A long journey with ‘Faust’

In a series of performances running until Friday, Peter Stein is on stage in Athens in what he describes as a «concerto with a narrative.» Based on Goethe’s «Faust,» the performance at the Ilissia Denisi Theater is being held within the context of a series of impressive international appearances organized by the Attica Cultural Society for the Greek capital. «The idea [of the performance] belongs to composer Arturo Annecchino. He asked me to read the text around which he would incorporate his music, knowing that I was very familiar with ‘Faust,’» said the formidable German director/actor in an interview just before coming to Athens. «The role of the pianist, Giovanni Vitaletti, is also extremely important; I would say it is 70 percent of the performance,» said Stein, explaining that this is not a project for which he can take all the credit. «I have to be in time with the music and the tempo; I am nothing more than an interpreter,» he said. Stein’s impressive resume as a director of landmark theater and opera productions has more than proven that this artist is not one to try his hand at something without the result being of high quality. Moreover, the fact that he has staged both parts of «Faust» – in a production that lasted over 20 hours and starred Bruno Ganz – makes this recent endeavor all the more interesting. Stein himself is no stranger to the stage, despite being known for working from behind the scenes. And he has become something of a frequent visitor to Greece since staging Heinrich von Kleist’s «Penthesilea» at Epidaurus in 2002 and Euripides’ «Medea» last summer. His visits to Greece have won him not only an audience, but, he says, quite a few good friends. He admits to feeling a growing distance from his own country. «Almost nobody knows me anymore in Germany. So I am very happy in other countries, such as Greece, Britain and Russia. People expect something from me and are interested in my work.» Why did he decide to tackle «Faust» again? «For a German, Goethe is the writer who used the language in the best possible way,» he said. «Language is the cornerstone of the national cultural identity. He is important to Germans not just as a writer, but as also as an historical, political and cultural figure. And ‘Faust’ is a myth. Children are taught it at a very young age because it is the paradigm of the German language,» explained Stein. «When I was at school and they presented us with the first part of ‘Faust,’ I complained that we weren’t given the second part. ‘It’s too hard for you,’ they told me. But I was insistent and began reading it. I haven’t stopped since… It is the struggle of a lifetime. It is an extremely difficult text and very long. I can go on for hours explaining my approach to ‘Faust.’ In my 50s, I was able to see the second part as a piece for theater and made an attempt to stage it in 2000.» Stein has worked with Annecchino for over 15 years. The composer has written the scores for numerous productions, including «Titus Andronicus,» «Penthesilea,» «The Seagull,» «Blackbird» and the 21-hour production of «Faust» presented in Hanover in 2000. «The score for this production gave birth to ‘Faust – Fantasia,’ a concerto for piano and narrative written for two great interpreters, Stein and Vitaletti,» noted Annecchino. Timelessness Stein stresses that «Faust» is also a timeless play that still resonates in contemporary society. «You can see how modern and important is the legacy that Goethe left,» said the 69-year-old director/actor. «Faust, in a quest to gain as much experience as possible, asks Mephistopheles to to make him young. He begins to age again over the course of the play. He grows old and dies. So, youth has not helped him at all. The desire for eternal youth in the play is nothing but an illusion. Death is part of life and we are all doomed to die. A society that doesn’t accept old age is a sick one,» said Stein. When it comes to love, he added «even if it lasts 50 years, death will come and everything will be over! Every great love affair contains its demise.» At the Ilissia Denisi Theater, 4 Papadiamantopoulou. Reservations can be made at tel 210.723.4567.