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Just like Laura Palmer

INTERVIEW. Celebrated Australian director Benedict Andrews makes a change from theatre to opera this time – and quotes David Lynch. His staging of "The Fiery Angel" opens during the Prokofiev Week at Komische Oper on Jan 19.

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Photo by Gunnar Geller

Celebrated Australian director Benedict Andrews stages Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel at the Komische Oper – and quotes David Lynch.

Andrews has gained a reputation through his acclaimed collaborations with Cate Blanchett, from the Shakespeare marathon-cycle The War of the Roses to Botho Strauss’ Big and Small. Berlin audiences know his numerous works for the Schaubühne. Fiery Angel, his first collaboration with the Komische Oper, is the horror story of a woman obsessed with her love for an angel who turns out to be a devil in disguise.

How do you interpret Renata’s story?

Renata is a very damaged woman, destructive to the man who falls in love with her. Her story invites us to speculate about the source of this damage. It takes us to a moment in her past when this Madiel, this angel, possesses her and causes her never to be able to love a human man. Her obsessive love for Madiel overshadows everything.

But Ruprecht falls for her…

and wants to save her. His love for Renata is so intense that he is blind to the fact that she is an outcast. By following her he becomes an outcast himself. So the piece is a kind of road movie following these two on their journey through society, both of them obsessed with an unattainable other. Renata’s vision of Madiel turns into a sexual obsession, and she dedicates herself to him with the fervour of a saint  which ultimately destroys her.

And Ruprecht has to deal with this craze.

When he enters into an intense relationship with this woman, he takes on all of her fantasies. In that way it reminds me very much of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. In the case of the trauma in Laura Palmer – that we later found out is because her father abused her – we see that there is massive transfer that happens. She invents BOB, the red room and all of this apparatus around it but the invention is so powerful that it’s not just in her world. This is the genius of it: Lynch shows how the trauma inside her infects the whole society.

You work mainly for the theatre – how does your job change while working on an opera?

Spoken theatre always grows out of silence; the space is between words. This silence is inhabited by an emotional landscape, which you work on in rehearsals. In opera a lot of the emotions are already in the music, which allows you to get to a level of myth and symbol much faster. I enjoy having this very exact series of musical events, compared to this sort of echoing empty silence of theatre that words fall into and collapse into.

How did you cast the production?

It was a kind of blind date: the casting was done in consultation with the Komische Oper. As this production is sung in Russian, we have a number of native speakers. The role of Renata is one of the most difficult in the operatic repertoire. Our Renata, the great Russian soprano Svetlana Sozdateleva, has performed the role before and I’m lucky to have someone who knows it so well. With such complicated music, it’s a great gift to have performers who already have it in their body.

You have been working in Berlin extensively. What is your experience with the audience here?

I think Berlin has one of the hungriest theatre audiences in the world. People expect to be offered new ideas and strong interpretations of pieces. Unlike much of European or American directing culture, where the piece is seen as a fixed, stable thing that should be repeated, here the piece is seen as something to be unpacked and brought to life again.

The performance premieres as the highlight of Prokofiev Week: for the full schedule, visit komische-oper-berlin.de.

The Fiery Angel, Jan 19, 18:00, Jan 23, 19:30 | Komische Oper, Behrenstr. 55-57, Mitte, U-Bhf Französische Str.

Originally published in issue #123, January 2014.