1 Dec 2016

Mascagni - Cavalleria Rusticana / Hindemith - Sancta Susanna

ONP Bastille, Wednesday November 30 2016

Conductor: Carlo Rizzi. Production: Mario Martone. Sets: Sergio Tramonti. Costumes: Ursula Patzak. Lighting: Pasquale Mari. Santuzza: Elīna Garanča. Turiddu: Yonghoon Lee. Lucia: Elena Zaremba. Alfio: Vitaliy Bilyy. Lola: Antoinette Dennefeld. Susanna: Anna Caterina Antonacci. Klementia: Renée Morloc. Alte Nonne: Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

Puzzled by the apparently odd pairing of Cavalleria Rusticana and Sancta Susanna, I went to the Bastille last night unsure of what to expect. The link between the two turned out to be basically the relationship between religion and sex, obvious in Sancta Susanna and made more obvious in Cavalleria Rusticana by heightening both. The crucifix, in various sizes, was a recurrent image. Director Mario Martone added in interview that both libretti refer to the heady scent of flowers, which seemed to be a bit “tiré par les cheveux”. He admitted he wasn’t keen on the “rhetoric” of so-called verismo, so in Cav he went for sobriety: no backdrops, indeed no scenery to speak of on a black stage, mostly dimly lit, and dark 19th-century costumes.

The staging was “sexed-up” by having a small, grimy brothel, complete with Madame, staff and patrons, glide across the empty stage at the beginning, and “religioned-up” by setting the action up to the intermezzo against the Easter mass, here not hidden in the church but occupying the dark stage. The chorus brought their own chairs and placed them in two blocks, separated by an aisle, facing the audience. When an altar appeared at the rear, a giant crucifix came down over it, a (pretend) lamb was sacrificed and a second, processional crucifix appeared to the left. As the priest and altar-boys filed in, candles lit and censers swinging, they (the chorus) turned their backs on us for mass, which went on silently - sermon, collection, communion and all - while the more usual business progressed on the apron (fortunately for the singers’ projection). After mass, the same chairs were set in a circle to form the village square. It was as simple as that and perfectly effective: “We don’t really need the village,” as my neighbour said.

Musically it sounded to me as if Carlo Rizzi was also trying to tone down the verismo rhetoric in a plain, no-nonsense performance. I can understand this, but am not sure it works: perhaps with Mascagni the only real solution is to let the bodice rip. The cast, however, was excellent. Elena Zaremba didn’t have much to do, of course, but she did it with great, straight-backed dignity and charisma. Antoinette Dennefeld was agreeably fresh-voiced and fluid. Yonghoon Lee has, as a friend also there put it later, “lots of metal” in his voice and is generous with it. Over-generous? I wonder how long he will be able to give so much in roles of this kind. Elīna Garanča, whom I hadn’t seen for years and years (as Sextus in La Clemenza di Tito in 2007, to be exact) was just marvellous. Gorgeous timbre. “In sumptuous voice,” said the friend.

Though there was a curtain and a pause for a change of scenery, the house stayed dark and there was no interval.

Sancta Susanna is a short story about mad nuns with a sexual crush on the crucified Christ. The plot is on Wikipedia. The curtain rose on a wall of cracked rock, filling the whole space, and Susanna’s cell, a hole in the wall, with a bed and a chair, a little crucifix and a little window. As the tale of Sister Beata was told, the bottom of the rock fell to reveal what was probably the giant Easter-mass crucifix, now lying abandoned underfloor and a long-haired, naked dancer acting the tale out. As the story progressed to its climax, Susanna stripped off her veils (revealing short, chopped hair) and habit (revealing her naked breasts in stark white light), an incredible giant spider, operated by slithering dancers in black, crept forward on the right with another nude dancer on its back, and the foot of a, this time, colossal crucifix, appeared at the rear – so colossal, the foot (well, up to the knees) was all there was room for. Finally, Susanna was walled in as the rock rose to fill the space again.

