GLENN LONEY'S ARTS RAMBLES
Report for The Wagner Festival in Historic Bayreuth in July-August 2012
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
To navigate to items in this table of contents, click on (*)
Wagner für Kinder: Die Meistersinger as a Chalk Talk—with Outstanding Actor/Singers! *
The Dutchman Flies, But Without Tattoos: Holländer as a Tempest in an Electric Fan Factory! *
Don’t Get Bit by the Rats! Running to the Rathaus Won’t Save Either Elsa or Lohengrin! *
Genetic Engineering Gone Wrong & Plucked Swans? *
Human Excrement Powers Big Bio Energie Machine as Art Installation Setting for Tannhauser! *
This Is a Place Holder for the Exclusive Interview with Festival Intendant Katharina Wagner! *
Look Where It Comes Again! Tristan as Recreation Director on the Andrea Doria: Isolde On Deck! *
Tristan und Isolde: *
For the Very Last Time: Stefan Herheim’s Magical Fantastical Parsifal… *
German History socio-politically reprised in "Parsifal"*
…Or an Opera about a Big Bed in the Middle of Haus Wahnfried? *
Coming Soon to the Green Hill: A New RING by Frank Castorf! But Will 2013 Be Unlucky? *
A Farewell To Bayreuth…
THESE WERE THE WAGNERIAN STAGINGS THAT WERE…
The Big News in Bayreuth—possibly also Worldwide, especially for those who are always on the Look Out for Hackenkreuzer—was that the Russian Basso who should have sung the Doomed Role of the equally doomed Flying Dutchman had a Swastika tattooed on his Chest!
In the new staging of Richard Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, the Dutchman does not have to have his Shirt off, so who would have known that the unfortunate Evgeny Nikitin had a Hackenkreuz inked onto his Brust—as the Newspapers so feverishly reported.
What No One seemed to have taken into Account was that Nikitin is a Russian, not some Halbstarker German Neo Nazi…
In fact, as a Young Russian Rebel—in a Hard Rock Punk Band—the more Bizarre Tattoos the better!
Today, some say, he has so many Tangled Tattoos that it’s hard to see where that old American Indian & Asian Good Luck Symbol really is, underneath all that INK.
[As for Hackenkreuzer, longtime Bayreuth Stalwart, Karl Ridderbusch, had a Black Swastika painted on the floor of his Swimming Pool. But he apparently only showed it to Close Friends & American Music Critics, invited to take a Swim…]
Nikitin has already sung successfully at the Met & at Covent Garden, so Bayreuth’s Loss was also the Loss of everyone who had Precious Tickets for Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production.
[Some Fact Checker felt it necessary to point out that Nikitin is No Relation to the Late Nikita Kruschev!]
But the Even Bigger News in Bayreuth this Summer was the Stunning Confrontation of the Wagner Festival with its Anti Semitic Past.
Ranged along the Terraces where Arno Breker’s Heroic Bust of The Master holds sway were more than a Score of Great Grey Panels with the Photos & often Fatal Histories of Jewish Artists who had either worked at Bayreuth or been banished from the Sacred Festpielhaus.
These Indictments of Infamy were continued in the Bayreuth Rathaus, in the Center of the City.
It is well known that Richard Wagner nourished a Deep Resentment of such successful Jewish Composers as Giacomo Meyerbeer, who, he believed, had slighted him when he first came to Paris.
In his Infamous Essay, The Jews in Music, he even accused Jewish Composers, Librettists, & Musicians of being Copy Cats, incapable of creating Anything Worthwhile On Their Own.
Nonetheless, both on the Grüner Hügel—the Green Hill, where the Festspielhaus is sited—as well as At Table in Haus Wahnfried, the Wagners were surrounded & supported by adoring Jewish Talents such as Conductor Hermann Levi, who did all they could to Advance the Cause of Wagner’s Revolutionary Musik Theater!
From Information on the Grey Panels, it is clear that Wagner’s Muse & Wife, Cosima Liszt Von Bülow Wagner—once The Master was gone—was passionately inflamed against Jews performing in Any Capacity in the Festival.
Cosima was the Illegitimate Daughter of Hungary’s Brilliant Pianist & Composer Franz Liszt, so she should hardly have been the First to Cast Stones at Others.
What is also distressing from the Panel Info is to learn that the great Richard Strauss was also a Rabid Anti Semite, even a Foul Mouthed Jew Hater.
The Two Richards had both Genius & Anti Semitism in common…
What Strauss said of the Great & Much Beloved Lilli Lehmann was Unbelievably Vicious.
Even when he was helping the World Famous Jewish Director/Producer Max Reinhardt to found the Salzburg Festival, he joked to his Poet Librettist, Hugo von Hofmannstahl, about Dieser Jüde…
Cosima Wagner was not the Last of the Bayreuth Wagners to be a Firmly Committed Anti Semite.
Her English Daughter in Law, Winifred Wagner—who took over the Festival when both Cosima & Son Siegfried died in 1930, on the Eve of the Festival Season—continued this Damnable Tradition.
Winifred—whom Your Arts Reporter came to know well over the years, after he first came to Bayreuth for the Fest in 1956—could not have kept the Festival functioning after that Loss, without the Eager & Enthusiastic Aid of her Great & Good Friend, Der Fürher, Adolf Hitler!
But she did tell me how she saved the Tenor Max Lorenz—who was both a Jew & a Homosexual!
[For Real Aryan He Men, being Schwul, or a Homo, was even worse than being a Jew…]
Lorenz had been entrapped by the Polizei in an Infamous Pissoir in the Gardens of the Green Hill.
Winifred pointed out that if Hitler did not Intervene, there would be No Tristan & No Tristan …
When the Bayreuth Festival was finally revived, Post World War II, in 1951—by Wagner’s Grandsons, Wieland & Wolfgang—neither was interested in Confronting the Fest’s Past Nazi Patronage nor its Residual Anti Semitism.
Winifred’s Greatest Complaint about the Post War Usage of the Festspielhaus was that American Occupation Officers had used it as a Cabaret!
We also bombed Haus Wahnfried—a Direct Hit!
Winifred was De Nazified Twice, but it didn’t Work, either time.
The First Flurry of Interest in Confronting Anti Semitism in the Festival Past came from Wolfgang Wagner’s Son, Gottfried Wagner.
