Tuesday | 6 February 2024

Learning to amuse

Interview with Gregor Horres, director of the HfK opera project "Il matrimonio segreto"
Gregor Horres.
Regisseur Gregor Horres. © HfK Bremen

For the current opera project, you have chosen "Il matrimonio segreto" by Domenico Cimarosa as the subject matter, why?

Gregor Horres: It's one for young singers. They can present themselves well and are not overtaxed. You need six soloists, each one has an aria, so you can work intensively with them alone, but there are also ensembles, so the interaction is also very easy to train.

Are there no more than six interested singing students at the HfK Bremen?

Yes, there are. We've been working on this project for two semesters now, and there were more than that at the beginning. In the summer semester, we put on an evening of scenes from Act 1, in which we changed roles on the fly, but then some of the singers left the project, and now there are nine of us, so three roles are double cast. In the premiere and the third performance, the first cast sings, on the second evening the second cast. 

The plot seems rather silly, a back and forth and criss-crossing of desire and love, with the focus on a couple who marry in secret because their union does not conform to their parents' social conventions. Can the theme still be told today, or must it be staged from the historical distance of the 18th century?

If you put the theme in a different cultural context, such as a strictly religious family, it can still be told today. 

A classic director's theater approach.

Exactly. But that doesn't correspond to the Neapolitan cheerfulness of the music. And I'm also not the right person to impose something serious on the lightness. I also think that we should set the problems we have today, such as forced marriages, to music and find new music for them. Just like Ludger Vollmer did with "Gegen die Wand", which premiered at Theater Bremen in 2008. 

Exactly, it is also an attempt to escape the constraints of the parental home with a marriage, it is the love story of two German-Turks who are psychologically damaged by the daily balancing act of living between cultures and are searching for their identity, while the score amalgamates classical European and Oriental musical traditions and the sound of their typical instruments. That's how musical theater works today.

Yes, that's right. The subject matter, music and the time of the plot and performance are one.

Are you now setting an opera from 1792 in the period in which it was written?

The costumes are somewhat modernized and so is the stage design. All the characters come together with their interests and desires in a hotel corridor, a great place for these comedically surprising door-to-door games with all the mix-ups. 

You are beaming ...

... Yes, after the corona period, we are still dealing with an opera audience that wants to be entertained above all. That doesn't mean nonsense, but amusement, if you do it well, i.e. precisely and at high speed. The students can practise this in our production.

Also in scenic acting?

Yes, you no longer stand next to each other and sing what you've learned, but gradually develop a real sense of togetherness in rehearsals. 

What do your acting lessons for the singers at the HfK look like?

I work without speech and without singing, without the pressure of singing, just working with the body, inventing situations and trying to clarify what you want to tell with the character, with the scene. The fellow students then give feedback on what is conveyed. A training in observation, reflection and self-awareness. 

The singing is in Italian, translated with surtitles.

Not only should the audience know what is being sung, but the singers must not only learn the text phonetically, but must also know the content and implied feelings.

However, the roles are not deeply fleshed-out characters as in Mozart.

Exactly. The characters are more crudely drawn ...

... like the characters in the commedia dell'arte ...

... basically everyone comes along. The bad old man, the quirky one, the young, slightly crazy girl, the lover ... but it's still important for the singers to know at every performance why I'm performing now, what I want, why and how I'm going to leave.

Were you able to develop stories between the characters?

That's incredibly difficult. I have a German singer, everyone else comes from other countries, such as South Korea. There are many language barriers as well as culturally very different ideas about male and female roles, physicality and how to treat each other. You have to deal with that carefully. That takes time.

The production is part of the training.

Exactly, the most important goal is not the absolutely perfect performance, but that the participants take something away with them, learn something. 

You have already staged the play at the Landestheater Linz with students from the Anton Bruckner Private University. 

That is such a corona oak. There was only one performance, then we were no longer allowed to play. We rehearsed the revival three times, always in vain.

Now the concept there, with the hotel corridor as the venue, is being performed again in Bremen. Why is it worth experiencing?

Because it's funny, lively music, pure entertainment and a good insight into what singing students and instrumentalists learn at the HfK.

We are curious. Thank you for the insight.


Biographical note

This year's opera production at the HfK Bremen is Gregor Horres' last. He has been teaching scenic design at the Dechanatstraße since October 2008 and directs the music theater projects. Now he wants to hand over the job to younger colleagues. 

Gregor Horres, born in 1960, has been the director of the Upper Austrian Opera Studio at the Landestheater Linz and the Anton Bruckner Private University since the 2016/2017 season. The opera director studied art history, assisted Karl Kneidel and Gerd Heinz at the Staatstheater Darmstadt and moved with them to Freiburg in 1993, where he began directing himself. In 1998, Horres became head director at Theater Bielefeld. As a freelance opera director, he has directed at various theaters since the 2005/2006 season, including "Der fliegende Holländer" (Wagner) and "Die Frau ohne Schatten" (Richard Strauss) in Mannheim, "Das Gesicht im Spiegel" (Jörg Widmann) at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein Düsseldorf and "La Bohème" at the Staatstheater in Schwerin.