The stage looks a bit like in Mauricio Kagel’s “Exotica”: Colorful iridescent costumes, feather headdresses, masks, painted musical instruments, as in the scandalous piece from 1972, make one expect a song of praise to the power of indigenous cultures oppressed by the West, especially since a golden flashing Mayan god is leading the way through the audience.
But then Diana Syrse’s music theater “Mexico Aura: The Myth of Possession” strikes a completely different note. With texts by Eva Hibernia and John von Düffel, the play covers a wide arc from immigrant misery at the Mexican US border to Mayan rituals and resistance movements to the problem of stolen culture that we enjoy in museums.
Not all narrative threads are linked here in a coherent manner, but that is also one of the strengths of this production by the Neuköllner Oper. In associative diversity, new perspectives are constantly opening up, any one-sidedness is avoided. That can only do the Humboldt Forum, which is co-organising it, good, which is showing its very first music theater in its rooms, which urgently need to be revived. The museum as such is under scrutiny, robbing its exhibits of life.
Curator Mia (Diana Syrse) claims to save beauty from disappearing and oblivion – for Paloma (Ana Schwedhelm), activist and artist, in view of the disappearance of the burning earth, a presumptuous and helpless undertaking. A bleeding man with a dog’s head (Justus Wilcken) – god or dead – strays into the museum.
He thinks it is the underworld and is looking for his deceased wife “Aura” there. Without the mother, he fears, his children would become water, which the white man bottles and sells for two dollars apiece.
Magic and reason intersect in the songs of the three protagonists, who roam through different worlds of sound with powerful voices and sometimes touch the bel canto of classical opera with exhibited pathos.
Wilcken is also Claas Relotius, the ousted “Spiegel” author whose reports were exposed as fake. Singing about the enema used to inject mind-expanding substances and the garbage dumps of the Mexican drug mafia thus acquire a surreal-ironic component.
The “garbage scenes” impressively show the precision work of the culturally diverse ensemble. Rebekka Dornhege Reye’s costumes made from waste materials explore a spectrum between multicolored skin and camouflage suits. Crackling foils, metal parts and plastic hoses swaying through the air also represent the sea of dead rubbish teeming with life and can be used musically at the same time.
Director and choreographer Christopher Roman leads his five-person dancers, who also act in a chorus, through this “battle of materials” with a sovereign imagination and reveals individual profiles in fascinating, sensual group pictures. Here, Mexico unfolds its “aura” in glowing, stinking, smoking misery, in which resistance fighter Constanza (Schwedhelm) sacrifices herself like a fire goddess. Transformed into “Paloma”, Schwedhelm carries these fires and their spirit of resistance into the cool Humboldt Forum.
Syrse’s music is a seething, mumbling soundtrack. Drum excesses stand out and Syrse’s music is a sizzling, murmuring soundtrack – mixed with electronics, urban soundscapes as well as naturally rampant atmosphere. The magical ritual is inscribed in her.
At the same time, the music itself becomes the protagonist – with distinctive, almost arioso melody that never loses its expressiveness despite all its atonality. Melissa Panlasigui directs the ensemble Zafraan, which is classically equipped with piano, double bass, clarinet, violin and also integrates the Mexican “exotics”, with precise rigor. Mexico’s “aura” is interpreted here in a contemporary way, making its potential for conflict visible.