This was Not Well Received by the Father, who had just thrown Gottfried, his Sister Eva, & his Wife, Ellen, out of the house so he could marry Gudrun, the woman who became the Mother of Katharina Wagner, now Artistic Director of the Bayreuth Festival.
Forcing the Festival to recognize its Anti Semitic Past soon became Gottfried’s Consuming Passion.
Gottfried became Very Popular in Israel…
Once, one of my Editors in New York asked me to Interview Gottfried on the Bayreuth Issue, but I declined, as I thought this was almost more about Getting Even with his Father, than it was about the Horrors of the Holocaust.
When I attempted to Interview Gottfried’s Sister, Eva Wagner Pasqier, two summers ago, she told me that talking about Gottfried was Off Limits.
It was, however, Good To See that Dr. Ulrike Hessler is one of the Committee that made the Current Confrontation possible.
Dr. Hessler is now Intendant of the Dresden State Opera, in the Historic Semper Oper.
Before that, she was the Press Chief at the Bavarian State Opera & a Longtime Facilitator of such Kultur Reporters & Kritics as Your Roving Arts Reporter…
PASSING GLANCES AT SCENES SEEN:
Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger is his only Comic Opera.
Unless, of course, you want to include some of the More Bizarre Wagner Productions both at the Met & at Bayreuth…
Fun Crammed & Jolly Melody Packed as Meistersinger is, however, it does run on & on & on & on.
Wagner—at least in terms of Modern Attention Spans—needs an Editor.
Especially if you are trying to get Kids interested in Opera!
You do not have to suffer from Attention Deficiency Syndrome to find the Love Troubles of David & Lena & Walther & Eva a bit Ho Hum now & then.
Fortunately, Hartmut Keil & Eva Maria Weiss have Found the Solution!
Their Edited Version runs only an Hour & Fifteen Minutes.
But all the Good Stuff is there! All the Big Scenes! All the Memorable Moments Musicaux!
Deft Excisions from the Score have been made by Marko Zdralek, with No Perceptible Loss of the Greatest Hits, such as Walther’s Prize Song.
Performed Mornings in a Rehearsal Hall, Kids, Parents, Teachers, & even the Occasional Critic are packed into Bleachers, with the Orchestra & Playing Area in front of them.
As the Overture bubbles up, Small Kids with Large Chalks cover Blackboards all over the place with Montessori Style Cartoons of Historic Nuremberg Houses & even Hotels!
Walther von Stolzing, the Junker Knight who wants to become a Meistersinger—because that’s the only way he’ll get to marry Eva, the Beautiful Daughter of the Meistersinger in Chief—arrives on a Bicycle with a Horse Head on the Handlebars.
All the Colorful Costumes—especially the Distinctive Wigs & Hats: How about Scallions growing out of the Top of one’s Head?—immediately identify & typify each Character.
During the Final Trial for Best Prize Song this Year in Nuremberg—The Winner Gets Eva as First Prize!—the Most Important Meistersingers sit among the Kids in the Audience.
The Kids went CrAzy!
Hartmut Keil conducted the Brandenburgisches Staats Orchester/Frankfurt am Oder with a Great Sense of Fun but also with Musikalische Exzellenz!
The Lively Staging was the inspiration of Eva Maria Weiss.
Heiko Börner was a Lively Walther, with Christiane Kohl a Lovely Eva.
The Fatherly Poet/Shoemaker Hans Sachs was sweetly embodied by Jukka Rasilainen.
Even the Miserable Grinch Sextus Beckmesser was amusing in the interpretation of Ralf Lukas.
This is a Charming Show that ought to be seen in Manhattan at the New Victory Theatre, which specializes in Productions that delight Kids but also intrigue Parents!
Two Summers ago, the Same Team offered a really Off Beat Tannhäuser, which turned out to be a
Search for The Pink Flamingo!
Forget about The Holy Grail…
Venus was Lady Gaga on a Skate Board!
The Program is also an Activity Book, with Comix, Puzzles, & Color in the Outlines.
Once Upon a Time, the Vast Bayreuth Stage was filled with the Multi Masted Full Sailed Ship of Daland, a Norwegian Captain, out for Fish & Whatever the Nets might bring up.
When the Cursed Ship of the Flying Dutchman Hove into Sight, the Stage was crowded with Sails & Song.
Not So in the New Bayreuth Fliegende Holländer: Daland & his Steuermann are discovered Down Right in a small Row Boat!
Behind them looms an Immense Grid of Zooming Beams, Endlessly Running Long Numbers, & Flashing Matrixes.
This is a Silicon Valley Sci Fi Fantasy on Speed!
Forget about that Doomed Red Sailed Ship…
The Damned Doomed Dutchman has to give himself a Huge Injection in his Left Arm.
After which, he can enjoy the Services of a Black Clad Lady—who is about to Go Down On Him—when he strips off her Long Black Coat, revealing Victoria’s Secret Style Undies.
The Treasure he shows Daland—hoping to interest him in encouraging his Daughter, Senta, to marry him to End the Curse—is enclosed in one of those Carry On Cases with the Retractable Handles.
When the Dutchman opened the Case to spill out some of the Treasure, it looked to me—from Way Up in Row 22—very much like Glowing Cell Phones.
As things soon developed, however, Daland’s Crew was not engaged in Norwegian Fishing Expeditions.
The Smartly Attired Work Force was eagerly involved in the Production, Packing, & Marketing of smart sleek white Electric Table Fans!
This is what has become of Senta’s Traditional Spinn Stübe: The Girls are all Factory Workers, busily packing Scores of Fans into Corrugated Cardboard Cartons.
Senta, however, isn’t Paying Good Attention to the Tasks at Hand: She has made a kind of Orange & Brown Dutchman Image out of a Carton.
A Cardboard Dream Lover?
She has also fashioned some Rows of Flowers & Tongues of Flame from the Cartons!
At one point, I thought that all of the Steurmann’s Crew were equipped with iPads or Airbooks, but NO: they were flourishing what must have been either Fan Plans or Marketing Goals.
In fact, the Steurmann was Leading the Pack, waving a Ledger in the Air.
Then a Huge Outline of the Model of the Fan dropped down from Above, only to Go Up in Flames!
