A Village Romeo and Juliet in Frankfurt

The Frankfurt Opera is one of my favourite venues and I have attended there many impressive performances, but I had not originally intended to see their revival of A Village Romeo and Juliet. Rather my plan was to see Cavalli’s La Calisto in Wiesbaden. As though to punish me for my infidelity to Frankfurt, this performance was cancelled. So I had to resort to my contingency plan, and hop on a train to get to the Delius for only my second experience of this work. It proved to be dramatically and musically more powerful than I had remembered. It portrays the lovers’ tragedy not, as in Shakespeare, as a consequence of bitter political rivalry but rather of a failure to respect the wholeness of nature.

Admittedly in Eva-Maria Höckmayr’s production (designer Christian Schmidt) real nature hardly exists. Instead we are presented with caricatural, postcard images of “nature” outside a grim agricultural village in which the young people are imprisoned emotionally by social and cultural tradition. Their  thoughts are forever switching between memories of the short-lived freedom of childhood exploration and fantasies of escape to another world.  This is a broader and ultimately satisfying interpretation of the piece which grew upon me as the evening progressed. There are some striking episodes, as the divided stage constantly projects images of the past and future. If this becomes, at times, rather too complex, it is balanced by the starkness of the lovers’ fate – at one point literally, as they remove their clothes, to find  briefly a release from the constricting surrounds. An impressive performance from soprano Amanda Majeski and a beautifully paced interpretation of the score by Paul Daniel were other highlights.