Works by the Swiss artist Christoph Marthaler are always music theatre but rarely opera. He has invented his own individual form of theatrical score, populated by quirky and unusual figures whose unpredictable shared destinies we are invited to observe. Brilliant timing and singing elevates their bizarre existence into a different atmosphere, one of suspended beauty and lightness. The dramaturgy of every Christoph Marthaler production always contains an elegantly structured and timed programme of songs hidden inside it. And this underlying form of the song programme is where the director Christoph Marthaler began his international career.

Having grown up in Erlenbach on Lake Zürich, Christoph Marthaler studied music at the Zürich Conservatoire (specializing in the oboe) before attending the Lecoq School of Theatre in Paris. In the 1980s he began presenting works such as Blanc et Immobile on the Swiss independent theatre scene. At the same time he also made a name for himself as a composer and performer of theatre music, with a rare gift for getting actors to sing, preferably in small choruses. In the early 1990s when he directed Ankunft Badischer Bahnhof, Faust. Eine subjektive Tragödie and other pieces at Theater Basel, soon followed by Murx den Europäer at the Volksbühne in Berlin and Goethes Faust, Wurzel aus 1 + 2 and Stunde Null at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg – all his own creations that oscillated between music, theatre and choreography – he very soon became a star, attracting considerable international attention. Most of his works – for example Stunde Null or Horvath’s Kasimir und Karoline – were and are invited to tour around the world.

It was in Basel that he met the stage and costume designer Anna Viebrock, whose equally real and dreamlike rooms combined with retro clothing created a unique style of theatrical artifice for Christoph Marthaler’s work. The Marthaler/Viebrock world of observation, memory and hallucination, in which nothing can be taken for granted, is one where the most delightful nonsense can be inseparable from the most profound sadness.

When he directed his first opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, in Frankfurt in 1994, he began an important artistic collaboration with the conductor Sylvain Cambreling. This continued through several music theatre works together including Pierrot Lunaire, and also Quatuor pour la fin du temps and Katja Kabanova – both of which were invited to the Salz- burg Festival by Gerard Mortier – La Vie Parisienne at the Volksbühne in Berlin and Wozzek in Paris.

In 2000 Christoph Marthaler was appointed Artistic Director of the Züricher Schauspielhaus. During a time here that was characterized by many battles with the city’s politicians, wonderful artistic ideas and an exceptional acting company, among many productions he created Die schöne Müllerin, co-produced with Gerard Mortier’s first ever programme for the Ruhrtriennale. Frustrated by quarrels with the city council and administrative board, Christoph Marthaler left Zürich and returned to freelance work.

He produces music theatre projects in Paris, at the Berlin Volksbühne, Theater Basel, the Wiener Festwochen, the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg and the Hamburg Staatsoper.

In addition to many other awards, Christoph Marthaler has won the City of Zürich Art Prize, the Berlin Theatre Prize and the German Theatre Prize Der Faust for his production of Lulu in 2017. His overall oeuvre has been recognized with the award of the Golden Lion in Venice and in March this year the Ibsen Award 2018.

Since our association in Basel, Christoph Marthaler and I have collaborated closely on numerous productions over many years as well as running a theatre. Now we have agreed to work together for three years at the Ruhrtriennale. The music theatre creation Universe, incomplete will be produced at the Jahrhunderthalle in Bochum and Marthaler’s production from the Volksbühne Berlin Bekannte Gefühle, gemischte Gesichter can be seen at the Musiktheater im Revier in Gelsenkirchen.

Stefanie Carp
Artistic Director Ruhrtriennale 2018 2019 2020

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