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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, August 21, 2006
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
THE BAYREUTH FESTIVAL 2006: *
A New RING for an Ancient Norse Edda/Saga *
Richard Wagner's RING: *
A Prelude To the Rheingold Vorspiel: *
Tancred Dorst's Plays, Plots, Productions, & Prizes! *
The New Dorst RING Cycle--Opera by Opera! *
Das Rheingold: *
Die Walküre: *
Wagnerian Reprises--Not Reprisals! *
Der fliegende Holländer: *
Tristan und Isolde: *
Looking Backward/Moving Forward: *
Fifty Years of Bayreuth Festivals! *
THE BAYREUTH FESTIVAL 2006:
A New RING for an Ancient Norse Edda/Saga
Bayreuther Festspiele 2006--Der Ring des Niebelungen / Götterdämmerung. Actors: Alexander Marco-Burhmester, Hans-Peter Koenig, Stephen Gould. Photo by Jochen Quast.
Only in 1876--on the occasion of the festive-opening of Richard Wagner's remarkable new Festspielhaus in Bayreuth--was the composer at last able to see all four of the operas in his monumental RING Cycle on stage seriatim.
Since that time, the RING has earned its place in the repertories of major opera-houses around the world. [That is, when they could assemble casts that could actually sing the demanding roles.]
Nonetheless, what George Bernard Shaw called "Perfect Wagnerites"--and GBS was one of them--believed that they had not really experienced the RING until they had actually seen & heard it in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.
This was not only because the original productions of Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, & Götterdämmerung were Wagner's Own Visions of the works, but also because the unique construction of the stage, orchestra-pit, and auditorium were deemed the Ideal Conformations for the performance of all Wagner's mature operas--excluding Rienzi, which has never been produced in this opera-house!
Wagner's Covered-Orchestra-Pit was a Bayreuth Innovation that has not been successfully imitated since 1876--although various Architects & Acousticians have certainly tried.
Instead of releasing the Orchestral-Sound directly into the auditorium--which sometimes trumps the sound of the singers on stage--the Bayreuth covered-pit directs the music toward the stage, where it blends with the singers.
From the first season on the Grüner Hugel--or Green Hill--however, Wagner and, later, his widow Cosima, had financial-difficulties in mounting the RING, Parsifal, and the other Wagnerian "War-Horses."
Today, there is a Festival Season every summer: from late July through August. But initially it was not possible to perform every summer. And there have been gaps in the Bayreuth Production-History both owing to financial problems and to Two World Wars.
From 1933 until the summer of 1941--The United States went to war against the Nazis on 7 December 1941--those American Wagnerites who could get German Visas could have the opportunity to see not only historically-important productions of the Wagner Canon, but also perhaps get a view of Der Führer, Adolf Hitler, sitting in the Wagner Family Loge!
Since the first Bayreuth RING, there has been avid interest in the Look & Sound of every succeeding production of this 16-hour-plus Opera-Cycle.
This summer, all of those stagings have been visually surveyed in an excellent exhibition in the famed 18th Century Court Theatre in the heart of Bayreuth, designed by Bibiena for Wilhelmine, the Margravine of Bayreuth--and the beloved sister of Frederick the Great.
When the Bayreuth Festival was revived after World War II in 1951--by Richard Wagner's grandsons, Wieland & Wolfgang Wagner--Perfect Wagnerites on both sides of the Atlantic got a tremendous shock.
Wieland Wagner's new vision of the RING was Abstract. Not the Romantic Historicism of his Grandfather at all.
When it was Wolfgang Wagner's turn to stage and design the RING, he also favored the Abstractions of his brother, with a visual Ring-Disk that splintered into segments, just as the World of the Gods, Giants, Dwarfs, & Men was breaking-up.
Successive RING productions over the decades since have explored many avenues of Visual & Ideational Conception. But the new 2006 Conception--if that is indeed what it may be called--may be In Trouble…
Richard Wagner's RING:
A Prelude To the Rheingold Vorspiel:
In an obvious--and generally admirable--effort to attract the best Directorial, Design, & Conducting Talents to Bayreuth, the longtime Artistic Director, Wolfgang Wagner--now 86/7-years-old--has contracted some of the Best-Known Names on the Continent. And even Beyond Festung Europa: Peter Hall & James Levine, among others.