Carlo Rizzi and the orchestra seemed to me to show more interest in Hindemith’s more interesting score (a brief beauty: "In this case I would have arrived at the interval..." commented a musical friend on Facebook). Renée Morloc and Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo, with her deep, dark, grainy voice, were excellent, and Anna Caterina Antonacci was on stunning form, vocally and physically: “Superb,” the friend said. “When she sang ‘I am beautiful’ she really was!” Said my neighbour over steak and chips afterwards.

It turned out, then, to be a very strong double bill, dramatically and vocally. This was the première, yet there was no booing. And it’s very satisfactory to have two successful performances in a single evening, one of them a discovery, over early enough to start dinner before ten and be in bed by midnight.

Maestro Wenarto hasn't published any of Sancta Susanna yet, so here's some Mascagni instead.

28 Nov 2016

42nd Street

Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Saturday November 26 2016

Conductor: Gareth Valentine. Production and choreography: Stephen Mear. Sets and costumes: Peter McKintosh. Lighting: Chris Davey. Julian Marsh: Alexander Hanson. Dorothy Brock: Ria Jones. Peggy Sawyer: Monique Young. Billy Lawlor: Dan Burton. Maggie Jones: Jennie Dale. Bert Barry: Carl Sanderson. Ann Reilly: Emma Kate Nelson. Andy Lee: Stephane Anelli. Pat Denning: Matthew McKenna. Abner Dillon: Teddy Kempner. Phyllis Dale: Chantel Bellew. Lorraine Flemming: Charlie Allen. Diane Lorimer: Emily Goodenough. Ethel: Jessica Keable. Oscar: Barnaby Thompson. Mac, Doctor, Thug 1: Scott Emerson. Châtelet Orchestra.

Ruby Keeler in 1933
The Châtelet’s “Christmas” show and director Jean-Luc Choplin’s parting shot before he quits the job and the house shuts for renovation, is 42nd Street. For those who don’t know it, 42nd Street is an unashamedly escapist patchwork of numbers from various depression-era film musicals involving choreographer Busby Berkeley. The thinnest of backstage plots serves as the pretext for a series of lavish song-and-dance set pieces. Wikipedia’s article quotes theatre historian John Kenrick as writing: "When the curtain slowly rose to reveal forty pairs of tap-dancing feet, the star-studded opening night audience at the Winter Garden cheered... Champion” (i.e. Gower Champion, director of the 1980 Broadway production, who died on the day of the opening) “followed this number with a series of tap-infused extravaganzas larger and more polished than anything Broadway really had in the 1930s." So it might almost be seen as a demonstration piece – a virtuoso showbiz showcase.

Broadway professionalism doesn’t always make it across the Atlantic to France. In this case, it only had to make it across the Channel, as nearly everyone involved was from the UK, affirming that London’s reputation for the staging of musicals is fully deserved. I had no idea: the last time I went to a musical in London was in the 70s. It was A Chorus Line and I hated it. 42nd Street is a different kettle of fish (no droopy, self-obsessed, whining, whinging monologues – mostly just corny wisecracks and the-show-must-go-on clichés) and I loved it. The professionalism of this new staging is phenomenal through number after number of fast, precision-engineered dances with plenty of references back to the 30s but in a slicker, fleeter contemporary style. “A welcome contrast with so much ineptness on the opera stage,” wrote a friend a day or two later. I’ve often had the same thought in New York, comparing musicals with the Met.

The highly-coloured production (lots of red, green and purple) keeps the applause-seeking forty pairs of tap-dancing feet at the start, and nods, at the end, to the finale of the 1933 film with a spectacular tunnel arch of skyscrapers pointing down to the stage, with parts outlined in red lights. The basic set is an all-purpose arrangement of red-painted gantries with the brick backstage wall at the rear. These convert smoothly and seamlessly into the various spaces needed: a night club and its tiers of booths, a railway station with benches, etc. Props or sets-within sets, such as the star-of-the-show’s wallpapered dressing-room or the Buffalo-bound sleeping car, are wheeled efficiently on and off, or art-deco light fittings are lowered and raised.

