late work with a spartan cast and rich potential for ironic refractions. The piece is being created as a co-production of the Kunstfest Weimar, the Bregenz Festival, and the theaters in Erfurt and Luxembourg. We spoke with Nicola Hümpel. Why do you actually call your performers "navigators"? Because they develop their characters through improvisation and thus have a significant influence on the artistic result. The play emerges from joint work; a wealth of ideas and individual scenes slowly develop into a collage-like whole. It takes a long time - twelve weeks. A canonical mass, however, does not provide a dramatic model, it has no plot. It doesn't? All right. Nowadays, few of us still have a true connection to religion. The process that teaches us humility and gratitude to God, and from which we are to emerge purified, would be perfectly understandable as a plot. But you are right, who goes along with that nowadays. Even Rossini, in our impression, struggled with it and ironizes his own undertaking all too often - audibly. You have dealt with this guy intensively. He writes a dedication, "Dear God, I was born to opera buffa, you know that. Be gracious, then, and grant me paradise." So is it mass or buffa? We have taken it as the work of an agnostic that asks the great questions of existence and shows that man, besides his "management of life," is always striving for something higher. How can we bear life if we are not God, not animal? To this question Nietzsche answers, "One must be a philosopher." One senses a constant ambivalence in this music: with great Italian passion and longing for spirituality, Rossini throws himself uncompromisingly into sacred atmospheres on the one hand, and on the other hand, one senses within the composition how he doubts in the next moment, hides behind a pillar like a child, wonders and also makes fun a little. Isn't he a lecher? When he interprets Da Vinci's "Last Supper" as an orgy of gluttony, and even a reference is made between the Mass practice and his famous cooking creation, the Tournedos à la Rossini ... Well, that too. I even once prepared the tournedos myself for colleagues ... So, what do you think of them? A huge perversion! Veal fillets sautéed and deglazed with Madeira wine, the whole thing topped with truffled foie gras, and then flambéed with cognac as well. For me, that's too many taste experiences at once - I think it's rather overdone. What do you transfer from this sensuality to the stage? There is no cooking. At most in a metaphorical sense. We have tried to question creeds of the 21st century within our troupe and to utilize them for our play - at least in small segments. A "landscape of thought" has emerged with four protagonists: the logician who tries to explain his world psychoanalytically or rationally, the priest who in all his humility wants to understand life through the love of God, the hoodlum who wants to profit from religion and cult in the community, and a demonic goddess who oscillates between angel, mother goddess and whore. These four characters, as they clash, guide us through the evening. But now I am already giving away far too much. So the viewer gets involved in an experiment of rhyming ambiguous things together associatively? Under the strongly visual surface of the play, comic, poetic images and thoughts open up, which the spectator - in front of his own horizon of experience - can wander through. All the way to the long and longingly awaited final chord, with which even Rossini himself had his problems. So it doesn't end quite so roundly. We are still working on it. Your piece isn't finished yet? It will be. Usually we finish the structure of the evening too early, so that the actors have the chance to become free again and to improvise on the basis of what they have worked out and to change one or two details. Rossini orchestrated only with two pianos and harmonium, a floating music actually. We have chosen the original version because Rossini himself preferred this version, which connoisseurs liked to call the Living Room Mass. Only later did he rewrite and orchestrate it for a larger choral and orchestral version so that no one else would do so after his death. The intimacy that is created by the cast of musicians is what attracted me to the project. And do the dancers have to do that, too: float? Well, Yui Kawaguchi basically floats, she can't do anything else. But otherwise the term choreography is rather inappropriate for my work, because I don't come from dance. I come from the visual arts. Does the music dictate the movement sequences? It happens that we serve the rhythm, but also that we break away from it. Where do the navigators lead us? To paradise? For God's sake!
