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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, August 15, 2006
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
FIFTY YEARS AT THE SALZBURG FESTIVAL! *
MOZART 22 in Salzburg: All Amadeus' Operas on View! *
Siemens & ORF: Opera on the Giant Screen! *
Kleines Festspielhaus Remade as Haus für Mozart! *
Figaro with Feathers: *
Cupid on Stage--But Without Arias! *
A Star Is Born: Anna Netrebko *
Salzburg's Susanna Now Also a New Austrian Citizen! *
Ascanio in Alba: Also in a Body-Bag! *
Almost in Hallein's Salt-Mines: *
Tartuffe with Confetti & Streamers! *
Abduction in the Haus for Mozart: *
Stage-Dressed Like an Egg: *
Così fan tutte in the Grosses Festspielhaus *
No More Mozart in Salzburg Summer 2007? *
Will Carl Orff Live Again at the Salzburg Festival? *
MOZART'S BALLS on Top of the Mönschberg! *
Museum der Modern Exposes *
Christoph Schlingensief's Latest Artistic-Outrage *
Museum der Modern Exhibits *
KUNST AUF DER BÜHNE--les grands spectacles II *
The Hagenauers in Salzburg's Barockmuseum: *
In Mozart's Time, Family-friends, Artists, & Businessmen! *
FIFTY YEARS AT THE SALZBURG FESTIVAL!
Not that it matters--in the Grand Scheme of Things--but this past summer was my 50th Anniversary at the Salzburg Festival…
The Year of Our Lord 2006 was also not only Mozart's 250th Anniversary, but it marked as well some 86 years of the Salzburg Festival, founded by Max Reinhardt, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Clemens Holzmeister, and other Worthies.
Of course, thanks to Adolf Hitler and World War II, not every one of those years featured a Performance-Summer. World-Wars tend to discourage Arts-Festivals.
After the Nazi-Anschluss with Austria-Felix in 1938, Der Führer gave orders to redesign the interior of the Kleines Festspielhaus--which this summer re-opened as the Haus für Mozart--so that there would be a Special Loge for him and his Attendants.
This former would-be artist favored an Architectural & Decorative style that might well be called Fascist Art Deco, although it was based on Imperial Roman models.
And, like his Fellow-Dictator, Josef Stalin, he insisted on a kind of Socialist Realism, rather than the Impressionisms, Expressionisms, and Surrealisms that had Infected & Debased Echt Deutsche Kunst, with their baneful Cosmopolitan Influences.
As the Salzburg Festival opened this past July, the news was that a new Documentary Film on the Festival by Tony Palmer--originally commissioned, or at least endorsed, by the Festival Management--was not to have an Official Showing. Apparently, it dwelt too long on--and looked too deeply into--the Festival's Years After Anschluss.
Nonetheless, this shadowy past was something your scribe knew little about, when he first came to the Salzburg Festival after the Second World War, as a Professor for the University of Maryland Overseas.
At UC/Berkeley in 1950, I had written a Senior-Thesis on the amazing career of Max Reinhardt, inspired by his miraculous & widely-toured production of The Miracle.
In London, Reinhardt re-staged his Continental version of The Miracle in the vast arena of Olympia--with actors rising out of the ground.
But, in Manhattan, Reinhardt had the celebrated Deco Designer, Norman Bel Geddes--father of Barbara Bel Geddes--convert the Century Theatre into a Cathedral!
So Max Reinhardt was the reason, in 1956, that I made a point of coming to Salzburg to see some productions of the Post-War Festival, before I took up my teaching-duties on US Air-force Bases in Eastern France. I wanted to see the Famous City and the two Mozart-Houses, of course.
But, more than that, I wanted to see the actual theatres Reinhardt and his colleagues had created: The Kleines Festspielhaus and the Felsenreitschule, where the famed Faust-Stadt had been erected. And, also, perhaps to see a performance of Jedermann?
Since that summer, over the years I have seen many Jedermanns, not to mention All the Mozart You Can Manage.
One summer, when she was re-staging Max Reinhardt's vision of Hofmannsthal's version of the Medieval English Morality Play, Everyman, I got to know Max Reinhardt's widow, the distinguished Austrian actress, Helene Thimig.
The current Jedermann has been innovatively staged by the same talented young director I interviewed in Oberammergau, in 2000 AD, when he newly staged its famed Passion-Play!
At the Salzburg Festival, I have been able to interview Grace Bumbry--on the occasion of her debut as Lady Macbeth, Teresa Stratas--who cooked great Greek food for friends and young opera-students, Hermann Prey--a feathery Papageno, who insisted he didn't read reviews, as his wife was pasting them in albums, and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle--who created some memorable Salzburg Festival productions in all three of its theatres.
Eventually, all those Audio-Interviews and many others made at the Festival--which have already been digitally-preserved--will be available on a special GML Salzburg Festival website, together with all the published interviews, reports, critiques, and photos I have made over the past decades.
Actually, in 1956, I had no idea of writing about the productions I had seen. The Dollar Was King, so I bought my own tickets. It was only some four years later, in 1960, that I discovered there were free Press-tickets for journalists who regularly wrote about the Performing Arts!
Teaching in Europe, North Africa, & the Middle-East, from 1956 to 1960, I soon discovered that--for most major American newspapers & magazines--as far as the Performing Arts were concerned, Europe began in London and ended in Paris!
So I began to submit reports & interviews to the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Herald-Tribune, and the late, lamented Theatre Arts Magazine.
And so it has gone on, summer after summer. But, in Salzburg, for years journalists and critics always had to pay for the production-photos they used to enhance their reports. [This is still also true at the Bayreuth Festival, but most fests now make digital-photos freely available, glad of the added publicity for their productions.]
The result is that I now have an immense archive of vintage black-&-white production-photos of Salzburg Festival productions from 1960 onwards. The Great Von Karajan Years--and after…
These will also be put on-line on the not-for-profit GML Salzburg Fest website--for study & research-purposes only, not for commercial-use. But this difficult & demanding task will take some time.
And it will need some not-for-profit subsidy, as your aged scribe is not paid for these columns.
MOZART 22 in Salzburg: All Amadeus' Operas on View!
Jürgen Flimm--the Festival's new Intendant--has said that he wondered whether Intendant Peter Ruzicka could actually Bring It Off: That is, the staging of all 22 recognized Mozart Operas, Singspiels, and Opera-fragments.
In the event, he has not only done so, but with Notable Success. This was made possible by reviving important previous Salzburg Mozart stagings, as well as mounting new ones. Plus inviting interesting productions from some other Opera-stages!
Nonetheless, there remains The Question of whether some of the early or fragmented works are really that compelling and stage-worthy.
Recently--in the New York Times--it was suggested that the attempt of Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart fest to do just that on the occasion of Mozart's 200th Death-Day was close to an artistic & aesthetic Disaster…
For the Record: Here are the Salzburg Mozart-Jahr 2006 productions, together with their original premiere-dates and the number of performances this summer in July & August--
1767: Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots [3x]
1767: Apollo et Hyacinthus [3x]
1768: Bastien und Bastienne [9x]
1768: La finta semplice [4x]
1770: Mitridate, Re di Ponto [3x]
1771: Ascanio in Alba [2x]
1771: Betulia liberata [1x--as concert]
1771: Il sogno di Scipione [2x]
1772: Lucio Silla [3x]
1775: La finta giardiniera [3x]
1775: Il re pastore [3x]
1780: Zaïde [3x]
1781: Idomeneo [4x]
1782: Die Entführung aus dem Serail [4x]
1783: L'Oca del Cairo [4x]
1783: Lo sposo deluso [4x]
1786: Der Schauspieldirektor [9x]
1786: Le nozze di Figaro [7x--with Anna Netrebko as Susanna]
1787: Don Giovanni [7x]
1790: Così fan tutte [5x]
1791: Die Zauberflöte [7x]
1791: La clemenza di Tito [6x]
Not to complain, but your scribe misses--from this almost Exhaustive List--Mozart's music for Thamos, König von Aegypten. Or Thutmose, if you prefer.
It must be almost forty years since I saw this work in Munich, at the Bavarian State Opera. Memories of the production are now very dim, but it seemed really more of a drama, with Musical-Moments. Not even quite a Singspiel…
The critic for Munich's Paper-of-Record--the Süddeutsche-Zeitung--condemned this Archival Programming as: Oper-Festival als Musik-Seminar!
Siemens & ORF: Opera on the Giant Screen!
For those who either could not obtain tickets to the many Sold-out Mozart performances--or those who simply could not afford the World's Highest Opera-admission-prices: now well over $400 for the best seats & shows--Siemens provided nightly videos of current and previous Salzburg Festival productions on a Giant-Screen behind the great Baroque Cathedral and right in front of the Prince-Archbishop's ornate Horse-Bath Fountain!
[Top price for major productions in the Grosses Festspielhaus is 360 Euros--about $430--compared to Bayreuth's top of about $250!]
One of the reasons the ticket-prices are so steep is that the Festival only engages the best talents--and they cost real money. Also, for ORF--Austrian Radio-Television--production-costs for the much-admired Live-Broadcasts and video-rebroadcasts of Festival Operas are spiraling, especially for the subsidiary-rights that require that participants be paid scale or better.
