A Classic Conspiracy in a Modern Packaging
Is there something the story of Venice Preserved wants to tell us? This question inevitably arises when you realize that the original version of this play dates back to the 17th century. The Austrian writer Hugo van Hofmannsthal translated and adapted Thomas Otway’s original version of Venice Preserved into the 1905 Das gerettete Venedig. To put it mildly, it is remarkable that the Max Reinhardt Seminar picked this classic.
In Venice, a group of friends is contemplating a conspiracy against the Senate, which according to them consists of corrupt and incompetent senators. Although their motives differ, thwarted careers and love affairs form the core of their frustrations. The main character is Jaffeir, an impoverished Venetian of royal descent, who has married in secret with Belvidera, the daughter of the proud senator Priulli. She has been disinherited because of this marriage. Priulli constantly belittles Jaffeir. Jaffeir’s friend Pierre persuades him to take part of the conspiracy. Pierre has his own motives: the corrupt and foolish senator Antonio is keeping up a paid affair with Pierre’s lover Aquilina. Jaffeir joins the band of conspiracists, but as a warrant, he has to entrust his wife Belvidera to the bloodthirsty leader of the pack Renault. After an attempted rape, Jaffeir reveals the plot to Belvidera, who wants Jaffeir to disclose the plan to the senators in exchange for the lives of his co-conspiracists. They succeed, yet the Senate breaks its promise and death sentences the conspiracists. At this point, director Philip Hauss and his actors take a different course than Hofmannsthal. The denouement is surprising and pleasantly discharging.
Hauss opted for a minimal furnishing of the stage. Apart from a great number of buckets in which water is dripping and two scaffolds, the podium is empty. The contrast between this modern-minimalistic setting and the classical manner of acting by the Viennese actors is large. Thanks to the actors’ classical submission to the story, they manage to give it its contemporary significance: Just as Hugo van Hofmannstahl over 100 years ago, we think that violence is not the solution.
Text: Hugo von Hofmannsthall. Director: Philipp Haus. Company: Max Reinhardt Seminar Vienna.
Seen: 20th June 2009 in Brakke Grond (Expo), Amsterdam. Length: 1,5 hours.