Inner suffering at its most beautiful

Melancholia

Sebastian Nübling, Ives Thuwis, Theater Basel icw junges theater basel, Tim Mead, Andrea Marcon

Everyone is interconnected today through social media. Everyone tries to stop time and to hold on to the present moment. Does this make us melancholic? This is the central question in Melancholia by director Sebastian Nübling, choreographer Ives Thuwis and early music specialist Andrea Marcon. After last year’s Der Untergang der Nibelungen, Nübling returns to the festival with a group of talented young performers, musicians of the La Cetra Barockorchester and singers, including the acclaimed countertenor Tim Mead. They create a delicate music theatre performance about the melancholy of youth and the realisation that human life is finite. The hypnotic lamentations of the old masters of melancholia, including Dowland and Monteverdi, resonate in the thoughts and sounds of today, conveying inner suffering at its most beautiful.

Background information

Last year, Sebastian Nübling (1960) and GOЯKI Theatre received many plaudits for their production Der Untergang der Nibelungen. This year, the German director returns to Amsterdam staging, together with Ives Thuwis (1963), Melancholia, a music theatre performance about finitude, mortality, melancholy and depression for twenty performers and the Swiss La Cetra baroque ensemble.

 

For modern people, melancholia is a negative state of mind which borders on depression and therefore needs to be cured as quickly as possible. In our competitive contemporary society, worrying and agonising too much is considered to interfere with reaching our targets and deadlines, and to prevent us from fulfilling our dreams. The young German poetry slammer Julia Engelmann (1992) expressed this sentiment aptly in her poem One Day, which unleashed a small revolution in the spring of 2013, attracting more than eight million hits on YouTube: 'One Day, Baby, we'll be old and we'll think of all the stories we could have told.' These lines describe the melancholia of a generation plagued by apathy, a generation of young people who see their dreams of a splendid, meaningful and exciting life stifled before they have even begun, having resigned themselves to the fact that nobody is really interested anyway.

Still, melancholia has not always been synonymous with apathy, according to Nübling and Thuwis. This is why in Melancholia they contrast modern-day youth's alleged apathy with the notion of melancholia from the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, heartbreak and sorrow were seen as an important source of inspiration. Melancholy man had two sides to him. He was an outsider, but also a genius who understood the art of making music which transcends personal grief and brings solace to the soul.

The works performed in Melancholia speak volumes, ranging from madrigals and arias by Claudio Monteverdi to John Dowland's sorrowful lute songs and the expressive arias composed by the seventeenth-century Venetian composer Barabra Strozzi. The English countertenor Tim Mead (1981) takes centre stage, accompanied by the musicians of La Cetra. A special mention goes to Hunc ego from Domenico Mazzocchi's Lamentum Matris Euryali, in which the Roman composer experiments with microtonal scales. The instrumental intermezzos include Johann Jakob Frohberger's Meditation faite sur ma mort future, sonatas and toccatas by Dario Castello and Giovanni Valentini and a passacaglia by Biagio Marini. The musical direction is by the Italian conductor Andrea Marcon (1963).

In Melancholia, twenty young performers are joined by the La Cetra ensemble's singers and musicians to explore the positive side of sorrow and gloom, as well as the relationship between melancholy and our own feeling of mortality, a theme that pervades the philosophical discussion of the subject throughout history. Sebastian Nübling's and Ives Thuwis' imagery and Muriel Gerstner's set design make Melancholia into an original, physical brand of music theatre, blending movement, space, sound and design. 

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Biographies

The German director Sebastian Nübling (Lörrach, 1960) read cultural studies at the University of Hildesheim before forming Theater Mahagoni with a group of like-minded artists. In close collaboration with designers and musicians, Nübling aims to create a form of total theatre in which movement, space and sound fuse in a very personal directing style. 

In 2001, Nübling made headlines in his native Germany with his staging of the hooligan drama I furiosi for the Staatstheater Stuttgart, a play based on the eponymous novel by the Italian writer Nanni Balestrini. This production won him first prize at the 2002 festival Politik im Freien Theater in Hamburg. A year later he was invited to the Berliner Theatertreffen with his staging of Henrik Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman and voted Young Director of the Year by the influential theatre magazine Theater Heute. In 2006, Nübling directed his first opera, Carmen, with the Staatsoper Stuttgart. That same year, his staging of Händl Klaus’ Dunkel lockende Welt (2006) with the Münchner Kammerspiele was selected for the Theatertreffen in Berlin and the Theatertage in Mülheim. Nübling has frequently collaborated with the British stage writer Simon Stephens, staging a number of his plays in German, including Herons and Pornography. In 2010, Nübling staged his multi-language play Ubu (2010) with Toneelgroep Amsterdam. From the 2013/2014 season he has been director at the Maxim Gorki Theatre, making his debut with Sybille Berg's Es sagt mir nichts, das sogenannte Draußen, which was voted Theatre Production of the Year in 2014 by Theater Heute magazine. His third play with GOЯKI, Der Untergang der Nibelungen – The Beauty of Revenge, was performed at last year's Holland Festival. 