In July & August this summer, among the productions shown for large audiences behind the Salzburger Dom were: La Traviata--with Anna Netrebko & Rolando Villazón, Falstaff--with Bryn Terfel, Don Giovanni--with Thomas Hampson, Don Carlo--with Sergei Larin, Die Zauberflöte--with René Pape, Lucio Silla--with Roberto Saccà, Così fan tutte--with Francisco Araiza, Le Nozze di Figaro--with Anna Netrebko, Ariadne auf Naxos--with Natalie Dessay & Deborah Polaski, Der Rosenkavalier--with Adrianne Pieczonka & Angelika Kirschslager, Turandot--with Gabriele Schnaut, and Die Entführung aus dem Serail--with Laura Aikin & Valentina Farca..
Actually, some of the operas on view were shown in more than one Salzburg production, with an interesting variety in casting for those fond of comparisons.
Kleines Festspielhaus Remade as Haus für Mozart!
Not only did Adolf Hitler have the Kleines Festspielhaus remodeled to suit his essentially Fascist Art Deco & Quasi-Imperial-Roman Tastes, but he also demanded that the bold & colorful murals in the Festspielhaus foyer, by Anton Faistauer, be removed. And, preferably, destroyed…
Fortunately--even in the very short time allotted for their removal--it was possible to detach, secure, and preserve them out of sight, until the Thousand Year Reich had run its 13-year-course.
Now, with the completion of the latest remodeling of the Kleines Festspielhaus--now known as the Haus für Mozart--all of these mural-sections that can be found have been restored in their proper place & sequence in the original foyer. [Some missing sections may still be in Private Collections, from whence, it is hoped, they might be returned to their former home.]
Those Salzburg Veterans who know the Kleines Festspielhaus of old may be surprised at their first view of both the new sleekly Post-Modern external-façade--linking the entire front of both Festival Theatres--and the interior-foyers and auditorium of the House for Mozart. [Not to be confused with Mozart's Other Salzburg Houses: the Wohnhaus & the Gebürts-Haus!]
Great Windows now let much more light into the internal Public-Areas, although these spaces are dominated--when not somewhat impeded--by a Grand White-Marble Post-Modernist Staircase.
Three handsome Mozartian bronze-reliefs decorate the terrace above the street-level windows. They celebrate Figaro, Don Giovanni, & Zauberflöte!
The new Auditorium provides the biggest surprises. Although its seating has been increased by only 270 seats--it now accommodates 1,650 Mozart Opera-Addicts--it seems much larger than before. In fact, its volume is a great deal larger, effecting remarkable improvements in acoustics!
The new ceiling is much higher than the old one. It looks somewhat curved, when it can be seen at all, at the sides of the great square black "doughnut" that is centrally-suspended over the orchestra-pit and the forward-seating.
This immediately affects the former sense of Intimacy that distinguished the old Kleines Festspielhaus. But it obviously provides a great improvement in the Sound-Values.
The genial Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Müller--who had recently shown your scribe how he and his team had improved the acoustics of all three performance-venues at the Bregenz Festival--thoughtfully explained what has been done for the Haus für Mozart. And how it has been achieved!
[Incidentally, Dr. Müller and his dedicated associates have adjusted the acoustics for the newly reconstructed Teatro Fenice in Venice!]
But--especially if you are interested Theatre Technology--you can learn all this and more about the new opera-house from a handsome new book by its architects, Wilhelm Holzbauer & Francois Valentiny.
Weightily-titled Die Bauten der Salzburger Festspiele von 1894 bis 2006, Holzbauer & Valentiny's study is largely about the designs & execution of the new Haus für Mozart. But it also goes back to the beginnings of the Salzburg Festival and its initial performance-venues.
Here is Max Reinhardt & Clemens Holzmeister's Faust-Stadt in the Felsenreitschule. There is Hitler's Personal Loge in the Kleines Festspielhaus. And here are some photos of Anton Faistauer's wonderful murals, as they were originally-sited in the foyer!
In addition to photos showing the successive alterations and/or improvements to the Kleines Festspielhaus, there are also a number of fascinating architectural-renderings of Ideal Festival Theatres for Salzburg that were never built. Including a Kapuzinerberg Monstrosity that Adolf Hitler dreamt of building.
There are also pages & pages of drawings, models, & color-photographs of the new house. The texts are in both German & English!
This is a valuable research-resource that should be in the collections of major Theatre Libraries & Museums, as well as on the bookshelves of anyone involved in Theatre-Design, Construction, and/or Play & Opera-Production.
Jung und Jung, of Salzburg & Vienna, are the publishers, but there is no e-mail address cited in the book for those who may want to order a copy. Try the Salzburg Festival Website for more information.
[Word To the Wise: The new Haus für Mozart is not without its Faults. As the orchestra-seating cannot be raked, slanted, or inclined more than it already is--which is minimal--if you are only five-feet, plus a few inches in height, you may find yourself seated right behind a six-foot-giant.
[What you will see will be the back of his head, not The Abduction from the Seraglio.
[My solution to this problem--which cannot be corrected structurally--is to have two Orders of Performance: One for people who are Short; the other, for the Giants!
[Prof. Müller smilingly agreed with me that this might be The Answer. Don't count on it ever happening. Bring some pillows so you can see over the six-footers!]
Figaro with Feathers:
Cupid on Stage--But Without Arias!
The minute your scribe received the program-brochure for the Salzburg summer-season 2006, he sent off his request-list for press-tickets for Mozart opera-productions on the few days he could be in Salzburg this August. That was months before the Press-Office sent a reply, regrettably omitting a ticket for the new Claus Guth-directed Le nozze di Figaro.
This was a Big Disappointment--not only as this was my 50th Anniversary at the Festival--but also because last season I had been given an excellent seat for La Traviata, starring Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, and Thomas Hampson.
And I had also been able to meet them both at a Deutsche-Gramophone reception on the rooftop terrace of the former Kleines Festspielhaus. They both proved immensely charming and friendly.
In the new and widely-admired Figaro, however, Anna-Susanna is partnered--not by Rolando--but by the darkly handsome and vocally-gifted Ildebrando D'Arcangelo. Of whom it might be said that he sings Like an Angel--if not yet an Archangel…
The result of such casting--and Anna Netrebko's having rapidly become Salzburg's New Star--was that there were said to be SEVEN requests for each available seat. Though it was not made clear whether those requests were from Critics longing for press-tickets, or from run-of-the-mill Opera-lovers.
All was not Entirely Lost, however. Sitting in a small hotel-room in Vienna, your scribe was able to watch the new production's premiere LIVE on Austrian-TV.
Unfortunately--although the TV Monitor sound-levels of CNN & BBC broadcasts could blast you across the room--both available ORF channels were set so low one could hardly hear Anna, Ildebrando, and Bo Skovhus singing.
What was visible, however, was the grand Treppenhaus--or staircase--that dominates the heart of Count Almaviva's grand--if unfurnished--palace. All the stage-action took place up, down, and around this imposing Work-of-Architecture.
Formerly--in the old Kleines Festspielhaus, from which the Haus für Mozart has been newly fashioned--there were only three TV-camera-positions available for Live Broadcasts: Rear of the Parkett and on both sides.
From the telecast--directed by the ingenious Brian Large, the Master of TV Opera-casts--it was clear that there are now TV-positions over the stage as well. One was looking into Count Almaviva's anxious face as he clambered up the grand stairs: something that cannot be captured by cameras in front of the Proscenium.
It was clear that all of the actor/singers were in very good voice--even if only faintly heard on TV. And that they were really Living Their Parts, especially Ildebrando, Anna, & Bo. In fact, at one point, the jealous Figaro lost control and savaged poor Cherubino--whom he customarily only mocks & spoofs.
This may not be in tune with the Merry Comedy--the Mad Day, or Toller Tag--playwright Beaumarchais and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte had originally imagined.
But stage-director Claus Guth is now noted for his ability to Find the Dark Side--or the Lower Depths--of previously seemingly Obvious Operas. At Bayreuth, his re-thinking of Wagner's Flying Dutchman has given that work--and its music--almost an entirely New Meaning: Senta has a serious Father-Complex. She should see Dr. Freud as soon as he has an hour free on the couch for her!
Unfortunately--at least as this looked on the telecast--Figaro is not an Opera with Feathers: Papageno has no place in the Almavivas' Palace!
Indeed, at some points, the stage-floor was so littered with little white-feathers one wondered why Susanna didn't do a bit of Sweeping-Up. For singers with Allergies, so many feathers could be disastrous.
But the real reason for all the feathers was not the Count's having burst a feather-bed, trying to bed Susanna on her wedding-day.
No, indeed. The feathers seemed to fall--on TV, at least--from Cherubim, a kind of small-winged Cupid/Eros, who at times manipulated the various lovers like a Puppet-Master. This role also involved giving a few kicks-in-the-pants for emphasis.
Uli Kirsch played this non-speaking, non-singing role with relish--and a great deal of Athleticism, even Arrogance…
But this was a Visual-Gloss on the various amorous--or unhappy--couples that seemed totally unnecessary. The passionate power of the various portrayals made relationships & emotions quite clear. Of course, that's what Mozart's Score is all about anyway, isn't it?
