Take an oil painting series by US abstract expressionist Barnett Newman from 1966 that inspired acts of vandalism in museums in Amsterdam and Berlin. Add in the Lieder music of 19th century Austrian composer Hugo Wolf.
Combine with the poetry of Joseph Karl Benedikt Freiherr von Eichendorff, Eduard Morikes and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Have them stirred together by Herbert Fritsch, a German musician turned actor turned theater director, for a Swiss theater troupe and the result is Schauspielhaus Zurich’s Who’s Afraid of Hugo Wolf?
Billed as “the first song evening” by Fritsch, the show is a fusion of poetry and music, theater and music theater, and it opens tomorrow night at the National Theater in Taipei for three performances as part of the Taiwan International Festival of Arts.
The show will be performed in German, with Chinese surtitles.
Fritsch, who is credited with the stage design as well as directing the show, has created a surrealistic set featuring a rotating stage, a piano and three panels — one red, one yellow and one blue in tribute to Newman’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue series (a riff on Edward Albee’s 1962 play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) that serves as the backdrop for an equally surreal, if not slightly madcap performance by seven women and one man.
While madcap is not a word one usually associates with German Lieder, it does seem fitting for a show featuring Wolf’s music, for the man considered the last great composer of Lieder was famed for his intense, almost manic working style — and arguments with colleagues.
Wolf composed in short bursts, often completing several works in one day, and then would produce nothing for months. He died at age 43 after spending years in an asylum.
What: Whose Afraid of Hugo Wolf?
When: Tomorrow and Saturday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 2:30pm
Where: National Theater (國家戲劇院), 21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
Admission: NT$700 to NT$2,500; available at NTCH box offices, online at www.artsticket.com.tw and at convenience store ticketing kiosks.
Wolf once wrote that he was “a man who is concerned only with impulses, and when a great quantity of electricity has accumulated in me, something happens.”
It is that electricity that Fritsch tries to capture in his 90-minute production.
Fritsch, who is also known for his photography, computer animation and video work, has gained a reputation for farce that goes very much against the grain of traditional German “serious” theater.
There will be a pre-show talk in the theater lobby before each performance, starting 30 minutes before curtain time, and a post-show discussion after tomorrow’s matinee.