by Richard Peters
Stepping out onto a stage to perform is a little like translating or interpreting: actors and opera singers take the ideas that a playwright or librettist has put down on paper and breathe new life into them – while as a translator I take an author’s ideas in one language and express them in a way that will mean something to my readership in another language.
So it’s not such a strange idea for Burton, Van Iersel & Whitney to be sponsoring the Theaterakademie August Everding, Germany’s largest training centre for stage professions, which is based at Munich’s beautiful Prinzregententheater.
An architectural jewel in the heart of Munich
Completed in 1901 and blending classical and art nouveau elements, this beautiful building suffered only minor damage in the second world war – but it was nonetheless slated for demolition in 1964. Luckily it was saved by a civic initiative and by a pledge of funds from Gertrud Proebst, the daughter of the original architect, Max Littmann. An initial restoration project finally began in 1985 and the theatre reopened to the public in 1988, followed by a full restoration that was completed in 1996.
The theatre academy that BVIW supports is named after August Everding, an influential German opera director who died in 1999. Everding took up the post of general director of the Prinzregententheater in 1982 and was instrumental in driving forward the plans to reopen the theatre. It was his vision to create a training theatre for stage professions; he was able to turn this vision into a reality at the Prinzregententheater in cooperation with four Munich universities and the city’s three public theatres.
A well-known story, new in the telling
As sponsors of the academy, we were invited to the recent première of a reworking of Georges Bizet’s popular opera Carmen. At its first performance in Paris in 1875, opera-goers were shocked at this work’s unconventional plot and controversial main characters. Bizet himself died shortly thereafter, so he would never see the acclaim his Carmen won later that year in Vienna – praise that has endured around the world to this day.
In an attempt to provide a fresh look at the Carmen story, students at the academy revisited the novella by Prosper Merimée that inspired Bizet’s opera. They then integrated readings of passages from the book into their performance, which was directed, produced and lit by other academy students and accompanied by the Münchner Rundfunkorchester.
It was as unconventional a staging as the original première almost 150 years ago! Nadia Steinhardt took the role of the eponymous heroine, with Tianji Lin as the hero Don José, Victória Real as his childhood sweetheart Micaëla, and Elías Benito Arranz as the toreador Escamillo. These young actors’ voices were tremendous: Nadia’s power was balanced by Victória’s range; Tianji’s clarion tenor contrasted with Elías’s rich baritone; the supporting cast were excellent. Meanwhile, the interleaving of the opera performance itself and readings from the original book made for a refreshing take on familiar music. It also showed how Bizet (with his librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy) reinvented parts of the story to become the opera we know and love today.
A sign of our support
Before the performance, we had a chance to inspect the lorry our contribution to the Theaterakademie helped to fund, and upon which our logo has been emblazoned (along with the logos of other corporate sponsors). This lorry will be used to transport theatre equipment from the academy’s out-of-town storage facilities to the venue whenever necessary.
It’s a bit of a new departure for BVIW to be out “on the road” like this! But I’m proud of the fact that, in our own small way, we’re nurturing artistic talent, and helping young people to bring the joys of the stage to new generations of audiences.