It would have been more Topically Amusing, however, had Designers Christof Hetzer & Karin Jud opted for a Google Inflected/Micro Softed Futurist Vision.
In the End, Senta—to be United with the Long Suffering Dutchman—stabs herself: Not In The End, but in what could have been Her Womb?
The Dutchman instantly Bleeds, as well…
At the Final Curtain, the Auditorium was resounding with BOOS!
Not for the Gifted Performers but for the Bizarre Production…
Having No Swastika Tattoos, Samuel Youn valiantly assumed the Role of the Dutchman.
Daland—Franz Josef Selig—looked & acted a lot like Nathan Lane—which might give Peter Gelb over at the Met Opera a Good Idea for Future Casting.
As Senta, that wonderful Singing Actress Adrianne Pieczonka performed all the Nonsense that Stage Director Gloger had devised for her: Brave Trouper!
The Handsome & Charismatic & Much Admired Christian Thielemann conducted the Best Opera Orchestra & the Best Opera Chorus in the World on the World’s First Really Modern Stage, inspirationally devised by The Master, Richard Wagner.
That famous Covered Orchestra Pit!
You don’t see them playing. You don’t see Thielemann conducting.
But the swell of Orchestral Sound surging up over the Stage, to mingle with the Voices of the Singers is still Unique…
At the close of the Great Bayreuther Festspeilhaus Curtain on the 2 August 2012 Performance of Lohengrin, the Audience went Wild!
As each Performer came out from the Slit in the Curtain, Feet began to Stamp in Unison on the Resonant Flooring, like a Thunder of Drums.
Nowhere more so than for each Appearance of the Handsome & Totally Remarkable Klaus Florian Vogt—whose Lohengrin had almost literally Blown Them Away!
The brilliant Annette Dasch was almost equally applauded for her Much Abused Elsa von Brabant—who is first seen with Arrows piercing her Breast & Back.
In Brabant—even in the Best of Times—You Want to Watch Your Back!
Especially if you are the Ruler Apparent, but are accused of having Murdered Your Brother, Gottfried, in order to Seize the Throne & Crown…
[Actually—or Fictively, Mythically—Gottfried has been turned into a Swan, by the Evil Sorceress, Ortrud [Susan Maclean], a Priestess of the Old Religion.]
The Torrents of Applause brought the Spectators to their Feet en masse, Programs dropping thunderously to the floor.
Then began what used to be called THE IRON CLAP—a Rhythmic Slapping of Hands that Crescendo ed out into the Corridors & even out into the Night beyond!
The Enraptured Audience would not Leave!
But then, Stage Director Hans Neuenfels had decreed that there would be No Applause after either Act I or Act II, when the Audience was already bursting with Pent Up Cheers.
Andris Nelsons—who conducted with both Subtlety & Pomp, where needed—was roundly applauded as well.
In this Odd Rat Ridden Neuenfels Staging, Poor King Henry—who has come, with his Army, to Sort Out the Problems of Succession in Brabant & borrow Brabant’s own Army—seems to be Badly Stricken with the Falling Sickness.
König Heinrich Staggers About a great deal, often herded around by Giant Black Rats—who seem to be Fugitives from a Badly Failed Lab Experiment…
Can it be Fate that this Role was sung this summer by none other than Wilhelm Schwinghammer?
Looking Towards the Future:
When Lohengrin is next newly staged at Bayreuth, would it be possible for Katharina Wagner to have the Enchanted Swan—often seen as a Swan Boat, bearing Parsifal’s Son, Lohengrin, from the Magical Realms of Mont Salvat or wherever—be a Real Gottfried?
In Wagner’s Libretto, of course, The Swan/Gottfried is really Elsa’s Enchanted Brother.
But there is also a Real Bayreuth Wagner Gottfried: He is, in fact, the Brother of Eva Wagner Pasquier & the Half Brother of Katharina Wagner.
If he is not masquerading as an Anti Anti Semitic Swan—he regularly roundly condemns Bayreuth’s Anti Semitic Past—he at least doesn’t seem at all Welcome on the Grüner Hügel.
When I was about to interview Eva Wagner Pasquier, she told me frankly that talking about Brother Gottfried was a No No.
Please, Wagner Sisters: End This Evil Enchantment!
As Recycling is now such a Social Virtue, Your Roving Arts Reporter would here like to Replay what he wrote two summers ago, on first seeing Hans Neunenfels’ Rat Infested Staging of Lohengrin.
The Creature most often associated with Lohengrin is a Swan, but perhaps it’s only Politically Correct to give White & Black Rodents a chance to spend Quality Time with Elsa von Brabant?
German & even Austrian Newspapers—they still have newspapers in Mittel Europa!—were teeming with large photos of Immense Black Rats!
The powerless & hapless Elsa von Brabant seemed surrounded with these Genetic Freaks!
Even her Nameless Saviour—Lohengrin, but she’s not supposed to ask him that, or everything will Go To Hell—is buffeted about by ranks of Black Rats & even some Giant White Rats!
There are some Red Rats, but also small Pink Rats scampering about as well, so a Mad Scientist has not unleashed either the Black Plague or the Red Death on Elsa’s indolent Pre Belgian Army.
Some Opera Critics suggested that these costumes & the entire production concept of Director Hans Neuenfels might have been more appropriate to a show about the Rattenfänger von Hameln—or as we in the Trans Atlantic West might say: The Rat Catcher of Hamlen.
[No, no: he is known here as The Pied Piper of Hamlen…]
For a moment, when Your Reporter first saw green garbed Lab Attendants herding the Rats around the stark white Bauhaus style Lab, he thought of Die Ratten. But that’s a drama—not an opera—by Gerhardt Hauptmann, who was more concerned with a turn of the century gritty Naturalism than with Medieval Myths.
I didn’t get to see the Premiere, so I missed the Boos that Neuenfels harvested.
At Bayreuth, the Director & Designers usually leave town as soon as possible after the opening—unless they were or are Wagners…
Nonetheless, once I visually acclimated myself to the Idea of Rats on the borders of the River Scheldt, I found myself carried along with the flow.
Especially now at Bayreuth—but also in many European Opera houses—audiences have become so used to Historicism in opera productions that they are often eager for Something Entirely Different…
From the Boos, you might not think so, but those—if you look round you—seem to come largely from the Tux & Gowned Old Conservatives.
