Operatic Oddity Thirty Naked Pensioners at Ground Zero

For Americans, the site of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York is hallowed ground. For a theater in Germany, though, its the perfect setting for a provocative production of Verdi's "A Masked Ball" -- one that includes naked retirees, Mickey Mouse masks and burning Uncle Sam hats.

Giuseppe Verdi, one might think, is hard to mess up. But a theater in the eastern German city of Erfurt seems to be doing its best. In a re-interpretation of the opera "A Masked Ball," which opens on Saturday, director Johann Kresnik has hit upon a dramatic novelty: His staging has naked pensioners wearing Mickey Mouse masks, wandering around the ruins of New York's World Trade Center.

In all, there are to be 30 aged nudists -- between 50 and 69 years old -- sharing the stage with a Ground Zero backdrop. In other scenes, actors wander the stage wearing US flags and burning Uncle Sam hats. Indeed, there is little subtlety in the message Kresnik intends to send.

"It will be a different, a provocative masked ball on the ruins of the World Trade Center," Kresnik told the German news agency DPA. "The naked stand for people without means, the victims of capitalism, the underclass, who don't have anything any more," he says. He also admits to wanting to call America's global position of leadership into question.

By the time Kresnik is finished with his radical remodelling of "A Masked Ball," little will be left of Verdi's story of love, jealousy and reconciliation. This production, assures Kresnik, whose Marxist background is well known, is intended to be dramatic political commentary.

"One has to introduce new elements," he says. Otherwise it is difficult to attract new theatergoers. "For many politicians in Germany, the USA is still the great dream." But still, his criticism -- as unfocused as it may seem -- is also directed at Germany. He wants to point out with his opera that child poverty and homelessness are also problems to be found closer to home.



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