“not only is there witty parlance in this entertainingly danced and sung picture theater, but also a look at our present with tongue-in-cheek self-irony…”
Gioachino Rossini's makes his contribution to the Kunstfest Weimar with "Petite messe solennelle" and "Nico and the Navigators". And Nike Wagner once again made smiling use of the Erfurt Opera. Sometimes one could think that Nike Wagner's vocation is to sharply skewer the weaknesses that her two unloved cousins in Bayreuth have - supposedly or actually - encountered in dealing with the works of their common great-grandfather Richard Wagner. Yet their factual criticism of the annual Richard Wagner circus is much more convincing. Not only because she positions Franz Liszt, also a common great-great-grandfather, for this in Weimar with her art festival. But above all because she does it with a sense for the exquisite, with programmatic ambition and occasionally with a wink. As in the case of the Berlin theater troupe "Nico and the Navigators" around director Nicola Hümpel, who have now incorporated Gioachino Rossini's "Petite messe solennelle" into their world of dance and music. With "creeds of the 21st century" the subtitle is certainly a bit exaggerated. But an oratorio dedicated to God himself, which the composer and bon vivant Rossini (1792 - 1868) added to his life's work four years before his death and 34 years after he had put opera composition on the back burner, is hard to imagine the Italian as a template for a fundamental critique of religions today. Rather as a friendly mild toast to the heavens. After all, not only is there witty parlance in this entertainingly danced and sung picture theater, but also a look at our present with winking self-irony. It is no coincidence that at the end, when the light has gone out, a laugh from the darkness is the last thing you hear. "Did you see the Pope?" was one of the first questions of the repeatedly sketchily interspersed dialogues between the critically questioning young man and the answering priestly cowl-wearer. Alluding to the upcoming papal visit, the answer was that it was much more important whether the pope had seen you. Even the pope could probably smile about that. And they don't really get any more biting than that. The Berlin troupe remains on the easily digestible, ironic level that perceives faith more or less as part of the rituals of media society. Which, in the eastern part of the republic, far from the church, may at least include the hasty opportunism of a newly discovered religiosity.
“A quiet, yet sometimes shrill scepticism surrounding the truth of today’s rituals of faith hovers over the stage…”
...The “Petite messe solennelle” constituted a belated and “earnest” footnote to the life's work of the self-indulgent Italian Rossini (1792–1868) – thirty-four years after turning away from opera composition and turning instead to exquisite dishes. Limited to two pianos (SooJin Anjou and David Zobel) and a harmonium (Jan Gerdes) as well as a twelve-strong choir (including the four excellent soloists Laura Mitchell, Ulrike Mayer, Milos Bulajic and Nikolay Borchev), the meagre musical components in Erfurt came fairly close to what they would have been originally. Nicholas Jenkins conducted while remaining in the thick of events. The four dancer-performers of Hümpel's troupe (Peter Fasching, Adrian Gillott, Patric Schott and Yui Kawaguchi) bring narrative crash barriers to bear against the musically associative game-play. Just like the protagonists, the pianos, too, move around a kind of reception desk. Its elements can be used to form a staircase for a group picture for the “Amen” or utilised individually as seesaws, providing an additional “argument” to a discussion, all in keeping with the ironic and dynamic images in this collage. A quiet, yet sometimes shrill scepticism surrounding the truth of today's rituals of faith hovers over the stage... At the piece's end, whether God is to be found there remains as inconclusive as the question of his presence on earth. The music provides a most suitable vehicle for the journey.
“Especially moving are the almost classic pas-de-deux or the precisely choreographed ensembles that create moments in which music and action almost completely merge into each other. Sometimes deeply moving, sometimes hysterically funny…”
... The plot is at once abstract and concrete. Rossini provides the framework for the associations which develop onstage and play out alongside the contradiction between sacred formalities and the buffonesque gestures which belong to the opera. Stylistic diversity predominates. Frauke Ritter's gaudy costumes underline both the sense of contemporary relevance and the abstractness of the piece. Furious innuendo meets the disrespectful, slapstick meets Freud, opera parody meets no, not blasphemy, which is always closely circumnavigated, but social satire. We are told not only of the relationship between man and a higher being such as God, but also of those relationships existing between the inhabitants of the earth. Especially moving are the almost classic pas-de-deux or the precisely choreographed ensembles that create moments in which music and action almost completely merge into each other. Sometimes deeply moving, sometimes hysterically funny...