Younger Audiences are often delighted with New Visions of Old Masterworks.
It’s interesting that few have tried to write new Librettos—or even craft new Scores—for such War Horses as Logengrin, Aida, or Tristan. Well, yes, there was Carmen Jones, but the music remained & at least the script idea…
Especially at Bayreuth, no one is—yet—going to tamper with the Master’s Scores.
Nor with his Words: they are still sung, even though the new Visual Librettos often have little to do with their original narrative & emotional content.
In the Original Version of Lohengrin, King Henry is going to War & he needs the Military Support of the Army of Brabant—rather like George Bush’s "Coalition of the Willing"—which he has come to request/demand from Elsa.
Unfortunately, she is in a very awkward position—Uneasy on the Throne: it has Arrows piercing it!—for the Rightful Heir, Gottfried, has vanished & she is accused of killing him…
Actually, she is too nice, too blonde, & not too bright to have done anything as vile as kill her own brother!
What no one knows is that the evil, scheming Ortrud—who wants to put her evil, scheming husband, Telramund, on the Throne of Brabant—has turned the boy into a Swan!
[Elsa! Do not eat that Stuffed Swan Ortrud is offering you! It could be Gottfried Wagner…]
The foolish, trusting Elsa thinks Ortrud is her friend: she is an earlier version of Princess Di.
But—horrors!—Ortrud is actually a Priestess/Sorceress of the Old Religion. Before those Monks came across the Channel from Scotland & Ireland to convert the Pagans…
With King Henry & his Troops looking on, Telramund calls for a Challenger to defend Elsa’s Name, as she still insists she did not murder her brother, Gottfried.
Arriving in a majestic Swan Boat—actually the transformed Gottfried—an even more Majestic Knight steps out & accepts the Challenge. He soon strikes Telramund to the ground, but makes the mistake of allowing him to live…
Quite naturally, Elsa wants to thank this No Name Knight the best way she can: in Wagner & indeed in the entire Middle Ages, this means offering her Hand & Herself—if her father the King had not already done so—in Holy Marriage.
But in this opera, it gets even better: Elsa has really Fallen In Love, as has the Mysterious Stranger, with her.
Somewhat similar to Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, Elsa’s love offers him the Freedom from Loneliness, the freedom to live in the Real World, instead of way off in Mont Salvat, with the remnants of the Grail Knights from Parsifal…
But there’s a Sexist Catch—there always is: Bluebeard telling his new wife not to open any of those castle doors while he is away!—in that Elsa must never ask her Knight his Name or from Whence he has come to her rescue…
[Why, in these tales, is it always the Women who wreck everything? Because they cannot obey their Lovers and/or Husbands, especially in controlling their Curiosity.
[Obviously, there’s a Reason for that Old Saying: Curiosity killed the Cat! In many productions, Elsa lies dead at the end, with Lohengrin catching the Next Swan back to Mont Salvat.]
With her husband humiliated, False Friend Ortrud keeps urging Elsa to ask her Knight’s Name: If he really loves you so much…
In the new Bayreuth production—once you have accepted the Lab Rat Concept—the Major Events of Wagner’s Libretto are all in place.
The obviously ingenious Reinhard von der Thannnen—he sounds like a Wagner Character!—has set them in a pristine White Lab, with large White Portholes in its wall. These Design Elements change to suggest different locales, notably the Bridal Bed scene.
When Elsa needs to be backed up by Ladies of Her Court—especially for the famed Wedding March—some of the Rats slip out of their Rattiness to become charming young women, dressed in wide fringed hats & shiny pastel colored perky dresses.
Male Rats don Tuxedos, but their Rat Feet still show. The Lady Rats, however, have smart shoes!
These split second Costume Changes are remarkable, but then they were also worked out by the ingenious Costume Designer, also Reinhard von der Thannnen.
Although Rats are visually more in evidence than Swans, these Birds have not been removed to some other Genetic Lab.
At one point, a Plucked Swan with a Neon Halo appears suspended over the stage: this could be a Visual Metaphor for what has happened to Wagner’s Libretto?
There is also a sculpted White Swan upstage, whose long neck can be moved back & forth, rather like one of those old fashioned Water Pumps.
Although Elsa is first seen in a white Quasi Uniform, later, when she is confronted by Ortrud—who is wearing a very wide long skirt of Black Swan Feathers—Elsa is garbed in an almost mirror image skirt, but of White Swan Feathers!
At one point, a Swan rises from the midst of the Marriage Bed…
But that’s not all: there are projected cartoons of Red & White Rats, as well!
A Rear Projection Screen also suggests we are dealing in Truths in this production, with projections of: Wahrheit I, Wahrheit II, & Wahrhiet III…
Initially, the Rats are caged, but these grids are movable & removable. At one point of transformation, all the Rat Suits vanish overhead.
Almost every Stage Picture is striking, but none more so than when the banned, disgraced Telramund is discovered downstage in a Broken Black Buggy, a Dead Black Horse stretched out in front of him. The Front Wheels have come off…
My first thought was of Murnau’s Nosferatu: The Undead racing against Time, against the Rising of the Sun, flooding the World with Light…
Considering that Katharina & Eva Wagner had never spoken to each other until they were confirmed as co producers of the Bayreuth Festival, I continue to hope for a new Lohengrin, in which, at the close, instead of the Swan, the dis enchanted Gottfried at last appears.
Only this Gottfried will actually be the Brother of Eva & the Half Brother of Katharina: banned from the Bayreuth Festival by his angry father, Wolfgang Wagner.
In the new Lohengrin, we don’t get a Living Breathing Gottfried at all…
A huge Swan’s Egg is revealed.
It revolves, revealing a foetus like Creature inside, fouled with strands of Umbilical Cord.
This newly born Thing advances to downstage, tearing off pieces of its Umbilical Cord like sections of Bratwurst, throwing them into the Troops…
This one moment excepted, the stage pictures in motion that Hans Neuenfels & his designers have created are fascinating.
I look forward to seeing this amazing production in Summer 2011.
[Actually, I was denied Press Tickets for 2011…
[But there was a Ticket Scandal, so they were restored in 2012!]
