Thomas Mann/Gustav Mahler

directed by: Thomas Ostermeier


running time 75 min

The writer Gustav von Aschenbach is afflicted by wanderlust. In Venice he hopes to escape his oppressive self-discipline. When he encounters the fourteen-year-old Tadzio, Aschenbach is consumed by an unprecedented passion. In the boy Aschenbach believes he has found the embodiment of his artistic ideals. Soon, however, the yearning for youthful beauty is transformed into a wild and deadly obsession. Thomas Ostermeier's production is an experimental arrangement: a narrator, a pianist, a video artist and a group of actors and dancers attempt an approach to the subjects of erotic passion, physicality and transience which are at the core of Thomas Mann's novella. The inner drama of the aging man finds its musical counterpart in Josef Bierbichler's interpretation of the Kindertotenlieder by Gustav Mahler – Thomas Mann's role model for the character of Gustav von Aschenbach.

Gustav von Aschenbach, brilliantly played by Josef Bierbichler, sings the tragic Kindertotenlieder by Gustav Mahler (Thomas Mann’s inspiration for the character of Gustav von Aschenbach) all through the play, accompanied by talented Timo Kreuser on a grand piano. Video artist Benjamin Krieg sneaks up on the actors with his camera, live streaming the images as grainy retro film on a large screen. The result is magnifying; tiny actions like the lingering gazes between Aschenbach and Tadzio, become big screen close-ups, almost uncomfortably intimate. Young Maximilian Ostermann as Tadzio is a teenage Greek good, while Bierbechler’s gloomy posture, melancholic singing and resigned gazes become almost unbearably real to watch. Both actors are outstanding, using few words, expressions or movements, instead communicating through small means.

The convincing dancers Martina Borroni, Marcela Giesche and Rosabel Huguet play Tadzio’s sisters; a whirlwind of sailor dresses childishly arguing at the beach, only to be conservatively buttoned up at the dinner table a few moments later. Towards the ending a black, giant ash confetti covers the stage, while the three dancers are let loose in a wild choreography, shoveling the black dust with their bare skin and long hair. It is a strong and strikingly beautiful image of deadly obsession, erotic passion, physicality and transience. A worthy final of a controversial story and a brave piece, 101 years later.


Thomas Ostermeier was born in 1968 in Soltau. From 1992-96 he studied directing at the Hochschule für Schauspielkunst »Ernst Busch«, Berlin. In 1990-91 he acted in the »Faust«-Project by Einar Schleef at the Hochschule der Künste, Berlin. In 1993-94 he was assistant director and actor with Manfred Karge in Weimar and at the Berliner Ensemble. In 1995 he directed »Die Unbekannte« by Alexander Blok in accordance with Meyerhold’s system of biomechanics. In 1996 he directed »Recherche Faust/Artaud« at the bat-Studiotheater Berlin. From 1996-99 Ostermeier was Artistic Director of the Baracke at the Deutsches Theater, Berlin. Productions there included »Fat Men in Skirts« by Nicky Silver (1996), »Knives in Hens« by David Harrower (1997 awarded with Friedrich-Luft-Prize), Brecht’s »Mann ist Mann« (1997), »Suzuki« by Alexej Schipenko (1997), »Shopping and Fucking« by Mark Ravenhill (1998), »Below the Belt« by Richard Dresser (1998), »The Blue Bird« by Maeterlinck (1999). In 1998 the Baracke was nominated »Theatre of the Year«. In 1998 and 1999 Ostermeier directed »Disco Pigs« by Enda Walsh and »Fire Face« by Marius von Mayenburg at the Schauspielhaus Hamburg. His final production at the Baracke was »Suzuki II« by Alexej Schipenko.

Since September 1999 Ostermeier is resident director and member of the Artistic Direction of the Schaubühne. He has also directed several productions at the Münchner Kammerspiele: 2002 »Der starke Stamm« by Marieluise Fleißer, 2005 »Vor Sonnenaufgang« by Gerhart Hauptmann, 2007 »Die Ehe der Maria Braun« by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (invited to the Theatertreffen 2008) and 2009 »Susn« by Herbert Achternbusch, at the Edinburgh Festival: »The Girl on the Sofa« by Jon Fosse, 2002 (awarded with the »Herald Angel Award«) and at the Burgtheater in Vienna: »The Master Builder« by Henrik Ibsen, 2004. In November 2002 Ostermeier was appointed »artiste associé« for the Festival d’Avignon by the new artistic director of the festival, Vincent Baudriller.

