Children’s opera “iwein lowenritter” in bonn : medieval action in the zoo

In the children’s opera "Iwein Lowenritter" by Moritz Eggert and Andrea Heuser almost everything is right. The premiere at the Bonn Opera House is visually stunning.

A colorful magic forest stage with two knights and a woman costumed as a heart

Enchanted Forest: Jakob Kunath (Gawein), Sarah-Lena Winterberg (Laudine’s Heart), Anton Kuzenok (Iwein) Photo: Thilo Beu

This opera is a true hero’s journey – literally. At the beginning there is a boring visit to the zoo for the brothers Leon and Gereon. They sit on a bench in T-shirts, sneakers and upturned caps and are more interested in their cell phones than in the animals. But suddenly the lion behind them begins to speak, his cage opens and the two are drawn into a magical world.

The stage of the Bonn Opera is transformed into an enchanted forest, the opera choir into deer, foxes, ibexes, bears and goats, and the two brothers into the knights Iwein and Gawein, complete with chain mail and swords (stage: Thomas Stingl; costumes: Sven Bindseil). Because everything is now suddenly exciting, Anton Kuzenok, as the brash Iwein, seeks adventure.

It quickly becomes complex: he encounters a wild man in the forest who speaks only backwards and does not understand what adventures are. The fact that language can also be a barrier and that words do not mean the same thing for everyone, runs through the whole family opera. The birds in the forest sing in old German, for example, which is sure to be a hurdle for some in the audience.

Daringly striding through the forest

A good eight hundred years ago, the medieval poet Hartmann von Aue wrote "Iwein". This work was the model for the novel "Iwein Lowenritter" by Georg Buchner Prize winner Felicitas Hoppe and the opera of the same name in two acts, now premiered in Bonn. The music by Moritz Eggert is often accompanying, sometimes contrasting. When Iwein boldly strides through the forest, timpani and radiant brass sound; when he fights a castle lord a little later, the timpani become threatening, the brass somber.

Iwein murders the lord of the castle and, surrounded by bright major and spring-like string sounds, falls in love with the princess-like lady of the castle Laudine. Why Laudine (Lada BoCkova), despite honest grief for her husband, falls in love with his murderer remains a mystery until the end of the opera.

The hearts of the two find each other not only metaphorically, but also physically – through the performance of two sopranos with heart bodies, angel wings and flower decorations. They carry a tambourine with them, which they beat in different rhythms to match their bell-bright "Poch, poch". Iwein and Laudine exchange hearts in a love-struck duet with plush garlands of woodwinds and fluffy string carpeting.

Waiting and weeping

Because happiness never lasts long in an adventure story, Gawein now makes an appearance. He persuades his brother to go to war with him, so that he can gain fame and honor there. Following the middle-age narrative, Laudine stays behind, waiting and crying, and despite not understanding his departure, gives Iwein a ring as a farewell gift, with which he wins every tournament. However, he must return in a year, that is their condition. But Iwein and Gawein forget each other in the frenzy of violence and the time limit expires.

Between the individual scenes, in the first act a lion, in the second act the court lady Lunete summarizes the action with spoken text, which gives the action even more tempo. The mezzo-soprano Katharina von Bulow plays with sadistic joy Lunete, who curses Iwein for not behaving according to the rules of the game.

Dressed in checkerboard, she takes away Iwein’s honor, name and origin and banishes him to the forest with the wild man amid roaring and clamor. Iwein can prove himself again and defeats a dragon, a giant and a knight with two faces.

String cascades and groovy rhythms

But without Eggert’s music, all this would be only half as entertaining. Leitmotifs reveal characters even before they enter the stage, string cascades and groovy rhythms adorn adventure after adventure. In Iwan’s last duel the music is even ahead of the action: While Iwein is deceived by the supposedly good face of the double knight, the wry wind commentaries already betray his true intention.

The Beethoven Orchestra Bonn under the direction of Daniel Johannes Mayr whirrs, purring, raging and rumbling out of the pit, that one has his true joy. Aaron Stiehl’s production takes the drama out of the action-packed events by incorporating humor: Time and again, gestures are made precisely to the music – an effect familiar from film music. In addition, all figures move as in a two-dimensional world. They never turn their profile to the audience, which sometimes leads to funny step types.

As cut and pasted

This look is undoubtedly reminiscent of the illustrations in the novel, and is reinforced by the costumes, which look as if they have been cut and pasted on. Andrea Heuser manages irony in the libretto when she sings, "Sometimes it’s hard to understand the text in an opera."The libretto asks important questions about friendship, love and self-realization, but they are woven in so subtly that they don’t have enough time to ferment in the dense action.

An opera in which almost everything is right: it does not shy away from complexity and convinces with strong inter-pretations and a visually and musically harmonious production. Unfortunately, however, it is an affirmation of stereotypical gender roles, narratives and hero’s journeys.

At the end, never-ending applause and bravos roar through the packed Bonn Opera House.

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