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01.10.2014

The rise and fall ofaStar

Jürgen Flimm, Artistic Director of the Deutsche Staatsoper (Berlin), is currently spending almost every minute of the day in the rehearsal room, where work on Puccini’s opera Manon Lescaut is underway. During a short break, the well-known director described the kinds of transformations which the famous Abbé Prévost story, on which the libretto is based, has undergone.

“You make no secret of the fact that you intend to tell the story which inspired Puccini in a different way.”

“I’m telling Manon Lescaut as a story about a young woman making a career for herself. She rises up the ladder at blistering speed, but then falls down again just as quickly. We’re sticking strictly to the musical score, but the events unfold somewhat differently to the way in which Puccini saw them. This production is set in a movie studio, like those of the 1930s. At the beginning, we see the heroine in screen tests. She quickly makes a career for herself, becoming a screen siren, but she’s in love with a penniless young man, and it’s because of this love that her career comes to an abrupt halt. The final scenes are ghastly: she winds up isolated and in poverty. This is the story of a movie star who reaches great heights, only to come plummeting back down to Earth.”

“So you’re shifting the action to the world of cinema, where feelings are amplified and shown through a magnifying glass. Have you done this in order to ramp up the intensity of feeling in the opera still further?”

“No. I’m interested in the story of a young woman who finds herself in unfamiliar circumstances getting back on her feet and making a name for herself. She comes into some money, she is fairly well educated, she can sing and dance. We know of plenty of women who have shared this fate in the movie industry. Look at Marilyn Monroe, for instance, whose rise to stardom was phenomenal. But what were the circumstances surrounding her end? She died a pretty miserable death. And many other actresses met a similar demise.”

“Culture experts argue about which protagonists can be described as archetypal female characters. There has been a series of embodiments of ‘eternal femininity’, stretching from antiquity to the present day. Do you see Manon Lescaut as part of this series?”

“In theory, she could find her place among the ideals of womanhood. But look at what happens to her initially. Beautiful and talented, she marries a wealthy man, she has lots of money and jewellery, and gets driven around in fancy cars — that’s the shape of things in Act II. She knows this isn’t enough for her, though. Because a life without love is no life at all. So she rejects the money and embraces love.”

“Two outstanding, though very different, singers are going to be taking turns to play the role of the eponymous heroine. Does this mean we are going to see two different performances?”

“Our audiences will be seeing two different Manons, and we’re trying to make sure that they are not carbon copies of one another. That said, there is only one production. The same goes for the role of des Grieux.”

“Have you come across characters who are similar to the protagonists of this opera?”

“In operas — yes, for example in La Traviata. But life isn’t that entertaining. The theatre is the most beautiful place in the world, like a football pitch is to a footballer. For me, working in the theatre is like never growing up, but remaining a small boy who’s allowed to play with dolls. A boy playing with dolls may not sound very impressive, but it’s a good thing, I assure you.”

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