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“What I need after an opera like this is vodka and a bath!” On the occasion of the festival premieres of Salome and Agrippina at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Max Joseph asked the directors Krzysztof Warlikowski and Barrie Kosky to meet and exchange ideas. Interview by Brigitte Paulino-Neto MJ

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Mr. Warlikowski, Mr. Kosky, The operas you are staging in Munich revolve around two female protagonists: Salome and Agrippina. Are they archetypes of strong women? I don’t consider Salome strong. On the contrary, she is a woman subject to the influence of her world and its constraints. Salome stands in a long tradition of demonized female figures, from Lilith to Lulu. She is described in the Bible as a very young girl – that alone distinguishes her quite distinctly from Agrippina, who is, first and foremost, a mother. Salome’s tender age poses an enormous difficulty for staging the opera, by the way, since the artist would, ideally, appear young in her role, yet must also perform the miracle of singing – and that is not trivial. Agrippina is based on historical events in ancient Rome. At the same time, the story is dreamt up by a clergyman. It was written by a cardinal, a man from the Vatican. After all, the author wasn’t creating a documentary history of Rome, but a piece of entertainment for Carnival in Venice. It was conceived by a prelate, who asked a very young German composer of 24 to compose the music. (...) The only reason we so readily accept the scandal in Salome is because it’s strictly limited to the opera. It’s acceptable, because nothing seems scandalous these days. And yet, what stirs us about this opera, what should unsettle us, derives precisely from its context, from the significance taken on by the work in the wake of the Second World War and the Shoah. Strauss was performed both during and after the Second World War, yet, it’s exclusively the commotion made by the Jews in this opera that we notice. You may be accustomed to anti-Semitic remarks from some other works, but in the case of this opera it’s absolutely blatant. Then, there’s also the question of where to locate this impossible opera. It contains no political statement. That’s

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why we have to return to the concept of disturbance – and the interesting thing about this disturbance is the Jewish world. On this point, you have to deal with Strauss’ biography, with what his visit to Theresienstadt meant when he tried to visit his daughter-in-law’s deported relatives. (…) It has to be said explicitly that we are dealing here with two works with completely distinct musical languages. Salome is an eruptive work, with, as Krzysztof said, a vast, disturbed psychological landscape. We’re far removed from that in Agrippina. Händel has a lightness, and by lightness I don’t mean superficiality, more like an ironic tone. (…) The role of the audience is also substantially different in Agrippina. Essentially, we witness the whole thing as we would witness the appearance of politicians or royal families – it’s not really about us. With Salome, on the other hand, I share Krzysztof’s view, the audience should end up feeling a terrible uneasiness, if not, we’ve failed. If people leave the theater saying, “That was awesome!” – even if that may be true – something has gone wrong. What we need after an opera like this is a proper shower. Anyway, what I need is a vodka and a bath! Comparing that to Agrippina is like comparing bouillabaisse with sushi. (…)

Foto Jonas Unger

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Profile for Bayerische Staatsoper

MAX JOSEPH 4/2019 | Die Münchner Opernfestspiele 2019