BACKSTAGE VIENNA STATE OPERA

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by Stephanus Domanig

grade: 7.5

Backstage Vienna State Opera immediately stands out as an honest, sincere and very moving portrait of one of the most famous realities in Austria (and beyond). An enthralling and magnetic documentary that in just over an hour and a half takes us by the hand into an almost ‘unreal’ world.

Before the premiere

Vienna State Opera. The premiere of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah – conducted by Maestro Marco Armiliato – has just taken place and, in the theatre, everyone is celebrating. A circular pan shot first shows us the crowd intent on toasting and chatting, then, suddenly, the hall magically empty. As if nothing had happened. Yet, in fact, the preparations for the aforementioned premiere were, as usual, much more laborious and tiring – albeit extremely exciting – than it might seem. And it is precisely all these hectic preparations, then, that are shown to us by director Stephanus Domanig in his documentary Backstage Vienna State Opera, made in 2019.

The famous Vienna Opera House is shown to us in all its magnificence. At the entrance some people are intent on carrying a heavy load. Something important and extraordinary is about to happen. A new opera is about to be staged and, to this end, numerous people are called to perform their tasks. The director gives instructions and is ready for any unforeseen event, the set designer builds a small model of the stage, singers and musicians rehearse constantly. This is the daily routine inside the Opera House.

Backstage Vienna State Opera, therefore, shows us every single moment of the day of those tasked with staging such an important event. Stephanus Domanig’s camera silently and obsequiously observes each of the protagonists, who only occasionally turn to the director and tell him about their work. The main goal is to make the viewer himself feel part of the world that many appreciate, but few really know.

The documentary, therefore, is characterised by a rather classical approach and structure. Stephanus Domanig, just as in his other important works, does not want to ‘make a difference’ at all costs, and it is precisely by opting for a linear mise-en-scene devoid of redundant virtuosity that he really makes a difference. His Backstage Vienna State Opera immediately stands out as an honest, sincere and very moving portrait of one of the most famous opera houses in Austria (and beyond). An enthralling and magnetic documentary that takes us by the hand into an almost ‘unreal’ world in just over an hour and a half.

Lights, colours, colourful costumes and – above all – the immortal music of Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi and Pietro Mascagni make this important documentary by Domanig even more precious, almost the crowning touch to his work, which has always been particularly attentive to music and, specifically, to opera. And so Backstage Vienna State Opera turns out to be a milestone in a long journey that has witnessed the birth of moving documentaries such as For my Sisters (2014) and Walter Arlen’s first Century (2018), a journey that embraces music and cinema and that, from the encounter between the two arts, creates a perfect and surprising harmony.

Original title: Backstage Wiener Staatsoper
Directed by: Stephanus Domanig
Country/year: Austria / 2019
Running time: 96’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Stephanus Domanig, Martina Theininger
Cinematography: Eva Testor, Judith Benedikt
Produced by: Prisma Film- und Fernsehproduktion

Info: the page of Backstage Vienna State Opera on iMDb; the page of Backstage Vienna State Opera on the website of the Austrian Film Commission