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FULL ANIMAL FARM (Raskatov) Vienna 2024 Gennady Bezzubenkov, Wolfgang Bankl, Michael Gniffke

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  • Published by: Wiener Staatsoper Play  
  • Format: Streaming
  • Quality Video: 4 Audio:4
  • Subtitles: nosubs  
  • Video Recording from: vk     FULL VIDEO

On a neglected farm, the animals revolt against their tyrannical owner, but soon have to submit to the yoke of a new leader from their own ranks: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal.” Still in 1947, the year the fable Animal was first published Farm, a parable about the perversion of the Russian revolution under Stalin’s dictatorship, the first two translations appeared in Ukrainian and Polish. Of course, they had to appear in Western Europe. But the chances of the English original on the Western book market, which offered passive resistance to the manuscript, were more than questionable for some time. As Orwell noted in the foreword to the Ukrainian edition, his satire was not primarily directed at the Soviet Union, of which he only had knowledge through magazines and books, but rather at the West’s illusions about the socialist miracle empire in the East. These illusions implied that people were actively trying to suppress and deny the regime’s totalitarian violent excesses – from the show trials and deportations to the mass murders and the Holodomor to the Gulag. The fact that a “left-wing” author like Orwell wrote against this uncritical admiration was met with silence and disinterest from circles that considered themselves progressive. While back then it was geopolitical and party political interests (the Soviet Union as an ally in the fight against Hitler’s Germany and capitalism) that cemented the silence cartel of Western societies, in the recent past it has been economic ones. The relevance of Orwell’s dystopia is also evident in the face of the flagrant re-Stalinization of Russian society since the 2000s. In the “post-truth” age of populism, the basic question of the book remains pressingly acute, even in the West: How is it possible that popular leaders use a combative rhetoric of freedom and security when asserting ruthless power and self-interest?

Director Damiano Michieletto has long harbored the desire to bring Animal Farm to the opera stage: “The story is simple, a kind of fairy tale that, if you look at it more closely, deals with important themes such as power, oppression and propaganda in a complex way. The story is cruel, but also contains comic elements. And it allows us to use not only many solo roles, but also a choir,” says Michieletto. In Alexander Raskatov he found an ideal partner. The composer, who was born into a Russian-Jewish family in Moscow in 1953, not far from Red Square and on the day of Stalin’s funeral, has already caused a stir with the setting of another Soviet-critical literary masterpiece: A Dog’s Heart (2010/2017) based on Bulgakov’s story Dog’s Heart, which also premiered at the Dutch National Opera and was then also performed in London, Milan and Lyon.

Raskatov has worked extensively with the experienced librettist and dramaturg Ian Burton. It was important to him to combine Orwell’s external view of the Soviet empire with internal views of the system by incorporating original quotes from Stalin, Trotsky and the secret service chief Beria, including the latter’s sexualized acts of violence. Linguistically, Raskatov pushed for succinctness and condensation as well as for translating the narrative into situations that were as vivid as possible. For his setting, he developed a “scalpel style” – as he himself calls it – that outlines the action sharply and with high contrast. Raskatov also works with musical references to the history of his country. The score features no fewer than 21 solo roles that exploit the full spectrum of human vocal ranges and each of which has a characteristic individual profile.

Director Michieletto did not set the event on a farm, but in a slaughterhouse: “The characters are here to be killed. They are locked in cages and dream of freedom. To be an animal here means to be a slave, to be flesh, an object in the hands of humans. Michieletto’s premiere production was created as a co-production by several commissioning houses

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