“Oliver Proske’s stage design is a stroke of genius, with its multifunctional components out of which Nicola Hümpel artfully composes movable images…Nicholas Jenkins draws a great rhythmic spirit and subtle expressiveness out of Rossini’s “Sin of Old Age” and endowed his conducting with considerable liveliness and energy…”
...Oliver Proske's stage design is a stroke of genius, with its multifunctional components out of which Nicola Hümpel artfully composes movable images. Nicholas Jenkins draws a great rhythmic spirit and subtle expressiveness out of what is an unusual cast of instruments for a mass: a harmonium (Jan Gerdes) and two pianos (SooJin Anjou, David Zobel). Rossini's "Sins of Old Age" endowed his conducting with considerable liveliness and energy. The choir dazzled, beautifully balancing the enchanting pianos, whether singing a capella or in the full voice of jubilant song. The polyphonic passages sounded as if full of transparent lightness. With sublime balance and silken voices, the quartet of soloists comprising Laura Mitchell, Ulrike Mayer, Milos Bulajic and Nikolay Borchev stole the show...
…This entertaining image theatre comprising song and dance is not only full of humorous dialogue, but it also directs a tongue-in-cheek and self-mocking look at the world we live in today… Above all else, Rossini’s music delivers the space that the troupe requires for its statement of faith in the power of music and dance. They felt so at ease in it that they managed to infect the audience in the not quite sold out but nonetheless well attended Erfurt Opera…
...This entertaining image theatre comprising song and dance is not only full of humorous dialogue, but it also directs a tongue-in-cheek and self-mocking look at the world we live in today. It is hardly by chance that at the end of the piece, when the lights go down, the last thing we hear is the sound of laughter. "Did you see the Pope?" is one of the first questions posed by a critically inquiring young man to his priestly interlocutor as part of their ongoing repartee, which is interspersed in the action like so many sketches. Given the upcoming papal visit, it's more a question of whether the pope saw you. Maybe the Pope himself could raise a smile at that. Two grand pianos and a harmonium, mounted on wheels and very much a part of the action, take charge of the musical part. A total of 16 fabulous singer-dancer-performers, each with bags of talent, take charge of the rest. And conductor Nicholas Jenkins is also in the thick of it. Oliver Proske has created a swinging arch which reaches across the stage and can be understood as a stylishly designed portal to heaven. When the gates behind it open, the terrestrial endeavours below are flooded with white light and a cloudy mist, which takes us beyond just hearing Rossini's music, and allows us to visually perceive its grandeur and magic. Nicola Hümpel's direction allows the music to become a part of the dancers and singers in a variety of ways. During the Gloria, for instance, Laura Mitchell and Ulrike Mayer not only provide convincing proof of the quality of their voices: the intensity of one's soprano and the lushness of the other's mezzo-soprano, but on top of that they let us into a frivolous competition occurring between two attractive divas. Again and again individuals distinguish themselves, until all ultimately come together again to form a group picture. Above all else, Rossini's music delivers the space that the troupe requires for its statement of faith in the power of music and dance. They felt so at ease in it that they managed to infect the audience in the not quite sold out but nonetheless well attended Erfurt Opera...
