In one of the past issues of the magazine, I was talking about the first of the bilingual albums – English and Romanian – published at the end of 2008 by the Romanian Cultural Institute, which follows, through photos, the steps Andrei Serban has taken in theatre and in opera.
My Journeys. The Opera recreates, from images, the path followed by one of the most famous and most controversial Romanian theatre directors, with a career just as impressive as in the opera world. He has set up plays on the most important stages in the world, he has created storms and he has induced both shock and delight. When I was called to put on my first opera, I thought it was like theatre, but instead of talking the characters sing their text. In time I realized it’s not quite the only difference. Andrei Serban opens his second photo album with this confession: I like to quote Kierkegaard who said that <through music one communicates with God, directly, no intermediaries>. Sometimes, when all elements are combined harmoniously, between the music from the orchestra pit and the theatre on the stage, I sense something is being communicated; I watch the viewers and I wonder <what do they receive?> If they have come to the opera after a day of hard work and they want to forget about everything, to run away from their problems, then music is the perfect escape. You relax, you dream of other worlds, you leave humming. But for those in search of something else, the story told through the voices can be one of the most direct ways to learn about human nature, to rediscover life.
Between the first image, from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin”, set up on National Opera’s stage in Cardiff, and the last ones, from Massenet’s “Manon” at Wiener Straatsoper, lies a disconcerted love story, as few directors have had the strength to live. A story of many worlds and of many characters, with ups and downs, with regrets and failures… Serban has challenged the fossilized environment of the opera by proposing unexpected scenic versions, in disagreement with an absurd imposed tradition, and he has often stirred up Homeric scandals; real vitamins for the theatre director who refuses to subject himself to the codes which limit his intervention and censor his creativity. From Traviata to Fidelio or Lucia di Lammermoor, Serban has confronted the hostility of a revolted audience who has changed in time, and its opinions too, thus, Lucia’s scandal ended by becoming its triumph. Between these two extremes, I’ve often heard the “one second” of silence, which an astonished public respects before manifesting its allegiance. The suspended silence at the end of Medea, on a night in Paris, or The Magic Flute in Nancy. With his public, Serban has learned all the sensations, each being quite necessary. What kills, though, is indifference, but it had never threatened his shows, writes in the preface of his first album George Banu, his former classmate at the Film and Theatre Institute in Bucharest.
The photographs – some in color, some in black and white – are more than testimonies about settings which today only exist in memories; they are, as I said, fragments of existence and confessions upon essential meetings. These fragments are accompanied by short comments of the author, who stops time once again, for himself, but also for the person leafing through the album. The word and the image together form the history of searches. While in a socialist Romania theatre was fighting the party’s ideology and all kinds of failures, sometimes Andrei Serban explored the impossible on the great stages of the world.
It’s the case of The Magic Flute in Paris, 1983. A decor inspired from old Persian miniatures combined ingeniously with authentic popular costumes from Oaş. The idea of the show: to be able to find the light you must acquaint yourself with darkness first, only then will you be ready for challenges.
Or the case of Fidelio which was set up at the Royal Opera House in London. The decor: a white box containing other black metal boxes, hanging in the air, representing the jail where the chorister prisoners lied. The gates opened in the last scene and the social comment became a religious mystery. When Blake’s angels descended through the bars, the metaphor became a cosmic one. (…) During the last minutes of the opera I was leaving a reality and entering another. Fidelio has been a great failure of which I am still proud.