“This is my family!” – This is the beginning of Oscar Strasnoy’s a cappella opera “History” based on a text fragment by the Polish-Argentine writer Witold Gombrowicz, which I saw last week in the workshop of Berlin Staatsoper. The alter ego of the author introduces them:
“My father. Swears by normality. By the code of behavior of his social milieu. Practical director, clerk, decency. My brother Janusz. Fascism, artificial masculinity, fear, terror, weakness, realism. My brother Jerzy. Escape, feminity, caution, ease, personalism. My sister Rena. Mathematics, austerity, virtue, faith, reliability, masculinity. And my mother. Escape from life, inclination to fantasize, cannot stand herself, disgust.”
The audience is facing a large mirror, the singers are sitting, standing and fidgeting next to you, in front or behind, body contact and odors included. This impressive production by Isabel Ostermann visualizes that you cannot escape from your family, that you are and stay a part of it, that each play is also about yourself, with the words of Shakespeare: “as ’twere the mirror up to nature: to scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” (Hamlet, act 3. Akt, szene 2)
Witold Gombrowicz has dealt with the impact of his family biography on his own process of maturing and developing again and again.
The final applause is persistent. Sister Rena (Friederike Harmsen) is sitting behind me, in the carnival uniform. Yes, her strong mezzo-soprano is hitting my ear directly and her hair is tickling. And by the way: the composer himself is in the family photo, too.