What does Giuditta tell us about what life felt like at the time the piece evolved, and about the same in our own age?
Alexander Kluge: The world of today, 2021, is a dangerous place. The actual danger is less visible in the global context than it was when Giuditta came into being, when armies still paraded to and fro. Our world is so complex that we feel the cold that we live in less. It was different in 1934. It was only 16 years since the First World War had derailed Europe. In 1934, people felt as if they were dancing on a volcano, so to speak. There was the foreboding of an even crueller war, for which rearming had already begun. The reality is ominous. And so the desire to comfort oneself with music and popular songs, about love of course, becomes more intensive. People are pulled involuntarily away out of an unpleasant reality – into the exotic, into private happiness, but also into the secret army of the black “Reichswehr”. It’s better to go into the desert and to Africa than to stay at home. If necessary, the illusion is better than reality. This quest for happiness, the will to live, which Lehár’s music speaks of, is indomitable.
That’s why I love Marthaler’s pieces so much – he just digs all kinds of wells and produces subterranean connections between times and contexts. August Everding analogously said: All 80,000 operas included in the history of musical theatre are related with one another. All form one colossal score, and at night, when the artistic directors aren’t watching, they talk to each other. I find this again and again with all of Marthaler’s pieces and with your sets, Anna.
Why did you choose Giuditta?
Malte Ubenauf: The impetus came directly from the Bayerische Staatsoper. Up to that point I hardly knew the piece, really just a few of the famous singing parts. We were very quickly surprised to see that the piece is similar to some degree to The Tales of Hoffmann, where the composer, at least from his own perspective, attempted to take the operetta genre through to an operatic context. And so it evidently also was with Giuditta. Very late in Lehár’s biography the piece illustrates the attempt to return to where he had begun his career as a composer of musical theatre right at the beginning – with opera.
What else interested you about it?
Malte Ubenauf: The exotic locations let's say, where the piece’s individual situations play out – a port town in southern Italy is not that unusual, but then a desert in Libya, a nightclub in God knows where, a big European hotel with a bar pianist. Much of this brought forth certain associations. When it came together is the second thing that grabbed our attention: Composed in 1933, premiered in 1934. With all we know about Lehár’s contradictory role (to say the least) in the Third Reich and Hitler’s fondness for Lehár’s operetta, The Merry Widow, there was obviously something here that could be considered profoundly ambivalent, if one tried to. I think this was the starting point at which we decided to tackle Giuditta.
How did you arrive here at the many contexts, the many musical pieces, that you bundled together in your version?
Malte Ubenauf: The decision to go for Giuditta was made at a special time, the end of 2019, more or less. At that point the world was about to change. A pandemic began. And with it a phase in which people, especially central Europeans, suddenly became hysterical and hard against one another, in a way that had never been seen before. Sensing this, it became even clearer to us that we didn’t just want to stage Lehár’s Giuditta, we wanted to contextualise the work as well – not to deconstruct it, because that’s something totally different.Malte Ubenauf: The decision to go for Giuditta was made at a special time, the end of 2019, more or less. At that point the world was about to change. A pandemic began. And with it a phase in which people, especially central Europeans, suddenly became hysterical and hard against one another, in a way that had never been seen before. Sensing this, it became even clearer to us that we didn’t just want to stage Lehár’s Giuditta, we wanted to contextualise the work as well – not to deconstruct it, because that’s something totally different.
Anna Viebrock, you use a stage space that’s already been used with your joint theatre piece, 44 Harmonies from Apartment House 1776, which was performed at the Schauspielhaus Zürich in 2018 – a modus operandi that you have already practised several times.
Anna Viebrock: Recycling is an old and proven theme with us. I’ve already practised it in the most diverse ways, but I’ve often only used parts of stage sets. With you for example, Alexander, with our joint exhibition in 2017, “The boat is leaking. The captain lied.” at the Fondazione Prada in Venice. There I took an already used set to pieces, docked the parts at various points of the Palazzo, and therefore put them in new contexts. That’s how you link things that that you’ve already done, over and over anew. Christoph refers again and again to productions and sets that we’ve already done. Of course, for sustainability reasons I also find it logical that sets shouldn’t be simply thrown away.
Alexander Kluge: You know what fascinates me about your sets is that you don’t just design, you collect as well. In your spaces, you often use found objects, which are real, such as a stone slab from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, or, in another staging, a part from an actual palace of justice. Even though the spectators don’t know their origins, they still give your stages a special degree of authenticity. Art is always more than that which we see from the outside. The fact that you do this shows the attention to detail of the object in the set. It’s not just dead wood, assembled metal or a prop. With you props are living beings, like people in the plot.
War, desert ..., and love. This also has everything to do with popular songs, with the light music of the day. And with failure.
Alexander Kluge: The end that we chose, where the pianist Octavio sits there, without a single guest ... It has a touch of Casablanca, something sad. After his downfall, the operetta’s hero, Octavio, is of no use to anybody. This also reflects what life felt like after 1918 among the officer ranks. “Handsome gigolo”: Once I was a lieutenant in the cavalry, and now I’m a dancer for five Reichsmarks an hour in the Adlon for afternoon tea, followed by something special. And my comrades despise me. These are all things that are sad to the core, when you take them seriously.
You’ll find the full interview in the Giuditta production programme.