[A critic-colleague who actually saw the production live insists that all those things lying around on the Almaviva's Floor were not feathers, but Dead Leaves! As I could see no trees on the staircase on the TV-screen, I wondered from where they might have fallen, if they really were Leaves. And not Feathers…
[There's no point in checking either Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais' original comedy or Lorenzo Da Ponte's libretto, for there are no mentions of Autumn Leaves lying around the Treppenhaus.]
For the Record:
Conductor: Nicholas Harnoncourt.
Director: Claus Guth.
Designer: Christian Schmidt.
Lighting: Olaf Winter.
Cast: Anna Netrebko, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, Bo Skovhus, Dorothea Röschmann.
Plus: Cherubino--Christine Schäfer, Marcellina--Marie McLaughlin, Bartolo--Franz-Josef Selig, Basilio--Patrick Henckens, Barbarina--Eva Liebau, Antonio--Florian Boesch, Curzio--Oliver Ringelhahn, CHERUBIM--Uli Kirsch.
A Star Is Born: Anna Netrebko
Salzburg's Susanna Now Also a New Austrian Citizen!
In the weeks immediately preceding the opening of the Salzburg Festival, magazine-covers and major newspapers' Cultural Feuilliton sections were featuring large color-photos of the lovely young Russian soprano, Anna Netrebko. Some were portraits; others showed her in recent roles, notably the Salzburg Festival Traviata of 2005.
Indeed, the pictures of Netrebko on the shocking-red sofa of that production were the Editors' Favorites. And not just because last summer a 400-Euro ticket for could easily be sold on the Black Market for $4,000. No, it was because Anna looked so sexy & luscious & vulnerable…
The Sofa itself was soon to be auctioned-off for the benefit of the Festival at the renowned Dorotheum auction-house!
In case readers--especially of the Women's Magazines--had not already figured-it-out, bold black headlines proclaimed Anna Netrebko as a new Star!
There were Interviews Galore, even though Netrebko insisted she had given few--and that a number of those in print had never taken place!
Last summer, your scribe had the opportunity to talk with Anna and her Traviata-partner--Rolando Villazón--at a press-reception above the Kleines Festspielhaus. She was both witty & charming, her English excellent, and her observations about the Met on target!
But it was neither the time nor the place for an intimate interview. We rode down in the tiny elevator together--also not an interview-venue…
Before her triumphal Salzburg opening in the new Nozze di Figaro production, the Federal Government of Austria granted Netrebko Austrian Citizenship! Certainly a definite Seal of Approval…
Fortunately, Anna Netrebko did not get this Austrian Passport out of dire need--as did Bertolt Brecht, in the wake of World War II. She proudly retains her Russian Citizenship and is definitely not fleeing President Putin or Valery Gergiev.
[Incidental Intelligence: Bert Brecht, on the other hand, got an Austrian Passport just after he had fled the United States--where he had lived in Santa Monica, as a refugee from Hitler & the Nazis during the Second World War.
[After a somewhat ingenuous appearance before the US Congress's House Un-American Activities Committee--called HUAC--Brecht took virtually the next plane to Europe. Ostensibly, he was to work at the Salzburg Festival, hence the Austrian Passport.
[As the US High-Commissioner John D. McCloy had forbade any West German theatre to offer Brecht a home, he went promptly to East Berlin, where he founded the DDR's major Cultural Showcase, The Berliner Ensemble!
[But this Wily Socialist had made sure he had a Numbered Swiss Bank-account before going behind the Iron Curtain. And he also bought a Danish property for his projected-retirement: something his widow, the great actress Helene Weigel, angrily denied when I told her I'd seen a copy of the deed…]
Ascanio in Alba: Also in a Body-Bag!
What do Aeneas, Anchises, & Ascanius all have in common? They were all Family, escaping the Burning Ruins of Troy.
It was Aeneas' Duty to found Rome--with a side-trip to Queen Dido in Carthage. As for the noble son Ascanio, in Mozart's teenage opera, Ascanio in Alba, it was his duty to found a splendid new city in Alba for a group of feckless shepherds & shepherdesses.
In short, a short Pastoral Opera, composed by the 15-year-old Mozart for the Political Wedding of the 17-year-old Habsburg Archduke, Ferdinand, with Beatrice d'Este of Modena.
[New Yorkers who have recently visited the Frick Collection's exhibition of the Liotard pastel-portraits of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa's many Royal Children will have seen Ferdy's handsome image on the wall!]
The Wedding-Deal was that Habsburg Austria--through Ferdinand & Bea--would inherit the Duchy of Modena, once the male Este Line had died out.
The Salzburg Festival program for Ascanio in Alba makes much of the fabled motto: Tu felix
Austria nube… Or: You Happy Austria Marry--while other Crowns Fight Wars to protect themselves and add Territories…
So you could imagine that in Mozart's charming little opera--with a libretto by Giuseppe Parini--Erzherzog Ferdinand might be seen as Ascanio, fated to marry the Nymph Silvia, or Beatrice d'Este.
In Parini's libretto, the Austrian Empress is Metaphorically & Mythologically saluted as the Goddess Venus, whose son is Ascanius. And she has made all the arrangements for the coming marriage, although the future King & Queen of Alba have never seen each other.
Venus, however, has had Silvia see Ascanius in her dreams, which have inspired her with longing. Nonetheless, Venus wants to test Silvia's Virtue and so has forbidden Ascanio to reveal himself to his future bride.
At the close--faced with the Reality--Silvia seems a bit disappointed but is determined to marry him anyway. Well, you get the Idea…
When you think about this, it is really not very flattering to young Archduke Ferdy!
In the current production of Mannheim's National-Theater--guesting at the Salzburg Festival--stage-director David Hermann's vision of Ascanio is even less flattering.
When Ascanio is first discovered, Venus is dragging him to a kind of podium, but he seems lifeless, zipped-up in what looks like a sleeping-bag with arms! A fellow-critic assured me this is supposed to be a Body-Bag!
Somehow, Venus breathes Life into the shaky lad, but she also carries around with her a padded Security Blanket for him when he is panicky.
Although Mozart's score is not Mature Mozart, it is delightful. Understandably, Ascanio in Alba is not very often performed, but in this Mozart-Jahre, it can hardly be ignored.
In some fifty years or more of opera-going, I can recall only two productions, but both of them opted to present the work as a Shepherd's Pastoral, one with Greek Mythic-Overtones; the other as a kind of Fragonard-Marie-Antoinette 18th Century Pastiche. But then the unfortunate Marie-Antoinette actually was the sister of Archduke Ferdy!
But David Hermann obviously had something Altogether Different in mind.
When the audience enters Salzburg's Jugendstil Fellner & Helmer Landestheater, it sees the open-stage and what appears to be a Failed Tennis-Court.
In the second section of the opera, this is covered-over with a black tarp on which have been outlined complete & incomplete Rectangles & Parallelograms, rendered in phosphorescent Red & Green. As the audience again enters the auditorium--those who did not already Vote with Their Feet and go back to the Hotel Sacher or Hotel Bristol for a bracing drink--they are handed red & green-lensed paper-spectacles.
Yes! You can see the drawings on the black tarp in 3-D!
How this Visual-Effect serves the Opera, the Plot, the Interpretation, the Concept, or The Performers remains a Mystery. In fact, it is something of a Distraction, as those already wearing real glasses--in order to see the production which is already Naturally in 3-D--cannot handle both pairs of Specs.
But that's not the only Special-Effect. Upstage-Right is what appears to be a Silver Cargo-Container. Two doors open in the side of this to reveal Venus and the various Shepherds, who seem to be some kind of Elite Troupe of Soldiers, or perhaps a Drill-Team, equipped in knock-offs of Baroque Court Uniforms for Servants.
Yes! They do perform some military-like Drills. And, at various times, they also shake, jerk, and flail-about like Mass Victims of St. Vitus Dance or Gran-Mal Epilepsy.
But this strange Muscular-Disease also severely affects Ascanio and the Two Voyagers who help the audience understand what is going on in the plot, where the characters are, and what arias, duets, or terzzetti are coming next, by actual number!
No, Seriously! These two tall Androgynous Figures, one a non-singing actor, the other an actress--dressed in blue-jeans, blue-blazers, and low-cut T-shirts--set the scenes, call out the numbers, and speak the Recitatives that ordinarily would have been performed by the singers.
As the opera is sung in the Original Italian, the Voyagers speak in German so the mostly German-speaking audience can figure out what's happening, as you would never know from what is shown on stage.
And--as Salzburg is an International Festival--the SuperTitles are in English!
Christof Hetzer is responsible for the stage-environments, the set-props, and the costumes. Early on, one major set-prop is a wooden tribune on wheels. This Venus mounts from time to time--climbing a ladder of dowels rather than steps--to Address the Troops.
There are also forty rectangular-panels of green Poly-something: Stiff, but Flexible. This can be piled-up to make a Podium, or spread around on the stage to suggest Various Things.
The panels are also very handy in Drill-Formations, the Mannheimer Bewegungschor being especially adept at moving in Sync--when they are not spastically rolling around & jerking on the floor.
