Director and installation artist Aliénor Dauchez on “Votre Faust” and the many challenges of bringing a notoriously unperformable interactive opera to the Berlin stage.
The title says it all: Your Faust. In this version of the classic, the audience determines the main female protagonist, how the musicians play certain sections, and even in which language the singers sing. The work, by Belgian composer Henri Pousseur and French Nouveau Roman novelist Michel Butor, reflects the opera genre, playing with biographical self-reflections as well as quotes from literature and music.
Since its premiere in 1969, Votre Faust has never been performed in its entirety. It took the collaboration of Theater Basel’s Georges Delnon, the young Dauchez and new music ensemble director Gerhardt Müller-Goldboom to finally bring the gigantic score to the Berlin stage – with a couple of updates…
How exactly does the audience get to influence the flow of the piece? Is it like a choose-your-own-adventure novel?
It’s a bit more complex. First there’s the democratic election where they choose between two women, but they can also decide in the third part to change the movement of the story. And if three people make enough noise, they get what they want. So it’s a bit of a commentary on democracy. When someone forms a good lobby they can get exactly the contrary result from the majority.
How do you understand Pousseur’s commentary as a composer at that time?
After World War II, many composers were thinking about taking all the emotion away from music because it was too dangerous. In the 1960s they were also working with aleatoric elements. But Pousseur decided to give the choice to the public, which is a quite different way of working against dictatorship.
The audience also has the opportunity to move among the performers. How exactly does the installation aspect work?
The orchestra is divided into four groups and every group was part of a street fair in the original score. So we decided to make it a fair from the beginning to the end. One of the points of this story is to question the relationship between art and amusement. For example, some of the market stands are for artists who are paid to amuse the public, but they also want to show their art.
This is the first time the work will be performed in its entirety. Why did they fail before?
They tried three times in total. At the world premiere in Milan the director and his actors didn’t manage to play something that is variable. It’s difficult for the actors: if the audience decides one thing, they have to change their psychology.
Did you make any changes to the work to update it?
There are a lot of little themes I put into the piece that take on current moral questions. In the 1960s, it was very much art about art, and I asked these artists to participate because they question subjects that are more relevant to society today, like the consumer food industry. I’ve tried to arrange it so that the audience has many other decisions to make during the evening besides the decision about the story.
What is this work’s relevance for today?
I think the relationship between the actors and public is timeless: the public wants to see something and the actor wants to give them something. Normally the actor decides what he gives, but in this case it’s the public that makes the decision. The 1960s began the time when art was for the masses. Now we are in the middle of an era of mass culture. It’s interesting to look at this work 50 years later and see what’s happened.
Votre Faust March 30-31, April 1, 19:00 | Radialsystem V, Holzmarkstr. 33, Friedrichschain, S-Bhf Ostbahnhof