For the Record: Franck Evin designed the Lighting, with Videos by Björn Verloh.
Why do I always leave the Singers for last?
Possibly because, for decades, I have been writing about Design & Technical Aspects of Productions for Theatre Crafts, Entertainment Design, Theatre Design & Technology, & academic publications.
Often, what most people remember about fabled productions was HOW THEY LOOKED. Not how they sounded: unless you have the Vinyl LP or a CD or DVD…
Andris Nelsons conducted in 2010, with the brilliant young star, Jonas Kaufmann, as an outstanding Lohengrin. You can also hear him at the Met!
His radiant Elsa was the lovely Annette Dasch.
[Recently, Anna Netrebko has suggested she could play this role at Bayreuth, but Katharina Wagner has pointed out that they already have the Elsa they want.]
Evelyn Herlitzius was a bone chilling Ortrud, with Hans Joachim Ketelsen as her craven partner, Telramund.
Army Recruiter König Heinrich was Georg Zeppenfeld, represented by his shock haired Herald, Samuel Youn.
Only after I’d seen the staging was I told I’d missed the morning’s pre show lecture in the Choir Hall of the Festival: the Inzenierungsbezogene Einfürhungsvorträge.
Unlike Stefan Mikisch’s invaluable introductions to the Librettos & Scores of Wagner’s Operas—illustrated at the keyboard by Mikisch—these new Lectures help Ticket Holders to understand what they will actually see on stage.
An Important Point: Even from the outset of Wagner’s Lohengrin, this opera is a Search for Wahrheit, or Truth! Unfortunately, a Game is to be played, the Rules of which the players clearly do not KNOW!
When I was very busy being very distressed at the Throw In the Kitchen Sink Staging of the 2011 Bayreuth Production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser, a German Critic asked me not to Blame Katharina Wagner for what we were seeing up there on that Historic Stage.
She pointed out what I already should have remembered: That Opera Stars, Star Stage Directors, & Famed Star Conductors have to be Contracted Years in Advance…
So the Extremely Cluttered Stage Picture of the new Tannhäuser was really the Fault of her Late Father, Wolfgang Wagner?
Well, Not Exactly: Wagner had contracted the Stage Director—or Regisseur—not the Designer he later selected.
Despite the Magisterial Conducting of the Much Beloved Christian Theilemann—once considered as a possible Intendant for the Bayreuth Festival: it still could happen, if the Half Sisters fuck things up—the Real Star of Sebastian Baumgarten’s strange staging of Tannhäuser is the Giant Shit Powered Machine of Joep von Lieshout.
This Monstrosity began Life as an Art Installation…
Perhaps that’s what it should have Remained?
As such, it would always have been Welcome in Manhattan at either MoMA—or the New Museum!
Or even at the Met! Not the Met Museum, but the Metropolitan Opera!
Bayreuth’s Own Eva Wagner Pasquier is now a Big Power at the Met: she oversees the Digitizing of those HD Met Opera Super Specials, made for Major Motion Picture Theatres.
[Actually, Bayreuth Productions are never physically shown elsewhere: not even random Sets or Costumes. But Eva how now made possible HD Bayreuth Movies…]
Torsten Kerl—Kerl is an apt name—impersonates Tannhäuser in the current Bayreuth Vision of the Singers Battle on the Wartburg.
As Dr. Martin Luther spent some time in the Wartburg—translating the Latin Bible into the Vulgar German, throwing Inkpots at the Devil, & inventing Lutheran Evangelicals—he might now be Mightily Surprised to find a Giant Feces Run Bio Energy Behemoth in the Sainted Elizabeth’s Teure Halle…
Among the Luminaries in this Cast—Oy! Abendstern!—are Michelle Breedt as Venus & Camilla Nylund as the Good Girl, Elizabeth.
Actually, Venus isn’t supposed to be such a Bad Sort, after all—at least in this Production, where she is said to be reborn as a kind of Pre Christian Earth Goddess, bringing Fertility to the Land & to the People: Tannhäuser not really included.
Unfortunately for the Substance of the Press Reports, what one saw on the Festspielhaus Stage was a Venusberg that rose out of the Stage Floor like a Round Cage, with Tannhäuser inside, being Pleasured by what looked like Left Over Hippies.
In fact, from their Anthropoid Crouchings, they looked more like Lesser Apes, picking Fleas off Tannhäuser‘s Chest & Groin…
Everyone was drinking from Orange/Red Steins—the Color seems to be the Visual Theme of this Staging—but not really Having a Good Time.
As for Tannhäuser as a Wagnerian Helden Tenor, Kerl is anything but Helden: In fact, he is Lumpy/Bulky/Pudgy.
If Elizabeth really, really Loves him, she’d get him off the Beer & Bratwurst, beginning a Regimen of Yoga & Yoghurt. With some Vegan Cuisine, in between…
Elizabeth’s Uncle Hermann—Chief Honcho in Medieval Thuringia—is em bodied & en voiced by Günther Groissböck, with Michael Nagy as Wolfram von Eschenbach, more worthy of Elizabeth’s Hand than his friend Tannhäuser…
When Tannhäuser—fresh from the Venusberg—encounters the Landgraf & his Merry Men, out on a Hunt, they look like Blanket Covered Asylum Seekers from the Former DDR!
But that’s exactly where Thuringen was located: in the So Called German Democratic Republic…
Curiously, when Wolfram begins his Big Song, he’s using Notes, which he discards one by one.
This recalls Sextus Beckmesser’s Stolen Lied in Die Meistersinger. But that’s Another Opera entirely.
Lothar Odinius relives Minnesinger History in Modern Guise as Walther von der Vogelwiede!
No matter how wonderfully the Bayreuth Chorus & Orchestra performed, the Appearance of the Chorus on stage was somewhat compromised by their Roles as Orange/Red Clad Factory Workers stoking that Giant Bio Gas Machine.
I failed to bring my Camera, but everyone around me—Critics included—was photographing that Monstrous Setting, which was exposed to the Public when they entered the Theatre & when they left.
The Curtain never closed: except when it was finally Time To Go Home…
In fact, at the close of Act II, the Chorus was singing Deutschland, Deutschland as we filed out for Wurst & Sekt.
Because I failed to make a Digital Photo, I feel I must try to describe what we saw: The Stage Frame was made of huge Squared Wooden Beams, Three Levels High.
