Keeping your distance! Is the stage devise since Corona. However, the requirement is not new; in Verdi’s day, even lovers on stage expressed their feelings at a distance – and there were certainly no kisses. Chief dramaturge Jorg Konigsdorf about distance
It was quite a feat that Giuseppe Verdi put the audience through in his last opera: In FALSTAFF, he presented a young couple who not only exchanged hot vows of love, but according to the stage directions were also supposed to kiss each other – and extensively – on the open stage. And what’s more, as Anselm Gerhard has demonstrated (in "Meisterwerke – neu gehort", Barenreiter), Verdi and his librettist even anchored the sound of a kiss in the score in such a way that no performance of the piece could cheat its way around it. A real upset, which at the premiere in 1893 at La Scala in Milan was probably only drowned out by respect for the composer, who was already 80 years old at the time. The opera of the 19. According to Gerhard, the nineteenth century was very prudish in this respect – there was constant talk of love, but mostly at a distance. Whether in Verdi’s TRAVIATA or the young lovers in Mozart’s COSI FAN TUTTE: To make the highest of feelings visible, the composers only allow hand-kissing. Even Tristan and Isolde, who in their great duet in the second act work themselves up into a barely veiled erotic ecstasy, are denied a kiss by Wagner – when real kisses are demanded on the opera stage, they are usually either curt gestures of friendship or encroaching acts that are characterized as not particularly morally strict.
The unspoken ban on kissing is, of course, not only evidence of the double standards of the 19th century. This is not just a reminder of the late nineteenth century (in which prostitution flourished), but a late indication that a sense of propriety was for a long time primarily a sense of distance: it is inconceivable that lovers in the opera seria of the Baroque period would have been allowed more physical contact than a touch of the fingertips. For no matter what was done in the wings, on stage the performers had to respect the manners of their time – all the more so because they were usually embodying kings, princesses or other dignitaries. People, in other words, to whom distance was owed as a sign of respect and whose interactions with each other were regulated by rules of distance. Incidentally, this respect was also observed in dancing, the central contact medium of the time: It took until the eve of the French Revolution for a dancer to even embrace his partner’s waist without causing offense. After the revolution had shaken up social conditions, people took distance less and less seriously, but opera, which had to represent the prevailing morals, continued to have difficulty with the new desire for touching. Strict demands were made on protagonists by censors and audiences (as can be seen by the fact that daring pieces like LA TRAVIATA and CARMEN were initially met with irritation).
In 1893, however, it was time for a change, and the fact that old master Verdi, of all people, put a kissing pair of lovers on stage in his FALSTAFF shows what a feeling he had for the impending social changes. After all, it is these two young people, Nannetta and her lover Fenton, to whom the future belongs. And this future was not long in coming: just three years later, in 1896, the first film kiss in history occurred amidst press hype in the short film "The Widow Jones", and from then on an expectation was to be shaped that would make the kiss in front of everyone’s eyes an indispensable part of every love story. From then on, there was no more talk of distance, nor of the fact that feelings can sometimes be all the more intense when they can only express themselves through song. The fixation on the physical, which has long since gone far beyond kissing, became a guiding theme of art that even opera could not escape – even though great directors such as Peter Brook, Ruth Berghaus and Robert Wilson have always used the space between the characters on stage as a means of expression. And now? Don’t we notice every day how we perceive the spatial distance between each other completely differently today than we did a year ago?? That our view has sharpened to the fact that distance is not an empty space, but can be filled with longing, hatred or tension? Maybe this way even a kiss on the open stage becomes something very special again. –
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