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Vivid energy

Gerald Barry's new opera 'Petra von Kant',
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


I was unfamiliar with Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, so for me Gerald Barry's new opera based on Fassbinder's film came without any preconceived notions. Barry has set Fassbinder's text complete to form a five act opera which was premièred by English National Opera at the London Coliseum on Friday 16 September 2005.

The opera deals with a German fashion designer Petra von Kant, sung by soprano Stephanie Friede; following two failed marriages she becomes obsessed with a young model Karin Thimm (Rebecca von Lipinski). The opera charts the rise and fall of Petra and Karin's relationship and Petra's subsequent collapse.

Fassbinder's text is hardly naturalistic and Barry has chosen to set it in pell mell fashion, replacing Fassbinder's languorous high camp with vivid energy. The result is a five act opera compressed into just two hours of music.

The entire opera takes place in Petra's flat. Designer Ultz and director Richard Jones place the staging firmly in the 1970s and recreate Petra's entire flat on the Coliseum stage. The set is thrust in front of the proscenium and spreads either side of the orchestra with a cat-walk across the front of the orchestra pit. In the programme book Jones and Ultz talk about achieving greater intimacy by thrusting the set forward, but rather than intimate and claustrophobic the set seems rather wide, spacious and opened out. Ultz's costumes are perfectly in tune with the 1970s and some of Petra's 'creations' seem almost recognisable.

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Copyright © 20 September 2005 Robert Hugill, London UK


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