The most charming & comic Scenic-Moment, however, arrives when the amazing Diana Damrau is gently lowered from the flies in a swing! She is the Faun, but she is more like a Double-Mermaid, as each foot terminates in two-flippers, which she sweetly flaps about.
Damrau--who is also a brilliant Queen of the Night--was not only thrilling in her aria, but also showed herself to be a charming comedian, as one of the Voyagers pushed her swing from side-to-side in front of a wonderful Baroque Hanging that could have been a Treppenhaus-Ceiling by Titian.
Iris Kupke was a very good Venus, with Marie-Belle Sandis a fine Sylvia. As Ascanio, Sonia Prina was at times vocally-challenged, but the stage-direction would have worn-down anyone, even Mel Gibson. The Two Voyagers were Christian Banzhaf & Katherina Vötter. They are both fine actors, but better-suited to Real Dramas.
Adam Fischer conducted the Mannheim National-Theater Orchestra from the harpsichord, but the 30-some instrumentalists seemed cramped in the Landestheater's small pit. That also may have cramped their sound as well…
Of course, when you have time to count the 40 Green-Mats and the members of the orchestra, it may mean the actual stage-production is Not Holding Your Attention?
This production, however, has been widely admired--at least in German-Speaking areas. But it does not seem a Promising Candidate for presentation at BAM, alas.
[Incidental Intelligence: For many seasons, over the years, your scribe made it a point to visit Mannheim and its National-Theater, for it was the first German Opera-house--and Drama-Theatre as well--that he had ever visited after arriving in Europe in 1956, to teach English & Speech to US Military & Embassy Personnel, as a University of Maryland Overseas Professor.
[I was stationed in Eastern France--Verdun, Nancy, Etain, Chambley, Trois Fontaines--but would drive my VW Blue-Beetle to either Paris or our USAEUR HQ in Heidelberg on weekends.
[For my birthday, on 24 December 1956, I was invited by an Anti-Nazi German family to spend the holidays, beginning with an opera at the National-Theater, followed by Midnight Mass at Speyer Cathedral, where the Choir was composed of Hungarian Refugees who had just escaped Budapest, after the ill-fated Rebellion against the Soviets had failed.
[In later years, my old friend, the American tenor Jean Cox, became a star of the Mannheim Opera, and it was wonderful to see him in their excellent productions. Just as it was at the Bavarian National-Theater in Munich, where my Stanford University classmate, Jess Thomas, had become its star-tenor!]
Almost in Hallein's Salt-Mines:
Tartuffe with Confetti & Streamers!
Imagine a play opening with a Finale that would be a Block-buster on Broadway at the end of a Major New Musical. Especially an anti-religiosity satire that is more than three centuries old!
How about Tarfuffe: The Musical?
As the Salzburg Festival audiences file into the old Saline/Salt-drying-Hall of the Hallein Salt-Mines, seating themselves on tiered wooden-benches, all they see before them is a Peter Brook-style Empty Space.
But, instead of the White Empty Cube that Brook favored for his epic RSC Midsummer Night's Dream--your scribe created the Official RSC Production-Book--the vast space is entirely black. It is also virtually empty: no sets, no drops, no furniture, no props--as such.
Considering the astronomical price of Festival Tickets--even for events way down the valley from Altstadt Salzburg, on Perner Insel--there is an audible sigh: Where are the sets?
All that can be seen are some banks of lights sitting on both sides of the box, plus some gizmos that look like dead-spotlights and improvised-cannons.
From three below-stage apertures at the rear of the space, elegantly-dressed actors begin to emerge. As they slowly & sinuously advance toward the spectators, they casually but deliberately throw marvelously-long brightly-colored serpentine-spirals before them. Serpentine after serpentine, until the stage-floor is littered with rolls & rolls of bright basic colors.
Suddenly, the air is filled with cannonades of brilliantly colored Confetti, blasted from the four compressed-air blowers on either side of the space. The twelve black things that looked like spotlights at first are also compressed-air tanks, firing salvoes of brightly colored serpentine streamers
This continues, salvo after salvo after salvo, until the stage is awash in mounds of streamers and confetti, with hundreds of streamers now hanging from the wooden-rafters above the space. The actors can hardly move among all this colorful paper-work. And you wouldn't want to be on the Clean-Up Crew after the show…
This is Absolutely Amazing, but also Fundamentally Unsettling: This is the way a Great Broadway Musical should End, not Begin!
OK as a Finale for A Chorus Line, or The Music Man, but where can a Classic Comedy by Molière go after such an opening?
Nowhere but Down, you might think, but No!
There are Jubilant Fanfares: the cast sings and sways to Modern Modalities. Indeed, throughout the show, the Musical Moments suggest that this production could easily be pushed across the borders into Musical Satire.
Tartuffe sings? Orgon escalates Evangelical-Hits orgiastically? Dorine dances? Elmire--wearing a very slinky sexy sequined-gown--vamps & seduces Tartuffe?
Now, if you know Molière's original comedy, all this may very well sound like a Long Way Off from Molière--which is what your scribe called his Official Young Vic Production-Book for the Jim Dale/Frank Dunlop Scapino.
Actually, important textual Set-Pieces from the original drama are included in this production, although often hilarious-riffs are played on them. But the ingenious stage-director Dimiter Gotscheff has also somewhat freely adapted this playing-text from a translation by Benno Besson & Hartmut Lange.
Although no more salvos of serpentine or cannonades of confetti shoot through the air, the Original Onslaught is sufficient to dress the stage with crescendos of clashing colors through which the characters have to wade while engaged in a Fundamentalist Family Drama that makes TV classics like Dynasty & Dallas seem tame.
Neither the Revs. Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson would endorse Tartuffe's hypocritical activities as a charismatic Lay-Brother, bringing Lost Souls to Christ, but they would surely applaud the Strenuous Piety of Orgon, humbly dressed and even more humbly Praising God.
But when Orgon and Tartuffe burst out in a contemporary Evangelical Hit-Song, their Hearts Should Surely Leap Up. SURSUM CORDA, Pat & Jerry!
Considering the Political Activity and the Voter-Clout of America's Fundamentalist Religious-Fanatics, this dazzling production makes Tartuffe seem as Modern as Tomorrow!
In fact, this Thalia-Theater show has more Contemporary Resonance as an American Experience than a European one. There aren't as many Pious Fanatics in the European Union as there are in the American Union.
After all, Germans and Italians are used to Political Parties that style themselves as Christian Democrats--or even Christian Socialists, a title that would be immediately understood by Hard-
Shell Baptists as being Just This Side of Communism!
On the surface, in his own time, Molière did not directly attack the French Roman-Catholic Clergy--although there was an implicit criticism. Instead, he targeted the Fraternities of Super-Pious Lay-Brothers, who made it their business to Supervise & Censor the Morals of Others.
Tartuffe, of course, was one of these. And Molière mercilessly exposed him as a Lying Hypocrite. This infuriated the Church, so the play had to be withdrawn.
Molière reworked it several times, and his Final Version won the approval of King Louis, who permitted it to be performed, over the strenuous objections of the Clergy.
Molière's successful dramaturgic Sleight-of-Hand was to have a Noble Representative of the King arrive to pardon Orgon his brush with Political-Intrigue, arrest Tartuffe, and restore all Orgon's Possessions--which he had foolishly signed over to Tartuffe. His Majesty was flattered with Molière's Royal Solution to the Play's Problems.
Director-adaptor Dimiter Gotscheff will have none of this. He returns to what must have been Molière's original concept: There is No Pardon for Orgon: he is Totally Compromised. Ruined. Destroyed--and his family along with him.
What is more, Tartuffe now legally possesses his House, his Goods, his Furnishings, his Treasure. He sends his Agent to drive the crushed, naked, despairing Orgon away. In his infatuation for Tartuffe's Piety, Orgon has even disinherited his son… So nothing remains for anyone in the family.
This Agent-chap is a smartly-suited lawyer-look-alike who darts his tongue and hisses like a snake at the entire family. But especially at Orgon and his Christ-Crazy old mother, Madame Pernelle, who still clutches the rough two-sticks-wooden-cross with which she first appeared on stage.
As the crest-fallen family looks on, the Agent summons a bare-chested crew of Furniture-Movers from the depths upstage. They get to work--as they did at the outset, manning the Confetti-Cannons!
The director and his cast use a strange Stylistic Quirk--but then the entire production is an Exercise in Stylization--that seems confined to performers in Deutsch-Sprachigen-Raum: Some speeches are delivered softly, naturally, even reasonably.
Then, suddenly, an actor will begin to Bellow & Rant his lines. In Classic Tragedies and Serious Modern Dramas--think Eugene O'Neill or Arthur Miller--this often signifies Great Acting to German-speaking audiences.
Oddly enough, it works very well in this production, for there is very much in both Emotion & Situation that evokes such Power & Passion.
Still, for a longtime play-reviewer--who remembers the Rants of Adolf Hitler at Nuremberg Party Rallies, from UFA newsreels and from Leni Riefenstahl's Die Macht des Willens--this Acting-Tactic recalls Der Führer in Action.