Sir Peter Hall staged the almost infamous "English" RING, which was withdrawn before the statutory five-seasons were up. The problems with this Potentially Interesting production have been chronicled previously in Show Notes, but Sir Peter simply did not give this staging the serious attention it--and Bayreuth--deserved.
This Artistic-Mishap may be the reason there has never been an "American Team" invited to stage the RING at the Bayreuth Festival.
Before the English Team, the French Team of Patrice Chereau & Pierre Boulez had a fantastic--and now Historical--Success with the 1976 Centennial RING.
There were intimations that Broadway's Harold Prince might be invited to work his stage-magic on the RING. After all, his Phantom of the Opera was endlessly on view, and he had staged operas for the Metropolitan and the New York City Opera.
The late Goetz Friedrich, in fact, asked him to stage the four RING operas for the Deutsche Oper Berlin, of which he was the Intendant. Prince told your scribe that he had declined, however, as each opera would have required six-months of his life in Berlin. But I thought this invitation might have been a form of Audition for Bayreuth.
But who--among the current crop of American Directorial Geniuses--would have the Insight, Imagination, & Innovation to give Bayreuth a RING no one would ever forget?
Jack O'Brien? Jerry Zaks?
Oh, of course, Julie Taymor--but she was said to have been invited to replace Lars von Trier, who bowed-out before the 2006 premiere. But she rejected the challenge--so it has been reported--as there was not enough time remaining to prepare a complete new RING.
Maybe Taymor will be able to stage the next RING? That might not come round until 2012, however…
In any case, Not To Worry. The new & current RING is set to run for four more seasons, closing in 2010. After that, there might be a RING-free Hiatus for two years, before a new RING is mounted. Send in your Suggestions: it's America's Turn To Have a Try at the RING!
For the costumes for any American RING in Bayreuth, certainly William Ivey Long is the right designer!
After the sensational and suggestive previous Bayreuth RING--staged by the Salzburg Festival's new Intendant, Prof. Jürgen Flimm--the announcement of the next RING director came as a surprise. And as a disappointment to those In the Know: it was to be the eccentric Danish film-maker Lars von Trier…
In the event, last summer--2005--he decided he really couldn't do the job he'd signed-for and jumped-ship. This meant an entire year of directorial & design preparation--always needed for a new RING--had been lost.
In addition to Taymor, there was talk of an invitation to film-maker Stephen Spielberg, but Schindler's List and Richard Wagner's known-sentiments about Jews in Music did not seem a Good Match.
Perhaps in Desperation, Wolfgang Wagner invited the playwright/poet Tancred Dorst to take over the directorial-tasks--even with so little Planning, Construction, & Rehearsal-time remaining.
Even before the Festival premiere of the new Dorst RING, it was apparent that the production would not be quite ready.
Not only was Dorst not widely-known as a gifted opera-stage-director--although he has had some directorial-credits--but it was reported that he and Christian Thielemann, the RING conductor, were not in agreement about who the characters really were and what they represented.
Nonetheless, Dorst--who always works with his partner, Ursula Ehler--invoked the concept of Bayreuth as a Wagner-Workshop. This idea of Wolfgang Wagner's has proved its value in the past, especially with the Chereau RING.
If the physical-production of any Bayreuth Wagner-staging is not quite completely-constructed--or in working-order--in the Second Season, these problems can be solved. And the production improved! Even into the Third, Fourth, & Fifth Seasons!
There was a marked Visual-Difference between the first & second seasons of the Chereau RING, for instance.
Bayreuther Festspiele 2006--Parsifal. Actors: Robert Holl, EvelynHerlitzius. Photo by Jochen Quast.
Unfortunately for the Christoph Schlingensief Parsifal, however, the production still looked Appalling, Confusing, & Trashy in its second season.
The Major Problem was a totally misconceived Production-Concept that could not be changed. Not even with some new costumes or a few new bits of scenery…
The Schlingensief Parsifal won't have any more performances after next season. It won't run the customary five-years allotted to most new stagings, as it has proved "Box-Office Poison," unheard-of in Bayreuth, where Wagnerites may wait ten years to get a ticket…
Wagner-Lovers are waiting to see what will happen to the Dorst RING next summer…
Tancred Dorst's Plays, Plots, Productions, & Prizes!
