However, in Salzburg, the opera is performed in
the Felsenreitschule, the huge hall formerly for riding horses, and home to horse
shows during wintertime. It has an oversized wide front stage and a perfectacoustic which almost envelops the audience. The Wiener
Philharmoniker (suitably expanded) was
divided by the conductor, Ingo Metzmacher, into three sections: the pit
for the regular orchestra, and the left and right sides of the audience,
mostly for the percussion, the tubular bells, the harpsichords, the celesta and the organ. The stage sets by Alvis Hermanis and the costumes by Eva Dessecker place the action during World War I. The front stage is so wide that several scenes can be shown simultaneously in Lille and in
Armentières (near the Flemish battlefield). A wall with a series of
arches separated the front stage from the rest of the set, where the
military life can be seen: men riding horses, their
prostitutes in Amazon attire. From time to time projections on screens
(pulled down between the arches) show postcards of brothel life at the beginning of the twentieth century. This orchestral and dramaturgical set up is as close as
possible to the instructions provided by Zimmermann. To grasp this, it is
sufficient to read the composer's indications and compare Salzburg's production
with a Stuttgart production on a fairly popular DVD.
As I pointed out in 2012, the set could not fit
a normal opera house stage, not even in a large theatre like La Scala. Thus, the production was
drastically changed. The stage was divided into two levels: most of the
action takes place in the lower level, and in the upper level, one could
see the soldiers in their barracks, in beer halls, in brothels.
It worked quite well. The more intimate setting underlined a new dimension: for those who are damned to be soldiers 'from
here to eternity', following Kipling's poem and the title of a well known novel and movie of the Fifties, the war is always on. During an
armistice (such is the period when Die Soldaten takes place), the
fight consists of humiliating women. The plot revolves around the destitution of a simple
middle class girl, who becomes a prostitute and later a beggar.
At La Scala the orchestra is not divided into
three parts. Closer to Zimmermann's intentions, the main orchestra is in
the pit but there are various instrumental groups in the side boxes and also in the upper
tier. This allows Ingo Metzmacher and La Scala's orchestra to envelop the
audience with very interesting stereophonic sounds.
On the opening night there were over ten minutes of accolades for
the cast, the orchestra and the chorus and a real ovation for protagonist Laura Aikin. The other twelve protagonists, out of a twenty five singer cast playing nearly forty different parts, were also very good.
It must be noted that 17 January 2015 was a
Saturday night, so there was no excuse for the empty seats in the
orchestra rows. Also, at the 15 January 2015 dress rehearsal open to students, only a limited number showed up. These could
be indications that Milan's appreciation of modern music has a long way to go.