Norman Hacker was a brilliant & seductive, but cold-blooded Tartuffe, more than a match for the simple-minded Piety of Peter Jordan's obtuse Orgon. Angelika Thomas was even more of a religious fanatic as Mme. Pernelle: Virtually a Christian Fury!
Judith Rosmair--an audience-favorite--was a wonderfully comic & wise Dorine: Molière's servants were usually smarter than their masters--just as Beaumarchais & Mozart's Figaro & Susanna were a century later.
Others in the admirable cast were: Paula Dombrowski, Andreas Döhler, Anna Blomeier, Ole Lagerpusch, Helmut Mooshammer, & Christopher Rinke, with the hissing snake-tongue!
The Black-Box Empty-Space--soon filled with the colorful confetti--was the concept of designer Katrin Brack, with Barbara Aigner providing the Very Trendy Costumes. The Lighting-design of Henning Strick was also very important--although subtle changes could hardly be detected: Always a Good Sign of Good Lighting!
The music--some of it ironically familiar--is credited to Sir Henry. And why not…
One unfortunate Exercise in Trendiness--or was this intended as Interaction With the Audience?--required several of the actors to rush up the stairs of the tiered-seating, expostulating to each other and the audience. At one point, the Elegant Elmire had to crawl over seated patrons, right in the middle of the tiers.
This was Old-Stuff, both On and Off-Broadway forty years ago! Jim Dale did it in the Young Vic Scapino, in fact.
Nonetheless, the Hamburg Thalia-Theater production of Molière's Tartuffe is a Winner. It ought to be imported to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, especially as BAM has already hosted Hamburg's Thalia with such stunning stagings as Dark Horse, Dark Rider.
Touring & Guesting is a Thalia Speciality. They have played at the Bregenz Festival and other fests & Theater-Treffen--as well as at BAM. And the Thalia is the longtime Professional Home of Prof. Dr. Jürgen Flimm, the Salzburg Festival's new Intendant, or Artistic Director.
Abduction in the Haus for Mozart:
First Things First: The singing of the principals in the Salzburg Mozart 22 revival of Die Entführung aus dem Serail was simply splendid.
Bouquets & applause for Laura Aikin as a confused Konstanze, Valentina Farkas as a very lively Blondchen--who, of course, in this production was not blonde, Charles Castronuovo as a Latino-handsome Belmonte, Dietmar Kerschbaum as a charming, lovable Pedrillo, and Franz Hawlata as a devilish Osmin with wings--and perhaps also as the invisible Bassa Selim, who really has no role in this re-imagining of the original libretto.
But these very talented performers deserve even more credit as Actors, considering the fanatically detailed Character-actions they are required to replicate in this very, very Busy & Physical production, which often borders on Knockabout Farce.
When this astonishing version of The Abduction from the Seraglio premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2003, it was performed some ten times--which certainly justified the grueling rehearsals the principals, chorus, & supers must have endured to Make It Work.
But for the current revival, there were only four performances, so the entire cast deserves even more credit & applause for being able to fulfill the demanding requirements of Regisseur Stefan Herheim's complicated stage-actions. Any misstep and someone could have been badly hurt, as the two upstage turntables madly revolved, laden with platoons of Brides & Grooms.
Not to overlook an immense three-tiered Wedding-Cake, ingeniously formed with the aid of the Revolves and some set-props--and topped with a formally-dressed Wedding-Couple.
In fact, small dolls of a Bride & Groom wedding-cake-finial were much in evidence during the proceedings. At one point, they functioned as Hand-Puppets, manipulated by Osmin, with an immense TV-monitor as his Punch & Judy booth.
When I first saw this tumultuous production in 2003, I called it Mozart's version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers--after that beloved Movie-Musical. But there are, in fact, double that number in Herheim's staging.
Yes! Fourteen Brides for Fourteen Brother-Grooms!
If you are familiar with the original plot & libretto of Abduction/Entfürhung, you may well be wondering where all these wedding-couples came from. They are certainly not figments of Mozart's Imagination. Nor of his librettist, Christoph F. Bretzner--who adapted the Noble, Suffering Christian-Lovers vs. Lecherous Turks plot from Johann Gottlieb Stephanie, jr.
In these times of Friction between East & West--and Turmoil between Muslims and Christians & Jews--Bretzner's plot can be an embarrassment for those seeking Mediation and
Dialogue between, or among, The Great Religions.
In 1997, a new Salzburg Festival production of Entfürhung/Abduction was presented in the Courtyard of the Prince-Archbishop's Residenz. Iraq had not yet been invaded--nor the World Trade Center bombed, for that matter--so apparently the best way to make Mozart Topical was to set the action somewhere in the Gaza Strip, with TV-cameras & UN Peace-keepers to monitor the action.
The 2006 Revival--as in 2003--is a very Long Way Off from both the Middle-East and Mozart's Original Libretto.
As recreated Textually & Visually by stage-director Herheim and his Dramaturg, Wolfgang Willaschek, this is no longer a work of Music-Theatre concerned with the Passion of a Pasha for a beautiful Christian Woman, plus an infatuation by the Keeper of His Harem with her saucy Maid.
No, indeed! It is, instead, All about Eve. Or Adam & Eve, who appear Naked during the Overture. Suddenly conscious of their Sex-Differences, they cover themselves--with Embarrassment & Fig-leaves or whatever.
And it's all Downhill between Men & Women after that. Can a woman trust a man? And vice-versa? Does Passionate Sex have to Hurt so much?
Can heaps of Wedding-Gifts in huge boxes--including an Iron & Ironing-board, as well as a Washer & a Microwave--make up for all the other things a woman has to sacrifice in Marriage?
Mozart's original arias, duets, trios, & choruses remain, but the original words and the emotions implicit in his music do not often relate to the quarreling lovers--Belmonte & Constance and Pedrillo & Blonde--formally-dressed and Ready for Weddings.
As staged by Herheim, Konstanze's major aria, Marter alle Arten, is virtually lost--or incomprehensible--in the midst of the frantic stage-business. It doesn't really relate to what is visually occurring--nor to the emotions in the music…
As this opera is not an Italianate Opera Seria, but a German-language Singspiel, there are no sung recitatives. Instead, between the arias, the dialogue is spoken. And the dialogue of this Herheim/Willaschek Version has virtually Nothing To Do with the original libretto.
Instead, much of it--including the English-translations shown in the SuperTitles--is fairly slangy, raffish, and even vulgarly Suggestive. But, in case the words don't make Male-Female Problems clear, there is also Mimed Groping & Fucking.
There are even moments when the two women seem ready for a Lesbian Affair, not to mention Pedrillo & Osmin pawing each other. Very Trendy--but still a Long Way Off from Mozart…
The result of all this Deliberate Confusion onstage--and the excessive stage-movement and Fussy Business--was that the Haus für Mozart audience often did not know when an aria was over, so they might applaud.
Gottfried Pilz's endlessly-revolving stage-settings and his handsome costumes were--in their unique ways--Ingenious & Remarkable.
But the clever Videos of fettFilm--Momme Hinrichs & Torge Møller--were Something Else entirely!
They were so imaginatively conceived and so skillfully created that they would make most of the Video-Art shown at MoMA and the Whitney Museum seem Crude, Amateurish, & Pretentious. Which it does already, even without comparisons to the Ingenious Art of Momme Hinrichs & Torge Møller.
When I first saw this production, I was annoyed with the videos, as they distracted from what was physically happening on stage, not to mention from the music in performance. Some of them seemed even busier and more skittish than the Live Action.
Seeing them now--for the third time--I have come to admire these video-sequences for themselves alone: for their ingenuity, for their imagination, for their technical-innovations. As video-separates, each would be easily as impressive as the best of Video-Art shown in Major Museums.
Oddly enough, however, they only make some kind of visual & metaphoric sense in the framework of the Abduction production.
At one point, as the Bride & Groom are settling into their new home--shown as a model, but also seen in video, with them looking into the model giant-sized--painters appear with paint-rollers on long poles.
They proceed to paint the upstage-walls between the three sets of tall-windows--which already are revealing video-views of Baroque Architecture through their panes--and, with each stroke of the rollers, videos provide the streaks of new paint!
This segment could stand as itself, a clever, amusing Visual-Joke. But it makes even more sense in context of the actual production.
Ivor Bolton conducted this tumultuous affair with obvious relish.
Considering how off-put I was by Herheim's staging at the premiere--and, really, still am--I felt so sorry for Bolton in 2003.
He had watch this thing all the way through--keeping a sharp eye on the Partitur, his Instrumentalists, and the Singers--ten times that season. Not counting all the Rehearsals he must have worked on.
Not to worry… Bolton clearly enjoys working with Innovative Stage-Directors. Such as David Alden in Munich where they have given Handel's operas an entirely New Look!
Stage-Dressed Like an Egg:
Così fan tutte in the Grosses Festspielhaus
To Save Time & Conserve Intellectual Energy, here is part of what your scribe wrote about the Salzburg Festival's 2004 Così fan tutte--with some 2006 Additions and Cast-Changes to recap what was, and remains, a fascinating Visual & Vocal Experience.
