One of the jewels in “Charm City’s” crown is the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra or BSO. As part of this Season’s productions the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will be performing Hindemith’s “Sancta Susanna” in a semi-staged production directed by Kateryna Sokolova. The program will include Hindemith’s’ “Sancta Susanna.” Also, on the program is Wagner’s “Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde” and Brahms’ “Symphony No. 4.”
The performance will take place at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore on Thursday, October 17 at 8 pm and The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda on Sunday, October 20 at 3 pm. Performers include Music Director Marin Alsop; Aušrinė Stundytė, soprano; Renée Morloc, contralto; Sonya Alexandra Knussen, contralto; Women’s Voices of Peabody Opera; and Kateryna Sokolova, director.
The BSO’s synopsis the production is as follows:
In 1921, the 25-year-old Paul Hindemith wrote a one-act opera “Sancta Susanna” (“Saint Susanna”) that rocked the world of German music in its graphic depiction of repressed sexuality in a nunnery run amok. Hindemith’s chosen conductor for the premiere, Fritz Busch, refused to lead it on the grounds it was sacrilegious, and the premiere was therefore delayed to March 1922 at the Frankfurt Opera. The Institute of the Catholic League of Women protested it, and by 1934, Hindemith himself banned all future performances, because he was tired of dealing with the controversy…
The libretto for “Sancta Susanna” was based on a play of the same title by August Stramm, an Expressionist poet who had been killed in World War I. It is set in a cloistered nunnery on a sultry, sensuous, wind-filled May evening. The old Sister Clementia finds the young nun Susanna bowed in prayer before the high altar. The nuns call her “Sancta Susanna” because she is prone to visions….
Since the characters sing mostly fragmented, enigmatic phrases—except for Clementia’s narrative—the orchestra carries the dominant role, describing their emotions and relentlessly building the drama to its climax.
I had a chance to interview the director of “Sancta Susanna,” Kateryna Sokolova.
Bio: Having graduated in 2012 from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama with a master’s degree, Kateryna Sokolova went on to work in theatres such as Deutsche Oper Berlin, Theater an der Wien, De Nationale Opera in Amsterdam and Schauspielhaus Zürich. During this time, she was assistant to directors such as Christof Loy, Alvis Hermanis, Barbara Frey, René Pollesch, Stefan Pucher, Hans Neuenfels and Kasper Holten.
In 2014 she staged “A Hero of Our Time” after a novel by Michal Lermontov – her first work at the Schauspielhaus Zürich. 2016 and 2017 she staged Verdi’s “Macbeth” and Mozart’s “Entführung Aus DemSerial” at the Staatstheater Oldenburg.
Future projects include ‘Sancta Susanna’ at the Konzerthaus Wien and ‘Genia’ at the Kammeroper Wien.
Kateryna Sokolova is a member of the European Academy of Music Theatre. She is furthermore winner of the German federal competition Jugend musiziert Hesse (Category Piano) in 2004, 2006 and a fellow of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation.
- Can you tell us a little more about yourself?
I was born in Ukraine, raised in Germany and educated in London. Currently, I live and work in Vienna. Having worked in drama and opera, I, above all, appreciate opera’s potential to communicate with the audience in the most immediate way as music can speak to us even more directly than words. Because music doesn’t lie. It’s the most honest mode of communication we have invented. It is more immediate and truthful than words can ever be.
- What do you find is the greatest difference between the present day European stage and American stage or how are they the same?
This is my first time working in the USA. So far, the collaboration with the BSO orchestra has been a great pleasure, and I’m looking very forward to present our work to the American audience.
- How does directing an opera, musical, or semi-staged production differ?
The differences are mainly technical. There is much less time to direct a semi-staged production, and one is working with a very reduced arsenal of stage design, lighting, costume and props. A semi-staged opera’s focus is therefore entirely on the performance of the singers as there are almost no means of stage illusion one would usually employ in a regular theatre production. Regardless of the differences, the objective for the director remains the same – to make the emotional paths of the characters readable to the audience in the most clear and captivating way as possible.
- What do you think audiences will enjoy the most about “Sancta Susanna?”
The pure force and expressivity of the music and, hopefully and above all, however, the honesty and humanity with which Hindemith is tackling the delicate subject of the opera.
- Do you have any future projects and if not is there anything you would love to direct?
My next project is a world premiere of an opera composed in honor of Ludwig van Beethoven, which I will open at the Kammeroper in Vienna this coming March.
The BSO only produces one semi-staged production a season. So, “Sancta Susanna” is a very special event and a treat for BSO audiences.
Thanks to Rosie Constantine for her help with this article.