Photo Ruth Walz Salzburg Festival
Making an opera about Charlotte Salomon and her work, that is a vertiginous undertaking, that is telling the story of a woman who is telling a story. The team who takes up the challenge for the Salzburg festival is perfectly up to it: Barbara Honigmann’s libretto and Marc-André Dalbavie’s music, staged by Luc Bondy, bring to life this amazing young woman. Charlotte Salomon was the daughter of a well-to-do Jewish surgeon who lived in Berlin in the twenties and thirties. In 1939, she left Berlin to seek refuge with her grandparents in the South of France. It’s here that she created her unique work, the « Singespiel » Leben ? oder Theater ? , a series of 796 gouaches, in which she describes her life : her father’s marriage with his second wife, the famous mezzo-soprano Paula Lindberg, the new social life that she brings to the family, after the death of Charlotte’s mother. She tells about her voyage to Rome with the grandparents, her decision to study art, and the difficulties the family have to face with the Nazis’ rise to power. And she describes the arrival of Paula’s new vocal teacher and the ensuing complications as he falls in love with Paula and Charlotte with him. An epilogue describes Charlotte’s arrival at her grand-parents’ house in Villefranche-sur-Mer, the suicide of her grandmother and her grandfather telling her about her own mother’s suicide and how a number of other members of the family ended their lives. Finally, we see Charlotte and her grandfather being interned in the camp of Gurs. The uniqueness of Charlotte’s work, and its interest for an opera resides in the fact that her paintings are punctuated by musical quotes, and Marc-André Dalbavie uses these as starting point for his own compositions. Be it a Schubert lied, an aria by Bach or Mendelssohn, a French popular song or the Habanera from Carmen, Dalbavie integrates them coherently into his musical language. Fluid, organic, finely orchestrated, reminding of Debussy most of all, he translates Charlotte Salomon’s thinking and images. In Luc Bondy’s staging, Charlotte Salomon, the narrator, is a speaking part, played by the actress Johanna Wokalek, and her alter ego, named Charlotte Kann in the « Singespiel », is interpretated by mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa. Both of them are supple and slim, with short dark hair, wearing a dark blue short skirt and a light blue sweater, incarnating perfectly youthful innocence and vigour. A clear and resounding speaking voice with a Berlin accent, a warm and musical mezzo voice: meet Charlotte Salomon alias Charlotte Kann. A great mezzo plays a great mezzo: Anaïk Morel is Paulinka Bimbam, alias Paula Lindberg. Frédéric Antoun, incarnates the vocal teacher Amadeus Daberloh, alias Alfred Wolfsohn, with a beautiful clear and flexible voice. Johannes Schütz’ stage decoration consists in a white box-like device that covers the whole broadth of the scene. With a few partitions, it can be in turn a Berlin apartment, the grand-parents’ living-room in Villefranche-sur-Mer and so on. The white background walls serve as a projection screen for Charlotte Salomon’s paintings. This way, we hear her words, spoken and sung, we see the scenes of her life acted out, we see her paintings give her own interpretation of events. Through the music she quotes and through Marc-André Dalbavie’s music, through the acted scenes and her musical and colourful universe, we end up knowing Charlotte Salomon, a person, an artist, unique and irreplaceable. As at the end a laconic epilogue tells us how she was deported and murdered in Auschwitz in 1943, emotion is palpable in the Felsenreitschule. And a moment’s silence precedes the well-deserved applause.