The superb costumes, make-up and marcelled wigs are in period (i.e. around 1933) and the Berkeley-inspired set pieces do nothing to avoid Kitsch – e.g. giant flowers bobbing around on heads or an outlandishly extravagant, all-white fashion parade. The lighting is often nostalgically golden.

The cast was all smiles and cheeky charm, looking as if every minute of frenzied hoofing while singing - presumably gruelling, especially on Saturday evening after a matinee - was huge fun and an absolute doddle. It’s impossible to single out individual principals for praise as they were all so damned good. This was just a great evening out and an escape from grim everyday reality (Trump as president-elect, French elections gearing up, Christmas looming only four weeks away…) that sent people home humming and with a smile on their faces.

Many of the best things I saw in the 90s and “noughties” (Die Frau, Vixen, Les Paladins, Belle Hélène, Grande Duchesse…) were at the Châtelet. Then, when Choplin decided the programming should be more “eclectic,” I stopped subscribing and only bought specific shows, like this one. I wonder what sort of programming will be on offer when the theatre opens again, with a new director, in 2019…

18 Nov 2016

Strauss - Capriccio

Palais de la Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday November 13 2016.

Conductor: Lothar Koenigs. Production: David Marton. Sets and costumes: Christian Friedländer. Costumes: Pola Kardum. Lighting: Henning Streck. Die Gräfin: Sally Matthews. Der Graf, ihr Bruder: Dietrich Henschel. Flamand, ein Musiker: Edgaras Montvidas. Olivier, ein Dichter: Lauri Vasar. La Roche, der Theaterdirektor: Kristinn Sigmundsson. Die Schauspielerin Clairon : Charlotte Hellekant. Monsieur Taupe: François Piolino. Eine italienische Sängerin: Elena Galitskaya. Ein italienischer Tenor: Dmitry Ivanchey. Der Haushofmeister: Christian Oldenburg. Diener: Zeno Popescu, Nabil Suliman, Vincent Lesage, Bertrand Duby, Kris Belligh, Pierre Derhet, Maxime Melnik, Artur Rozek. Eine junge Tänzerin: Florence Bas, Margot-Annah Charlier, Germaine François. 

From "Wie schön ist die Prinzessin Salome" in Sweden to "Bezaubernd ist sie heute wieder!" in Belgium in one weekend... Fortified with a choucroûte royale à l’alsacienne at the Taverne du Passage, off we trudged across the damp waste ground, past the ruined warehouses and a tattooing fair, to La Monnaie’s temporary big top for that least spectacular, least circus-like of operas, Capriccio.

The house orchestra was only occasionally stretched by Strauss’s de luxe virtuoso demands and, like Sweden’s Royal Opera for Salome, La Monnaie put together an excellent cast, so musically we had a very good afternoon – with one “disclaimer”: I still think that, to improve the acoustics of their ill-starred tent, they have installed subtle amplification. At times you can’t tell who’s singing, as the disembodied sound doesn’t come from anywhere in particular; at others, you can, which may imply that the excellent balance between different singers was achieved artificially by amplifying each one differently. In any case, I see a little pink bud over each singer’s right ear, but I suppose I could be imagining things…

Edgaras Montvidas and Lauri Vasar were welcome discoveries, both "all perfect in their parts" (as the ladies say to a castrato in Signor Velluti and the Female Choristers, a saucy old print), dramatically and vocally, Montvidas especially. Kristinn Sigmundsson was on remarkable form, considering the years he’s already given us pleasure, and in excellent voice. Charlotte Hellekant played a more restrained, less “actressy” Clairon than some, with firm, upright presence. Dietrich Henschel was Dietrich Henschel: elegant as always and more natural an actor than ever, even close up on the video screens that flanked the stage.

