Opera in Bonn

Article excerpt

In Germany, which is also suffering from cuts in the arts, the Opera House in the City of Bonn is small but beautifully formed, with up-todate technical equipment and serves its public well. A few years ago there was talk of closure but Civic figures joined forces and today Bonn's Opera is a perfect example of what can be done with a small budget for the service of its citizens. Of course, they could take the train and reach Cologne in only 15 minutes where there is an even larger opera house and the train service is both excellent and cheap. Indeed, throughout Germany, where opera and classical music are part of everyday's social fabric, there are more than 80 opera houses.

I was in Bonn for four days. On 11 December I saw a sensational production of Madam Butterfly. David Mouchtar-Samorai's conception of Butterfly is as light as a feather but full of interesting details and subplots. The four Kabuki characters not only aid the action but become an integral part of it; they transform themselves into chairs for Pinkerton and Sharpless to sit on; they hold the mirror for Cio Cio San; they lay the marital bed, a large folded white sheet of paper. It is simply enchanting. I could not keep my eyes off it. The singing was more than decent enough, headed by Xiu-Wei Sun, a charming Chinese Soprano who not only looked the part to perfection but sang it well too. Emil Ivanov sang Pinkerton well but lacked involvement. I particularly liked the young Finnish baritone Heikki Kilpelainen in the role of Sharpless, who conveyed the clumsiness of his job in a credible manner. This production calls for a silent character who acts as a link between characters and action and actually contributes well to the drama, especially in the tender moments of the Second Act when the silent character despairs at Pinkerton's inability to say the right thing to Cio Cio San. On 13 December I saw The Marriage of Figaro sung in German, which produced in me quite the opposite effect. It was not the singing, which was quite good, and the opera had obviously been very well rehearsed. Even the sets, based on a Villa on the Costa del Sol, offered many possibilities. No, the problem lay with the producer, Ferenc Fricsay's son, Andras Friesay Kali Son, who sent me and my companion up the wall. Jokes, seemingly hundreds of them, were repeated and overstated to death, there was hardly a moment when the poor singers were not asked to perform some outrageous feat. To give but one example: in the Second Act, after having launched himself countless times against Susanna's door, the Count sets an explosive and blows it up! …