I went last night to the general rehearsal of Zimmerman's "Die Soldaten" at the Netherlands Opera. I've wanted to see the piece for a long time. It is one of those giants of the 20th Century, both famous and infamous, but never done because of how difficult it is and how large are the forces. There is a fairly famous production that Mortier started first in Germany and then brought to the Lincoln Center Festival at the Park Avenue Armory. There is also a filmed version by Graham Vick (or David Poutney...I tend to get the two confused).
This production was by WIlly Decker, who I sincerely believe is one of the great directors of our time. That said...it was a curious experience for me. First things first, I found the score extremely compelling, sometimes horrifying, provoking a physical reaction in my gut...both disgust and terribly remorse. The piece is, to over-simplify, based on a 18th century play and is about the fall of a young woman at the hands of herself, but also a group of soldiers. The themes are the horrifying psychological and spiritual costs of war. Deckers The singing was remarkable (particularly the soprano singing Marie), and the orchestra deserved the largest ovation that it, indeed, received at the end of the night. Decker's production was perfect. It was thoughtful, remarkably well executed, in tune with the music, never boring. And yet, absolutely soulness. I felt watching it guilty for falling into cultural stereotypes, but it was just what we've come to think about German culture. Everything was in its place, everything "right", but without any humanity. Clearly this is what Decker was going for, and that I respect, it was not by accident. Still, I longed for a piece that would ultimately move me, and this definitely did not. A piece like this should be moving, I should come out changed and speachless, but I found the whole directing style made it so easy for me as an audience member to disconnect, to remove myself from Zimmerman's equation. Decker wanted to alienate, but for me it made me long to be invited into the conversation.