The Ground Level seemed Three Stories High itself.
Upstage was a long Orange/Red Gas Cylinder, with Seven Stainless Steel Hatches on top, one for every Day of the Week!
This was clearly labeled: ALKOHALATOR.
It may well have been Powered by Human Excrement—as Advertised—but it seemed fed by Bags full of Cabbages & Rutabagas…
Behind the Main Frame was a Video Screen, so that—even as the Audience entered the Auditorium—an Endless Loop of grainy Grade C Film School Footage was showing what seemed to be Badly Diseased Lungs, alternating with Hand Bones, Aborted Fetuses, & Bifurcating Rice Grains—or were they Plague Bacilli?
This Video was followed by an Endless Video Plume of what may have been intended to be Methane?
The Video Screen was never at rest: Elizabeth appeared recumbent, in a kind of Kitschy Nimbus…
In fact, Nothing, Nowhere, ever seemed to be At Rest.
The Stage Picture was a Constant Clutter: Too Much of essentially No Interest, happening Everywhere.
Downstage Right & Left were what seemed to be Paying Audience Members, in more or less
But they must have been Extras or Supers, for they were not making Flash Photos of each other & of the Setting with their Cell Phones & iPads.
As were many in the Audience & not just the Camera Happy Japanese Tourists…
Above, on the Second Level, was what looked like the Factory Cafeteria.
On the Third Level, there were Bunks where Exhausted Workers could rest—or possibly Abuse Themselves, when they had tired of Abusing the Audience.
As for that Famed Sänger Kreig on the Wartburg, this Staging made it seem more like an Afternoon Break Time Entertainment.
But not even anything as Serious as Auditions for American Idol—or, in this case, Thuringian Idol!
When Wagner’s famed Pilgrims Chorus first appeared, going to Rome On Their Knees, the Gray Clad Wretches looked like Left Over Rats from the Lohengrin production of the Previous Evening.
But when they came back from the Eternal City, they were not Gray Pilgrims, but Factory Workers, who looked as though they’d just returned from the Company Sauna.
Oddly enough, that Historic Idea of going off to Rome to Beg the Pope for Forgiveness—considering the Vatican’s current Multi Million Dollar Problems with Paedophile Priests—seems the Last Place you should go for Pardon.
Of course, Fooling Around with Venus is not the same thing as Diddling Altar Boys…
As for that Mystic Business about the Pope’s Staff bursting into Leaf or Flower: well, you really Had To Have Been There…
Both Stage Director Sebasian Baumgarten & Art Installation Magus Joep van Lieshout seem infatuated with the Concept of Projecting Sententious Arty/Politico Mottoes on various Segments of the Giant Set.
How about: ART COMES FROM THE PEOPLE…
Well, of course, that’s Not Been True for a Very Long Time: Volks Lieder have long been eclipsed by Popular Songs, many of which—at least in the Good Old USA—were originated on Tin Pan Alley…
As for such Folk Arts as Woodcarving, the Best Work in Oberammergau could have been turned out by Computer Programmed Carving Machines.
One Virgin & Child looks very much like another…
Real Folk Art now is often called Art Brut in Europe & Outsider Art in America.
When it was finally Time for Elizabeth to give up on Tannhäuser, Wolfram shut her up in a Big
Blue Bio Gas Cylinder!
One of the Projections announced that the Art Installation Production Design was a Metaphor. But for What?
If you are lucky enough to get a Ticket next Summer for a Bayreuth Tannhäuser, just remember: SHIT HAPPENS!
Your Roving Arts Reporter requested an Interview via e Mail & also in Person, when collecting his Press Tickets this Summer.
But he was later told: If you didn’t hear from us, it’s Not Going To Happen.
So, when I return to New York, I plan to construct an Imaginary Interview, including all the Interesting Items I would have shared with K. Wagner about her Mother, her Father, her Auntie Friedelind—a longtime Friend of mine, & her Hitler Loving Grandmother, Winifred Wagner.
It is, however, Worth Noting that the Official Bayreuth Festival Beseztungs List does not Put Her Name First!
Instead, Half Sister Eva Comes First: Gesamtleitung: Eva Wagner Pasquier ● Katharina Wagner
Of course this does not mean that Eva has finally gotten the Upper Hand.
This Listing could be nothing more than Alphabetical Order!
As I have seen, heard, & reviewed Robert Dean Smith several times in his Tristan Impersonation in the Now Outmoded Bayreuth Staging of the Artistically Challenged Christoph Marthaler, I asked the Festival Press Office to transfer my Ticket to Magister Scott Bennett.
Scott is the Web Master Extraordinaire for TheArtsArchive.com, as well as my Companion Critic & Colleague at Home & Abroad.
Nonetheless, as Robert Dean Smith is still behaving like a Cruise Recreation Director, I’ll be Ergonomic & Recycle my Tristan Review from Summer 2006:
In the second year of the five year Christoph Marthaler Tristan und Isolde, it was to be hoped that some Improvements, Clarifications, and/or Alterations might have been made, in keeping with the idea that Bayreuth is a Wagner Workshop.
But—as with the Christoph Schlingensief Parsifal—there was no way the Basic Concept and the Stage Visualization of Tristan could be changed or meaningfully altered.
And there was certainly no question of its being Clarified, for the Basic Setting is equipped with lots of Light Switches and a profusion of White Ring Lights that seem to move around like Aberrant Stars in an Inky Black Sky and—when these are set in a ceiling or hanging on the set walls—to blink on and off at certain moments, but not exactly cued by Wagner’s Score.
What this might mean, either to Isolde or to Christoph Marthaler—a celebrated Young Genius German Stage Director—was not remotely clear.
Nor is its Secret Symbolism to be found in Wagner’s own stage directions for this powerful opera of Doomed Love.
Why various Characters—when they were not singing—walked toward the Outer Walls of the Set and stood silently facing the Blank Panels like Bad Children was no more apparent this season than last summer. Perhaps this is the Way People Grieve in Marthaler Land?
What was still Obvious—as it was last year, from the first moment, with the curtain open during the Overture, contrary to Wagner’s Wishes—was that Isolde is on the Recreation Deck of the Titanic, and it is bound straight for the Bermuda Triangle!
