Stage director Thomas Reichert’s thoughts on the Fidelio production of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre for the Beethoven Festival in Bonn:
“Once upon a time, in the far-distant future…”
“All Fidelio productions are somehow unsatisfactory, stuck somewhere between banal and abstract, contrived or violative. And the excuse is always the reputedly poor libretto.”
Leonore has known love; she loves Florestan. She must use the power of this love to fight against evil and adversity. Until she is almost crushed by the overwhelming power of fear, up to the point where she has conquered her fear of death. Only then comes freedom and love. Far more, even, than intimate togetherness – a force greater than us and still magical and fantastic – she transforms all death into life.
If I want to tell the story of Fidelio as I hear it in text and music, with its ordinary people and its great characters, Leonora’s heroism and a happy ending that elevates us far beyond what is not yet possible, then for me this is like every good fairy-tale.
Leonore takes a fearless stand between death and her husband. Rising above fear, she brings about the great happy outcome – for a fairy-tale always tells of hope.
Alternatively: Leonore refuses to allow evil and the devil to assume power over her life – over all life; therefore she must ultimately confront justified fear, face to face. This clears the way for the liberation of everyone and for the downfall of evil.
This well-known story with uncomplicated characters not only makes Beethoven’s music thrilling, overwhelming, but takes the protagonists into a more complex level and turns the plot into a challenge to our future. Without the text, which sets the characters in a specific everyday world, the music would be in danger of becoming art pour l’art; conversely, without the music, the characters would descend into kitsch.
Without the text, the hope expressed in the music would be merely a noble idea, applied to the simple characters, but still hope for a better tomorrow. Starting from the characters, the music evokes something specific, something sorely missed.
Fidelio is a tale told through Beethoven’s boundless longing to take ‘brotherliness’ into our present time. It attempts to capture a utopia of humanity that appeared so great on the horizon but has long since melted away.
The characters in Fidelio are at first quite ordinary characters, as in a fairy-tale – but as in a fairy-tale, also a great deal more.
When you’re telling the story or reading it aloud, this “more” is no problem. The listeners’ imagination – according to their individual notions, experience or dreams – brings the characters to life.
Represented by real people in film or on stage, the characters may materialise the notions of the audience, but the inevitable substantiality of actual persons prevents the transformation into the hoped-for fairy-tale realm of the future, usually rendering the effect ludicrous.
Puppets and marionettes do not have this limitation. They are, initially, merely a piece of wood, and only the audience’s imagination can bring them to life. Marionettes can fly with ease – their gravity lies above them. And they can die a splendid death, since dead wood is no longer animated – simply dead..
Thus the story is told of a prison and its inhabitants, prisoners and guards – probably a lousy job, though perhaps pensionable, where they try to make their subjected existence liveable, with a touch of humour and longing for a little bit of domesticity, and by hoarding some cash. Into this closed world, where even the trees are barred, comes a woman ready to fight for love. The heart of whoever encounters her begins to stir into new life.
A great tale, despite – or rather, against – the failure of the French Revolution, despite Napoleon’s delusions of grandeur, despite all the evil in the world, and against the ebbing away of all hope – our raison de vivre.
The heroine must go on, must venture onwards and down into deepest darkness, through greatest fear, to the ultimate point where life and death meet. Only there is salvation possible.
–Thanks and celebration all round, and life is wonderful! And they all live happily ever after…
Biography - Thomas Reichert
Freelance stage director Thomas Reichert studied stage direction at the Otto Falckenberg School of Performing Arts in Munich. Initial productions at the Schauspiel Frankfurt (Peter Palitzsch) in 1976 were followed by productions at various locations including Bremen, Freiburg, Schillertheater in Berlin, Schauspielhaus in Zurich and Vereinigte Bühnen in Graz. In 1989 he was appointed stage director and artistic director at the Hanover Theatre, and in 1993 he took the same position at the Residenztheater in Munich. In 1996 he collaborated as dramaturge and actor in Heiner Müller’s Bildbeschreibung at the Weimar Arts Festival.
Since 2004 he has been a regular guest director in Vienna’s Kabinetttheater, with productions combining singing, spoken theatre and puppetry.
He as also worked on major co-productions with orchestra, as in 2013 Mauricio Kagel’s KANTRIMIUSIK in Vienna’s Konzerthaus, with the PHACE Ensemble, or in 2016 ORFEO ED EURIDICE (Parma version) at the Graz Styriarte and the International Gluck Opera Festival at the Markgrafentheater in Erlangen, with the recreationBAROCK Ensemble under conductor Michael Hofstetter.
At the 2006 and 2007 Salzburg Festival, he directed Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne and Der Schauspieldirektor at the Salzburg Marionette Theatre, with singers, marionettes, an actor and an ensemble from the Junge Philharmonie Salzburg. 2014 brought scenes for Schumann’s Papillons, and 2015 a new production of The Magic Flute with the marionettes and stage-set from 1951.
Biography - Michael Simon
Michael Simon came to theatre by way of the fine arts. He began studying stage-set design with Jürgen Rose in Stuttgart in 1978, and worked concurrently with the performance group Famili (together with Achim Kubinski), taking part in performances in Stuttgart, Cologne, Washington and New York. He completed his studies in 1981 and went to New York. From 1982 until 1990 he designed stage-sets for American choreographer William Forsythe at the ballet in Frankfurt and for the stage, including theatres in Düsseldorf, Freiburg, Darmstadt, Vienna, Hamburg and Berlin.
From 1989, Simon designed sets for opera in Amsterdam, for stage directors Pierre Audi and Peter Greenaway, and from 1988 he worked regularly with choreographer Jiří Kylián, and from 2006 occasionally with Richard Wherlock at the ballet in Basel. His initial work as stage director was in joint projects with composer Heiner Goebbels at the Theater am Turm in Frankfurt. This was soon followed by stage productions in Basel, Nuremberg and Darmstadt. In 1995 he was invited to the international Berliner Theatertreffen with his production The Black Rider and was named up-and-coming Director of the Year in the magazine Theater heute.
In 1996/7, Michael Simon was briefly engaged at the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz in Berlin; since then he has freelanced as stage director and set designer. From 1998 until 2004 he taught in the Department of Scenography at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, and since 2008 he has directed the master’s course in set design at the Zurich University of the Arts.