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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.06.11] post apocalyptic review music documentary

Year: 2011
Director: Vadim Jendreyko
Writers: Vadim Jendreyko, Thiemo Hehl
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 7 out of 10

In 2010 the Stuttgart Opera started production on Wagner's "Parsifal" and they hired Spanish theatre director Calixto Bieito to produce this massive undertaking, the creation of which was accompanied at every step by director Vadim Jendreyko for his documentary The Singing City (Die singende Stadt).

Now I bet your wondering why a documentary on the making of an opera is gracing the pages of Quiet Earth and the answer is simple: you've likely never seen an opera quite like this one. A bit of history to begin. Wagner took 25 years to write the opera, the last to be completed before his death, which is loosely based on Wolfram von Eschenbach's 13th century epic poem "Parzival" about an Arthurian knight and his quest for the holy grail. What makes this particular production of the famed opera special is that it's directed by opera's badboy Calixto Bieito who is well known for his unconventional twists on classic works and this time around, he had a very specific vision for Wagner's masterpiece: a post-apocalyptic setting.

I'll give you a minute to take that in.

Bieito's take on "Parsifal" sets the story in a post-apocalyptic future with a man in search of salvation, nearly nude (and occasionally fully nude) men and women, blood, weapons that shoot fire, sex and the construction of a war ravaged bridge as the key set piece. Jendreyko has full access to the production and we see everything from the initial introduction of the director to the cast and staff to the final dress rehearsal. In between we are privy to everything that goes on behind the scenes: the voice and speech coaches in action, the massive workshops where the intricate sets are built, the areas under the stage and in the wings with their intricate tech and the sheer amount of work that goes into the making of an opera.

The Singing City doesn't simply concentrate on the work but on the personalities that don't always see eye to eye. The female singers complain that they are uncomfortable with the nearly non-existent costumes while Bieito and conductor Manfred Honeck don't see eye to eye on the music. On more than one occasion Bieito tells those around him that if they have a problem with something they should let him know but few manage to speak up with their complaints, choosing instead to deal with it outside the director's circle. It's almost as if they're afraid the eccentric Bieito will walk away and they'll have lost all of their work to date and considering the size and unique vision of the production, it's unlikely anyone else could take over mid stream (not to mention the costs associated with a production of this size).

This is the sort of making of featurette you might expect to find as an extra on a film's DVD release and the production itself almost feels like it could be a movie. My only complaint is that we only see glimpses of the finished work and I would have loved to see a little more not to mention reaction from the audience on opening night along with a final word from Bieito on the finished work. He came across as a guy that doesn't sugar-coat his feelings and it would have been interesting to get his take on the process and the final product.

The Singing City is a hugely entertaining documentary, one that provides a great introduction to the making of an opera that non-opera lovers can enjoy but it's also a must see for fans of the music.

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