Vision, not tunnel vision: Giovanni Netzer

Vision, not tunnel vision: Giovanni Netzer - Culture

He's a local man through and through – a true Savognin. Or not quite: Giovanni Netzer, the founder of the 'Origen' cultural project. For ten years now the theologian and winner of the Hans-Reinhart-Ring has been travelling in search of new artistic forms that combine dance, song and the spoken word. An interview in three acts.

Act 1: In the state room
Giovanni Netzer welcomes us to the Villa Carisch in Riom – the former grand residence of another local man who returned home to build this house and barn after making his fortune in 19th century Paris.

You're a theologian and creative artist who has worked for years 
in major theatre venues such as Munich – and now you're back.
Does anyone here care what you have to say?
Absolutely. Of course, people have been amazed by some of the daring ideas so far. But we enjoy broad support. The fact that everyone gets actively involved – myself included – is appreciated. And that's why many are happy to volunteer year after year.

What attracts you to the idea of rural theatre?
The fact that it is so direct and honest. We have a broad-based audience. We can instantly tell what works and what doesn't. For example, I often watch women from the village sitting together on a bench discussing which of the actors they liked best.

Act 2: Among the costumes
We stride through the barn, where costumes from past productions hang everywhere. Giovanni Netzer looks back over the works he has created.

What is the most treasured item in the wardrobe?
There isn't one. Costumes are created specially for each piece of work we stage. The common thread is our long-standing collaboration with Jakob Schlaepfer in St. Gallen, a textile design company. Its creative director, Martin Leuthold, produces textiles for us that don't yet exist elsewhere. So, our stage is his laboratory. For example, take this robe from Bach's Mass in B Minor, through which he has worked gold threads. Big names in the world of haute couture, such as Karl Lagerfeld, often end up using fabrics from such experiments.

You are known for unusual, eye-catching designs – where do you get the ideas for these special costumes?
The main thing is to have a clear image of both the role and the stage design as a whole. But ultimately, the whole effect depends on the actor who is playing the character.

And what were the craziest experiments in your career?
For the opera 'Mikael', for instance, we fashioned costumes out of butcher paper. The glass-fibre costumes for this opera also had a magical effect. The opera buffa 'Delila' was playfully classical with references to Picasso. We always push things to the limit.


Act 3: In the garden
Over espresso and cakes Giovanni Netzer unwinds and tells us why he prefers to stay here despite receiving offers from around the world.

Do you travel a lot?
Yes, but only on business. Otherwise, I prefer to stay here.

And where does your inspiration come from?
From my various encounters with people and artists – and naturally from my own head.

You don't look to Berlin or Paris?
Of course I do. But I remain sceptical. Berlin, for example, has its own particular zeitgeist. I much prefer Vienna and Hamburg. Ultimately, at least in our case, a piece of work – and thus something new – derives from the constellation of people involved.

And is Zurich not an option for you?
On the contrary. The theatre and art scene in Zurich has gone through major changes. Audiences there show us a lot of goodwill; one-third of them come from outside the city. We also have loyal sponsors such as the Elektrizitätswerke Zürich energy company and the city's Department of Culture.

And how do you relate to trains, to the Rhaetian Railway?
In two ways: first of all, I used to be a great fan of model railways. And secondly, I could watch trains coming and going for hours on end. But only in Tiefencastel, as we don't have a station here in Savognin – sadly. Another accident of fate.

And finally: where will the journey of 'Origen' take you?
You know, we really don't plan ten years ahead. Our decisions are more short-term, with a horizon of two or three years. The most important issue in the immediate future is that – thanks to the barn – we can soon start operating all year round. And we are naturally all dreaming of the major new construction project by star architect Peter Zumthor ...

'Origen' on the road: an elephantine journey

'Origen' on the road: an elephantine journey

Abul-Abbas was an elephant. Not just any old elephant, but a gift from the Caliph, Harun al-Rashid, to the Emperor Charlemagne. To mark the RhB's anniversary, Giovanni Netzer and his 'Origen' ensemble will tell the tale of the pachyderm's onerous journey from Baghdad to Aachen – long before the Alpine railway existed.