Tristan is not only dressed like a Cruise Ship Recreation Director, but he also behaves like one—until he takes a Swig of Brangäne’s Magic Potion.
I am still baffled about the Scenic Increments for each of the three acts. In the First Act, the area looks like a Cruis Ship’s enclosed Sun Deck, with Deck Chairs here and there—which the fraught Isolde goes around turning on their sides.
For the Second Act, the previous set has been jacked up one entire level, so that a new suite of walls is directly below it, replete with light switches and two smart Mies van der Rohe seats center stage for the Barbie doll Isolde and Brangäne.
In the Third Act—supposedly set in Tristan’s distant Castle Burg Carneol—we seem to be in the Intensive Care Unit of a Major Medical Facility. With Tristan’s state of the art Hospital bed center stage.
Again, the two previous suites of outer walls have been jacked up, now supported by a third set of walls, equipped with wall rods for hanging the White Ring Lights on.
These glow from time to time, without any visible plug in connections.
I was told there is an Essay in the press kit that explains the Concept and its Egregious Symbols.
Unfortunately, I had already packed that—along with a ton of summer festival books & programs—to mail back to NYC, rather than have them confiscated at Heathrow Airport for their Explosive Potential.
My thought about Mystical Avant garde Opera & Drama Productions that are over dressed with a Plethora of Symbolic Devices—that require Essays to explain their Significance—is that the Directors & Designers are trying to call attention to themselves.
Rather than Serve the Work that they have been Contracted to Realize on Stage.
Any fairly Alert & Intelligent member of the audience ought to be able to understand what he or she is looking at and hearing. At least On Some Level…
Repeated Exposures to Challenging Productions—and to Great Classics—can only deepen Understanding & Appreciation, but there should be a Stage Audience Connection on the First Viewing & Hearing.
As all the Loney Show Notes are Archived somewhere on this website, if anyone is interested, you can check out last summer’s Bayreuth Festival Report and discover In Detail how things were on the Good Ship Andrea Doria. Or was it the Achille Lauro?
What it is Absolutely Necessary to note, however, is that the singing of all the major roles in this summer’s Tristan was superb! Kwangchul Youn, as King Mark; John Wegner, as Kurwenal, Martin Snell, as Steuermann, and Ralf Lukas, as Melot—who still looks like an ex Vopo—were all superb.
Though it was difficult to understand why Kurwenal had to keep falling down… Extreme Old Age?
Petra Lang’s Brangäne was electrifying, but Nina Stemme & Robert Dean Smith were astounding in Isolde & Tristan’s heart breaking Love Duet. The Applause for them was also deafening.
What was especially curious about the ever increasing emotion & power of their singing in this set piece was that Director Marthaler had required them to stand apart and look straight out at the audience.
Or perhaps into the Middle Distance?
They did not look at each other—although the music certainly suggested that they could hardly do otherwise—nor did their stiff, rigid, puppet like bodies respond to the music, the words, or the emotions embodied in Text & Partitur.
How could they sing so well—and so feelingly—with no apparent Bodily Response?
One could only imagine how much more powerful Wagner’s Liebestod would sound if Marthaler let his singers loose…
Maybe next year? Peter Schneider conducted, allowing for the Directorial Peculiarities. He might have felt he was, in fact, leading the Cruise ship Orchestra…
How about Grail Knights with Great Black Wings?
I asked for & received a Precious Press Ticket for one of the Last Performances Ever of the Magical Parsifal of Stefan Herheim.
Unfortunately, it was on the Very Day that I had to be in Nuremberg to report on the Major Albrecht Dürer Exhibition.
So here is another Ergonomic Recycling of a Bayreuth Review by Your Roving Arts Reporter:
Weisst Du was Du hier gesehen hast?
This formulation is from Memory, not from consulting the Libretto of Parsifal, of which I no longer have a copy on hand. All my Wagner Books are in Anti Bedbug Storage over in Brooklyn…
But when I had seen the opening moments of the new Bayreuth Parsifal, I felt that Guernemanz might have been talking directly to me: Do you know what you have seen here?
Of course, he is talking to the Young Parsifal, who knows nothing about anything, least of all who his Mother might have been. Parsifal is a Pure Fool or, if you like, a Holy Innocent.
Roaming aimlessly in the forest, he has shot a Sacred Swan: in some productions, it looks like a stuffed Albatross, which it well might be, considering the Problems that unfold from that Unlucky Shot.
Taken to the Secret Temple of the Holy Grail by some Knights, he beholds the Ritual of Renewal that streams from the Grail onto its attendant Grail Knights.
But the Grail Celebrant, Amfortas, has a hideous Wound which will not Heal. Elevating the Grail for the Ritual requires a Super Human Effort he can hardly summon anymore.
But even his Dead Father, Titurel, can muster enough energy to sing from his Coffin!
For those Republicans & Evangelical Fundamentalists who believe that the Scourge of AIDS is God’s Punishment on the Wicked—especially on those who have Morally Transgressed!—it might be Good News to learn that Amfortas is being similarly punished for Sexually Fooling Around in Klingsor’s Magic Garden…
Only the touch of the Holy Spear can heal the Wound, but who will wrest it from Klingsor?
Well, Parsifal, of course! Otherwise you would have to call this late Wagnerian Epic something like Lohengrin’s Father…
For those Evangelical Fundamentalists who are trying to Protect Our Children from Bad Role Models by Banning Books from School Library Shelves, Parsifal may seem fairly harmless.
The name sounds like one of those Herbal Enhancements you add to Salad or Roasted Meats.
But in English, those who still read know this name as Percival.
The name sounds sissy, but Percival was a Pure Knight, one of the most perfect at the famed Round Table of King Arthur—who, unfortunately, doesn’t have a role in Wagner’s opera.
The perceived difficulty in permitting American Children to read Tales of the Round Table is that it threatens American Family Values.
Percival is OK morally, but Sir Launcelot makes love to King Arthur’s wife, Guenevere. This is not good…
Richard Wagner could not resist some strong Sexual Stuff in his Parsifal, but what American Teen Ager reads Wagner Librettos?
On seeing Stefan Herheim’s unusual vision of this opera for the first time this summer, however, I felt as Clueless as Parsifal at the Grail Ritual.