I don’t know if Sally Matthews was directed to overdo the countess’s primness or just overdid it herself, and her singing style (I’ve seen her before and think this is her own) remains relatively cool and disengaged – or “detached”, as a friend who’s also seen and heard her put it – but her voice itself is fabulous: not a hint of particular effort, strong and straight, rich in timbre, Goldilocks vibrato… It must have been at least as maddening for her as it was for us that no fewer than four jets came in to land at Zavenetem during her final scene, enabling us to gauge quite accurately the frequency of arrivals on a Sunday evening.

Shabby theatre...
David Marton’s production was set in a shabby theatre – one privately owned by the countess, perhaps - presented in cross-section so we could see under the stage on the left, boxes facing us, and rows of seats rising to the right. From where I was sitting, towards the end of a row also on the right, I couldn’t, therefore, see the whole of this on-stage auditorium. I don’t know if that’s why there were live videos on either side, of if they were meant to allow us to admire the admirably detailed acting and expressions. It made sense enough for the characters to be discussing the relative merits of poetry, music, dance and directing while wandering about that theatrical setting, with a sofa and some chairs on stage, but less to transform the stage, in the second half (La Monnaie inserted a break) into the countess’s saloon with a forest of potted plants carried on by the servants – who sang very musically, by the way.

I liked the hints at the countess entertaining a Lady-Chatterly-style relationship with her handsome, brooding, fair-haired butler, all brass-buttoned up in black, implying that at the end her choice would be between three suitors, not just two. I quite hoped she’d fall into his arms, making a novel early decision, at the curtain, but she didn’t. On the contrary, she seemed to give him the brush-off.

Some people liked the introduction of three dancers: one a child in a tutu, one a grown woman, one old and grey, representing, I suppose, the three ages of Madeleine whom she confronted, instead of her mirror, while the jets roared over in the finale. There was some potential in this, harking back to the Marschällin’s nocturnal soliloquy and raising briefly in my mind the notion that she might be realising it was time, as time passed, to stop being silly, give up her manservant and settle down seriously with someone of her own class.

But overall I found these three a bit confusing, and was more confused still when at one point the butler seemed to be venting his anger semi-sadistically on the child ballerina, practising under the stage, or at another when dancers and Italian singers were marched off, wearing raincoats, in file. The costumes were contemporary with the work: wartime, so perhaps this, and Monsieur Taupe, pottering round quite often and measuring people up with calipers or compasses, were a vague reference to Nazi eugenics and the camps, as my neighbor surmised. In Paris, Carson slipped in one Gestapo uniform (an officer accompanying Clairon) and a little swastika; there was none of that here.

At least one critic wrote that these ideas were sparks of genius. At least one other was a bit baffled, like me. I’d have been quite happy with just the theatre setting – no need to bring in all those potted palms to make a room on stage where no real room would be – and the hint at a daring affair with the handsome butler. But in any case, leaving aside the jetliners landing, thanks especially to the singers, this was a strong Capriccio that would make a nice addition to the DVD library, if filmed.

A different italienischer Tenor: Maestro Wenarto.

15 Nov 2016

Chamber Concert, Allhelgonakyrkan, Stockholm

Allhelgonakyrkan, Stockholm, Saturday 12 November 2016

Bengt Forsberg: piano. Ann Hallenberg: mezzo-soprano. Mina Fred: viola.
  • Bengt Forsberg, Mina Fred: Improvisation for viola and piano.
  • Max Reger: Suite Number Two in G minor for solo viola, op 131d: Andante
  • Sten Broman: Fantasy, Fugue and Chorale for viola and piano
  • Clara Schumann: four songs
  • Johannes Brahms: two songs for alto, viola and piano, op.91
  • Robert Fuchs: viola sonata
  • Encore - Johannes Brahms: Wiegenlied
An interesting, eclectic programme for this rather sparsely-attended chamber concert in the wooden Allhelgonakyrkan church in Stockholm, where record snowfalls for the time of year made getting around quite tricky and probably kept some regulars away.