In recent years, notable European Regisseurs have made it a Point of Honor to re-visualize Opera's most famous War-Horses continually. Harry Kupfer's Così shouldn't look anything like Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's Così.
Nor--if you have already staged Così at, say, the Bavarian State Opera--should your next venture with the same work, possibly at Covent Garden or ENO, look anything like the last.
And--possibly to win New Audiences of Young-People, who, it's assumed, cannot understand, or be interested in, anything that didn't happen Yesterday or This Morning--it is always Trendy to move the opera into The Now. Or even into The Future: Valhalla as a Space-ship, with the Valkyries riding on Space-scooters!
This was, in fact, visualized in a memorable Munich RING.
The idea of a Werk-Treu production--still championed by the venerable Intendant & Stage-director Prof. Dr. Joachim Herz--is out of fashion.
This may indicate that directors fear their audiences are so bored with the operas themselves that they won't come to see & hear them again if they are set in the Time & Place of the Plot. Or if they are set in the time when they were composed…
That doesn't mean the RING has to be presented in either some Mythical, Magical Nordic Pagan Past--or in Wagner's Own Era. But that what happens on stage should bear some one-on-one relationship to what the characters are feeling & singing--and what the Music is saying.
Music & Actions often speak Louder Than Words…
Long before Patrice Chereau & Richard Peduzzi visualized Wagner's RING for the Bayreuth 1976 Centennial as a Commentary on the Industrial Revolution, Prof. Herz and his designers--Prof. Rudolph Heinrich & his brother, Reinhard Heinrich--had done exactly that at the Leipzig Opera.
And, of course, this Worked Wonderfully in both productions. But few opera-lovers outside the DDR could get visas to come into the East German "Democratic-Republic" to see the show. Your scribe did not actually see the Leipzig staging, but he does have a large archive of production-photos given him by his old friend, the late Rudolph Heinrich, and also from Prof. Herz himself.
So Updating can work, but not if the director does not really understand what's going on in the music, does not trust the libretto, and does not believe his potential-audience will be intelligent & open enough to understand & feel as well.
The opera stage-direction/design team, Karl-Ernst & Ursel Herrmann, have seldom settled for Picture-Perfect visualizations of the Place & Time of operatic-works they have mounted. Nonetheless, their stagings are always Beautiful, Stylish, Innovative, Surprising, and True to the Essences of the Operas.
This is certainly true of their Salzburg Festival Così fan tutte!
And Ursel & Karl-Ernst Herrmann have at last understood very well what Philippe Arlaud finally discovered at Bayreuth with his Tristan staging: That you do not need fantastic sets, marvelous costumes, or memorable stage-props to make an opera come alive--if you have remarkable actor/singers!
Herrmann stagings are customarily notable for their striking scenery, delicious costumes, and unusual props. But their joint stage-direction has often been Precious--or unnecessarily Busy.
For their Salzburg Così fan tutte staging, however, they have been largely content to focus on their six principal actor/singers and let them unfold the plot in song and recitative, wonderfully inter-acting throughout the opera.
Ursel Herrmann Got the Message while watching music-rehearsals with the singers in studio. The two sets of Young Lovers--and their older Un-Doers--were so effective, so fascinating, merely singing to, and with, each other, inter-acting all the while, that Herrmann realized this Così production would not need a lot of stage-direction to animate it, nor impressive settings and costumes to help the singers hold the audience's attention.
It would be quite enough--for once--to trust Mozart's music and Da Ponte's libretto.
This should already have been obvious since the opera's first performance long long ago, but the Key in this Formula is having talented performers. When this is not the case, directors and designers in desperation often fill the stage with visual-padding and extraneous-action to distract audience-attention from the performers' weaknesses.
Fortunately for Salzburg and the Herrmanns, their 2004 & 2006 casts have been outstanding.
This summer, Ana Maria Martínez and Sophie Koch were wonderfully matched--complementary and contrasting--as the two sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Their respective swains, Guglielmo and Ferrando, were also a study in contrasts, and they were excitingly embodied in Stéphane Degout and Shawn Mathey. As the two young men were shortly to disguise themselves as phony Albanian Lovers--read Turks!--they proved equally Adept & Athletic!
Not only were all four of the lovers young, attractive, and sexy, but they are also gifted singers and talented actors. At the top of their form--and so young! As they gain even more experience, they will surely become major singers in major roles in major opera-houses. They are already well on their way.
They were also handsomely complemented by the Don Alfonso of Sir Thomas Allen and the Despina of Helen Donath--like Robert Wilson, another talent from Texas! These brilliant performers returned from the 2004 cast.
The Herrmanns decided to have Despina be played as a more mature, experienced woman, rather than a pert maid the same age as her mistresses. This isn't entirely supported by Lorenzo Da Ponte's libretto, but Donath has made it work very amusingly in performance.
One bit of Women's Rights Post-Modernist directorial-innovation did not work--or was not pushed-through to its obvious conclusion. The Herrmanns decided that both girls would overhear Don Alfonso's plot, so they would know what the boys were up to.
This is, of course, in no way supported by Da Ponte's text and certainly not by Mozart's music. When the boys--as Albanians--are trying to win the girls over, their music underlines their fake Sincerity.
The intense emotional conflicts through which the girls must go, in the original conception--before they give in to the new & handsome strangers--are made clear by both text & music. Neither of which suggests that the Masquerade is all in jest, a kind of love-parody for the boys, slyly understood by the two girls.
No: this is a very Serious Wager that Don Alfonso--the Ultimate Misogynist--has made with the lovesick Young Officers. He doesn't Trust Women, and he's determined that they also should not.
As the late director-designer Jean-Pierre Ponnelle used to ask: Why is this Older Man always hanging-around the Young Officers' Barracks?
Manfred Honeck conducted as though he were one of the cast: such sensitivity to the changing moods of score and characters. And such obvious enjoyment of what the singers and the Vienna Philharmonic were doing together. There was even a costumed harpsichord-player on stage for the recitatives.
As this Così was designed for the immensely wide stage of the Grosses Festspielhaus, Karl-Ernst Herrmann--who created both the acting-milieu and the costumes--had a real problem in Restraint , if he and his wife were to focus on the singers, rather than on their surroundings.
He has succeeded very well, so much so that the visual isolation of a singer--or focused duos, trios, and quartets of singers--really does center attention on the characters and the emotions they are experiencing.
Of course, because the stage is so wide and the proscenium-opening so high, the stage-space cannot always be a Vast Void--with only a singer or two here and there.
So Herrmannn has placed a large egg-shaped stone upstage between Stage-Left and Center-Stage. This serves as a dressing-room/hiding-place for the girls and even as a podium for Despina as a Notary-Public.
A movable four-panel screen is deployed on the opposite side of the wide, wide stage, not only for balance, but also to conceal the bogus Albanians and effect other actions.
The slanting stage has an upper lip, behind which the chorus can stand, showing their masked faces spotlit. Herrmann has dressed the men in fantastic long, long-tailed formal coats, with the women in dark, dark red gowns.
Black fans are basic props for everyone: Chorus and Principals. The Masquers look like charming, stylish fugitives from Don Giovanni! They not only sing, but also scoot across the stage, en-masse, black fans quivering, as they facilitate the plot.
The costumes are quasi-contemporary, with Don Alfonso and Despina suggesting another era. But Fiordiligi and Dorabella often appear in pert school-girl attire.
The young men are initially seen in fencing-suits: with some deft sword-play at the Barracks. As Albanians, they enter in Turbans and outsized padded-coats--double-bed duvets--with long black skirts underneath.
Initially, the acting-space looks like a long, long rectangular Black Box. But it can suddenly turn into a dazzling White Box. Some Signature-Props used in other Herrmann stagings also appear: notably the black or white umbrellas on a very long staff.
The vast stage is backed by a seemingly seamless cyc or back-cloth. At one point, a green, green Forest begins to appear at the upper edge of the stage. Just Bushes at first, but soon they are tops of trees, growing ever upward.
Later, in a sad moment of discovery, this is replaced by the black/brown Skeletons of a Forest. With the return of the boys from war, the cloth shows a long stretch of Blue Sea rising in the air.
Effectually, this is a Giant Panorama--surely one of the Biggest Ever!
In 18th & 19th Century Theatre-Practice, Panoramas were very long & wide Scenic-Paintings that scrolled--usually from stage-left to stage-right--to create the Illusion, say, of Sailing up the Hudson River or Walking through the City of London. In some cases, people paid money to enter a theatre and watch Panoramas unroll, accompanied by Music & possibly a Lecture on the Views being shown--but with No Play or Actors!
Richard Wagner even improved on the Panorama-Effect for his premiere production of Parsifal in his Bayreuth Festspielhaus!
After the Young Simpleton, Parsifal, has ignorantly shot down a Sacred Swan, he is taken from the ancient Forest to the Grail Temple--to the accompaniment of Wagnerian Walking-Music.
And, as the scene slowly moves from woods to temple--with Parsifal and the Grail Knights walking-in-place--a rear-panorama scrolls across the background, with panoramas of cut-out trees in front, moving at different speeds, to give a three-dimensional effect with Two-D scene-painting!