“Nicola Hümpel presented, in the run-up to Benedict XVI’s tour and with many an allusion to the Pope, an excessive and intense evening of theater, following in the footsteps of Christoph Marthaler, Alain Platel and other dance concept artists who have become significant in the last decade: a ‘concert of bodies’ that questions the text of the Mass and the church concert music that accompanies it with grace, but in a non-conceptual way…”
Gioacchino Rossini's "Petite Messe solennelle", theatrically prepared in Erfurt Questions about opening times arise at the beginning of the creation, at which two performers emerge from under a jauntily curved arch. This arch - possibly in memory of the rainbow set by the God of the Old Testament and of the product aesthetics of the 1950s - vaults the stage of the Erfurt theater. Such questions form a probable prelude for a theater project that intended to enrich a mass composition "with intimate testimonies of faith and doubt". The festival pèlerinages, which was actually based in Weimar, presented Gioacchino Rossini's "Petite Messe solennelle" in the state capital, a work premiered in 1864, shortly before the death of the grand master of opera buffa and creator of the Grand Opéra. Nico and the Navigators - the artistic duo Nicola Hümpel (group dynamics and direction) and Oliver Proske (stage), who have been active in the Berlin off-theater scene for years, along with character actors who cross borders as actors and body artists - were appointed as the performing bodies. For many listeners, Rossini's little mass did not and does not seem particularly solemn, but rather all too cheerful, sometimes "quirky" and altogether nourished more by the spirit of musical entertainment than by church music genre traditions: Music with "slipped" dignity and occasional situational comedy that may (nevertheless or even more so) be pleasing to the "dear God." Rossini's late work does not rely on the traditional division of labor of solos, chorus and orchestra, but is performed by a dozen singers, two pianos and harmonium. So now in Erfurt, two grand pianos were pushed to the harmonium, which was already visibly positioned on stage and presented the surrogate of a wind section. The three keyboard instruments underpinned and played around the gymnastic and sporting interludes of the quartet of special performers led by Yui Kawaguchi and the twelve singers, all of whom are also characteristic "types": Milos Bulajic, the tenor tenor, and the supple-profound bass Nikolay Borchev, the sharply pointed soprano Laura Mitchell and the mezzo-soprano Ulrike Mayer, convincing with a calm, warm voice. Conductor Nicholas Jenkins, sometimes flailing around the stage as if in a trance or even casually waving, animated the singing and hammering team in an appropriate manner: the contrasts were sharply profiled. Nicola Hümpel presented, in the run-up to Benedict XVI's tour and with various more or less humorous allusions to the Pope, an excessive and intense theater evening, which moves and remains in the wake of Christoph Marthaler, Alain Platel and other dance concept artists who have become significant in the last decade: a "concert of bodies", which "questions" the mass text and the church concert music associated with it with grace, but precisely in a non-conceptual way. However, this procedure does not touch upon the questions of the tradition of faith, religious and church music rites that have possibly become obsolete, or the questions of the authoritarian and self-righteous papacy. To expect the theatrical images conjured up by Hümpel and her troupe to deal sensibly with the currently surging need for faith again or the waves of superstition that are spreading like a torrent would be to hopelessly overtax them. In the pietistic fringe segment of Protestantism (which, according to its genesis, is strictly word-based), ideas of a "non-verbal proclamation" have long been floating around that are possibly not too far removed from voodoo cult customs. Hümpel's sensitive and esoteric approach to the problems of faith in the early 21st century and the critique of creeds creates some pretty theatrical images, but misses all the centers and even the epicenters of the problems at hand.
“Musically this evening is extraordinarily successful, soloists and choir are great and Rossini’s ‘poor little mass’ is brought to life in all its complexity. Faith and skepticism, longing and irony, melancholy, sadness, melancholy and glittering lightness can already be found in Rossini himself – he himself has shown himself in this work as a torn… the audience has responded with enthusiastic applause.”
