Performance review – “Pierrot lunaire” as a performance for everyone

The orange-colored floor of the stage with strangely retro-futuristic-looking stools in the middle of Hall E in Vienna’s Museum Quarter shines in white working light. The audience sits on the four sides, so they all have different perspectives on the grotesque event, which turns out to be very selective and fragmented, and precise in its implementation with situational comedy.

The first to enter the scene is the pianist Florian Müller. He pushes piano keys, including hammers, around the stage on a cart. Finally, he inserts this central part of his instrument into the grand piano. Relieved and heartfelt, the pianist sings, accompanying himself, Sinéad O’Connor’s Prince cover “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Singing musicians touch in a special way in scenic productions, and that works very well here too. At the same time, questions arise that cannot be clearly answered – the basic principle of this staging by the Cape Verdean dancer and choreographer Marlene Monteiro Freitas.

Vocal acrobatics and
individual choreography

The director examined Arnold Schönberg’s melodrama cycle “Pierrot lunaire” (1912), which is considered a key work of musical modernism, for details in the poems of the Belgian poet Albert Giraud and freely associated them with them. In the center of the action as a stoically resting pole in the middle, the singer Sofia Jernberg is enthroned, dressed in a purple priestly robe with a pink cap. In the first part, their strongly withdrawn chant moves on a par with the instrumental voices. The text is not in the foreground and can only be understood in snippets. It’s a shame that neither the wonderful poems nor their titles are printed in the program.

In the course of the 75-minute performance, Sofia Jernberg developed a broad repertoire of vocal sound, ranging from overtone singing to throat sounds, including childlike whining and tender, intimately interpreted melodies. Her impressive facial expressions accompany the minimalist actions, which unfold enormous effects through the acoustic reinforcement: She brushes her teeth excessively until the foam drips, slowly pulls a fishing line out of her mouth, accompanied by struck piano strings – this creates a connection between action and possible meaning created.

The five Klangforum members and, as conductor, Ingo Metzmacher, impress not only with the usual intense and convincing interpretation, but also with their performative skills in precisely executed choreography. Allusions to liturgical rituals with prayers and Latin sayings or drinking from altar wine goblets run through the entire evening.

The bizarre, grotesque, scenic flash lights are designed for each individual: the cellist Andreas Lindenbaum fights with his bow, the flautist Vera Fischer sings “La-Le-Lu”, the delightful lullaby from the 1950s, clarinetist Bernhard Zachhuber wiggles squinting on the stage , Gunde Jäch-Micko opens her violin bow and lets its horsehair dangle like a fishing line.

Schönberg’s melodramas revolve around the moon as a source of inspiration, as a place of longing, as a disease-causing force, as a dream-giving companion at night. The moon cannot be grasped because it appears to be moving – so it is also unclear where the scenery is and which laws it follows. This evening works as a kaleidoscope of grotesque, sometimes funny and also touching snapshots, if you manage to keep looking at it anew without wanting to recognize a larger context.