At the top of the Official Bayreuth Festival Tancred Dorst Biografie, the first entry is for 1925, when Dorst was born on 19 December in Thuringia. So he will be 81 years old by Christmas, looking forward to a second season of working on his RING production in Richard Wagner's Festspielhaus.
Or perhaps not looking-forward, as he has to deal with the 86-year-old grandson of Richard, the still-feisty Wolfgang Wagner, soon to be 87-years-old.
In the midst of the current festival-season, both Dorst and his Dramaturg, Norbert Abels, complained to the press that he had not had enough time to realize all that he had planned in his stage-direction. Only some 70 or 80 percent of his vision had been made manifest on stage.
To Skeptical Critics--and also to the Festival Management--this sounded very much like looking for excuses for the half-hearted results on view. Wolfgang Wagner rejected Dorst's claims, noting that Dorst had had the same rehearsal-time as other directors. And that all aspects of the production-preparation had been made fully clear at the time the contracts were signed.
But then one had to remember that Dorst was virtually a Last-Minute Replacement for Lars von Trier. And that he was hardly famed for his previous adventures in stage-direction, although his plays have been staged by some of Germany's most admired Regisseurs.
Curiously--although Dorst was Writer in Residence at Ohio's Oberlin College in 1970--few of his many plays have been translated & produced in the United States. His 1959 Die Kurve--or The Curve--did have some American Attention and some interesting productions. It is, in fact, the only Dorst-drama your scribe has seen for review.
What is most impressive in the Bayreuth Dorst Biografie is the number of Prizes & Honors he has won over the years!
1959: Mannheim National-Theatre Prize--for Die Kurve & Gesellschaft im Herbst.
1960: Gerhart-Hauptmann Prize Stipendium.
1962: Stipendium in the Villa Massimo in Rome.
1964: Gerhart-Hauptmann Prize of the Freie Volksbühne of Berlin.
1983: Literature Prize of the Bayerischen Akademie der Schönen Künste.
Vorstellungsrede at the Akademie der Wissenschaft und Literatur in Mainz.
1986: Grimm-Professor at the Gesamthochschule in Kassel.
1987: Carl Zuckmayer Medal of the Land Rheinland-Pfalz for Services in the German-Language.
Carl Schaeffer Playwright's Award in New York City.
1990: Georg-Büchner Prize of the German Academy for Language & Poetry in Darmstadt.
1991: Ludwig-Mühlheims-Prize for the religious Drama in Korbes.
1994: International Theatre Institute/ITI Prize in Berlin.
1997: E.T.A. Hoffmann Prize of the City of Bamberg, with partner Ursula Ehler.
1998: Max Frisch Prize.
2003: Four-part Lecture at the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe University in Frankfurt.
2005: Dichter zu Gast at the Salzburg Festival.
With all of these honors--including one in New York City and a stint at Oberlin--you might wonder why Tancred Dorst is not better-known in the United States. At least to Theatre-Practitioners…
Here are some of Dorst's dramas, to jog your memory, in case you really did know more of them than just Die Kurve:
Freiheit für Clemens, Yolimba, Der gestiefelte Kater oder Wie man das Spiel spielt, Toller, Die Geschichte von Aucassin und Nicolette, Eiszeit, Auf dem Chimborazo, Die Villa, Merlin oder Das Wüste Land, Ameley, Heinrich oder Die Schmerzen der Phantasie, Karlos, Herr Paul, Nach Jerusalem, Die Schattenlinie, Die Geschichte der Pfeile, Die Legende der armen Heinrich, Harrys Kopf, Wegen Reichtum geschlossen, Kupsch, Die Freude am Leben, Die Wüste, Purcells Traum von König Arthus, and Parzifal, staged by Robert Wilson for Hamburg's Thalia-Theatre!
Also included in the Dorst Biographie is the note that he was a Prisoner-of-War, from 1944 to 1947, in England and the United States. As World War II was over in 1945, Dorst must have had some extra time available to learn English.
In 1944, Dorst was a soldier on the Westfront. This now looks very good on a Post-War German resumé, in the wake of Günter Grass's recent admission that--also in 1944--he was assigned to the Waffen-SS.
Grass was only 17--and he insists he never fired a shot--but the Waffen-SS was not just any detachment of soldiers. They were a kind of Himmler Elite-Force and oversaw Concentration-Camps, among other duties.
