26 June 2019

Detlev Glanert's Oceane

It's been a while since I have been to the opera. So when an interesting production came about, we opted to go and buy tickets. We chose to see Oceane, by Detlev Glanert. I must say, I knew nothing about the opera nor about the composer when I came in. But when I came out, I also must say that I enjoyed what I have seen, and my sixth opera experience (and second in the Deutsche Oper Berlin) was something I really liked.

I never knew anything about Detlev Glanert. I only knew that he composes opera music, and that Oceane is actually his eleventh opera. He composes primary music for the stage, as seen in his Wikipedia entry. But beyond that, I don't know anything. Hence, the part of me that is a fan of contemporary classical music was rather excited, hoping to hear some new sound.

Oceane is also a new opera. In fact, it premiered the weekend before we saw it. The performance we saw was just the second time it was performed in public. So that was rather fresh as well. And yes, I didn't really do my research beforehand, so I didn't know the story when I entered. In any case, I bought a program.

The story apparently is taken from an unfinished novella by Theodor Fontane, a German author who I also wasn't aware of. This year is Fontane's 200th birthday, so this work was created especially for that occasion. The story revolves around a girl named Oceane, who doesn't seem to know how to integrate with 19th century society. The setting is in a beach resort in the Baltic Sea, in a dilapidated hotel, managed by Madame Louise, who is preparing for the summer ball, together with her butler Georges. They are excited that Oceane is a guest coming for this event, since Oceane has money, and Madame Louise starts imagining how she can go to Paris once again once she gets some credit.

Oceane arrives, together with a servant, and gets the attention of Baron Martin von Dircksen. Martin wants to kiss her, but she doesn't reciprocate. Oceane acts weird: they find a dead fisherman's body by the beach, but everyone but her becomes disturbed by it. Eventually, the hotel guests all hate her because she acts differently, even though they all want something from her, namely, her money. Martin coerces her into a marriage proposal, but in the end, Oceane disappears, leaving behind a goodbye letter.

I had this idea that the story would make sense if one assume's that Oceane is a personification of a fish, or a mermaid, or some other supernatural character, who wanted to try out the world of humans, but failed. If I take that perspective, then the story is a critique of the weird systems and cultures humans have, and since an outsider found it too complex and complicated to integrate into, then perhaps we humans should be a little bit more introspective and examine our own behaviours.

Musically speaking, I loved it. There was plenty of use of percussion, and it reminded me of musical styles that I would attribute to Igor Stravinsky or Sergei Prokofiev. I also liked the parallel dialogues and parallel melodies: in the first half, there was the duet of the butler as well as Madame Louise: she was singing about her future escapades in Paris while he was singing about turtle soup, lentil soup, and the other items on the buffet menu. There was also interesting use of film and video. They were projecting items on the curtain, as well as to the white background behind.

Overall, I think I enjoyed this one. It makes me look forward to seeing another production sometime soon.

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