by Claudia Doderer / Händl Klaus  / Klaus Lang
Theater Bonn
Musical study and concept: Klaus Lang
Concept, production: Claudia Doderer, Klaus Lang
Libretto: Händl Klaus
Space, costumes, light: Claudia Doderer
Premiere: June 6, 2010

Ingo Dorfmüller
Sound/Light Space
In bonnchance!, Claudia Doderer, Händl Klaus, and Klaus Lang search out the future of music theater

A Chinese rice farmer dreams of one day publicly humiliating the emperor, who rules over the empire with brutal force: she wants to dump ash over him. Despite her husband’s protests, she acts upon her dream. The only inflammable material she can find in their impoverished household is a book. She climbs a tree that the emperor, on his way home from a massacre on the common folk, has to pass. But the attack fails: through some miracle, the ash is transformed into cherry blossoms, upon which the emperor doesn’t punish the farmer, but rather rewards her with a white silk dress. The farmer will wear this dress as a sign of her grief for the fallen and murdered (in China, white is the color of mourning). This is more or less the gist of the piece, and it has many facets: Jun receives an unexpected reward for remaining true to herself and her cause, but the price she pays is that she unintentionally affirms the very state of affairs she intended to act out against. And yet: her sign of protest remains.

The stage version in Bonn also articulates a protest every bit as gentle and persevering—against violence and injustice, but also against their conventional, ‘mimetic’ portrayal. The composer Klaus Lang and the stage artist Claudia Doderer have broadened their concept of musical ‘installation’ (most recently in architektur des regens. at the 2008 Munich Biennial) and added a narrative dimension in the form of a libretto provided by the Austrian playwright Händl Klaus. In this work, music and theater are not regarded as dynamic forms of temporal art, but rather in static, spatial terms. With its many stages, its flashbacks and cuts to the future in dream visions, the plot is reduced to elementary signs presented in a temporal stretch so extreme that it comes across not as action, but rather as the metamorphosis of a state of being.

The music and mise-en-scène extend into the space: a long tapering catwalk leads from the stage to the parapet, where the emperor appears on a staircase in extremely slow motion wearing high buskins and a meter-long, (blood-) red train. The orchestra pit is covered over, the musicians distributed around the space, their playing coordinated not by a conductor, but rather through signals appearing on various screens, while the sounds of the chorus, played on tape, travel around the room. The music itself is a kind of train of sound that operates with endlessly delicate and subtle alterations in the area of harmonics and timbre, while strictly avoiding any ‘hierarchical’ temporal structure through melody and rhythm. While the production has a beginning and an end, it’s like entering into a sound/light space, which for its part remains static and passive.

Text, music, stage, and action are all developed out of a common core of ideas; in this way, the libretto is not merely dissected into syllables and phonemes: Händl Klaus had to develop the text according to the music’s dictates. The term Claudia Doderer uses for this work, “gesamtkunstwerk,” seems more than appropriate here. And yet the terror in the story the piece is based on is not aestheticized, but remains at all times decipherable. The audience isn’t given a chance to identify with anyone, its capacity for empathy is not called upon, and it’s not manipulated in a propagandistic way: instead, it encounters the naked facticity of a state of being and is allowed to respond to it. This is a conception entirely contrary to the history of opera and the tradition of European music theater—and for precisely this reason quite possibly promising for the future (…).

A seamless intertwining of vocal and instrumental sounds, produced live or (in the case of the choir) ‘projected’ from a tape into the room; a coordination with the movements of the singers and dancers (choreography: Tomi Paasonen); and Claudia Doderer’s exquisite light design—all of it came across as wonderfully tight and impressive.


Excerpt from a review about BUCH ASCHE. from Opernwelt, 8, 2010