The evening opened surprisingly with a totally contemporary – intrinsically, since it was done on-the-spot – improvisation by the excellent Bengt Forsberg, well known to many as Anne-Sophie Von Otter’s usual accompanist, and Mina Fred on the viola, starting with the former rooting around inside the piano, plucking at the strings while scratchy viola harmonics emerged from the back of the church, yet ending almost like a Spanish dance.

This ran without a break into the Max Reger solo, reminiscent of a folk ballad. To a British ear, Sten Broman’s Fantasia, a conservative work for its date (1963) but unmistakably well-crafted, brought to mind Vaughan Williams on a good day. The decidedly Brahmsian viola sonata (1899) of the Austrian Robert Fuchs, whom I see Brahms admired, is a strong, sometimes passionate work. Both surely deserve more frequent outings.

But what had given me the idea of visiting Stockholm for the first time was the chance to hear Ann Hallenberg, not in flamboyant baroque arias, but in four Clara Schumann Lieder and Brahms’ two songs for alto and viola. Anyone who knows her voice, or possibly has heard her recording of the Alto Rhapsody, will understand my motivation and have a fair idea of what I heard: the warmth, the sumptuous timbre, the sensitively varied dynamics, the perfectly-judged sentiments, the right balance, in the concert context, between reading and acting… With Ann Hallenberg, the usual, you might say, to keep it short.

Strauss - Salome

Kungliga Operan (Royal Swedish Opera), Stockholm, Friday November 11 2016

Conductor: Lawrence Renes. Production: Sofia Jupither. Sets: Lars-Åke Thessman. Costumes: Maria Geber. Lighting: Linus Fellbom. Herod: Michael Weinius. Herodias: Katarina Dalayman. Salome: Erika Sunnegårdh. Jochanaan: Josef Wagner. Narraboth: Jonas Degerfeldt. Herodias’s Page: Karin Osbeck. First Jew: Klas Hedlund. Second Jew: Anders Blom. Third Jew: Pierre Gylbert. Fourth Jew: Nils Hübinette. Fifth Jew: Erik Rosenius. First Nazarene: Joris Grouwels. Second Nazarene: Martin Hedström. First Soldier: Mattias Milder. Second Soldier: Lennart Forsén. Cappadocian: Ian Power. Slave: Anna Danielsson. Kungliga Hovkapellet (Royal Swedish Orchestra).

A good night out in Stockholm with this very sound Salome and an excellent dinner in the same building after, which is more than you can hope for in Paris.

Sweden’s Royal Opera, as well as having a good orchestra, as you might expect, fielded a very strong cast of principals, including – unusually, I feel like saying – a Herod and a Herodias who actually sang their parts, rather than barking them (I’m not saying I’ve never heard exciting barking: it can be very effective, dramatically speaking, in the right roles). Katarina Dalayman was a charismatic Herodias, even when just standing around in a glittering caftan, observing the action. Michael Weinius is an outstanding tenor, quite young for Herod (by the standards we get used to) and very musical. Josef Wagner was a truly thrilling Jochanaan, very nearly stealing the show. And though there was tough competition for charisma from Katarina Dalayman, and the production asked her to act maybe a bit too young and innocent and pigeon-toed, Erika Sunnegårdh was a sterling Salome, hitting all the notes with impressive apparent ease. (It surely can’t be actual. But I’ve heard that singing teachers in Sweden tell their pupils to hide the effort, rather than telegraph it with tortured expressions and writhing limbs. No names.)

Herod’s palace was a Mies-like glass box, something like his Barcelona pavilion and thus also something like the glass box in Paris’s new Samson et Dalila, only in this case set at an angle at the rear, with stepped terraces down to the apron and, on the left, two hatches down to cisterns among the rocks. The box was not, however, furnished with trim Barcelona chairs and stools, but with gold-framed old-master paintings and elaborate, expensive antique mirrors as big as the walls, and fabulously nouveau-riche brocade fabrics and cushions, Versace-style (perhaps actual Versace). It reminded me of a furniture shop near the Bastille called Roméo that sold stuff so amazingly flashy you wondered just who might fork out a fortune for it. (I just checked: it has moved to make way for sports shoes, but the brand still exists at other addresses.) A large, crustily-cratered disc of a moon was let down slowly at the back.

