The last time I was in environs such as this I had to contend with chatterboxes and toothpicks. Unfortunately, the chatterboxes are everywhere these days, and if I give up going to the symphony and to the opera it will be because I really can’t abide the audience any longer. The mob at the Deutsche Oper for the last performance of La traviata was true to contemporary form, with mobile phones, sweets in noisy plastic wrappers, flash cameras, and voices incapable of a whisper. I tried not to get worked up. After all, I knew in advance that these things were sure to happen. I also knew that there would be endless applause regardless of the performance, but on this occasion the cast fed the beast with curtain calls after every scene. Everyone seemed most assured that it was all as brilliant as could be.
Well, some of it was extremely good. Anja Harteros (not pictured here) was in perfect command of Violetta, portraying convincingly the passion, sacrifice, fragility and fatalism of the role, and ultimately (and quite appropriately) she sang her lungs out. The male cast were professional in support, but I didn’t believe Alfredo or Giorgio for a moment. The first scene of Act II lacked sufficient movement to distract the audience from its length. The second scene of Act II was a feast for the eye, but one is never quite sure what to do with all those matadors. All of this is by the by.
What really caught my eye about the whole event was the look of the thing. A more perfect disharmony between cast and audience could scarcely be imagined. Berlin crowds, so I hear on the streets, don’t get togged up for high culture. I thought that this was because they simply shunned the artificiality of it all, and doubtless for some their choice of denim and running shoes was for precisely this reason. But Mrs. VB and I learned with much amusement that a good many actually made a concerted effort to dress to the nines and failed with hilarious results. I’ve never seen such a bizarre collection of ill-fitting sartorial curios in all my days, parading up and down in the intermission like it was a Zoologische Garten catwalk. Old and young alike partied like it was 1979. Meanwhile, on the stage, Verdi’s opera had been wrenched forward into an elegantly cut 1930s suit. The abundance of black tie on stage was in stark contrast to the complete lack of said costume in the seats. I felt sorry for the cast: they were the only ones looking at us, and unable to see how fine they themselves appeared.
It makes me wonder about the future of the opera. In the year 2100 will any artistic director stroke his or her beard and decide that the next production should have the look of the 2010s? Well, perhaps only at the Komische Oper.