“Das Fräulein von S.”
State Opera Stuttgart, Germany
February 10, 2012
by Horst Koegler
copyright 2012 by Horst Koegler
A piercing scream and a multilayered crashing chord cut through the pitch-dark stillness of the opera-house. Then the curtain goes up and on the stage we stare at a tableau vivant of baroque-clad people, paralyzed: another mysterious murder has shocked the Parisian population at the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. But then they start to move hectically, chasing, tumbling over each other, a man falls to the ground, sinister policemen arrest a youth and there happens a maddening tumult. Thus opens the spectacular new ballet noir “Das Fräulein von S.” by Christian Spuck, resident choreographer of the Stuttgart Ballet.
As his Stuttgart fare-well creation he produced on February 10 “Das Fräulein von S.”, ballet in three acts after E.T.A. Hoffmann’s eponymous novella “Das Fräulein von Scudéri”. It lasts, with one interval, just two hours and turned out a roaring success, with music by Robert Schumann, Philip Glass, Michael Torke and Martin Donner and with sets and costumes by Spuck’s customary designer Emma Ryott.
E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776 through 1822) is, of course, the famous Romantic writer (composer, music critic and caricaturist), whose fantastic stories inspired, among others, the ballets “Nutcracker” and “Coppélia” as well as the opera “Tales of Hoffmann”. “Scudéri” tells the story of the goldsmith René Cardillac at the Parisian court of Louis XIV, who got so possessed by the jewelry he created that he stabbed to death the buyers to regain the trinket (Hindemith turned it into an opera in 1926). The lady of the title was a famous Parisian writer and in both the Hoffmann story and the Spuck ballet is a rather matronly female writer, approaching eighty, who in the case of events solves the criminal riddle, in which Cardillac’s daughter Madelon is involved as the mistress of his apprentice Olivier Brusson, who gets charged of murder and is already sentenced to death when Madame at the last moment through her intervention causes the king to reverse the verdict.
It’s a very complicated plot and Spuck and his dramaturg Michael Kuester have solved it by introducing an actress, the French Mireille Mossé, known from many films and TV-productions, who quotes from Hoffmann, declaiming sort of Brecht-alienating texts in German. Of miniature growth, she looks like a gnome – as many baroque courts employed them (for instance in Oscar Wilde’s famous poem “Birthday of an Infant”). She looks like the daughter of Edith Piaf and the French jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani, a dwarf-like figure which reminds one of Kleinzach in the opera “Tales of Hoffmann”), a busybody, who helps to clear the entangled threads of the plot).
It is the contrast between the two, the moving but never talking Madeleine de Scudéri, Marcia Haydée, a towering figure, dignified in black, like from a fashion magazine of the 17th century, scribbling in her book, her handwritten stances appearing projected on a screen (like her famous running commentary in French: ‘Un amant qui craint les voleurs n’est point digne d’amour’ (alias ‘A lover who is afraid of thieves, is never worthy of the love’). With her enormous black train she moves like a living statue across the stage (a French baroque relative of Turandot?), while her talkative miniature alter ego whizzes around the stage like an intriguing agent, both performing like the mechanic of a clock, which keeps the action on the move – and that in constantly accelerating tempo, speeding up breathlessly the proceedings.
Around them Spuck has arranged the dances for the individual figures, inspired by contemporary graphics, but never quoting directly from the textbooks, instead translating them into abstract contours and patterns as if designed by today couturiers from the fashion ateliers of Lagerfeld or Armani. They seem to come from fighting and fencing manuals and didactic handbooks of courtly love and behavior during the reign of the Sun King. In fact they look like being designed by Bakst for a ballet in the succession of Massine’s “Les femmes de bonne humeur” for the Ballet Russes of Diaghilev – ravishing to look at, as if Emma Ryott, their designer, had served her apprenticeship at the atelier of Yves Saint Laurent. Their wealth and elegance are truly overwhelming, and Spuck moves them like a modern master of ceremonies in statuary poses and formalized gestures, cutting sharply etched contours, mostly en face, but then again en derrière – abstract, extremely cool formal dances of a choreographer crafted by a contemporary descendant of the Fabergé dynasty. It materializes actually as having dreamt up by some reborn Diaghilev.
It is performed almost like a ritual by a huge cast of dancers from the Stuttgart Ballet, including principals Marijn Rademaker as René Cardillac and Katja Wuensche as his daughter Madelon, and William Moore as Olivier Brusson and her lover (they both will accompany Spuck when he goes to Zurich in the autumn), by Arman Zazyan as King Louis XIV and Daniela Lanzetti as his Maitresse Marquise de Maintenon, by Damiano Pettenella, Jason Reilly, Matteo Crockard-Villa and Alexander Zaitsev as members of the royal court of justice, and there are the four species from Cardillac’s box of jewellery, Alicia Amatriain as Diamant, Anna Osadcenko as Rubin, Myriam Simon as Saphir and Angelina Zuccarini as Smaragd, for which Spuck has molded beautiful variations, inspired obviously by the Cabinet des Fées from “Sleeping Beauty”. It looks like an assembly from members of the courtly etiquette.
If the whole production radiates like an act of homage to Diaghilev, I think that Diaghilev would have commissioned a contemporary composer to go to the archives and investigate there the scores of Lully and his colleagues. With Spuck I have had problems already in the past for his musical arrangements, mixing up various composers and styles from different times. Thus I imagine that the appropriate musical accompaniment might have been accomplished by Hans Werner Henze, who is a master of style-mimicry. The actual music, assembled from different string quartets by Schumann and big orchestral pieces by Glass and his contemporary colleagues, does sound appropriate but somewhat arbitrary, beautiful as it is played by members of the Stuttgart State Orchestra under the direction of James Tuggle.
With “Das Fräulein von S. ” the Stuttgart Ballet has acquired a new full-length repertory piece, perfectly in line with the company’s Cranko trilogy of “Romeo and Juliet”, “Onegin” and “Taming of the Shrew”, followed up by Forsythe’s (Henze-)“Orpheus”, Neumeier’s “Lady of the Camellias” and “A Streetcar Named Desire”, Spuck’s own “Lulu”, “Der Sandmann(“ (also based upon E.T.A. Hoffmann), and “Leonce and Lena” and Goecke’s “Orlando”, which seems to have the potential of a box-office draw. Already before the first night all eight initially scheduled performances plus an additional date were completely sold out.
Photos courtesy Stuttgart Ballet.
The dancer pictured in the first photo is Marcia Haydée.
Other dancers are: Mireille Mossé (speaker), William Moore, Anna Osadcenko,