Invitations to Theatertreffen Berlin with »Knives in Hens« (1997), »Shopping and Fucking« (1998), »Nora« (2003), »Hedda Gabler« (2006) and »Die Ehe der Maria Braun« (2008). Furthermore, in 2003 »Nora« has been awarded with the »Nestroy Prize« as well as the »Politika Prize« during the theatre festival in Belgrade BITEF. »Hedda Gabler« received in 2006 the audience award of the Theater¬gemeinde Berlin. His productions »John Gabriel Borkmann« and »Hamlet« have been awarded with international prizes as best productions in the season 2008/2009: »John Gabriel Borkmann« with the Grand Prix de la Critique of France (April 2009) and »Hamlet« with the Barcelona Critics Prize (September 2009). In 2009 he has been appointed »Officier des Arts et des Lettres« by the French ministry of culture. The decoration was awarded in April 2010 by the Ambassador of France in Berlin. In Mai 2010 Thomas Ostermeier has been announced as president of the Deutsch-Französischer Kulturrat (DKFR), German-French Council of Culture. His production »The Cut« received the critic´s prize at the international theatre festival KONTAKT in Torun (Poland) in Mai 2010. Thomas Ostermeier receives the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale for his work in 2011. For »Measure for Measure« he receives the Friedrich-Luft-Prize for the »Best Theatre Performance in Berlin« in 2011. In Chile »Hamlet« has been awarded with the critics prize as »Best International Production 2011« and in Turkey with the honor award by the 18th Istanbul Theatre Festival 2012.

His productions are touring worldwide to places like Paris, Avignon, Bordeaux, Marseille, Rennes, Reims, Barcelona, Madrid, Vienna, Naples, Sarajevo, Belgrade, Bucurechest, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Novi Sad, Prague, Krakow, Dublin, London, Copenhagen, Oslo, Tampere, Brussels, Lisbon, Athens, Tel Aviv, New York, Caracas, Québec, Ottawa, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, Taipei, Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, Moscow, Omsk, Venice, Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile.


The Schaubühne Berlin embodies a contemporary, experimental and international theatre. Since its foundation in 1962, well-known directors have written theatre history here, initially at the Hallesches Ufer and, since 1981, at Lehniner Platz. Countless tours all over the world, prizes and awards for directors, productions and actors speak volumes about the artistic team’s success in further developing the Schaubühne’s renown under Thomas Ostermeier’s artistic directorship. The Schaubühne continues its tradition of contemporary and critical new interpretations of classics from Shakespeare, through Ibsen to Strindberg as well as embracing new forms of dance and musical theatre. The core of the repertoire is made up of contemporary authors, as documented by over 90 world and German-language premieres in the last ten years as well as the Festival of International New Drama (F.I.N.D.). For this festival, one week of the year is devoted to presenting new plays from both Germany and abroad. Alongside Thomas Ostermeier, outstanding directors such as Falk Richter, Ivo van Hove, Katie Mitchell, Michael Thalheimer, Alvis Hermanis, Volker Lösch, Friederike Heller, David Marton, Egill Heiðar Anton Pálsson, Rodrigo García, Yael Ronen and Patrick Wengenroth work at the Schaubühne, as well as the choreographers Anouk van Dijk and Constanza Macras. Since the 2008/09 season, the Schaubühne has been a founding member of the European Theatre Union Prospero. This union sees theatres from Portugal, France, Belgium, Italy, Finland and Germany joining forces to develop productions together and exchange guest productions. Thomas Ostermeier’s production of Ibsen’s »John Gabriel Borkman« in Rennes marked the beginning of the collaboration which went on to produce co-productions such as »The Lie« written and directed by Pippo Delbono (2008), Falk Richter and Anouk van Dijk’s »PROTECT ME« (2010), Krzysztof Warlikowski’s »African Tales after Shakespeare« (2011), and also works by promising young directors such as Jan-Christoph Gockel’s adaptation of »The Talented Mr. Ripley« by Patricia Highsmith (2011).