Przyslala Basia Jaworski
Rudi Stephan’s opera or ‘Erotic Mystery’ Die ersten Menschen was to be premiered early 1915, but WWI intervened. In September that same year the composer died at Germany’s Eastern front, by a bullet through his head
In a way it was a surprise that the opera was to be performed at all. The libretto was based on an “Erotic Mystery” play that had been performed only once in 1912 in München, before it was banned for its explicit content. It was a hyper-eroticised and quite anti-religious view on the first family on earth, Adahm and Chawa, and their sons, Kajin and Chabel (resp. Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel), by Otto Börngraber, now mostly forgotten, but then a well-known radical playwright and philosopher.
In it, Adahm and Chawa are growing older, after having been expelled from paradise. Adahm has become contemplative, focusing on acquiring knowledge through science. Chawa longs back for the days of their youth. Meanwhile Kajin, the older son, is expressing a desire to explore the world, and to look for a ‘wild woman’, but he never gets far. Chabel, the youngest, is into mysticism and prophesies about a redeemer who will come, to be sacrificed as a lamb. In fact, Chabel brings a lamb along, and cuts its throat. Adahm goes out, Kajin tries to seduce Chawa, Chawa tries to seduce Chabel, Kajin kills Chabel and drops on a funeral pyre, Chawa wants to follow Chabel, but Adahm returns and draws her away, Adah and Chawa walk into the sunrise of a new day and Kajin will be the father of humankind.
This mystic and simultaneously sensual and blasphemous family drama is clickbait for director Calixto Bieto, of whom you could somewhat profanely say that he turns everything into mystic and simultaneously sensual and blasphemous family drama. Although first the plan -shelved due to COVID19 – was to have him stage Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust, on which Bieito for sure would have been able to apply his signature key-elements in staging as well: trivialising the sacred and sanctifying the trivial.
On stage we see a geometrical tent-like structure covered with gauze, the see-through home of this vulnerable first family on earth. There is a table covered with plates, filled with piles of fruit. They of course remind us of Eve and Adam having eaten the forbidden fruit from the Biblical Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. During the whole performance Chawa will be eating more fruits, trampling on them, or serving their contents to the other characters. The backdrop is a gauze with video-images of more fruits, alternating with lips, eyes and body parts, and later on the protagonists in close-up. Incidentally we get to see the orchestra behind it, onstage, with conductor François-Xavier Roth, sometimes just the lights of the orchestra’s music-stands, shining through like the stars Chabel sees in his visions