What has immensely troubled Grass's fellow-authors and literary-critics is that his best writing has been a satiric/ironic indictment of German Character, especially during those Dark Days. Does his previous lying about his actual Military Service invalidate his criticisms of other Germans?
Some critics are suggesting he should never have been given the Nobel Prize for Literature. Others think he ought to return it. The Czechs are even considering asking him to return the Karel Capek Prize!
Fortunately for Tancred Dorst, his record is clean, especially as a US POW.
What is amazing to your scribe about this record is that Dorst was fighting on the Western Front!
When I was teaching in Europe--from 1956 to 1960--I met many German men who had survived World War II. But none of them would admit to having fought against American troops. Everyone I met had fought the Soviets in the East.
Why, then, did it take the Allies so long to win in the West, if everyone was at Stalingrad?
The New Dorst RING Cycle--Opera by Opera!
Bayreuther Festspiele 2006--Der Ring des Niebelungen / Das Rheingold. Actors: Clemens Bieber, Ralf Lukas, Arnold Bezuyen, Jyrki Korhonen, Satu Vihavainen, Kwangchul Youn, Falk Struckmann, Michelle Breedt. Photo by Jochen Quast.
What most people may remember of a famous theatre or opera-production--if they actually saw & heard it--is how it Looked, not how it Sounded.
The first scene in Rheingold is set at the bottom of the River Rhine. The new visualization--by set-designer Frank Philipp Schlössmann--is very impressive. The base of this great Mythic River is composed of immense river-rounded stones, curving from the forestage upward and back toward the misty mysteries of Upstage-Left.
The Standard Wagnerian Staff of Three Rhine-Maidens is cavorting around the stones, when the Amorous Dwarf Alberich [Andrew Shore] emerges from among some rocks downstage.
He's really Ugly & Misshapen, but he'd nonetheless like some Fun & Games. This is not one of their duties, so the Underwater Nixies only tease & tempt him.
Infuriated--and tempted instead by the gleaming golden-treasure which they are guarding--Alberich makes off with their Precious Rhinegold. This theft sets the impending Disaster of the Twilight of the Gods in motion.
When Sir Peter Hall staged the "English RING" at Bayreuth, he had his designer, Bill Dudley, create an immense round metal-pool, in which his water-logged sopranos could cavort Completely Naked. The audience only saw them reflected in a giant slanting-mirror. But this vision was a Sensation!
After this initial scene, however, all that water had to be rapidly pumped-out of the pool into an empty-well underneath the Festspielhaus stage! Then the empty-pool was collapsed and flown up out of sight, to make way for the Construction-Site of the New Home of the Gods: Valhalla.
Director Tancred Dorst's designer--F. P. Schlössmann--avoided all those Tech-Problems by providing Digital-Video Naked-Nymphs floating overhead, in what seemed to be the scummy-surface of the River Rhine.
Your scribe thought one of these shady-ladies might be the fabled Die Lorelei--who is usually sitting on top of a cliff at a dangerous curve in the Rhein-fluss. If the poet Heinrich Heine is to be believed, she is combing her Golden Hair, to attract unwary sailors and lure them to a Watery Death!
There were also two slimy-green female-figures among the rocks who are not indicated in Richard Wagner's libretto. I thought this Innovation might be Dorst & Schlössmann's nod to Environmental Issues, as they could be viewed as Algae that might eventually Clog the Rhine!
After this watery vision, the Vorspiel-action moves to the staging-base for the Construction of Valhalla, a daunting task indeed, as the New Home of the Gods seems to consist largely of an Ancient Stone Eye, composed of segments.
Could this be a Visual Metaphor for the Left Eye that Wotan sacrificed in his Quest for Power?
In the previous Jürgen Flimm/Erich Wonder Bayreuth RING, this scene really did look like an active Construction Area, complete with architect's plans. No such luck in the new production…
Of course, Bayreuth audiences by now understand what Über-Intendant Wolfgang Wagner has been saying for years: Bayreuth is, in effect, a Wagner Werkstätte.
What doesn't seem to work in the first year of a five-year production can be Changed, Altered, even Improved in the second, the third, the fourth, and even the fifth year!
In fact, Director Dorst has already invoked that Privilege--and next season's Hope--because, thanks to the very late Defection of Lars von Trier, he clearly did not have enough time to work out an Interesting & Innovative Directorial-Concept. If, indeed, there is a Concept behind what he has put on stage.