Unlike traditional Panoramas, the Herrmann's Panorama moves vertically up-and-down, rather than horizontally. But what it actually does--aside from being Unusual & Decorative--is to Hold the Entire Stage-Picture Together!
I had not really understood--or realized--this in 2004, but in 2006, it became clear that this long, long rising & falling horizon of bushes, trees, skies, and seas was the Visual Link that made the immensely wide Grosses Festspielhaus stage look like an Abstract Scenic-Unity, an Open-Spaces Environment, rather than a huge Empty Space that was in danger of really looking Empty indeed.
And the ingenious ways the Herrmanns devised the stage-movement and placement of scenes took full advantage of the Unified Background. This would not have worked, however, had not their actor/singers been able to hold the stage on their own, in character and in costume. Otherwise, they might have looked Very Much Alone up there…
This Panorama-Effect--of the growing forest--was also used in the Herrmann's Salzburg production of Rameau's Les Boréades--which even traveled to BAM in Brooklyn. Their celebrated La finta Giardiniera production was also seen at BAM--with its major-effect of an entire forest of Italian birch-trees suddenly tilting sideways!
One Così production-detail still needs attention: at the curtain-call, the performers were tripping over the discarded clothes of the Albanians and the long, long roll of the bogus Wedding-Contract. This looked both awkward and unnecessary, in both 2004 & 2006…
The wide, wide black proscenium-opening was flanked by an immense Goose-feather and another egg-shaped stone, both tied to overhead ropes. One rose as the other descended, centered on a balance-scale: a Metaphoric Gleichgewicht.
I know I have seen this Herrmann device before, but I'm not certain which of their productions it might have graced. Could it have been Karl-Ernst Herrmann's Salzburg Festival staging of Botho Strauss's drama, Das Gleichgewicht?
No More Mozart in Salzburg Summer 2007?
Before I arrived in Salzburg, I thought it might be a Good Idea to ask for an interview with the new Festival Intendant, Dr. Jürgen Flimm. I had immensely admired his recent Bayreuth RING, as well as the Fidelio he mounted for the Metropolitan Opera.
But the only time I had actually met him was on the occasion of Mont Blanc--the Pen-Makers, not the Mountain--awarding a prize to one of Dr. Flimm's Young Directors, in the challenging new project he had created for the Festival.
[One of these young Regisseurs, Igor Bauersima--working at Vienna's prestigious Burg-Theater--later came to us in New York--at the City University Graduate Center/CUNY--to introduce his drama, Norway Today, which was then studio-performed in English-translation!]
Oddly enough, I believe I sat right behind Jürgen Flimm during a Grosses Festspielhaus performance of Così fan tutte. A number of the elegant personalities around this affable gentleman were eager in their greetings. But I wasn't sure it was he, so…
As for the potential Interview, in the event, it seemed that every Media-Outlet in Austria & Germany had requested an interview. So it was just as well I did not waste his time, asking the Same Basic Questions they did.
I do hope that next summer--when he is presiding over his own Festival, not Waiting in the Wings--that I may be able to ask him some more specific questions about the problems in programming and running such an important Festival.
For the Record: What I gleaned from various newspaper reports is that Intendant Flimm thinks Salzburg Audiences have had enough Mozart for now. It may well be time to take a look at the Darker Side…
Although he might stage an opera or a drama when the Festival is not in full-swing, Jürgen Flimm does not direct when he is in charge of a theatre or a festival!
For those readers who do not know Prof. Dr. Flimm's work--or who have not seen his Fidelio-staging at the Metropolitan Opera--it may be of interest to know that he has a degree from the University of Cologne. There he studied Theaterwissenschaft--as did your scribe at Stanford University--as well as Literature & Sociology.
In the United States, people who have either earned--or been awarded--a Ph. D. are often urged to conceal that fact, as it can embarrass others. And, to some, it looks like Showing-Off, in a Nation where everyone has been Created Equal.
Not so in German-speaking lands: The titles of Professor & Doctor are much respected: whether the degree is Dr. phil or Dr. phil honoris causa. In Austria, even an MA--known as a Magister degree--is Cultural-Currency.
Indeed, most major politicians have doctoral-degrees, unlike America, where one often wonders if some in Congress had completed Elementary School…
The much admired Federal German Chancellor, Her Excellency, the Hon. Angela Merkel--who was a very welcome guest at the Second Cycle of Wagner's RING at the Bayreuth Festival--also has such honors. [Just imagine Geo. W. Bush as Professor Doctor Bush. Or at the Bayreuth Festival, let alone at the Met!]
Jürgen Flimm has been a Professor at the University of Hamburg, where, as Artistic Director of the historic Thalia-Theater, he gave that playhouse a New Profile and won new honors for its ensemble. Some of the critically-celebrated Thalia-productions have, in fact, been seen in New York, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music!
Although Flimm now has extensive credits as an opera-director, he was initially known for his innovative stagings of Modern Drama Classics: Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, Platonov, & The Three Sisters; Ibsen's Peer Gynt & The Wild Duck, and Dr. Arthur Schnitzler's Liebelei & Das wiete Land.
From 1999 to 2003, Dr. Flimm was President of the Deutsche Bühnenverein--the German Stage Association--which is a Very Important Position and Honor!
And, from 2002 to 2004, he was Director of Drama at the Salzburg Festival, working under the Intendancy of Dr. Gérard Mortier--who later moved-on to found the RuhrTriennale and thence to the Intendancy of Paris' Opéra-Bastille.
It may seem that European Artistic-Directors are always playing Musical-Theatre Chairs, but Jürgen Flimm did, in fact, succeed Mortier as director of the RuhrTriennale! And now he is sitting in Mortier's Intendant-chair in Salzburg…
Will Carl Orff Live Again at the Salzburg Festival?
Carl Orff is known to many Americans as the composer of Carmina Burana, often performed, used as motion-picture theme-music, and even enlisted in broadcast-advertising.
But few are familiar with any of his other works for Music-Theatre: Der Mond, Die Klüge, Die Bernauerin, Astutuli… Even though there are two excellent American-English librettos for The Ballad of Agnes Bernauer and Salt of the Earth--or Astutili in German.
These were made at the behest of your scribe--and with the enthusiastic support of Prof. Dr. Orff--by the late Dr. Fritz André Kracht. But only The Ballad has been performed in America, with a premiere years ago in Kansas City, of all places.
The New York City Opera's Maestro Julius Rudel--who had tremendous success with Carmina Burana--told me: "I don't want Orff to be competition for Orff."
Told of this, Orff asked: "Is Verdi competition for Verdi?"
So these two Americanized Orff operas still need real American Premieres.
But there is another Orff work--his last major creation for Music-Theatre and perhaps his Masterpiece--that needs another World Premiere.
It already had one years ago at the Salzburg Festival, under the baton and artistic-guidance of Prof. Dr. Herbert von Karajan. The Maestro made it a Festival Centerpiece one season.
It was a brilliant production of an amazing work about the End of Time--something many are thinking a lot about right now!
It was impressively-designed, magisterially-sung, and wonderfully-animated, with the Bewegung of the Hamburg Ballet's ingenious founder-director, the distinguished American Choreographer, John Neumeier!
In the midst of completing this report, I met John at the Bayreuth Festival--where he had once appeared in a memorable Tannhäuser production. Some time ago, I had written about him and his work in Hamburg for Dance Magazine, so it was a surprise to find him seated right in front of me!
I reminded him of the Salzburg Festival production of Orff's Great Work, with its unforgettable climax of Lucifer, the Dark Angel, being forgiven his Epic Sins.
A hideous Winged-Monster dominated the Festspielhaus stage, while all around Mankind was trembling, prepared for Total Annihilation.
Suddenly, from the depths of this Creature came an anguished cry, three times: Pater, peccavi, Pater, peccavi, Pater, peccavi. Father, I have sinned… Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi…
In that moment, the crusty carapace of the Angel of Death fell away, revealing Lucifer again as the Angel of Light, in the glowing naked body of a beautiful young man!
And Mankind was Saved from Ultimate Destruction! A fate that may be lingering in the wings right now…
This wonderful work is called De fine tempora commoedia--or The Comedy of the End of Time.
Prof. Orff--who was, among many activities, also a Professor at the Salzburg Mozarteum--had invited me to the General-Probe, or Final Dress-Rehearsal.
We had become friends, and I was writing a report about his ingenious system for teaching youngsters to make music: The Orff Schulwerk, which was being taught to music-teachers from all over the world in a charming little Schloss just outside Salzburg.
I was dazzled--and deeply moved--and I told Prof. Orff how much I admired both the work and its visualization: I still have a complete set of Production-Photos in my ArtsArchive.
But I also told him I feared that the Festival Public--which pays a lot of money for the opportunity to show-off its wealth, fine-fashions, & gleaming-jewels--would be furious that the production would be finished in just over an hour, with no chance for them to stroll about during an Intermission, bowing and nodding to each other.
Why had he and Maestro Von Karajan not prepared Der Mond or Die Kluge as a curtain-raiser, thus preparing the audience for the much more powerful Comedy of the End of Time--and giving them their Intermission?
In the event, they were turned out of the theatre into the night--with no chance to Interact with others of the Festival Elite--and they were indeed furious.
