Frank Castorf stages Walter Braunfels’ THE BIRDS

Frank Castorf returns to the Bayerische Staatsoper, and after From the House of the Dead (2018) will now stage Walter Braunfels’s postromantic piece, The Birds. After The Stigmatized (2017), Ingo Metzmacher will conduct his second new production at the Bayerische Staatsoper. The cast features Wolfgang Koch, Günter Papendell, Caroline Wettergreen, Charles Workman and Michael Nagy, among others.

THE BIRDS Video magazine
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The work: From ancient comedy to opera tragedy

This postromantic work now returns to the Bayerische Staatsoper almost exactly 100 years after the world premiere of The Birds in the Nationaltheater on 30 November 1920. Together with Franz Schreker and Richard Strauss, Walter Braunfels was one of the most acclaimed German composers of the day, and his opera The Birds enjoyed enormous success in the 1920s. In 1923 Hitler asked Braunfels to compose a party anthem. Braunfels, whose father had already converted from the Jewish faith to Protestantism and he himself had then converted to Catholicism, declined. With the rise of National Socialism, being half Jewish he lost his position as Director of Cologne’s Musikhochschule, and performance of his works ceased. He retreated to Lake Constance, where he survived the Second World War.

The Birds, based on Aristophanes’s ancient comedy, also remained Braunfels’s best known work in the post-war period. Spurred on by the humans Good Hope and Loyal Friend, the birds dare to rise against the gods and establish their own state, their “cloud-cuckoo-land”. A foolhardy undertaking, as it turns out.

Aristophanes wrote the play in the 5th century BC as a sardonic commentary on Athens’s over-ambitious policy of expansion. But with Braunfels the plot takes on another dimension: The comedy becomes a grim tragedy, revealing the disillusioning experiences of World War One. Zeus brutally destroys the newly founded state, and the birds are mercilessly silenced. Musically, Braunfels’s fairy-tale opera is rooted in romanticism – it is rich in melodies and onomatopoeia and invokes bird calls as well. Bruno Walter, the world premiere’s conductor, said the opera was, “one of the most interesting novelties of my Munich work period”.


The staging: A kaleidoscope of associations

Frank Castorf and stage designer Aleksandar Denić again and again create worlds on the stage, in which fragmentations, basic human situations and themes combine as if in a kaleidoscope. Apparently disparate elements also unite here on a revolving stage and awaken associations that produce correlations between the respective works and the present. We consequently find Pandora’s Box in the form of a container, just as we do the likeness of director Alfred Hitchcock, whose adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s short story, The Birds, wrote film history. “The perfect paradise only exists in the imagination,” says Aleksandar Denić. “In my stage set I show small details of what paradise should or can be.”