Obviously, Dorst--the Poet & Playwright--doesn't have much experience in deploying his actor/singers on stage. All too often, they just stand-around and sing, much as they must have done in Richard Wagner's own time.
When they do move, this movement often seems only a way to alter the stage-composition a bit--even though there is nothing striking about any of the character-conformations on stage. On occasion, the moves are awkward, even seeming random.
Some stage-directors need choreographers to help them with stage-movement, reserving their various geniuses for helping their performers to develop their characters emotionally & intellectually, through vocal interpretations of spoken or sung-texts.
That such interpretations could be immeasurably enhanced by physical responses in Body-Language, as well as in facial and arm/hand gestures, is a mystery beyond their varied comprehensions.
Not only is this Totality of Body-Involvement in Character-Emotions & Physical-Actions immensely important to the total Dramatic-Effect, but the Changing Relationships & Interactions between or among characters in a scene are also tremendously enhanced by the physical-movements and visual-interactions.
When singers Just Stand There, all this Dramatic & Interpretative Potential is lost. With great voices such as the late Birgit Nielsen, the late Wieland Wagner devised a new "New Bayreuth" way to suggest such movement when it was not really taking place: He moved the Lighting, rather than Die Nielsen.
For Tancred Dorst--or his assistants--there is a Lot of Room for improvement in stage-movement next season on the Grüner Hügel.
Anyway, Valhalla is Under Construction--and here are all the Gods standing around on this Sandstone Terrace. At least that's what it looks like…
And Costumier Bernd Skodzig--obviously conscious that he just had to create Godly-Outfits that would be more Distinctive & Memorable than anything previously designed by Rosalie or Erich Wonder--has in fact devised some very strange All-White God-Garments that are almost comical--and certainly not, in performance-terms, very Playable.
The most interesting White-Costume is that of Fricka [Michelle Breedt], with almost horn-like protuberances rising over her ears. In Die Walküre, this costume is identical--but in Black! She doesn't have a Ram-drawn Chariot, but she does have two black-clad supers with Ram-Masks as her Attendants.
Oddly enough, were it not for his Traditional Spear, Wotan [Falk Struckmann] would be almost unrecognizable among this Celestial Crew. His plain white gown makes him look like Fricka's Butler. And, were it not for his Magisterial Singing, he would not visually command attention, neither from his appearance, nor from his stage-movement.
As for other traditional Wagnerian Symbols, Donner's Hammer is nowhere to be seen, but Froh carries a rainbow-hued object that looks like a Fraternity Hazing-Paddle.
The Construction-Staging-Site--the actual Valhalla-Work is going on unseen, way upstage in Stygian Mists--looked very familiar. After some reflection, I realized it reminded me very much of the Water-Gate at Schloss Pilnitz on the River Elbe.
As a major set-piece, however, it look Deliberately Shabby, with a pre-cast-concrete scaffold-supported Platten-bau section upstage-right. Possibly waiting to be hoisted up to Valhalla and put in place in the Foyer…
This shabbiness--at least in a visual sense--justified the need of Wotan for a really impressive Best-Western Home for the Gods! Of course, it's really All About Power. Not about McMansions or Real-Estate. [Even George Bush understands that. But, as he seldom goes to the opera, he probably hasn't learned The Lesson of The Ring…]
The Giants Fafner [Jyrki Korhonen] and Fasolt [Kwangchul Youn] appeared, as usual on concealed stilt-shoes. A colleague thought their bulky costumes looked rather like Kabuki Outfits.
Without benefit of a Labor-Union representative, they demanded to be paid for all their Construction-Work. But Wotan--insolvent in so many ways--didn't have Ready Cash.
So they wrestled into the wings the writhing Freia [Satu Vihvainen], although this could have been much more effectively managed. Immediately, the various gods began to stoop & crouch, indicating the rapid ageing that must take place, once the Golden Apples of Freia are no more.
This seemed unnecessary, as there were three or four Golden Apples clearly visible on one set of steps of the Water-Gate. Don't Gods ever look around their Scenic Milieu? But--if the Apples are so precious--why were they just lying around on the steps?