A room by Roméo
Herodias had, as I said, a glittery caftan, Salome a silver lame dress, Herod was in plum silk pyjamas and a velvet smoking jacket and his house guests, the Jews and Nazarenes, looking like Russian or Balkan mafiosi with open-necked shirts and chisel-toed shoes turning up at the point, were supplemented by one or two scantily-clad trophy girls. The guards wore black suits.

Apart from the modern dress, the directing followed the instructions on the box, with a few exceptions. To me there were two noticeable weaknesses. First, people who had nothing to do really did nothing. Even when Narraboth committed hara-kiri the guards didn’t budge – nobody tried to stop him. Similarly, Herod and Herodias hung around motionless during Salome’s final scene and might have done better to slink off off, leaving her alone until the end.

Second, Salome might better have just danced. Instead, she was humiliated, with hints of sado-masochism, by Herod’s guests, at his invitation. This was more embarrassing than effective. The other exception was, though, a strength. Jochanaan had his throat well and truly slit, but his head was not sliced off. He was carried, bloodied and near-naked, out of the cistern and Salome was able to kiss his mouth while caressing his whole, gory body. This was a lot more effective than the usual, faintly comical plastic head that distracts us during the famous finale.

It was a pleasure as always to discover a new house – new to me I mean: this one, with a very fancy "Gold Foyer" upstairs, was built in the 1890s in place of a Gustavian building of the 1780s, a demolition some Swedes have never quite got over. If Stockholm’s opera-goers are used to these standards at a third of the current Paris price, they are lucky indeed.

Here, Maestro Wenarto shows how the dance should be done.

10 Nov 2016

St Petersburg Phil - Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Wednesday November 9 2016

Conductor: Yuri Temirkanov. Piano: Boris Berezovsky. Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. 
  • Rachmaninoff: Concerto for piano No. 3 op. 30.
  • Stravinsky:  The Rite of Spring
I like Yuri Temirkanov very much. His conducting is precise and matter-of-fact and undemonstrative, his gestures, when he makes any at all, are restrained and however agitated the score may get there’s no mad arm-waving or wild writhing around on the podium. His face gives little away.

The sound he cultivates is relatively dry and restrained as well: no lush wallowing, some quite daring tempi, and, though his orchestra could, if asked to, play extremely loud, no absolute extremes of loudness, even in a piece like Le Sacre. He comes across as having almost a kind of scientific detachment, as if conducting constructivist ballets, seemingly giving equal weight to all parts. As a result, you hear inner harmonies and details you never heard before. The words that came to my mind during the piece were “post-modern." I wonder if that makes any sense. Well, it was a detailed, fascinating performance: a learning experience.

I like Boris Berezovsky very much as well. Though Rachmaninoff is a long way from Haydn, as far as is plausible the concerto playing was classical and chamber-like: again, restrained. The pianist was constantly turning to look at or leaning back to listen carefully to the strings around him, as well, of course, as keeping up often smiling eye contact with the conductor. His virtuosity was phenomenal: dazzling ripples of the quietest legato runs at hair-raising speed, for example*. The applause was long and loud.

No absolute extremes of loudness, as I said; softness, on the other hand... The encore was a beautifully loving, tender performance of the prelude to The Legend Of The Invisible City Of Kitezh And The Maiden Fevroniya (which must surely be one of the longest opera titles ever). I'd been wondering what that harp was doing at the back of the stage...

*When I described this to a friend he replied: "I call it high-speed caressing."

[This concert was recorded by France Musique. It will be well worth looking out for]

1 Nov 2016

Weill - Die Dreigroschenoper

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Thursday October 27 2016.

