Peter Mazalán, Bratislava, SLOVAKIA
Franz Schubert – Elfriede Jelinek
Directed by Peter Mazalán
This production blends Franz Schubert’s song cycle, Elfriede Jelinek’s eponymous play, and opera singer and intermedia artist Peter Mazalán’s interest in themes of autism and neurodiversity. The protagonist is an individual on the margins of society, a vagrant adrift in the mist of his own existence and fond of escaping into other worlds who finds refuge in art and music. Ultimately, music, a powerful vocal performance, theme and visual concept amalgamate in an unusual genre-defying production that subordinates narrative to impression and atmosphere.
This production was co-selected by the Spectator Programme Board of the Be SpectACTive! Project
Peter Mazalán is a versatile artist whose original projects pique increasing attention among audiences and the public. With a training in classical opera, his work usually blends operatic inspirations with themes he takes personal interest in. Recently, this has been primarily the subject of autism and neurodiversity – a medical term denoting the variability of human brain activity and mental capacities. Recent expert studies show that the proportion of individuals with an autism spectrum disorder is on the rise, while society at large is, on the other hand, becoming increasingly open to this diversity, including through the prism of such individuals’ real and potential contribution. Mazalán’s interest in this theme is rooted in personal experience – his nephew Felix, too, is autistic. This was one of the inspirations behind his production A Person with ASP (autism spectrum disorder), followed up – although entirely different in form – by his project Winter’s Journey.
Winter’s Journey combines several inspirational sources: Franz Schubert’s song cycle, based on the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, and Elfriede Jelinek’s play Winterreise. The central figure in both works is an individual on the margins of society, a misunderstood vagrant lost in the mist of his own existence. This is precisely where author and director Mazalán finds parallels with the opaque inner world of autism, a pendulum of fascination and profound absorption on the one hand, and anxiety and social isolation on the other. The play’s initial setting is a concert of Schubert’s songs, interpreted by Mazalán himself. Music becomes a means of communication with an autistic girl and is equally a mysterious world in which the girl becomes ever deeper immersed, ignoring the admonitions of her mother. The demands of a role of a parent in caring for children with special needs is yet another theme explored on the backdrop of the play’s action. By way of the mother-daughter relationship, we witness the conflict of two realities, is turbulent and often exhausting to the point of resignation, difficult for both sides, but also loving and instructive. Elfriede Jelinek’s text is typically fragmentary, allusive; it is a journey through a winter landscape, serving as a metaphor of wandering, backed in the production by impressive light design, and at one moment the whole space is enveloped in a misty haze. The actors and spectators immerse themselves in the labyrinthine mind of a person who perceives differently, they can try to empathise with an unfamiliar psychic and mental world, and simultaneously come to the realisation that their own path is often also far from straight and clear.
Besides Mazalán’s interpretation of Schubert’s songs, the production’s strengths include a subtle performance by Annamária Janeková in the role of the Girl, a minimalist but realistic performance by Jana Oľhová as the Mother, the piano virtuoso skills of Peter Pažický, as well as the visual concept by Ján Ptačin. Above all, the production is a purposeful social impulse, because it broaches themes that are rarely and marginally opened in theatre. Mazalán and his collaborators give us an opportunity to reflect and revalue or attitude to otherness, often based on pity or ignorance. The production’s final moments deliver a surprising, movingly beautiful ending that shows nothing needs to be the way it seems at first sight.
concept, singing, directed by: Peter Mazalán
dramaturgy: Miro Dacho
cast: Jana Oľhová, Annamária Janeková
piano: Peter Pažický
electronics, sound-art, sound-design: Fero Király (Cluster ensemble)
light-design: Ján Ptačin
costume design, masks: Simona Vachálková
presentation at Divadelná Nitra supported by Slovak Arts Council, SPP Foundation, LITA – Society of Authors, The Creative Europe Programme of the European Union
Peter Mazalán (1984)
graduated in vocal & opera performance and scenography from the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava and in architecture from the Slovak Technical University. He is a laureate of several international singing competitions (including Hilde Zadek International Vocal Competition in Vienna, Concorso per Giovani Cantanti Lirici D’Europa in Como, Italy, or the Antonín Dvořák International Singing Competition). He has performed on prominent opera stages (including Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, Stadttheater Klagenfurt, Opernhaus Kiel, Slovak National Theatre Bratislava, National Moravian-Silesian Theatre Ostrava, National Theatre Brno). As a concert performer, he has seen collaborations with Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Münchner Symphoniker, Chorwerk Ruhr, the Slovak Philharmonic and the Philharmonic Brno. He has performed at Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, Rheingau Musik Festival, or the International Music Festival Špilberk. He has delivered concerts in music halls in Lübeck, Reutlingen, Essen, Frankfurt (Germany) and São Paulo (Brasil). He also creates original intermedia projects, combining classical song and concert literature with contemporary theatrical, performative and visual techniques.
“The classical concert (in the author’s own words in the brochure, ‘a vanishing form of musical recital’) slowly falls apart: not just owing to the actions of the girl, but also by electronic intervention with the piano – which sounds like a prepared instrument – and vocal performance. The mother walks up to her daughter on stage and admonishes her, but the latter remains distant, and in a fit of musical fascination begins to sing along with the soloist. Moved, she puts the score to her heart. In that moment, lights go out and the whole space is filled with dense steam.”
(Jozef Červenka, operaslovakia.sk, 17 Mar 2020)
“Despite trying to protect her, the mother keeps losing her in a constant lack of understanding. The initial minimalistically muted and later more forceful performance of Annamária Janeková gradually escalates. Her Girl ignores the audience, the occasional bilingual German-Slovak inner monologue oscillates between monotony and urgency. Her deliberately mechanical diction is an accurate portrayal of the communicative deficit accompanying autism spectrum disorders.”
(Veronika Kolejáková, monitoringdivadiel.sk, 20 Feb 2020)