Spuren der Verirrten (The Lost) is described on the box as an opera by Philip Glass. That’s pretty misleading. It’s more a theatre piece/ballet by David Pountney and Amin Hosseinpour with a soundtrack by Philip Glass. It was created for the opening of the new Landestheater Linz at the instigation of Artistic Director Rainer Mennicken (carefully trimmed beard, wire rimmed glasses) who wanted a piece that would encapsulate all the various theatrical forms the new building would stage, as well as show off its technical capabilities. Mennicken also wrote the “libretto” based on a highly abstract play by Peter Handke which seems to deal with the hopelessness of the human condition in some sort of post apocalyptic world. There’s no plot as such and the work unfolds in a series of scenes. For example there’s a ballerina point shoeing across the stage followed by a “spectator” in the auditorium commenting on the action followed by dancers with roadsigns followed by a Gumby like couple sitting under a table followed by more narration. Then come more dancers in Hosseinpour’s signature “jerky” style followed by a woman with an anti-nuclear sign having a row with her boyfriend in front of a giant green brain. And that’s just the first ten minutes of a piece that goes on for nearly two hours. Along the way we get a reality TV show in which the characters discuss whether a serial killer is worse than a goalkeeper who lets in a soft goal, a confrontation between the patriarch Abraham and a giant rabbit and a scene where a naked woman cuddles a human head while two dancers do the fish slapping dance around her. The piece concludes with the orchestra on stage and the chorus in the pit miming playing instruments and singing “blah, blah, blah” which actually fits the music pretty well.
After the first act I went in search of enlightenment by watching the “Making of” doco. This did confirm the sort of meta-theatrical thinking behind the piece, i.e there’s no plot just a “moral mood” and an invocation of theatricality, but not much more. A lot of it seemed to be Pountney (in German with a posh English accent) trying to get the players to wrestle something, anything out of the libretto. “This is a casserole. You are a potato. Get in there and be vegetable”. That sort of thing. Meanwhile Hosseinpour is trying desperately to come up with dance elements for the interminable stretches of Glass that don’t set the libretto. This involves expedients like having dancers jerk around on hospital beds in hospital gowns and lime green underpants. The end result is sort of like Monty Python reinvented by German intellectuals;; mad, chaotic, weird but not at all funny and with a deadening air of seriousness.
Everybody pretty much plays multiple roles and the characters are simply designated by letters A through K with a “Third Person”, a “Spectator” and a “Protagonist”. The letter roles variously describe dancers, singers and actors. I’ll be perfectly honest I have no idea who was who most of the time. There’s also a chorus and children’s chorus, a bunch of extras and unnamed dancers and the Bruckner Orchester Linz. Dennis Russell Davies conducts. Nobody in the cast is remotely familiar to me but they do seem to be trying hard to create something. The singers are decent enough when they get a chance to sing and the dancers are competent in a range of styles though it’s mostly the Hosseinpour fish slapping dance.
Technically the disk is quite good if a bit unusual. Felix Breisach’s video direction is quite good. This isn’t an easy thing to film because some of the time the stage action is also being projected (more meta-theatricality), there are mirrors involved and it’s just plain busy. The only sound option is a Dolby surround track (this is the first disk I’ve encountered with no stereo option) but it’s pretty good and the picture quality is standard DVD. As for packaging, Kultur have sunk to new levels of minimalism (perhaps inspired by the score). There is no booklet. Not even a track listing. There are German and English subtitles.