The most effective costume was that of the crew-cut red-haired rascal semi-god Loge [Arnold Bezuyen], who looked a bit like Christoph Schlingensief on a good day… With Wotan and Fricka, he also seemed in best voice, compared with the Heavenly Competition.
A critic-colleague tells me that what I thought was the Schloss Pilnitz Water-Gate is supposed to be the roof of a High-Rise: possibly an apartment-house. Think of that!
What looked like a scaffold-section--waiting for placement in the fabric of Valhalla--must instead be a very large Satellite-Scanner!
To steal all of Alberich's Treasure--to pay the Hungry Giants, Fafner & Fasolt--Wotan & Loge have to descend into Nibelheim, which initially seems to be the white-wall of a Modern Factory, with many pipes and valves.
Here, Alberich wrings from Mime [Gerhard Siegel] the Golden Ring and the Tarnhelm of Invisibility--which his whining, crestfallen, mistreated Dwarf-Brother has created.
When Wotan & Loge have come down the Post-Modernist Post-Industrialist Nibelheim Staircase, they have a look around, but there isn't much to see: just the white-walls, with all those pipes.
Suddenly--but matter-of-factly--a blue-smock-clad Contemporary Caucasian Technician comes out a door to check the valves and then disappear through another door. He doesn't seem to see the Unwanted Guests, much less enquire what they are doing in Nibelheim.
Viewers may well wonder what he is doing there. Is Alberich an Equal-Opportunity Employer?
There aren't any other humans around. Nor does he sing, but then Wagner didn't write any music for him, as Wagner didn't know--well over a century ago--that this man would be appearing in his RING Tetralogy on his Festspielhaus stage.
A variety of Contemporary Civilians is/are sprinkled around various scenes throughout this peculiar production. They do not seem to have any Integral Relationship to the milieux in which they appear, so their Symbolic Function is unclear.
Possibly this is Tankred Dorst's awkward way of suggesting that the RING is still Relevant to Modern Man?
Apparently, that is, in fact, the case. Or rather, that it is NOT the case, as Dorst's Present-Day People just seem to be wandering through the sets, with little interest in what they might be.
Another critic--who had read a Dorst-Essay explaining his Staging-Conceptions--told me that the boy with the skateboard who appears from time to time is called Hans, and he indeed does represent Something.
His apparent Lack of Interest must mean that the Gods Are No Longer Relevant? Or that Hans has not been doing well in school, especially in his Mythology Classes?
As with most Memorable Myths and Fabulous Fairydales, Mankind's Racial Memories--his Hopes, Fears, & Dreams--are deeply embedded in these mysterious tales & fables.
You do not have to be Einstein or Kirkegaard--or Hans--to make some Personal or Tribal Connections.
As there's no sign of the Rhinegold on the factory-floor, the white-wall fades away, revealing a fabulous Treasure: The Cave with Alberich's Hoard of Gold is indeed impressive: craggy rock-surfaces, with a mound of gleaming golden-objects upstage, framed by the jagged rocks.
Amorphous Dwarves--with golden gleaming eyes--bring in golden-ingots and other priceless golden objects d'art, such as Ewers, Armors, Plates, Platters, Vases, Urns, & Goblets.
When Alberich seeks to impress Wotan & Loge with the Powers of the Tarnhelm, he disappears behind the mound of gold, and suddenly a Giant Golden Cobra rears up its fearsome head.
Actually, this is not very well-designed or achieved, as the big gold blob of the Cobra-Hood was too far upstage and too hedged-in by the Golden Hoard for viewers who were not front-and-center to see it. Indeed, it took me a while to figure out what it was supposed to be, and, by that time, it had sunk out of sight.
Dense stage-smoke and virtual Black-outs don't guarantee Stage-Magic. Both Alberich's Transformations could have been much better-managed.
This also proved true of changes from one scene to another. Closing the great Festspielhaus curtains can be a cop-out, if a remarkable scenic-transformation could have been designed to make this happen "Before Our Very Eyes!" But then, Schlössmann had so little time to work things out…
When the Giants return to claim their Construction-Fee, they are not offered any of the Golden Treasures previously seen down in Nibelheim. Instead, some shabby flat golden-panels are dumped on the Terrace-floor and later laid on the recumbent figure of Freia.
That even a sharp-eyed, Unpaid Giant could spot a chink that needed to be plugged with the Tarnhelm or the Ring was not to be credited. This scene looked a Mess--and it needs to be totally re-conceived to be Visually-Effective.
