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Reviewed by:
  • LOST (1.5 m) by Cordula Däuper and Johannes Müller
  • Olivia Maria Schaaf
LOST (1.5 m). By Cordula Däuper and Johannes Müller. Directed by Cordula Däuper. Neuköllner Oper, Berlin. October 22, 2020.

In times of a crisis, a bourgeoise struggle with radical change and its necessity exposes inequalities in distribution of finite resources and the social construction of the Establishment. With the very concept of finality in musical form, German composer Franz Schubert’s final song cycle Schwanengesang (1828) provided the musical foundation of LOST (1.5 m) at the Neuköllner Oper in Berlin. The small theatre in Berlin’s Neukölln district stages original music theatre performance and has become home to some of Germany’s most original and exciting productions of opera, operetta, musical theatre, and everything in-between since opening its doors on Karl-Marx-Straße in 1988. As for all Berlin performance venues, 2020 was a year of uncertainty, restrictions, and compromise for the Neuköllner Oper, with its season shortened to just three months due to COVID-19. As one of two productions realized during this short period of live performances from August through October of 2020, LOST (1.5 m) directly [End Page 573] responded to the feelings of stagnation and anxiety weighing on a collective performing arts community and tackled the ultimate fear: never performing again.

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Fernanda Farah with gas mask in LOST (1.5 m).

At its premiere on October 22, 2020, the dark and dystopian stage (design by Sylvia Rieger) awakened with Schubert’s interpretation of Ludwig Rellstab’s poem Ständchen from Schwanengesang. In a distorted arrangement by Tobias Schwenke for the band of five instrumentalists, the song’s eerie intro and first phrase promised an evening rich with feelings of desperation: “Leise flehen meine Lieder / Durch die Nacht zu dir” [My songs plead softly / through the night to you]. The singer and piano accompaniment initiated the play in sotto voce, mirrored by a creeping and slow transition from pitch-black darkness to dim, sickly light. The elevated stage showed a wasteland of black foam mulch. Three elegant women sat on small cubes, listening to Schubert’s song. The singer, in an extravagant black-tie concert event ballgown, continuously interrupted herself and started over. The other women—her audience— half-heartedly skimmed their programs, looking around, attempting applause. They acted with palpable discomfort; relief restricted by peer pressure: no one could leave, and no one wanted to be the person who wants to leave. The loop of attempted singing emptied into the exasperated screech of one woman in the “audience”: the seal of pretense and etiquette was broken. More and more frantically the women started looking around, standing up, sitting back down, trying to connect by getting each other’s attention, but awkwardly failing. Inside the world of the play, the 1.5-meter social distancing required of performers functioned as a tool for complete emotional isolation. The women onstage could not touch. Whenever they tried and failed, their lack of physical contact transformed into a complete inability to communicate. Two women began taking turns in chasing each other across stage, tumbling over in the uneven mulch. They did not speak to each other, and they ignored each other’s pain.

LOST (1.5 m) commented on the Coronavirus pandemic most directly through its title, and not so much in its content. Instead, the crisis more directly addressed by Cordula Däuper and Johannes Müller’s concept and adapted libretto was the sluggish response to climate change in a world where the ruling class is superbly distracted by their own comfort. The increasing disarray and chaos onstage clashed recalcitrantly with the characters’ need to maintain their version of normalcy, and their own decay into insanity creeped onto their unaware attempts. As the women tried enjoying a beach vacation in the mulch after being sprayed down by an ominous figure in a hazmat suit, buckets of trash fell down onto them from above. Except for mild discontent, the heaps of plastic bags, bottles, and crumpled soda cans did not greatly seem to...


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pp. 573-575
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