torstai 8. maaliskuuta 2012

Elisabeth - Turku, Finland (2005–2006)

The Finnish production of Kunze&Levay's Elisabeth was performed in the Municipal Theatre of Turku for 1½ years in 2005–2006 and was a great success, always nearly sold-out. It had its faults, sometimes rather big ones, but it was nevertheless done with passion and love. It also opened the way for Kunze's musicals in Finland: we later got two productions of Rebecca, and Tanz der Vampire is currently a big thing in Seinäjoki.
(I got a bit excited with the photos, sorry, but the production doesn't have a website or that many fansites anymore.)

Thérèse Karlsson & Mika Kujala.
© Turun kaupunginteatteri / Robert Seger
The storyline followed the 2004 Vienna revival and the staging was based on that production, too, but they had also had some own ideas in the visuality that mostly worked very well. I really liked the colour palette they had used for the sets. It was warm-toned, darkish and somehow decayed in a way that reminded me of forgotten statues covered with green and grey moss. Death's carriage was the most impressing I've seen. In the beginning the scenes were more light-coloured. Bad Ischl was full of warm pink roses, both in the gobelin-like back canvas and in Sophie's and her servants' clothes. Elisabeth and FJ sang their first duet in the basked of a balloon that was hanging in mid-air with a blue sky behind them. It was cute, and the transition to the wedding scene with corpse-like guests and doomsday atmosphere was impressive.

Ilkka Hämäläinen & Kirsi Tarvainen in Bad Ischl.
© Turun kaupunginteatteri / Robert Seger
They also had amusing and great little details in the staging. The scenes of Elisabeth's marriage were shown on a little stage with curtains and all, so they really were little scenes like in a school play. When they talked about Elisabeth loneliness, they first showed her sitting next to her baby's cradle, then closed the curtains,  re-opened them and on the place of the cradle was someone dressed as a parrot.

"Nur kein Genieren" was bizarre, ugly and ridiculous, but they also didn't take everything out of it and the scene fell quite flat. Only in the derniere they really overdid the acting and dancing so that the scene worked as a whole. The prostitute costumes were weird and the sets looked like decorated with Christmas lights, though I'm not sure if the point was to show the cheapness of the prostitute world. But why would anyone pick a girl for the emperor in a place like that?

Kristina Raudanen & girls.
© Turun kaupunginteatteri / Robert Seger
By the way, I really liked the way they used the Death's Angels in the production: they for example drove the bumper cars in "Fröhliche Apokalypse" (the cars were borrowed from the Särkänniemi amusement park), were nurses in the lunatic asylum, rioted in "Milch", and the prostitute chosen for Franz-Josef was in fact a female Death's Angel in a shorter and tighter prostitute version of the normal DA costume. In that way the Death's presence in the decayed and falling Habsburg empire was shown very nicely.

Kirsi Tarvainen & Tomi Metsäketo.
© Turun kaupunginteatteri / Robert Seger
Cast

Thérèse Karlsson & Tomi Metsäketo.
© Turun kaupunginteatteri / Robert Seger
Voice-wise I loved the cast. The Death (Mika Kujala) and Rudolf (Tomi Varho) were bliss to listen to, and I think the Finnish Elisabeth & FJ combination is still the best I've heard anywhere, including cast recordings. Also Sophie (Kirsi Tarvainen) was excellent, scary but after all sympathetic in "Bellaria". Acting-wise you could see that for example Thérèse Karlsson (Elisabeth) usually performs in opera and Tomi Metsäketo (Franz-Josef) is a singer, because they both mostly stood stiffly still when they sang. On the other hand, I have seen both Karlsson and Metsäketo act better elsewhere, so I think the problem might have been also the director. Lucheni (Ilkka Hämäläinen) wasn't my type of Lucheni, he somehow didn't feel anarchistic enough, but later he got more energy and I started to like him (which has nothing to do with the fact that he spent one performance flirting with me *grin*), and in the derniere he absolutely rocked. The ensemble couldn't always stay in rhythm in the choreographies, and there was someone in the orchestra who always played in different rhythm in the dialogue music than everyone else, but generally the cast, ensemble and orchestra were good.

