Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Infernal Comedy

A couple of months ago I ran into the news that John Malkovich would come to Munich to perform  in "The Infernal Comedy - Confessions of a Serial Killer" - a play based on a true story combining classical music and theater. I had not to think twice about getting a ticket and with getting a ticket I mean spending quite a lot of money for an excellent seat in the house. And I wasn't the only one - the philharmonic hall was sold out.  

The Gasteig filling up fast for "The Infernal Comedy"

Before I share my impressions let me give you some background information about "The Infernal Comedy"

The story is based on the real case of the Austrian serial killer Johann "Jack" Unterweger. The first time Unterweger went to prison for homocide already in 1976. The son of an Austrian and an unkown US soldier had at that time already a long list of brutal crimes on his CV.

Being in prison Unterweger started writing - and had a lot of success. The "prison poet" became the darling of the Austrian cultural scene and many celebrities insisted that he should be released early to get the chance to live a new life. Out of prison (1990) he became a society star and continued to work as a writer and journalist. When some prostitutes were found dead in the Vienna red light district Unterweger even talked to the police as "specialist" for the case. Behind the scenes the investigation against him had started already because the cases of homocide were very similar to what he had done in the 70ies. When he went to LA -  leaving a trace of dead, strangeled prositutes on his route even in the USA - it was clear that the prison poet was no celebrity darling but a serial killer. In 1992 he was arrested and handed over to the Austrian police. During his trial Unterweger kept pleading innocent.
Jack Unterweger finally commited suicide in prison. He strangeled himself hanging using the same knot that was used to strangle the victims. 

And here we are ... in
Jack Unterweger's after life. The dead killer appears to now finally reveal the truth about his numerous crimes reading from his posthumous memoirs. John Malkovich enters the stage and he is Jack Unterweger teasingly melting fiction with reality. 

He is flirting with the audience, handing his jacket to a lady in the front row who keeps it until he picks it up again at the end. He walks around leaving the stage asking people questions and keeps referring to actual news or the schedule of this real tour of "The Infernal Comedy" (in his context it is of course not a play but a reading session of his memoirs). He also talks to the Orchester Wiener Akademie and the two soprano singers that accompany him telling his story in spoken words, music and arias.
John Malkovich is all what you would expect him to be - smart, funny, itense, terrifying and charming. It's a great performance I enjoy a lot. 

© Olga Martschitsch

When it comes to classical music, I have to admit that I do not really listen to it at home. I am too much of a rock person and love me some guitar, when I want to relax. But I love classical music in concert - live in a hall with a great accoustic. Then it is absolutely wonderful, deeply moving and inspiring. And so I enjoyed the Orchester Wiener Akademie conducted by Martin Hasselböck, who together with Birgit Hutter developed the idea for "The Infernal Comedy".

And now comes the confession of the philistine: I hate it when acting and singing come together ... in general from musical to operetta to opera - through all types of music - live, in movies and on CD. It just does not go together for me.
 "The Infernal Comedy" , which includes arias by Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Weber and Haydn, does not really make an exception. I would not have minded some acting / singing, but it was definitely too much for me although the both soprano singers, Kirsten Blaise and Bernada Bobro, were great. Especially Kirsten Blaise, who "died" a couple of times on stage, played her roles with lots of drama but also a great sense of humor that fit perfectly John Malkovich's performance.
From the musical perspective I definitely liked Bernada Bobro more because her voice sounded warmer to me, but when it comes to stage presence Kirsten Blaise definitely "rocked the house".

As difficult it is to me to listen to arias in the midth of a play it did not miss the effect. If you listen to the lyrics - all the enormous emotions of love and sorrow - you wonder in what a stupid time we live. While we are already afraid to get rejected and ridiculed when we have the guts to tell somebody "I really like you." these songs are all about immortal love - and it is not silly at all. 

I am not saying that we should all live a life that resembles an 18th century drama, but probably we should hide a bit less behind our coolness. 

PS: All pictures are from the press toolkit of "The Infernal Comedy" and include the names of the photographers. The picture of the Gasteig Philharmonic Hall is my own.  

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