Kiez Oper aims to convert Berlin’s clubbers into opera fans.
After a few years’ hiatus, Kiez Oper is back performing a four-night run of Händel’s ‘Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno’ (The Triumph of Time & Truth) at Alte Münze between 27th-30th June.
The idea is simple: bring opera back to the people with a performance, drinks and partying in a location they understand: a nightclub.
But this is no DIY, homemade affair – Kiez Oper has a world-class creative team which includes a director from the Royal Opera House in London, a conductor from the Berlin Staatsoper, and performers from world-famous opera houses around Germany. If you’ve ever been curious about opera, this is your chance.
Kiez Oper is producer and actor Rowan Hellier (Staatsoper Berlin) and Alex J. Eccleston (Bad Bruises, The House of Red Doors), a man who’s no stranger to reinventing the Berlin club experience.
I spoke to them both about Kiez Oper, their upcoming show, and… what opera’s all about.
For opera newbies, what’s seeing one like?
Rowan: When it’s at its best, there’s nothing that compares to opera. It contains life in all its extremes, the highs and the lows and everything in between. All of the inexpressible beauty and pain of existence. In the space of an hour you can be deeply moved to tears, joyously uplifted or made to roar with laughter!
With Kiez Oper, you get to experience the performers singing their hearts out up close, in an immersive production, which makes the experience even more intense. We’re aiming to grab people by the scruff of the necks and give them an emotional punch in the guts. And we want people to stick around for a few drinks and a wee party afterwards – what more could you want of an evening?!
Alex: I was almost completely new to the artform before we began this project in 2012, and the ability some of this music has to affect you emotionally is quite incredible. I would encourage anyone who has even a tiny bit of curiosity to come and experience this power in person with us.
Are there any stereotypes of opera you’d like to rebuff?
Rowan: That opera is only for a chosen elite, for those who have some knowledge of the art form before they walk through the door of a theatre. You don’t need to know the first thing about opera to enjoy it – it’s all about the emotions and stories that connect us all and make us human.
Opera should be affordable for all. It’s really important to us that opera is for everyone, which is why our tickets never cost any more than entry to a club. For 15€ you’re getting to see world-class singers (from the Komische Oper, Frankfurt Oper) and musicians performing up close and personal.
“It ain’t over until the fat lady sings”, the stereotype of bad acting and wooden singers standing still (‘Park and Bark’ as it’s known in the profession) is one that you definitely see less and less on stages around the world. It’s become far less acceptable for performers to do that. However, with Kiez Oper, we’re challenging that stereotype in a way that hasn’t happened before, and taking it to the opposite extreme. Our performances are immersive and our singers and performers are seriously active and amazing!
Alex: That it must be somehow staid or predictable. With Kiez Oper we try to create a genuinely unique and exciting occasion, unlike something you have ever experienced before. From the location, the level of closeness and immersiveness, to the moments before and after the show… even the actual timing of the event. This is something new.
What made you choose this opera in particular?
Alex: The story and the themes that are explored are incredibly relevant to what is happening in Berlin today. The characters themselves are allegorical concepts; Beauty, Time. It’s about growing, accepting the passing of time and the truth of inevitable change. I’m sure there are many Berliners reading this who can relate strongly to these themes.
Not to mention the city itself has always been such an incredible, constantly changing and fascinating place with periods of terrible conflict and strife and it still finds a way to evolve. With so many discussions currently about how Berlin is changing in contemporary times, it feels like this is a very opportune moment for the show.
Rowan: Baroque music has the best tunes and ‘Ohrwurms’ aplenty, which means if you’ve never heard the piece before, you’ll leave humming at least one tune from the show. Il trionfo has incredible, hauntingly beautiful music in it: transcendent. It’s Händel’s first oratorio and has been very rarely performed. The story is as relevant today as it was when it was written in 1707. We’re also really interested in the contrast of high baroque with contemporary Berlin life, so you have this super ornate, stylized music that contrasts with the modern production and the video projections of contemporary Berlin street life.
You’ve assembled quite a talented crew for the show. How did it come together?
Rowan: We’ve put some serious thought into the singers that would best suit these roles and have assembled a really incredible team! The musicians and singers are world-class.
Kiez Oper is a project that people love to be involved in, as it allows them to step out of the box of the roles they usually inhabit professionally, and to interact with performers and artists of many different disciplines. There’s some seriously amazing cross-artistic pollination that has happened in our previous productions, with people meeting and collaborating who would never have otherwise come into contact with each other.
You say it’s immersive – how will that present itself?
Alex: As with every Kiez Oper, as soon as you enter the building, the show will begin. There will be dancers and actors in the room with you. The performance area itself is a small, intimate space. We shall be using the projectors from the Visions Alive exhibition, so as well as being confronted by performers up-close, every wall in the room will be a projected screen with our own footage shot here in Berlin. You’re going to be surrounded!
What’s your favourite line from the opera?
‘Time is cruel only to those who believe in him.’
Will aspects of your The House Of Red Doors work be incorporated into the performance?
Alex: Since the last Kiez Oper, the journey me and the amazing Billie Rae have been on with Bad Bruises and The House of Red Doors has been a very crazy, beautiful and instructive time for everybody involved for so many reasons. Some of the outrageous and otherworldly wonders from our family of performers and even our stage manager will be joining the show this time.
What are your future plans for Kiez Oper?
Alex: Now that we are returning after such a long lay off, we plan to keep it going and we have some big, crazy ideas for the future. We want to keep pushing the envelope, ignoring accepted conventions and see just how far this project can go.
Thanks Rowan and Alex.
Are you sold yet? Is your inner-operatic crying to come out? Get your tickets for Kiez Oper’s ‘Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno’ here.
Kiez Oper’s ‘Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno’