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Nachgefragt bei: Daniel Kramer


How did you first come across this play and what was it about it that made you interested in it?

I remember reading this play 20 years ago and then doing the opera ten years ago. I’ve always been drawn to these strange silences and pauses and understated relationship of Pelléas and Mélisande. They sort of fall in love in a mystical way: they fall in love when they hear the sound of a boot, when they hear a waterfall, when they hear a strange piece of tribal music. They connect over metaphysical silences, light, candle, stars, moon. Perhaps having grown up on a farm, the strange understanding of nature, of what is ambiguous in love and hate, really interests me. That which we cannot articulate but only sense around. I love that, I love that in theatre.

Having done the play as an opera and now working on it as theatre piece, what are the differences in conveying such moments in theatre and in opera?

In opera the entire rhythm of the piece is given to you. Debussy composes the silences, he composes the wind and the sea. In approaching theatre, you are creating every second of rythm with the actors, with the sound designer, with the lighting designer. I feel like when you do opera, you much more interpret and carve space within, with theatre its an open field of potential, which I love passionately.

What opportunities does theatre give you?

The danger in theater is that the rhythm doesn’t work. Nevertheless, theatre is so much more ripe with opportunity and this version of the piece is so much more personal to me. This is a tribute to my mother, my mother’s childhood, my grandmother, my grandmother’s childhood, my sister and my niece. The show is examining the lineage of trauma that my heritage of women in my family and many around the world have survived. Mélisand and her stepson Yniold, in our interpretation, really connect over a deep intuition. Mélisande sees that Yniold is a beautiful young girl trapped in a man’s body, in a man’s world. Yniold sees that Mélisande is truly in love with Pelléas and she protects that love but she also sees that Pelléas and Mélisande are doomed. So there’s a real sense of vision and psychic energy between them.

Despite the play’s traumatic elements, is it not also a kind of fairytale?

The original by Maurice Maeterlinck is absolutely written in a sort of fairytale language - there’s kings, there’s queens, there’s princes, there’s castles. It’s symbolism, 1890, the birth of symbolism. I think symbolism is very relevant again in contemporary art with the pandemic, the corruption of the American government and the rise of China. We really put the piece in between then and now, an anachronistic world of giant hands, long blond wigs and Barbie dolls, plastic houses, knives and guns.

Could you tell us a bit more about the stage design?

The stage design is so simple because it’s transformative. It is an all black earth floor with a pit of water and a piece of glass, which is based on a shooting gallery, where contemporary hunters go to shoot guns. Within that world, mattresses, toilets, plastic doll houses, swings, endless Barbies dolls, hospital beds and wheelchairs float on and off magically. 

Would you say that the play succeeded if your audience leaves the theatre haunted?

I hope it haunts them! My favorite theatre that I experience, I don’t understand it. I don’t understand exactly what’s happening. Ok, there’s a story in this one, the story is so simple. But it is the images that I layer beside it, on top of it, behind it, between it, that you go away from a piece of theatre from me and six months later you’re still going “what was that weird image?” And suddenly one day you understand what it means to you. That’s what I want to leave with my audience. Images and sounds that haunt them beyond the dinner party after the show. Talk about it! Argue about it! Ask what it meant!

DANIEL KRAMER (*1977) is an opera, theatre and dance director. He has previously worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Young and Vic and Gate Theatre London. From 2016 to 2019 he was the artistic director of the English National Opera in London. Amongst others, he has directed at Theater Basel, the Opera of Geneva and Regent Theatre in Melbourne.


    In der aktuellen Ausgabe des Burgtheater Magazins erklärt Judith L. Alpert, Professorin für Psychoanalyse an der New York University, wie ein Trauma von einer Generation zur nächsten weitergegeben werden kann, ohne dass die Opfer das ursprüngliche traumatische Ereignis jemals erlebt haben.


    PROBENEINBLICKE #4: PELLÉAS UND MÉLISANDE. Eine Ausstattungsdokumentation 

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