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The big birdcage

Of pigeons and other strange birds
at the 2004 Munich Opera Festival,


'Thank God, it's over. It was torture but we loved every second of it,' is the staff's sum-up at the end of the 2004 Munich Opera Festival. The backstage party started five minutes after the last bows of the final opera, Meistersinger, on 31 July 2004. Before you could even say Sirpeterjonas everybody was holding a pint and letting loose.

About eighty thousand people had watched a total of seventy events, ninety six percent of seats were sold, not to mention the eighteen thousand people who had come to the free 'Opera for everybody' events outside the opera house, or the eleven thousand turning up for the opening night in the Five Courts. 'It was a challenging program that demanded a high level of concentration from the audience,' says the press department. German audiences love to concentrate and it is no wonder that this year's festival was a big success.

There were too many performances to go to them all and so, as a concluding review of the festival, three different events shall be described exemplarily: the first is a ballet by John Neumeier who had contributed two choreographies to the festival.

Camellia Lady is one of the most beautiful choreographies by the Hamburg-based American ballet aesthete. The performance on 10 July 2004, an extremely hot day with temperatures soaring to 88°F, started with delay and everyone patiently sweating it out. There would be a pigeon on the stage, warned the stage manager in advance. When finally the curtain opened to reveal a dream-like set kept in shady grey and pale blue colors, stage design and costumes by Jürgen Rose perfectly matched the elegance of Neumeier's choreography, the heavenly music of Frédéric Chopin and the well-known story based on the novel by French writer Alexandre Dumas.

The prologue leads into the start of an auction, on 16 March 1847, where the contents of a luxury household come under the hammer. As sometimes happens in empty houses, pigeons find their way in and so, while the male protagonist reminiscences holding a small dancing dress, a pigeon flies over his head. Then the unruly bird, obviously not willing to stick to its instructions by the stage manager, flies out into the audience, makes a few trips back and forth over people's heads and has dancers and public alike laughing with delight.

A scene from John Neumeier's ballet 'Kameliendame'. Photo: Bayerische Staatsoper
A scene from John Neumeier's ballet 'Kameliendame'. Photo: Bayerische Staatsoper

To the music of Chopin's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No 2 in F minor, Spanish dancer Lucia Lacarra, formerly of the San Francisco ballet, as Marguerite Gautier, and Italian-born Alan Bottaini as Armand Duval present a wonderful pas de deux, framed by a vivid ensemble. Lacarra won the Prix Nijinski and Prix Benois in 2003, so it is clear she knows her stuff. But it is the collaboration between Bottaini and Lacarra that makes it so special because Bottaini stepped in for the injured Roman Lazik. Not to mention that all the dancers remained cool in spite of the Munich city pigeon swirling around -- this is full concentration: professionalism even when something strange happens. Occasionally, the lovely animal flutters over the head-bowing members of the audience and does its business over the sixth row (no-one laughing then).

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Copyright © 22 August 2004 Sissy von Kotzebue, Munich, Germany


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