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The Stuttgart State Opera will stage its next play despite Kirill Serebrennikov's house arrest

Meduza
21:25, 23 august 2017

Kirill Serebrennikov in Rwanda, April 10, 2017

Pervin Mamed-Zada / TASS / Visa Press

On August 23, a Moscow court placed stage director Kirill Serebrennikov under house arrest, as prosecutors prepare a major fraud case against him. This means that he will be unable to travel to Germany, where he was scheduled to direct a new play. Previously, Serebrennikov had planned to travel to the Stuttgart State Opera in late September, to work on a production of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” opera. The show’s final rehearsal is set for September 18, with a premiere date on October 22. Despite Serebrennikov’s arrest, the German theater says the opera will proceed as scheduled.

The premiere of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” opera is set for October 22 at the Stuttgart State Opera. The performance is going ahead despite the Moscow court’s ruling, Thomas Koch, the Stuttgart State Opera’s communications director, told Meduza.

“[The house arrest] seriously disrupts all his [Serebrennikov’s] creative work. Nevertheless, the premiere will take place on October 22. [...] Kirill Serebrennikov’s creative work will be continued with the support of everyone. The Stuttgart State Opera [still] hopes the director will be able to come to Stuttgart for the premiere,” Koch said.

The final month before the show’s premiere is reserved for last rehearsals, when the director is supposed to put together the play. The production concepts, decorations, costumes, and video are already prepared, and dry runs for the opera singers and children’s choir started at the end of last season, Koch explained.

According to the newspaper Stuttgarter Nachrichten, Serebrennikov planned to relocate “Hansel and Gretel” in modern Europe. In his reimagining, the Brothers Grimm tale would become an opera about the migration crisis, where once upon a time African immigrants Hansel and Gretel wake up in Germany, lost in a fairytale forest. Serebrennikov also had plans to add cinematographic installations to the set.

In order to get this footage, Serebrennikov brought a small team to Rwanda in April to film two teenagers in a small village. Serebrennikov then continued following the Rwandans after they’d arrived in Germany. Among other things, he filmed their first time on an airplane and their first visit to the theater. During a February trip to the Stuttgart State Opera, Serebrennikov said that he sees the Brothers Grimm fairytale as a story “about the dreams of these children who want a better life and are searching for happiness.”

A scene from Kirill Serebrennikov’s production of Richard Strauss’ opera “Salome.”
Martin Sigmund / Oper Stuttgart

Video artist Ilya Shagalov, who worked on the new production of “Hansel and Gretel” with Serebrennikov, confirmed to Meduza that preparations for the opera began long ago. “We structured the work so that the show would be ready to the fullest,” Shagalov said. “And we’re keeping to our schedule. As for my work on the performance, I’m not stopping, and nobody else at the theater is stopping.”

According to Shagalov, Kirill Serebrennikov personally oversaw the filming in Rwanda, where he says they came away with “impossibly beautiful footage.” Shagalov is currently editing the materials and setting it to music. “Next, I’ll need to actualize it on stage, and do a bit of graphic design, and work out how it’s projected. But everything is filmed and it’s almost ready. All that’s left are some finishing touches in postproduction.”

“Hansel and Gretel” isn’t Serebrennikov’s first production at the Stuttgart State Opera. In 2015, he staged an adaptation of “Salome,” focusing it on Islamic fundamentalism. The opera was warmly received by audiences, critics, and the theater’s management.

Russian text by Olga Kuzmenkova and Alexandra Zerkalyeva, translation by Kevin Rothrock