30.07.2016

Trials and Tribulations for Staatstheater Jury

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Out of 160 submissions, this evening five composers were each given the opportunity to showcase an opera scene, lasting approximately 15-20 minutes. The winning entry, to be decided openly on stage by an attending jury, would receive a full operatic commission for 2018. However, in an unfortunate turn of events, it was the jury that came to spark the most drama of the evening.


Out of 160 submissions, this evening five composers were each given the opportunity to showcase an opera scene, lasting approximately 15-20 minutes. The winning entry, to be decided openly on stage by an attending jury, would receive a full operatic commission for 2018. However, in an unfortunate turn of events, it was the jury that came to spark the most drama of the evening.

 

The set programme of the night soon became an eclectic mix of creative output. La niña helada (Das vereiste Mädchen) by Patricia Martinez (Argentina) based her piece on the story on a two year-old child – preserved cryogenically by her parents in anticipation of future science. (On) The Other Side of the Skin. Lullaby by Marta Gentilucci (Italy) focused on portraying the relation between two female bodies situated in a sparse setting. .onion by Sivan Cohen Elias (Israel) explored the anonymous and uncertain reality of The Deep Web, conceptualised as a sea with performers dressed as sailors. gyre and gimble by Abel Paúl (Spain) used four voices (2 male, 2 female) to represent four different personas of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Through the Looking Glass. And, in conclusion to the showcase, Selbstversuch by Carsten Hennig (Germany) was staged to begin in a formal manner – a full orchestra entered followed by the vocalists – to then dismantle this tradition. The lead vocalist began to sing only after taking his attire off – all except his underpants – to then wrap his entire body in foil and cellophane after having stuffed his bra with minced meat.

 

It was then time for the jury to assemble on stage and cast their vote for first and second prize, as well as the audience to vote for their own winner using ballot papers. The jury, consisting of seven members including Thomas Schäfer (IMD Director), Chaya Czernowin (composer), and the orchestra's conductor, soon began to unfold their decisions and reasons. It quickly became apparent that no criteria to assess the performances had been established, nor was there a competent voting system put in place. This was all to be witnessed by an audience who was becoming increasingly confused, heads shaking. Czernowin abstained, stating that all the pieces in the showcase are excellent for very different reasons, and all show incredible potential. The composer, for instance, spoke about Gentilucci's delicate "internal structure", Paúl's "hybrid" and "undefined world", and Hennig's simultaneous comedy and tragedy. She also argued it is not viable to write a decent opera in two years. The jury itself soon crumbled. Schäfer left the building, however an overall winner, Sivan Cohen Elias, was announced after half the audience had already left.

 

There are very few opportunities on this scale for new opera, and a Staatstheater commission is worth a large sum of production money. The evening presented a unique opportunity for encouraging the development and evolution of contemporary opera. Karsten Wiegand, General Artistic Manager of Darmstadt's Staatheater, comments in relation to the competition: "[a]s a theatre, we have tried to create an open palette of possibilities in which artists can venture in new directions, even including the possibility of failing". The composers grasped the opportunity and made imaginative musical drama. Yet, it was the jury who sadly came to darken the evening with their own unintended drama, which came across as disrespectful to the composers involved.

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By Steph Jones