From the Feuilletons


Die Welt, 02.05.2005

Mariam Lau comments on the upcoming celebrations marking the end of World War II in Moscow. "Many people in Poland, the Baltic or Ukraine live in the bitter conviction that in the final analysis, they are the ones who really paid for the war. A victory celebration in Moscow more or less forces them to applaud their own humiliation in front of the whole world. Was that really necessary? One wonders if there is more to the European decision to celebrate May 9 in Russia than recognising the 20 million Soviet dead that the war left behind. Even in the Normandy celebrations, Chancellor Schröder could not bring himself to praise the achievements of the American forces in their victory over the Germans."

Die Welt features an interview with Salman Rushdie originally published in the New Perspectives Quarterly: "I am really scared of the power of religion now. I'm scared of it not for myself; I'm scared of it because I think it's bad for society. In my view, religion is not really able to respond to the modern world."

The Cherry Orchard

... is in bloom. A broad swath of reactions to Andrea Breth's staging of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard", which premiered this weekend at the Burg Theater in Vienna. Breth, who has been in house at the Austrian Burg since 1999, is considered one of Germany's most important directors of the day.

Joachim Kaiser, writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, feels that Breth totally missed the mark: "So soberingly artificial, so compulsively jaunty, unpoetic and empty. At the end of the polite applause, no boos." Too little feeling, too little creative contextualisation: the evening left Kaiser absolutely cold. "One tried to get used to the fast movements, the mega-ness of the stage - made necessary by all the running around – which denied the possibility of any private moments. More irritating (to me) was the horribly 'put on' limb-swaying, arm-throwing over-liveliness of Andrea Clausen in her wonderfully elegant Parisian costumes." Peter Michalzik is optimistic to begin with, sensing a "big, ground-breaking staging", but by the end concedes that the play has "failed gloriously". He writes in the Frankfurter Rundschau, "Andrea Breth brought the most important aspect of this play out of kilt: its floating defiance of genres." She tries to infuse too much meaning, too much clarity into this "most flighty of all plays". Michalzik's offers some cold comfort: "In the last twenty years, there have only been two stagings – by Peter Zadek and Ernst Wendt - that captured the sense of a heart shattering."

At the opposite end of the spectrum are veteran critic Gerhard Stadelmaier of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, for whom a "contemptuous and ingenious spirit of happy hopelessness" prevails, and Barbara Villiger Heilig in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, who is absolutely enthused. She writes, "The spectacular happens in the unspectacular. Out of countless details which reproduce the precise reality of life, an atmospheric aura is created whose substance is almost tangible. Every character has his or her own place and function. This is made possible by the ensemble members: an ideal cast." (See it in action here)

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 30.04.2005

In a dossier on the anniversary of the end of World War II, author Sonja Margolina paints a dismal picture of today's Russia. She describes the "rather oppressive feeling" that comes over her with the Restalinisation of the country under Putin's regime. Volgograd wants to change it's name back to Stalingrad, she writes, and cites the results of one survey: "When asked in 1996 which event in Russian history they were most proud of, 44 percent of respondents said the victory in the Second World War. In 2003, this number had gone up to 87 percent. And the more importance the war gained in people's minds, the more Stalin's authority as leader and supreme commander grew. Between 1998 and 2003, the number of people who judged Stalin favourably trippled, from 19 to 53 percent."

Süddeutsche Zeitung, 30.04.2005

Thirty years after the end of the Vietnam War, the Berlin-based Vietnamese author Pham Thi Hoai has doubts about the current situation in her country. "Thirty years after the war, the country has still not officially recognised the bitter exodus of almost one million South Vietnamese. It is as if these people were not Vietnamese at all, as if they were excluded from the community of the united Vietnam. It is as if those in power believed that a new national sentiment could grow on its own, like a rice plant growing out of the deep graves of division and hatred. People keep repeating softly to themselves: The war wounds have begun to heal, so let's not keep raking up the old muck. In fact the war did not leave wounds, but a tumour, and time will not heal it. On the contrary. National division was a major cause of the war. Should this division still continue thirty years after the war's end? How is it that Vietnamese and Americans can shake hands with each other today, while there are still Vietnamese who refuse to shake hands with their own countrymen?"

Berliner Zeitung, 30.04.2005

Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt recently asked the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to play Bruckner's Fifth Symphony with more "Upper Austrian melancholy". He explains in a long interview why the music is permeated with country landscapes. "I don't stop thinking about that. For example when I hear how a Brit or a Northern German conducts, I often get quite annoyed. Because they are simply doing everything wrong, although in fact it all happens on the level of nuances. Bruckner has a strong relationship to country folklore. And that is completely different from the city folklore of Schubert or Johann Strauss, for example. If you look at the rhythm in the slow movement of Bruckner's Fifth, you'll see it's country people's music. If you play everything exactly and meticulously, it's just wrong. This music simply has to take place, you have to let it happen. It's important to convey this to an orchestra that isn't familiar with this folklore. You have to convey the necessity of communicating from one mountain pasture to the next through the air, either with a fire or with songs. You have to convey that the steps you take in the mountains are different when you walk uphill pulling a load behind you – all these country things play a big role in music. There are also dances and yodellers in music, even as early as Mozart." - let's talk european