The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a serial killer - featuring John Malkovich; Laura Aikin; Aleksandra Zamojska; Orchestra Weiner Akademie
'The Infernal Comedy' is a stage-play for a Baroque-Orchestra, two
Sopranos and one actor. It is based on the real-life story of Jack
Unterweger, a convicted murderer, acclaimed imprisoned poet, pardoned
and celebrated author and journalist, notorious womanizer,
and prime example of reintegration, who gradually was suspected of
killing a growing number of prostitutes in Vienna, Graz,
Prague and Los Angeles, later vanished from Vienna, fled into the
U.S, got arrested in Miami, transferred to Austria, accused and finally
committed suicide after being convicted of homicide in eleven cases.
'If you wear this name, women will love you or hate you - call you a liar or pervert - but they will never leave you alone.'
BONUS: inside THE INFERNAL COMEDY
The deceitful criminal history of Jack Unterweger, the prisoner convicted of killing a woman who subsequently became a
literary sensation and was considered to be a model of rehabilitation, is the true source and subject of the musical theatre
piece for Baroque orchestra, two sopranos and an actor. This role is perfectly impersonated by John Malkovich. Observations
at the rehearsals for this unusual and genre-leaping theatre evening are interwoven with historic background information.
"Fans of John Malkovich have a number of opportunities this year to bask in the actor's eccentricity with the releases of the movies "Jonah Hex" and "Secretariat." But for an undiluted, 100-proof shot of pure Malkovich, your best bet is the new DVD of his stage performance in "The Infernal Comedy," which is being released in June.
The pseudo-opera -- actually a drama for one actor, two opera singers and an orchestra -- was recorded at a 2009 performance at Vienna's Ronacher Theater with the Orchester Wiener Akademie. The production recounts the life of Jack Unterweger (Malkovich), the Austrian writer and serial killer who murdered a number of prostitutes in Europe and Los Angeles.
Unterweger was arrested in 1992 and jailed in Austria. He hanged himself in prison in 1994.
"The Infernal Comedy" imagines the killer coming back from the dead as part of a book tour to promote his latest memoirs. For much of the production, Malkovich is seated at a table where he recites a comic monologue about his character's life, loves and dangerous liaisons.
Throughout the show, Malkovich interacts with two opera singers who perform arias by Vivaldi, Mozart, Haydn and more. The singers represent the various women in the murderer's life, including his mother and some of the prostitutes he killed.
The production, which is scripted by Martin Sturminger, first debuted in 2008 in Santa Monica, where Malkovich performed with the baroque ensemble Musica Angelica, led by Martin Haselbock. Times critic Mark Swed wrote that the L.A. production (which was then titled "Seduction and Despair") "needs a real score and a genuine production. The skeleton of something meaningful is there, and I hope [they] take the next step."
In 2009, the creators indeed took the next step by taking a revised version of the show on a tour with stops in Austria, France and Spain. The show recently played in Hamburg, Germany, and is scheduled to play at London's Barbican Center in June 2011.
The idea for the show came in part from costume designer Birgit Hutter, who had previously worked with Malkovich on the movie "Klimt." Hutter, who is Austrian, said in a phone interview that she was in L.A. a few years ago when she read about a new biography on Unterweger, written by journalist John Leake. She mentioned the book to Malkovich and from there the concept for the production was born.
Sturminger, who is a noted European opera director, wrote the text for the show. "The whole project was developed and written for John to play it -- so it was his coolness/seductiveness that inspired the text," he said in an e-mail interview.
"Unterweger's character and story seemed to provide us with the perfect material to animate John`s incredible skills of embodying passion and irony -- even at the same time."