If Guernemanz had asked me: Do you know what you have seen here? I might have answered: a bizarre fantasy of Prussian & Nazi Military Adventures from 1870 to Post World War II
Initially, it becomes clear that we are in Wagner’s own Haus Wahnfried, as an historic wall, complete with fireplace, clock, & Majestic Portrait are seen Stage Right.
At one point, this becomes not one wall, but Four Duplicates…
The Novelty here is that the Overture is silently acted out, although, beginning with Director Goetz Friedrich at Bayreuth, that is not such a surprise anymore.
But a Big White Bed Center Stage dominates the proceedings.
Amfortas is in it at one point, but he—as with other Occasional Occupants—slides down out of sight under the covers.
Another apparent Death Bed Scene involves a White Clad Woman who desperately stretches out her arms to a Blond Young Boy in a Sailor Suit, who runs from her to his Toys.
Could this be Parsifal’s Mother dying, rejected at the last?
As we seem to be in Wahnfried, could this woman be either Cosima Liszt Wagner or Winifred Wagner?
Not likely. Cosima died in 1930, followed six months later by her doting son, Siegfried.
Winifred—whom I came to know—long remained an uncomfortable annoyance for her two sons, especially with her five hour long appearance in that Syberberg film in 1976, the Centennial Year of the Festival.
If only I had used the morning of my 4pm Parsifal to attend the Explanatory Lecture: the Inzenierungsbezogene Einfürhungsvorträge!
Perhaps then I would have understood why I seemed to be watching snippets of All’s Quiet on the Western Front, The Blue Angel, & Cabaret…
One historic Wagner Related Scenic Treat that Set Designer Heike Scheele presented was an initial suggestion of the Original Setting for the Grail Temple in the Festspielhaus!
But Costume Designer Gesine Völlm had to replicate Period Costumes from several fairly recent eras in German History, beginning with what might be called Victorian—or Wilhelmine—Suits & Gowns from around 1870 & the Defeat of the French at the Battle of Sedan.
What really distinguished these outfits for the transformed Grail Knights were the Long Gray Wings that were attached to their shoulders: Real Feathers?
Were they graying German Eagles? Or War Loving Vultures…
Increasingly, Bayreuth productions are integrating other Performance Media. Not so long ago, Titurel sang from his Sarcophagus—via Closed Circuit TV!
Herheim’s staging requires many feet of Historic Film Clips.
Thanks to UFA & Pathé, we are able to see enthusiastic German Troops marching off to the Front in France & the Debacle that followed.
Klingsor has not vanished: he now sports a Tux, but below he’s wearing Sleek Nylons & a Garter Belt.
Kundry seems to be a kind of Top Hatted Marlene Dietrich: why not?
As for the Magic Garden & the enticing Flower Maidens, we are, instead, in a Hospital Ward with Badly Damaged Soldiers in iron beds.
Instead of Flower Maidens, they are serviced by Red Cross Nurses, who straddle them & ride their various Manhoods!
The Nurses are backed up by what look like Outrageously Costumed Fugitives from a Ziegfeld Follies.
I was told these Ladies represented the Weimar Republic Entertainers in Cabaret…
Between the Wars, starving Germans hold their hands out for food—ignored by those who have well survived—but those Without Bread are lured by Communism.
Suddenly, long red Nazi Banners drop from above, Black Swastikas on White! A Nazi Eagle dominates the stage. Winifred Wagner would have been amazed…
So was I: this is Parsifal?
Instead of Klingsor hurling the Spear at Parsifal, a Hitler Youth lad rises out of the bowels of the stage & throws the Sacred Spear at Parsifal downstage.
All the Nazi Insignia suddenly drop down onto the stage, the Plaster Eagle crashing to the floor, breaking into pieces. [They must have extras back in the stage shop…]
Film Footage upstage shows Germany in Ruins…
Well, you get the Idea, or the "Production Concept."
But is this really about the Healing Power of the Holy Grail?
Or rather a Salute to the Marshall Plan & Ludwig Ehrhard’s Wirtschafts Wunder?
The Finale takes place in what looks like the new German Bundestag in Berlin: all Circularities & Reflective Surfaces.
Both the Audience & the Parliamentarians are reflected in a Huge Mirror, perhaps left over from Peter Hall’s doomed Bayreuth RING…
Amfortas lies in Titurel’s Coffin, a German Eagle on top & one on the floor before it.
Parsifal Heals & Blesses.
There’s even a Mary Magdalene Foot Washing that recalls the Oberammergau Passion Play…
Nonetheless, this is a fascinating production I’d love to see next summer, making sure to attend the pre show Inzenierungsbezogene Einfürhungsvorträge!
Momme Hinrichs & Torge Møller provided the Film Clip Videos, with lighting by Ulrich Niepel.
The Greatest Opera Orchestra in the World was conducted by Daniele Gatti, with the Greatest Opera Chorus in the World, as usual directed by Eberhard Friedrich.
It might seem odd to leave the Acting/Singing Credits for the last, as—in a hectic production like this one—they have to work the hardest to register any affect/effect.
But stagings that so deliberately depart from the Basic Librettos are really calling attention to the "Creative Artists," rather than to the Beleaguered Performers.
Nonetheless, Detlef Roth as Amfortas, Kwangchul Youn as Guernemanz, Thomas Jesatko as Klingsor, Susan Maclean as Kundry, & Christopher Ventris as Parsifal were all admirable.
Even from the Grave, the Titurel of Diógenes Randes could be clearly heard!
The Ruhr Triennale, created to keep Belgium’s Dr. Gérard Mortier busy—after the Salzburg Festival had let him go & before he went off to the Opéra Bastille in Paris—was Passed On to the Frighteningly Unpredictable Stage Director Frank Castorf.
Once the Reigning Terror of Berlin’s Volksbühne, he was Soon Dismissed…
In signing him to stage Bayreuth’s New RING, was Intendant Katharina Wagner hoping for another Bayreuth Scandal?
Her Late Father, Wolfgang Wagner, loved to orchestrate just such Scandals.
He engaged Film Maker Lars von Trier to stage the most recent Bayreuth RING—which he realized, almost at the Last Minute, that he could not do…
Will Frank be Another Lars?
Caricature of Glenn Loney in header is by Sam Norkin.
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