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CULTURE

Moses, Aaron and an enormous bull

Over-the-top production of Arnold Schönberg’s 1932 opera comes to Madrid after Paris controversy

A scene from 'Moses and Aaron' as performed at the Bastille in Paris last year.
A scene from 'Moses and Aaron' as performed at the Bastille in Paris last year.

A 1.5-ton animal that has already performed at the Bastille in Paris will soon grace Madrid’s opera house as part of a performance of Arnold Schönberg’s 1932 Moses and Aaron.

This will be the first time that the Austrian composer’s incomplete opera – only two of the three acts were finished – has been performed at the Teatro Real.

It will also be the first time that an animal has played such a prominent role at an event held at this venue.

Opera fans are sure to react angrily at a production featuring explicit nudity, paraplegic extras and episodes of philosophical impenetrability

The bull’s owner, Jean-Phillipe Varin, reportedly earns around €5,000 for each show, in which his prize animal plays the role of the Golden Calf. That is how much he made in Paris – and Varin also charges for rehearsals and all the work that will go into feeding, entertaining and walking Easy Rider for nearly two months, from May 24 to June 17.

The beast, named after the 1969 road movie by Dennis Hopper, is a powerful specimen of the Charolais breed that opera director Romeo Castellucci considered an indispensable presence in this particular production.

The show opened in Paris on October 17 with all the outer signs of a major cultural event, although it was not exempt from controversy as well. Some of the human stars complained about the competition: dancer Josua Hoffalt noted that Easy Rider earns in a single day as much as he makes in a month.

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And it’s not like Easy Rider has an exhausting role to play. His stage presence as a pagan idol lasts no more than 15 minutes. Even so, Bastille technicians felt compelled to reinforce the central portion of the stage for fear that it might cave in from the beast’s sheer weight.

Such is the track record of a performance that takes opera-circus to the next level: besides the 1.5-ton bull, Castellucci’s production involves 400 professionals, including 110 musicians, 80 choir singers, 40 dancers, 20 extras, six mountain climbers and three divers. Why climbers and divers, one may ask? The former act out the allegory of the ascent to Mount Sinai, while the latter operate invisibly inside a pool simulating a mirage in a desert oasis.

All of which explains the additional efforts being required of Teatro Real technicians to ensure the feasibility of Castelluci’s production.

Protests likely

And if the Paris production is any indication, it is likely that animal rights groups in Madrid will move against the show.

Several French groups collected 30,000 signatures and dropped them on the desk of Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin, demanding that the animal be removed from the show because it was clearly being abused. And they were not talking about the stress of enduring two hours of a twelve-tone composition. Rather, they suspected that Easy Rider was drugged – certainly, he would not be the first star in this situation – and that it was demeaning to subject the mammal to such a spectacle.

The minister did not issue an opinion on the matter, but the controversy is sure to travel from Paris to Madrid, and not just because of the hypersensitivity of animal rights groups. Opera fans here are sure to react angrily at a production featuring explicit nudity, paraplegic extras and episodes of philosophical impenetrability.

But just the fact of putting on the production will end the curse that has prevented Moses and Aaron from being staged at Teatro Real on several occasions. The most that was ever achieved until now was a concert version in 2012 by the SRW Symphony Orchestra of Baden-Baden.

English version by Susana Urra.

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