The DVD version, which comes in Region 0 formatting (it can be played on any DVD player), includes rehearsal footage and a history of Unterweger's crimes." -David Ng -- http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2010/05/john-malkovichs-serialkiller-opera-coming-to-dvd.html
John Malkovich doesn't sing a note in this "drama for one actor, two singers and orchestra." Let's get that out of the way up front. This is not a late attempt of his to show talents no one knew he had. What Malkovich does do in this new work, entitled The Infernal Comedy, is reaffirm that he is a cold-blooded killer of an actor -- not just because he plays the sociopath and convicted murderer Jack Unterweger (1950-1994), but because he depicts the Austrian serial killer with uncanny sincerity. The Infernal Comedy is something of a post-modern pastiche, or maybe even a semi-opera. It was written and directed by Michael Sturminger, based on the original concept by conductor Martin Haselböck and costume designer Birgit Hutter. It imagines Unterweger -- who after his imprisonment rose to fame for his literary talent and was let out on parole, only to kill again -- on a book tour touting his memoirs. Malkovich's Unterweger addresses the audience at Vienna's Ronacher Theater as if they were there for the signing, but things soon devolve when he is joined onstage by two sopranos who sing Baroque, Classical and Romantic arias. The women are not merely symbols or figments of his insanity but characters with whom Malkovich interacts. (He even strangles one as Unterweger reportedly did to several prostitutes.) In true post-modern fashion, Malkovich at one point reads out loud from Unterweger's Wikipedia page. These many incongruous parts really shouldn't work together, but somehow they do. The reason may lie more in the high quality of the artists' contributions than in the tenuous textual connection between Unterweger's murders and, say, the text of Beethoven's "Ah! Perfido" ("Where has there been such cruel tyranny?"). First, there is Malkovich's brilliance. He reaches a fever pitch, revealing dark corner after dark corner of Unterweger's solipsistic mind, with a deadpan delivery that is downright frightening. Malkovich sees the character as a man who left the world of societal rules a long time ago. The Austrian is almost bored with his desire to kill women. It is more of a compulsion. Women have a sway over him; he says early on that they "make him lose his mind." Malkovich is especially effective, even creepy, when he gropes and assaults sopranos Laura Aikin and Aleksandra Zamoj ska. It's rather a shock to witness, for anyone who has spent years watching singers onstage, where unspoken rules govern what can and cannot happen to them. The realism that Malkovich injects into the play is dead-on, even if his Austrian accent is delivered in an exaggerated, halting manner. But the music doesn't take a back seat to the actor. From the fiery traversal of Gluck's ciacona "L'enfer," from Don Juan, which opens the piece, to the vibrant accompaniment of the singers, the Orchester Wiener Akademie under Haselböck lends compelling energy to the action. This wonderful rawness is taken up by Zamojska and Aikin in their electric delivery of arias by Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven and others. Again, whatever light these works shed on Unterweger's tortured psyche, the greater effect comes from their inherent drama and expression of emotion. This is not a play that would hold up well with lesser performers. It might not be fair to fully assess the singers based on their work here, since they had to contend with the staging. (At one point, Malkovich puts bras on both vocalists, reportedly Unterweger's preferred means of strangulation.) Yet Zamoj ska and Aikin sing with clear, precise voices, nailing ornaments and diction even as the actor physically assaults them. They give committed performances of the arias and even concert pieces such as Mozart's "Ah, lo previdi!" The Infernal Comedy, which is actually funny at times, is ultimately impossible to categorize. Its ending is unpredictable, too. But that's a breath of fresh air in an art form in which you know most of the plots before entering the opera house. Until someone finds a way to turn Being John Malkovich into an opera, this is perhaps the only operatic creation you are likely to see that could possibly feature John Malkovich. And it strangely works. -- Opera News, Andrew Druckenbrod, October 2010
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The evidence of that "emotional material" which inflames Unterweger's brutal lust is to be heard in the music -- selections from the darkest scenes of baroque and romantic operas, beginning with Gluck's ciaconna from Don Juan in Hell and including arias by Vivaldi, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and von Weber -- while the two sopranos who sing these fiery denunciations of masculine perfidy are simultaneously the victims of Jack/John's torture and murder. I confess that when I heard about this stage business, this juxtaposition of a baroque orchestra and singers with the monologue of a real-life serial murderer ostensibly touting his newly-published autobiography, I was profoundly skeptical.
But it works as theater. It works distressingly well.
I suppose I should mention that Malkovich delivers his monologue in English, with an astoundingly convincing Austrian accent throughout. The two sopranos, Laura Aiken and Aleksandra Zamojska, are vocally and dramatically excellent, and the Orchester Wiener Akademie, conducted by Martin Haselböck, is impeccable. In fact, their musical virtuosity is seemingly part of Unterweger's torment in Hell. [If I were indeed the Zodiac killer, I wouldn't get Vivaldi for my soundtrack in the Inferno. I'd get Glenn Gould playing Bach for eternity.]
This production is now on tour! It may be coming to a theater near you. I know that it's scheduled on Cal Performances in Berkeley this year. I can't imagine it without Malkovich, so you'd better see it before the star gets bored with his own sociopathy.