Not only that: most Critics were dismissive of the work. My colleague at Opera News spread the score out on our table at the Zipferbräu: "Look at this! One-note! One-note all the way through!"
That was, of course, not true, but Orff's celebrated Percussive-Effects were much in evidence. But this was long before Philip Glass and John Adams.
Now the Public & the Critics are surely ready for this score. And, looking at the Daily Headlines, we are all ready for Orff's Message of Divine Salvation!
So I asked John Neumeier if he could find a way to give The Comedy of the End of Time its Second World Premiere at the Salzburg Festival…
MOZART'S BALLS on Top of the Mönschberg!
Museum der Modern Exposes
Christoph Schlingensief's Latest Artistic-Outrage
[Closing Not-Soon-Enough in 2006]
It was not enough that the so-called Bürgerschreck--read enfant-terrible--Christoph Schlingensief really did not improve--or sufficiently alter--his Bayreuth Parsifal production--which is being withdrawn before its fifth season, as "Box-Office Poison"--but that he also felt driven to "further refine" the Animatograph that he designed as a Space-Time Installation for this disastrous staging.
Among these further rafinations were the House of Obsession--in Reykjavic, Iceland, in 2005; Odins Parsipark--in Neuhardenberg, in 2005; The Twin African Towers--in Lüderitz, also in 2005, and Area7 in Vienna's Burgtheater in Mozart-Jahr 2006.
Because there is nothing so pathetic as a Has-Been Used-Up Avant-Garde Artist, Schlingensief continually has either to re-invent himself--to remain in the Public-Eye and the Critical-Consciousness--or to re-cycle his artwork/installations. Or both…
And so it is that Schlingensief is helping celebrate the Salzburg Mozart-Jahre 2006 with a curious exhibition/installation in the Museum der Modern on the summit of the Mönschberg.
In the MdM's bookshop, his MOZART BALLS book is readily available, with inside-cover-papers splashily painted in broad strokes presumably by--who else could do this?--the artist himself! There are some illustrations of the presumed balls, which he obliquely refers to as "Taking pictures of the balls of infertility."
Presumably, this does not refer to the Infertility of Mozart's Imagination? Or even to his Fertility as a Father? Although four of Mozart's six children died in infancy, or very young, two sons survived him.
On the top-floor of the MdM Concrete Art-Bunker that has replaced the beloved Café Winckler, Schlingensief has spread out a strange mélange/collage of objects & drawings, some of which look like the work of Attention-Deficit-Afflicted & Handicapped Schoolchildren.
This is titled: chickenballs. der hodenpark--eine Animatographische Installation von Christoph Schlingensief. OK, already…
There is also a colored wooden Mozart Coffin in a corner, near some Video-Art. But this coffin looks nothing like the Mozart-Era Pauper's-Funeral Coffin on view in the Salzburg Cathedral Museum, in an exhibition called Between Heaven & Earth.
As it turns out--although the Austrian Emperor favored just such a coffin for the Poor & Indigent--it never caught-on, so Mozart was never buried in one.
In fact, his body was not dumped in a Potter's Field mass-grave, as folklore would have it. He received a Third-Class Funeral, and you can see the grave-site & tombstone today in Vienna's St. Marx Cemetery!
Museum der Modern Exhibits
KUNST AUF DER BÜHNE--les grands spectacles II
[Closing 8 October 2006]
Christoph Schlingensief's Infertile Balls are only one part of an extensive exhibition of what has been artfully titled: Art on the Stage: les grands spectacles II.
This may be a bit Ingenuous, as most set, costume, & lighting-designers would like to believe that what they Imagine, Invent, Innovate, Improvise, Devise, Sketch, Model, & Construct is indeed also some form of--or attempt at--ART.
Actually, the Interesting Ideas, the Fascinating Sketches, the Fatuous Theories, the Surrealist Models, the Inane Manifestoes, the Miniature Theatres & Stages, the Fabulous Photos, & the Innovative Videos on view in Salzburg's version of the Museum of Modern Art are a Tribute to some justly-celebrated & innovative 20th Century Artists:
Here are some of the Big Names & Talents on view on Salzburg's Mönchsberg: Adolph Appia, Edward Gordon Craig, Alfred Roller, Loïe Fuller, Léon Bakst, Alexandra Exter, Oskar Schlemmer, Sandy Calder, Pablo Picasso, Erwin Piscator, Vladimir Tatlin, Fortunato Depero, Michail Larionov, Bruno Taut, George Grosz, Man Ray, Otto Morach, Fernand Léger, El Lissitzky, V. Meyerhold, Walter Gropius, László Moholy-Nagy, Vassily Kandinsky, Jean Tinguely, Oskar Kokoshka, Jean Dubuffet, Karel Appel, and such Central European Moderns as Günther Uecker, Jörg Immendorf, Günter Brus, Fritz Wotruba, Franz West, & Robert Longo!
Some of these artists were certainly focused on Theatre-Production, and they clearly hoped their theories, designs, & examples would inspire others either to emulate them or to build upon their Foundations and develop their Innovations even further.
Sadly, some really interesting Visual Experiments were snuffed-out or put-down by Dogmas of Socialist Realism in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.
Some real Men & Women of the Theatre--such as Alfred Roller, with his handsome designs, and Erwin Piscator, with his impressive Volksbühne productions--did make their Theories & Visions work on stage. And the designs & ideas of other innovative artists continue to inspire contemporary designers & directors.
For a number of the artists in this complex show, however, their often-amazing Conceptions & Designs arrested attention only for a while--and frequently from Art-Critics, rather than from Theatre-Critics, who often had No Idea what they were looking-at.
In some obvious cases, a famous artist designed a backdrop or some costumes--think of Marc Chagall, who is not in this show--with no sense of what would really "work" on stage for the play, opera, ballet, or performance-piece. Picasso just Did His Thing…
Nonetheless, gifted Theatre-Practitioners do understand the Importance & Ingenuity of some Artist-Innovations in Movement, Scenic-Milieus, Lighting, & Costume.
But the Original Impulses have been lost over time, so what audiences may get now and then are Recreations of Oskar Schlemmer's Bauhaus Triadic Ballet or some Scarf-Dances of Loïe Fuller.
The excellent and handsomely-illustrated catalogue for the exhibition bears its title. It is well worth owning, not only for the scores of Archival Photos, Sketches, & Models, but also for its provocative essays!
Prepared by Vienna's Austrian Theatre Museum and Salzburg's Museum der Modern, the catalogue and exhibition draw richly upon the remarkable collections of the Theatre Museum, as well as loans from other museums & private-collections.
To order a copy of KUNST AUF DER BÜHNE--les grands spectacles II, you may want to contact the Museum der Modern directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
Allied with the show above--which also includes Schlingensief's Chicken-Balls--is South-African artist William Kentridge's black box/chamber noir, with its intriguing mechanized-miniature-theatre and accompanying drawings.
This Theatre-Mechanism should be seen in New York. As the photo-credits mention the German Guggenheim in Berlin, this might be seen sooner at the Fifth Avenue Guggenheim, than at the 53rd Street MoMA?
Also on offer this summer by the Museum der Modern is Tina Barney's the europeans. But these photos are on view down in the Old Town, in the old Rupertinum, the former MoMA of Mozart's Home-town.
The Hagenauers in Salzburg's Barockmuseum:
In Mozart's Time, Family-friends, Artists, & Businessmen!
Portrait of J.B. Hagenauer
[Closing 24 September 2006]
Lorenz Hagenauer was Leopold Mozart's Landlord. The Familie Mozart rented rooms from him in the Getreidegasse, in the building now known as Mozart's Gebürts-Haus.
But he was much more than a renter-of-rooms. Hagenauer was a wealthy businessman, and on occasion he helped the always-struggling Leopold with travel-costs for concert-tours with the young Salzburg Prodigies, Wolfgang & Nannerl Mozart.
His son took the name of Pater Dominicanus when he entered the Abbey of St. Peter. Eventually, he became Abbot, and young Mozart composed a special mass bearing his name!
More importantly--for the Baroque Majesty that still defines Salzburg as a center of
Art, Culture, & Tourism--Lorenz Hagenauer sponsored the artist-educations of his two extremely talented nephews, Johann Baptist & Wolfgang Hagenauer.
Currently on view in Salzburg's charming Barockmuseum in the Mirabell Gardens, the Hagenauer exhibit documents how richly & extensively these amazing brothers--as architects, artists, & designers--adorned & enriched the Archbishopric of Salzburg's Prince-Archbishop Graf Von Schrattenbach.
Among the brothers' most Memorable & Monumental achievements are the two façades of the already impressive Neutor tunnel, carved out of the stone of the great Mönschberg, and decorated with marble sculptures.
The towering Sculptural Ensemble in the Cathedral Square--with the Virgin Mary Triumphing Over the Devil--is another Hagenauer Masterpiece. Not only are sketches and designs for its casting & construction on view in the Baroque Museum, but also their original model of a huge plaster head of the Devil!
If you would like to know more about this interesting museum, its exhibitions, & its collections, please contact: http://www.barockmuseum.at
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2006. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: email@example.com.
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