Ives Thuwis (1963, Sint Niklaas, Belgium) graduated from Tilburg Dance Academy in 1987. In 1992, he made his first choreography, Royaal Lyrisch. Since, he has created more than forty dance productions for a range of theatre companies around Europe. In the past fifteen years he has focused on working with young people, producing work for a young audience like Verliefd/Verloren (1994) for the Holland Festival. In 2009, Thuwis was – with Brigitte Dethier from Stuttgart's Junges Ensemble - joint recipient of the German Faust Theatre Prize for Best Direction in Children's and Youth Theatre. Thuwis has worked with Kopergietery Ghent, Forum Freies Theater Düsseldorf, Junges Ensemble Stuttgart, youth theatre company Dschungel in Vienna and Theatre Gessner Allee in Zurich. In 2011, Thuwis joined theatre collective Nevski Prospekt. That same year, he also created his first project with director Sebastian Nübling, Sand, a co-production with Junges Theater Basel and Schauspielhaus Zürich. After Sand and Fallen, a production with the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin, Melancholia is the third project they've collaborated on. 

Conductor and harpsichordist Andrea Marcon (Treviso, 1963) specialised in early music at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis before continuing his studies with an impressive roster of musicians including Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini, Hans van Nieuwkoop, Jesper Christensen, Harald Vogel and Ton Koopman. He was involved in establishing the Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca in 1980 and the Venice Baroque Orchestra in 1997, developing them into leading ensembles within early music's historical performance practice. Since 2012 he has also been artistic director of the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada. Marcon has had a close relationship with the Basel baroque orchestra La Cetra since its formation in 1999, taking over as artistic director from Peter Reidemeister in 2009. In partnership with Schola Cantorum, he has led La Cetra in several concerts at the Theater Basel, including Monteverdi's Orfeo, Vivaldi's Orlando furioso and Charpentier's Médée. Marcon has performed at most of the major concert halls in Europe and America, frequently working with soloists including Magdalena Kožená, Anna Prohaska, Cecilia Bartoli, Patricia Petibon, Philippe Jaroussky, Giuliano Carmignola and Viktoria Mullova. Marcon is also frequently invited as a guest conductor by major symphony orchestras including the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. In recent years, his record label Deutsche Grammophon has released various CDs by Marcon, including Antonio Caldara’s La concordia de’ pianeti, an opera which hadn't been performed for almost three centuries. Since 1997 Marcon has taught harpsichord at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. He is a guest teacher at the conservatories of Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, Lyon, Hamburg, Seoul and Tokyo. 

The British countertenor Tim Mead (Chelmsford, 1981) started his career as a boy soprano in the choir of Chelmsford Cathedral. He studied Music at Cambridge, where he sang in King's College Choir and studied singing with counter-tenor Charles Brett. After graduating, he concluded his vocal training with Robin Blaze at the Royal College of Music in London. In 2005 Mead made his opera debut at the Opéra de Lyon, playing Ottone in Monteverdi's l'Incoronazione di Poppea. In 2006, he made his first appearance at the Glyndebourne opera festival, playing the lead in Handel's Giulio Cesare. In 2008 he sung in Harisson Birtwistle's opera The Minotaur, which premiered that year at the Royal Opera House. Mead's performances last season included Oberon in Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, the lead in Theo Loevendie's The Rise of Spinoza in Amsterdam and the title role in Philip Glass' Akhnaten with Opera Vlaanderen. As a concert singer, Mead has a fondness for baroque music. He has performed in many of Handel's oratorios with companies including the New York Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Concerto Köln. He also sang in Bach's Christmas Oratorio and St Matthew Passion with the Nederlandse Bachvereniging (Netherlands Bach Society). Mead has worked with many famous conductors, including Ivor Bolton, William Christie, Ottavio Dantone, Paul Goodwin, Emmanuelle Haïm, Vladimir Jurowski, Marc Minkowski and Masaaki Suzuki. 

La Cetra Baroque Orchestra was founded in 1999 at the initiative of Dr. Peter Reidemeister, then director of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, the Swiss national education and research centre for early music. The name La Cetra refers to the ancient lyre or zither and was taken from the title of Antonio Vivaldi’s collection of 12 violin concertos Op. 9 first published in Amsterdam in 1727. Most of the musicians are graduates of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. The ensemble also collaborates with the Schola Cantorum's research department, which assists the ensemble in its musical programming and preparation by providing it with the most recent musicological findings. The discovery of works by composers such as Brescianello, Venturini and Paisiello have enriched the orchestra’s repertoire, which ranges from the early seventeenth century to the early Romantic period. As well as with Artistic Director Andrea Marcon, La Cetra regularly work with a number of well-known guest conductors, among them Jordi Savall, René Jacobs and Attilio Cremonesi. The roster of soloists they regularly work with includes Andreas Scholl, Vivica Genaux, Magdalena Kožená, Patricia Petibon and Giuliano Carmignola. The repertoire and the occasion determine the size of the orchestra, which can range from a smaller consort to a full-fledged orchestra with chorus and soloists. 

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Credits

music
a.o. Claudio Monteverdi, John Dowland, Barbara Strozzi, Domenico Mazzocchi, Johann Jakob Frohberger, Robert Johnson
musical direction
Andrea Marcon
direction, choreography
Sebastian Nübling, Ives Thuwis
set
Muriel Gerstner
costumes
Marion Münch
sound design
Tobias Koch
video
Tabea Rotfuchs
dramaturgy
Laura Berman, Uwe Heinrich, Dorothee Harpain
performed by
La Cetra Barockorchester Basel, Theater Basel, junges theater basel
countertenor
Tim Mead
soprano
Bryony Dwyer
mezzo-soprano
Sofia Pavone
tenor
Nathan Haller
tenor
Giacomo Schiavo
production
Theater Basel

This performance was made possible with support by