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The man with the golden phallus

In Bayreuth, for three years now, after the festival has come before the festival.

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The man with the golden phallus

In Bayreuth, for three years now, after the festival has come before the festival. While emptiness yawns on the Green Hill because the Wagner team has already fled on vacation, down below, in the Margravial Opera House, gilded not only with the status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the gut strings are stretched and the natural horns are warm-blown. Above all, the countertenors are made fit.

For his new festival, Bayreuth Baroque artistic director (and countertenor) Max Emanuel Cencic likes to gather people like him in the magnificent wooden theater hall of the composing Margravine Wilhelmine, which is itself already his own fairytale shimmering production. But Cencic, who wants to cultivate particularly rarities of the Neapolitan opera that was once played here over eleven days, knows quite well how he, as a director who is not averse to visual spectacle, has to assert himself in the face of the old splendor.

So here on the stage the colors screech and the rubber breasts squeak. A golden phallus (found in Metastasio's original libretto) is used for the bel canto battle, as are elephants, camels and horses as vehicles.

"Alessandro'nelle Indie" by the Neapolitan Leonardo Vinci (1690 to 1730), premiered shortly before his (presumed) death by poisoning by a love rival, presents the weeping Indian king Poro to the Greek warrior Alexander the Great, who is not very heroic here, but above all his sister and one neighboring queen as jealous snakes opposite. Of course, all battles are fought primarily by means of vocal ornaments.

This "dramma per musica" satirically turned gender relations and positions of power upside down as early as the Baroque period. Here all that glitters is voice gold, of course the women are wrong. Because the opera was composed for Rome, where at that time no woman was allowed to sing on the stage, only the castrati favorites of the various clerics.

That's why it now says - welcome to the new, diverse, dazzling world! - in Bayreuth the only woman in the ditch: The conductor Martyna Pastuszka leads her Polish Orkiestra with gripping, loud and quiet music dramaturgy through the almost five never boring hours of playing time.

The world ruler Alexander is only marginally discussed here, he is more of a worm than a raging bastard. The clever Max Cencic also equated him stylistically with the extravagantly extravagant King George IV (reigned 1820-1830). What Mayaan Licht does willingly in smart Regency clothes and with a comfortable throat.

Red-gold pseudo-India ambience à la the Royal Pavilion in Brighton mixes with deliberately colonial clichéd fantasies of exoticism. In them, even the hairy-legged Bayaderes are guys (with their own drag make-up consultant!). And there is a queer firework display of Bollywood hop capers, as the six-pack bellies shake as do the hips and butts.

It never ends up being just a luscious, silly fag show, the director cleverly puts the brakes on the entertainment. There are also intimate moments of love like self-knowledge in the twilight.

But then again half-naked king cobras, opulent lounge chairs and ever more shrill glittering outfits point to another mini-theater in the palace room, which appropriates foreign cultures: In it, a third level of alienation is introduced, when the pathetic formulaic nature of baroque music theater also gives way with a wink to one that trembles in all the singing fervor Bosom Up Opera transformed.

Such is primarily the business of the otherwise racy countertenor Jake Arditti (the son of the hardcore modern string quartet principal Irving), who gleefully indignantly jingles as a bitch Erissena with false eyelashes under the rhinestone tiara as skillfully diva-like fires his sound flares. In this he is only surpassed by the really almost perfect woman, the Brazilian soprano Bruno de Sá as the power-manipulative Cleofide.

De Sá is also currently shining on a ravishing Erato album of female arias for castrati from the same musical "Roma Travestita" (the program will also be heard in Bayreuth). But live he increases to a fabulous acting wonder madame of intimate and virtuosic tones. Many a woman would murder in the face of this perfectly fake opera lady.

The permanently extroverted Franco Fagioli, who was already involved in the other two Cencic/Vinci extravaganzas (“Artasere” 2013 in Nancy with five counters, “Catone in Utica” 2015 in Wiesbaden with four), is not just an Indian Carmen Miranda as Poro with tuttifrutti turban. He barges and whispers believably desperately with gentle cooing cascades, and of course also masters the large arsenal of fioriture guns.

The fifth countertenor is the wily Nicholas Tamagna as the hunchbacked schemer Timagene. And as a tenor, Stefan Sbonnik, with a rather small voice, stands in the second row as an almost desperate confidant courting Erissena.

With Leonardo Vinci, the value of his operas is usually summed up by the relevance of their ingredients. In Bayreuth, no expense is spared with this “Alessandro”. And so Max Emanuel Cencic succeeds in a brilliantly complex, lively, absolutely gender-entertaining, show-worthy rediscovery that lovingly expands into the tricky necklace handle in detail.

After two difficult opening seasons affected by Corona, an enthusiastic audience was now sitting in this great theater that was finally full again and experiencing baroque opera as a total work of art for the senses. Keep it up, then Bayreuth could become the new pilgrimage destination not only for Wagnerians...

"Alessandro nelle'Indie" will be shown on October 8th on and on October 23rd on ARD-alpha.

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