Our new member, the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre, had its world premiere of "Octavia. Trepanation" in Amsterdam at the Holland festival—and it was highly critically acclaimed. Read some of the reviews!
English translation of the Deutschlandfunk review of "Octavia. Trepanation":
“Octavia.Trepanation“ Opera in Amsterdam: LENIN'S SKULL A TREASURE CHEST
The electronic opera “Octavia.Trepanation” shows bizarre scenes at its world premiere at the Holland festival in Amsterdam: ranging from looking into Lenin’s skull to Russian hymns on Socialism to digressions on Roman history. This work of art wonders: Can art explain tyranny?
By Jörn Florian Fuchs
Upon entering the auditorium, you hear soft sounds gradually getting louder and softer, mixed with electronic crackle. There’s a gigantic skull on the stage of the Muziekgebouw at the Ij River in Amsterdam; headless figures move softly back and forth in front of it. Those are soldiers of the Terracotta Army; they lament in delicate, textless cantilena. Suddenly the head turns and Lenin incarnate looks at us with threateningly glowing eyes.
While four dancing police thugs get the terracotta choir moving with coarsely barked glottal stops, Lenin’s skull opens up; inside, the stubborn and stoic philosopher Seneca is at odds. Alexey Kochanov sings it with a beautiful baritone; his counterpart, Emperor Nero is interpreted by Sergey Malinin; Malinin’s brightly shining tenor occasionally moves into the falsetto. Appropriately, Nero is wearing a bumptious Russian vestment, with Roman garments underneath.
Tyranny through the ages
A prefect, who’s been involved in the discussions and philosophical bickering, comes in as a loopy Asian. Director Boris Yukhananov from the Moscow Stanislavsky Electrotheatre creates a wondrous clash of various time layers with his staging of “Octavia”; the question about power, the loss of power, and tyranny are at the centre of this piece. Furthermore, Lenin’s head has to undergo a trepanation, i.e. being drilled out. And his skull turns out to be a true treasure chest.
Dmitri Kourliandsky’s musical score expands the complex structure of the play by a very peculiar, skewed world. They sing in Russian. Kourliandsky stretches the recording of a revolutionary song beyond recognition to serve as an ostinate basis; furthermore the choir interjects; and the soloists often have recitative moments with smaller arioso parts as well as complex live electronic music.
Volcanic eruption in the head of a dictator
While sometimes a dome, sometimes a volcanic eruption or—for a brief moment—friendly clouds are projected within Lenin’s skull, a carriage with skeletonized horses drives by a few floors further down, directly in front of the audience; Agrippina appears as a ghost; the titular Octavia, from the play that is probably erroneously attributed to Seneca, is beautifully embodied by a whole choir of women. And on top of that Leon Trotzky appears, worshipping Lenin.
Trotzky is an actor here, and suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of a live audio drama with church bells, rataplan of hooves, and the atmosphere of a market. You don’t need to follow all the details of this brilliant mashup, but ought to rather let yourself in for this all-senses-activating game made up of lightness, pathos, and message.
And there is a message indeed when Trotzky at Lenin’s grave asks the survivors to now take on responsibility themselves. Just earlier the grey crowd of terracotta singer-soldiers has doffed their shapeless uniforms; the choir now appears in T-shirts—individuals instead of the masses. A beautiful sign of hope at the end of this clever post-modern piece which manages without pertinent directing gimmickry.