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My place of peace and respite

Markus Brück

Markus Brück, baritone, has been singing in the ensemble of the Deutsche Oper Berlin for 18 years, taking roles such as the title character in RIGOLETTO. For peace and quiet he often heads for Berlin’s Tierpark zoo.

Markus Brück in RIGOLETTO

Conductor: Stephan Zilias; Director: Jan Bosse; Set design: Stéphane Laimé; Costume design: Kathrin Plath; With Attilio Glaser, Markus Brück, Elena Tsallagova, Samuel Dale Johnson, Byung Gil Kim, Cornelia Kim, Thomas Lehman, Paul Kaufmann, Tobias Kehrer, Maiju Vaahtoluoto, Bryan Murray and Amber Fasquelle
6, 13 February 2019

First off, I visit the manatees. They’re usually swimming up and down in a huge aquarium in the building that houses the elephants. I like standing in front of the thick pane of glass and matching my speed to the speed of those amazing animals. They’re so wonderfully slow, and they’re not any quicker in the wild. I envy the people whose job it is to clean the glass from the inside; they’re right up close to the animals. Obviously my peaceful state with the manatees doesn’t last long; we’re in Berlin, after all. I love the Tierpark in the borough of Friedrichsfelde, the huge enclosures and all that space. Opera is so embellished and full-on that when I’m gawping at the creatures it’s a way of winding down. I have the peace I need to learn my lines, stay grounded, go through the role I’m playing. I come here every couple of weeks. I can’t make it more often because it takes me an hour to get here.

I’m back doing Rigoletto. I think of him as someone suffering from hospitalism. That’s something that affects animals in captivity: they get aggressive. Rigoletto shuts himself away, trapped within the confines of his own life, and acts aggressively towards anything that crosses his path. He’s incredibly pessimistic, a loner, socially inept and completely out of his depth with his child, altogether an unpleasant man. Even at the end he sees no reason to reflect on his guilt. Rigoletto is one of the few opera characters that I find it hard to like. He’s awful, so self-pitying. And yet he’s the author and perpetuator of his own catastrophe. Everything that happens to him in the opera has been brought about by his own actions. He is not locked up like the animals here; his fear is what holds him back. The big challenge is to see him as a sentient being nonetheless.

Some animals don’t get many visitors. The badger, for instance, is kept in a dead end without any through traffic. When someone happens by, he flips out. Maybe he’s thinking: »Dammit, just when I get an audience, I go and forget my lines!« It’s a recurring nightmare for me, forgetting my lines. I had the dream again quite recently. I was standing onstage in my underwear and couldn’t for the life of me remember which opera I was meant to be singing. Nothing was familiar. Everything was a blank.

I like the Asian dholes. They’re bigger than foxes and smaller than wolves and have reddish-brown fur. They’re very curious by nature and trot up when I pass by with my dogs. They look at me as if to say: why does that funny, lanky creature only have two legs? The dholes watch my dogs very closely, too. Maybe they’re thinking: Mmm, din-dins! No way would my mongrels have a chance against them in the wild.

I don’t sing as I walk along in the zoo. I’m not sure how the animals would react to me singing, but my three mutts often hear me and don’t seem to complain. The last time they were around they started gnawing on the piano – but they don’t run off! I once heard of a pianist who only plays for elephants. I’m presuming they’re total fans of Beethoven. I sometimes think it would be heaven to have a big farm like this on the outskirts of Berlin, a bunch of wild boar piglets running around, a baby kangaroo, build another enclosure here, another one there. But I just don’t have the time. Sooner or later I’d get a call from the opera house asking me if I didn’t want to sing for them again.