Gioacchino Rossini dedicated one of his last works, the Petit Messe Solenelle, the "Little Festive Mass," to none other than the "dear God" himself. The Berlin dance and theater company "Nico and the Navigators" has taken this mass as a model for their new piece of the same name. A sacred composition is thus the basis for a piece that is supposed to be about "creeds of the 21st century". Director Nicola Hümpel and her navigators stay very close to Rossini's original composition and from this fundamental decision arises a basic problem of this evening. The original version of the "poor little Mass," as Rossini called his work, is heard, the original version for two pianos and a harmonium, for soloists and 12-part choir. The Latin Catholic Mass ritual is heard in all its splendor and beauty: from the Kyrie, Lord have mercy on us, to the multiple Creed, to the Agnus Dei, to the Lamb of God who bears the sins of the world. Thus, dramaturgically, the stage drama of birth, crucifixion and resurrection is given, in all its firmly established solemn-festive slowness, even sluggishness. Since this production is intended to ask about the possibility or impossibility of faith in our time, Nicola Hümpel has underlaid the singing with pantomime, acting and dance - on these three levels, however, the rather matte critique of faith is negotiated. In addition, the sung creed is countered with the skepticism of a great doubter, a young man whose name is Benedikt, of all things. This Benedict enters the stage at the beginning through a large futuristically curved arch of clouds, which shimmers silvery-white and seems airy and massive at the same time - whether this may be paradise remains open. Immediately, this skeptical Benedict gets into an argument with a man in a hooded cloak, who could be God himself or an angel or a priest. The disputes between the two, faith versus knowledge and enlightenment, permeate the entire production. They almost always end in a joke and neither position will win this argument. A dispute that also continues in the chorus, which was cast by Rossini not without intention with 12 singers. However, they really do not act like the 12 apostles here. The Credo "I believe in God, the almighty Father" is sung with crooked faces, jubilation, rapture and ecstasy of faith are completely exaggerated gesturally and thus unbelievable. A singer repeatedly breaks out into hysterical, incredulous laughter, a rosary becomes a shackle and noose around the neck, and symbolic white roses are mercilessly decapitated with scissors. Such parodistic, ironic and mocking dissociations are also found in the short moments of conversation and dance between the individual parts of the mass, and quite fundamentally with atheistic and agnostic arguments known for centuries, and also with the mocking lamentation of our zeitgeist, the helpless search for faith in our time. This search for faith with the help of Far Eastern religions, wellness cults, bioresonance therapy and nature indulgence is also taken for a ride here. A singer tells of his mystical experience in a cow pasture - of all things, he had an apparition in the tear of a cow. The interweaving of song, theater and dance, a trademark of Nico and the Navigators, for which the troupe was awarded the George Tabori Prize this year, it works only moderately well here. The soloists and choristers do have their performing moments, and the one on stage who moves the most, who makes the music dance with his body, is indeed the conductor, the almost delirious Nicholas Jenkins - but the dramaturgy is firmly cemented by the mass, with acting, singing and music alternating almost statically. Quite unlike other choreographic musical stagings by Nico and the Navigators, the hinges between genres grate here; this has been seen better in their pieces on Schubert, Handel and Bach. The only dancer, Yui Kawaguchi, as the incarnation of the devil, mainly indulges in goblin-like body gymnastics, sometimes also as a seemingly pregnant apparition of Mary - the dance is clearly too short. And the lyrics, which were created in long group-dynamic processes from improvisations, remain mostly on a rather simple, silly level - real criticism of religion or real criticism of the relativism of faith and our values, as represented by Pope Benedict the 16th, does not take place. Musically this evening is extraordinarily successful, soloists and choir are great and Rossini's "poor little mass" is brought to life in all its complexity. Faith and skepticism, longing and irony, melancholy, sadness, melancholy and glittering lightness can already be found in Rossini himself - he himself showed himself to be a torn man in this work. In terms of content and scenery, however, this production remains unsatisfactory. This picture theater remains on the level of small mockery, it lacks daring and risk-taking, the evening remains lamely in the vague. It is not enough to juxtapose the sacred and the profane. But still: the audience responded with enthusiastic applause.
A production by « pèlerinages » Kunstfest Weimar and NICO AND THE NAVIGATORS. Coproduction Grand Théâtre du Luxembourg, Bregenzer Festspiele (Kunst aus der Zeit), KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen and Theater Erfurt. Supported by Hauptstadtkulturfonds, by the Land of Berlin, the Schering Foundation and the Augstein Foundation. In co-operation with Opéra-Comique Paris, Opéra de Dijon and Radialstiftung Berlin.
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