Weiße Rose | Udo Zimmermann
nach Texten von Wolfgang Willaschek
Regie und Licht: Paul Cegys
Bühne, Kostüme: Marzena Puzniak
Bühne, Kostüme: Marzena Puzniak
Udo Zimmermann’s ‘Weiße Rose’ is a haunting and powerful composition. It is inseparable from its historical context, but an immense strength resides in the piece’s universality. It is a strikingly apt piece to perform presently, in light of the rise of an extreme right wing political interest in Europe and North America; in light of the complex evolution of terrorism and its discourses in international politics; and certainly in light of a shifting economic and environmental climate. I think the shadows of Fascism and Totalitarianism hover already in our contemporary streams of consciousness. Zimmermann’s piece offers, however, significantly more than a recasting of past atrocities. It is not a ‘heroic’ piece nor a ‘narrative’ piece in that sense. It occupies itself more with the introspection of the mind in its final moments before dying. The sixteen scenes may be read as sixteen states of detachment, which Hans’ and Sophie’s minds experience as they come to terms with the end of life and with the horrific possibility subsumed within the reality we create and experience. To me, the piece extends a compelling invitation to explore the haunting associations, which give less voice to specific histories than they do to the pain and paradox of human impermanence.
Our staging ideas express themselves in a geometrical simplicity - a black maze - which is endless, repetitive, black, and continuous. It represents the invisible channels, which the mind wanders, sometimes pacing systematically through repetitive thoughts and memo- ries. It represents the mind’s ability, and sometimes its propensity, to lose itself in thought or to confine itself to certain isolations and extremes. We do not impose a time or a place on the piece - it is rendered ambiguous and symbolic. Of particular interest to me is the way in which Zimmermann devotes attention to vis- ceral sensations, and gives them particular significance as the mind anticipates its detachment from the body. Analogous to the workings of the mind, the maze will be revealed and wandered through in fragments. Hans’ and Sophie’s bodies will always be partially obstructed by the black platforms rising up from the ground. They will be confined by these narrow trenches as they walk, they will be separated by them from one another, they will be confined by them into isolated cells or graves. They will be able to disappear partially or completely without ever leaving the stage. Sophie and Hans will share their maze with five stone statues, which will take on several di erent functions. They will evoke monu- ments and commemorations of lives ended too quickly and of atrocities. They will also represent more pleasant images of other moments of life. They will act as bodies in space, contributing their shadows and standing in as witnesses. Two additional performers, Doppelgängers, will appear as their alternates. These two performers will pass through the space infrequently and briefly, depositing the stone figures or carrying them away. Their presence and movement will be restrained. In Scene XIII, Die Vision vom Ende, Sophie’s alternate will perform an ascension, pulling herself with only the strength in her arms up the inclined slope into the sun. The alternate persons will also be present during the final scene Nicht schweigen, nicht mehr schweigen. They will stand far behind Sophie and Hans, motionless as their shadows or their monuments, or their already deceased spirits.
A strong appreciation has grown within me over these few short weeks for the astonishing beauty of Zimmermann’s composition and of Willaschek’s poetry. It is a beauty that takes one in while one scarcely notices - too busy perhaps at first with one’s own associations of atrocity and loss. Each time I approached the piece, it was with an anxious expectation that it would be abrasive, instead it was predominantly gentle and subtle. This emotional process, of moving from anxious un- ease to quiet meditation, has motivated our staging and scenography. These impressions have also motivated questions about the sonic experience the audience should have while watching ‘Weiße Rose’, especially today in our digitally mediated society. Zimmermann himself has paid careful attention to how the composition, and likewise the staging, is reinforced by a complex electronic sound scape. Presently, however, the sonic complexity, which could be imposed on the piece is enormous. There are many moments where amplification, localization and reinforcement of sound and text would be highly compelling. One example, is Scene XI, which we have chosen to stage in black with no light: As the stage and the audience merge into a mutual uneasy black void, Sophie’s and Hans’ voices become dismembered, ethereal and sonically scattered through out the theatre, giving the audience the impression that they have themselves become inculcated in the maze of the mind. Likewise, in the last scene of Sophie’s and Hans’ execution, Scene XVI, the references to the public outcries, to the force of a thousandfold, to the masses, should be honoured with a sonic rendering that grips the audience and leaves them resonating with distress.
To honour these and many other places in the opera, where additional layers of sound need to be present, I would like to propose extending Zimmermann’s initial analogue experimentations into a gripping sonic vision that utilizes today’s digital language. Moreover, the possibility of beginning a conversation with Zimmermann directly about his original sonic intentions seems to me an exciting way to realize a level of authenticity to the original score.
One last aspect needs to be addressed: The question of what I would hope an audience might experience as they are immersed into the staging that we have designed. Much like my own journey, I would hope that the audience, may at first approach the piece apprehensively, expecting to be disturbed, but may then ease into their own associations, and begin to feel a likeness between their own existential condition and that of Sophie and Hans. Only then, would I hope that they be reawakened by a quiet fright and a sense of profound sadness at the loss of a brother and sister, and by what they embody as a symbol for the greater project of humanity.