Musical direction: Hans-Jörn Brandenburg, Stefan Rager. Production, sets and lighting: Robert Wilson. Costumes: Jacques Reynaud. Lighting: Andreas Fuchs, Ulrich Eh. J. J. Peachum: Jürgen Holtz. Celia Peachum: Traute Hoess. Polly Peachum: Johanna Griebel. Macheath: Christopher Nell. Tiger Brown: Axel Werner. Lucy Brown: Friederike Nölting. Jenny: Angela Winkler. Filch: Georgios Tsivanoglou. Walter: Luca Schaub. Matthias: Martin Schneider. Jakob: Boris Jacoby. Bob: Winfried Peter Goos. Jimmy: Raphael Dwinger. Ede: Jörg Thieme. Smith: Uli Pleßmann. Kimball: Michael Kinkel. Betty: Anke Engelsmann. Old prostitute: Ursula Höpfner-Tabori. Vixen: Marina Senckel. Dolly: Claudia Burckhardt. Molly: Gabriele Völsch. Messenger: Gerd Kunath. Voice: Walter Schmidinger. Das Dreigroschenoper Orchester.

Bob Wilson is often criticised or mocked for supposedly always doing the same thing: “Pharaohs in profile against a blue background,” as Le Figaro put it recently - for predictable, static, hieratic, monotonous, monochrome productions, though always beautifully lit. Personally, while I do see that some of his work – the Gluck series, perhaps – is plain and, OK, samey, my experience over the years has been of a fair amount of variety. And this criticism neglects what ought to please “Eurotrash” haters, i.e. that Wilson generally tells the story as it is written, often quite entertainingly – his Ring had quite a bit of wide-eyed wit. His sense of humour is rarely mentioned, but in my view it’s in works involving fun, or at least wry humour, that Wilson is at his liveliest best: Les Fables de La Fontaine or L’incoronazione di Poppea, for example, and now (now for me, that is: the production dates back to 2007) Die Dreigroschenoper.

As far as I’m concerned, this was a near perfect production of the kind it's a rare privilege to witness and a work of undeniable genius, successfully blending Weimar and Neue Sachlichkeit, Punch and Judy, silent film, The Addams Family, cartoons and Nô (and no doubt other influences I was too ignorant to pick up) into a single, coherent and absolutely convincing universe, with a gallery or parade of amiable reprobates at once caricatures yet real, or even more than plain real: larger than life.

Do his actors have striking features or is it the extravagant makeup, or is it a bit of both? Each has his or her own gestures and mannerisms and these are, as usual when Bob Wilson is on form, practised to a tee and meaningful right down to the last glance, tic or curl of the lip. You wonder, as you marvel at the result, how the cast manage it. The result is to create powerful, distinct individual characters, even among the supporting roles, that remain branded into your mind’s eye days after the show.

Among the most memorably charismatic: Jürgen Holz (now 84) as an authoritative Peachum; the charming, vague but smiling Jenny of Angela Winkler (famous, I learnt from a review, for her work with director Schlöndorff in the 70s); Johanna Griebel's bright, blinking, Betty-Boop Polly; the truly extraordinary Axel Werner as a giant, sardonic Tiger Brown; and most charismatic of all – against all odds you might say, in blond Marcel waves and orange lipstick - Christopher Nell, au unexpectedly young, slender, slinky, ambiguous but totally seductive Macheath.

The staging was largely black on black: impeccable, mostly black, Weimar-era costumes, some white dresses, black, white and grey make-up, a few props deftly handled, and, as usual, superb lighting: grids of white Dan Flavin tubes, circles of orange dots, pale, shimmering, subtly shaded backdrops with extras dashing across in silhouette. The brothel scene, with its assorted whores, all ages, shapes and sizes, Macheath, dressed up to the nines in black velvet and smoking a large (real) cigar, a few industrial light fittings hanging down and a few red bars across the floor, was especially magnificent.

The musical style was pure Berliner Ensemble, though "pure" may not be the right word for such rowdy, raucous, sometimes wonderfully ropey singing and playing. This was a great, great show and I don't feel I can do it justice. The best thing I've seen, in fact, since Einstein on the Beach – and that was Wilson as well!

A snippet from Maestro Wenarto.