Thérèse Karlsson & Mika Kujala.
© Turun kaupunginteatteri / Robert Seger
I wasn't a fan of the director's view about the Death's character. There was very little chemistry and interaction between Elisabeth and the Death; the Death worshipped Elisabeth like a lovesick but frustrated puppy, but his presence didn't seem to have much to do in Elisabeth's life or in the story in general. They didn't have much to do with each other, and the Death's part in the story felt somehow forced while Elisabeth was all about herself and her own liberation. During "Der letzte Tanz" she just leaned on Franz-Josef and looked ill and scared and didn't even glance at the Death while he stood/bounced on the bridge and sang his song practically to the audience. In the end they sang "Der Schleier fällt" together and kissed after that, and then Elisabeth sang the reprise of "Ich gehör nur mir" and walked up the bridge to a bright light with the Death following her, again like a puppy. I had a big problem with that, because it made Elisabeth seem rather heroic, which I think she isn't in the musical. Yes, there is a feministic tone in the story, but I felt this production highlighted it too much and tried to minimize Death's role in Elisabeth's life. As if they had tried to make it less shocking for grannies, or then the director wasn't very interested in the Death's character and he kind of just came with the packet while the ultimate story of a tragic feministic empress went on around him.
Thérèse Karlsson & Mika Kujala.
© Turun kaupunginteatteri / Robert Seger
Mika Kujala got the best out of the directing, though. His Death was bouncy and bursting with energy and stage presence, and you couldn't help loving him. I also really, really liked his voice. Without his stage-filling charisma the Death would have felt like a minor character. I loved his expressions when the little Sophie died: the Death presented the child's corpse like a gift to Elisabeth and seemed totally surprised, ashamed and disappointed when she didn’t like it at all, very much like a puppy proudly bringing a dead mouse to his owner who then screams in disgust. The Death was ardently in love but also frustrated, cynical and proud. His interaction with Rudolf was excellent, too, and Tomi Varho remains one of my favourite Rudolfs.

Translation ranting

Thérèse Karlsson.
© Turun kaupunginteatteri / Robert Seger
The translation was bad on so many levels. It was perfectly singable, but there were silly grammar mistakes, overuse of short words that mean nothing but fill the gaps nicely (siis, niin, -kin, vai, varmaan, kai, nyt...), resulting in lines that had one or two meaningful words and 3-5 words or suffixes that added nothing to the sentence. Often the lines simply made no sense and were downright impossible to understand. It sounded like the translator hadn't really understood German, because many lines sounded like someone had taken a dictionary, looked up the most important words of the sentence and then written a whole new sentence(-ish) based on those words. An example that remained etched in my mind:

("Eine Kaiserin muss glänzen"; Finnish, the Finnish translation in English, and the original German text)

Countess Esterházy: Suunne aukaiskaa! ("Open your mouth!") (Öffnen Sie den Mund!)
Sophie: Keltaiset ei olla saa! ("[Teeth] may not be yellow!") (Die sind zu gelb, das darf nicht sein!)
Elisabeth: Tammalla saa! ("Mare's [teeth] may!") (Bin ich ein Pferd?)

So... Instead of asking why they're treating her like a horse, Elisabeth thinks she is a horse and can therefore have yellow teeth? Oddly, "Bellaria" was significantly better translated than rest of the musical and actually sounded beautiful and made sense. There were also factual errors, like Rudolf complaining to Elisabeth that he must get married, when at that point of the story he had, in fact, been married for several years. The translator passed away half a year after the derniere, though, so maybe he wasn't at his best anymore when he did the translation.
Friends gather to hear Ludovika's news about Helene's engagement.
© Turun kaupunginteatteri / Robert Seger
All in all I miss the production, and I hope the musical will someday be made again in Finland, preferably with a new translation and a director with a different view to the story. The cast was good and I loved the visuality of the production.

Links:

2 kommenttia:

Siiri kirjoitti...

Very interesting to read a little about this production, seeing I knew nothing about how it looked like before. :)
Got to agree with the end here - I'd love to see this live, so yep, hope there'll be a new Finnish production one day!

ihmepensas kirjoitti...

It's a pity the theatre doesn't keep any kind of archive on its website. I'm glad I managed to snatch photos before they hid their press photo bank behind a password. :P There used to be quite a lot of fans on their discussion board, too, but I think the board has been deleted. The theatre even planned a special Elisabeth concert of which they'd have made a recording (there was a little news even in Helsingin Sanomat about it), but for some reason they didn't do the concert, after all.

Elisabeth was also the first musical with which I experienced some fan activity in Finland. The last show on 30 Dec 2006 felt very special, and some fans had sewn the musical's costumes for teddy bears and given the bears to the cast. :D There wasn't any stagedoor activity yet, though.