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June 1998

Dazzling Performances

Munich's summer festivals for the arts

Munich is a festival this summer - a moveable feast for the senses. Ballet blooms on Gärtnerplatz. Thousands of garden gnomes are lining up in front of the opera. Aida goes outdoors at the Königsplatz.The Brunnenhof echoes with the sounds of music. And the Munich Film Festival lends further cosmopolitanism to the Isar metropolis. It is a time to enjoy opera, chamber music, symphony, ballet, modern dance, film, drama and other spectacular entertainment, indoors and out. The Munich Opera Festival begins on June 26, with an installation by Ottmar Hörl on Max-Joseph-Platz. Hörl's work, entitled "Welcome," starts the festival off with a smile. It features 4,000 black or white garden gnomes with hands outstretched in greeting. The gnomes' handshake humorously reflects the pose of the bronze statue of Max I Josef, Bavaria's first king, which stands on the square in front of the opera. The Festival was founded in 1875 and is one of the oldest of its kind in Europe. This year seven different venues present opera, ballet and theater performances that run until the end of July. The Bavarian State Ballet opens the program with a triple bill featuring Svadebka, by choreographer Jiri Kylian (Artistic Director of the Nederlands Dans Theater). It includes a new work by Jens Ostberg, with a specially commissioned score by William Brunson, and a world premiere by resident choreographer and ballet master, Davide Bombana (soon to depart for his new position in Florence). The performance is at the Prinzregententheater and runs until June 28. The Opera Festival continues throughout July. Star tenor Placido Domingo returns to Munich to appear in Richard Wagner's Die Walküre on July 25 at the National Theater. The performance, which starts at 17:00 will be broadcast live on giant screens set up in Max-Joseph-Platz where opera lovers unable to get tickets can see it free of charge. In all, there will be 15 opera productions, seven ballets and concerts by the Bavarian State Orchestra and Lieder recitals. The National Theater celebrates the arrival of summer on June 26 and June 28 with evenings of song by Cecilia Bartoli and Montserrat Caballe. A rich and varied program at the National Theater precedes the festival. Operas include Verdi's Il Trovatore and Aida, Bizet's Carmen and Mozart's Don Giovanni. John Neumeier's lavish production of Die Kameliendame by Alexandre Dumas, Jr. is neo-classical ballet at its best, with lavish decor and costumes designed by Jürgen Rose. For followers of narrative ballet there is La Bayadere, one of the most important works remaining from the Imperial Russian Ballet era at the Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg. Patrice Bart, director of the Paris Opera Ballet, stages the Munich version after the original choreography of Marius Petipa. The Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz holds performances at three theaters: Gärtnerplatz, Prinzregenten and Cuvilliés theaters, but it is the ballet under the direction of Philip Taylor, a young British choreographer, that is making news. He is just completing his second season as ballet director at Gärtnerplatz and has introduced a number of modern productions. The summer program features two-thirds of his Trilogy. Part one, created during Taylor's tenure as director of the Augsburg Ballet, will be revived for the repertoire at Gärtnerplatz in the future. Nacht-Trilogie and Trilogie des Hoffens , which appear this summer, are more abstract that the first ballet of the trilogy. Taylor's latest production, Kreaturen - Stadt/Leben (Creatures, City/Life) appears at the Prinzregententheater on June 13,14 and 20. This work, set to the music of Steve Reich, Django Bates and other contemporary composers, treats relationships with humor and intensity. Most of the dancers, known for their energy and vitality on stage, came to Munich from Augsburg with Taylor, and the performances reflect the deep understanding between choreographer and his troupe that stems from their long-standing partnership. The Wooster Group of Soho, New York performs The Hairy Ape by Eugene O'Neill, a Munich premiere, at the Reithalle from June 27 to July 1. O'Neill, one of the most influential American playwrights, tackles serious issues showing man battling with his harsh environment. The Hairy Ape is a comedy in eight scenes depicting ancient and modern life, and is performed in English. The Wooster Group was formed in the 1970's and stages plays at The Performing Garage before going on tour. The group has toured Europe, Asia, Australia, South America and Canada and is notable for its sophisticated use of sound, film and video within the boundaries of traditional contemporary theater. The Munich performances feature actor Willem Dafoe, recognizable from many Hollywood films including Platoon. Fiery Spanish flamenco sets Munich aflame this month. At the Deutsches Theater, the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company dazzles audiences from June 13 to June 28. The most authentic flamenco show outside of Spain, the 13-member company, made up of dancers, singers and guitarists, presents the brilliant technique and stirring music that make flamenco so exhilarating. The Brunnenhof at the Residenz, which takes the classics outdoors each summer, is again hosting a series of open-air concerts with performances by the Bach Collegium München and featuring the music of Handel, Bach,Telemann, Marcello, Pachelbel and Vivaldi. On June 20, the Brunnenhof presents "The Music of the Titanic." The program features salon music, a type of piece popular at tea dances in 1912 when the Titanic sank, but the only ice in sight will be the cubes cooling the drinks at the bar. On the last weekend of the month, the Königsplatz hosts two spectacular productions and an open-air concert. Dracula (June 26) is a musical based on Bram Stoker's gothic novel of vampires and Transylvanian gloom. Stage director Walter Haupt sets the scene with a towering castle and gigantic bat wings used as screens for projected images. The idea and production stem from the fertile imagination of Franz Abraham, formerly a student of Munich's Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, auto racer and resident enfant terrible who founded Art Concerts,organizer of this and other music and theater events. Verdi's Aida (June 27) unfolds in front of a 20-meter high pyramid. This opera is ideally suited for gigantic productions: massive choirs, triumphal marches and fireworks. On June 28, Lorin Maazel, chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducts an open-air concert. The program includes Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, and works of Maurice Ravel. The fun doesn't end with the month, however, and Munich is an ongoing festival. Summer is a state of mind: the city is alive, the arts are flourishing, and the glow remains long after the leaves begin to turn and the beer gardens fold up their tables. June is, after all, just the start.

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