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Johanna Wokalek and Marianne Crebassa: Two Strong Women Playing Charlotte Salomon

21 JUL 2014

published in: Opera

Johanna Wokalek, Marianne Crebassa (Photo: Salzburger Festspiele / Andreas Kolarik)
Charlotte Salomon was the first opera Alexander Pereira commissioned as Artistic Director of the Salzburg Festival. After a long gestation period, the work is now nearing its world premiere at the Felsenreitschule. The composer Marc-André Dalbavie’s background is the tradition of the Spectralists, who focus very strongly on the analysis of the individual note. In his work, Dalbavie developed a new tonal idiom, in opposition to serial music. The opera, however, is not only characterised by his very personal tonal language; he also incorporated many musical quotations noted by Charlotte Salomon. These include a song by the Comedian Harmonists and melodies from Bizet’s Carmen. This means that the singer Marianne Crebassa has an enormous breadth of musical styles to master. These range from spoken passages that morph into sprechgesang to lyrical outbursts, constituting a great challenge to the singer’s vocal flexibility – a challenge the young Frenchwoman is happy to meet.
The work and its staging follow Charlotte Salomon’s original closely. In many gouaches and a “Singespiel”, as she herself called it, she described her life, noting images and texts and a multitude of musical references which came to her mind during her work. Both the original pictures and texts will be presented on stage almost unchanged, as will the musical souvenirs. To Johanna Wokalek, Charlotte Salomon’s gouaches document a process of commemoration, and that is what intrigues her. Memories never follow a linear dramaturgy, but become mixed and are reconnected through experiences. “That is the fascinating thing,” says Johanna Wokalek, who believes that the stage is the only place where Charlotte Salomon’s oeuvre, oscillating as it does between artistic genres, can be continued and extended – as musical theatre. “That is why as an actress, this project interested me so much.” Marianne Crebassa agrees that working with the actress Johanna Wokalek as part of the opera is a special experience.  
The fact that there are two Charlotte figures on stage changes their work significantly. When the singer sees the actress in the role of Charlotte Salomon on stage, it is like looking into a mirror. Marianne Crebassa listens intently to the manner in which Johanna Wokalek delivers her text. While the texts are characterised by calmness, the singing part is marked by high emotionality. During the past days of rehearsal, Johanna Wokalek even began drawing the singer during rehearsals – much as Charlotte Salomon herself drew her surroundings and her life.
The work demands all available resources. Thus, all the Festival’s departments must pull together to see the production through from the very beginning. Come witness this exciting world premiere directed by Luc Bondy. After the premiere on July 28, the Felsenreitschule will see four additional performances.