Wieland Wagner did it best, with his Primitive Goddess-Figure, built out of Alberich's Treasure.
In the event, as the panels are laid over Freia, they are slyly joined to each other, so Fafner can drag the entire jumble out after him. Instead of a Fortune in Treasure, this looks like a Failed Prom Gown!
Fortunately, a black-garbed Erda [Mihoko Fujimura] rose from the midst of the Terrace to electrify the Gods--and the audience--with her Forecasts.
The Ancient Stone Eye--seen earlier from the construction staging-platform--was revealed again in a mist of Rainbow Colors as the Gods descended--rather than Ascended--toward this Eye that must symbolize Valhalla. Or also represent the Eye that Wotan sacrificed in his Lust for Power. Whatever…
This is a very weak Visual Closure to what ought to be a Triumphant Entry of the Gods into Valhalla.
Had Dorst and Schlössmann listened closely to Wagner's actual score, of which there are now some very good recordings, including those of actual Bayreuth productions--never mind reading Wagner's own stage-directions in his Partitur--they might have realized what a disappointing Dud this would be.
Even before the Gods shuffled-off, down some unseen stairs, into what might be Schloss Pilnitz's Cellars--instead of marching up a glowing, gleaming Rainbow Bridge--their Order of March was messy.
Instead of using the wide Terrace-stairs on the stage-right side, Wotan & Fricka had to step over the dead body of Fasolt--blocking their access to the narrower stairs at stage-left--on their way down to the Basement.
Of course, this could be read as Symbolic: You will enjoy the Wonders of Valhalla Over My Dead Body!
But the singing--if not the settings and the acting--was generally strong, especially Loge, Alberich, Wotan, Fricka, and the Fasolt of Kwangchoul Youn.
Bayreuther Festspiele 2006--Walkuere. Actors: Endrik Wottrich, Kwangchul Youn, Adrianne Pieczonka. Photo by Jochen Quast.
Hunding's Hut looks like an Abandoned Jugendstil Railroad-Station. Indeed, it seems barely habitable, as a tall telephone-pole has crashed through the stage-right wall, with a sword sticking out of it.
This seems to have happened some time ago, but Hunding [Kwangchoul Youn] has been so busy fighting his Enemies that he has not yet called Deutsche Telekom to get the pole removed from his Waiting-Room.
But before the desperate Siegmund [Endrich Wottrich] crashes into the space, Young Hans and some friends--one with a bicycle--are gathered round a slumping form. They leave; Siegmund enters, and the slumping-lump wakes up to be revealed as Sieglinde [Adrianne Pieczonka]!n
What seems most curious about this scene--aside from Sieglinde holding Open-House for bikers while she is sleeping--is that Hunding arrives with a cohort of his men to discover an Unwanted Guest.
He dismisses his warriors, which could leave him open to attack. If not by Siegmund, possibly by another falling telephone-pole!
In due time--as Hunding sleeps--the Incestuous Twins discover their love for each other. The front-doors of the Railroad-Station fly open upstage: to reveal an immense crater-pocked Moon or Planet. This back-set should suggest Spring, but it looks more like an old show at the Hayden Planetarium, possibly narrated by Al Gore…
Where Jürgen Flimm showed Wotan as a busy CEO--in a Post-Modernist Office, complete with Shredder, Tancred Dorst presents Wotan, Fricka, and Brünnhilde in a kind of Wasteland Cemetery.
As the Idea of the Wasteland fascinates Dorst, the Poet & Playwright, this may have some resonance for him, if not for the Gods & the Audience.
In the center of this blasted stony space is a kind of pit, with a rocky-eminence in its midst. This can rise or sink, and even revolve. When it turns, it reveals a bland stone-face, lying on its side, with the left eye blind. Can this be a Wotan-Symbol? Even when Wotan is standing on it?
In the dim dusty background of this Wasteland are shadows of lumpy figures. Never clearly seen, they are Monumental Monuments to some Historical Worthies such as Napoleon and a Roman Emperor, among others.
Are these Indistinct Images there to remind Perfect Wagnerites that not all Heroes will make it into Valhalla? Or what…
Oh, there's even a Silent Black-clad Wanderer shadowing Wotan. He does not sing, as there is no music written for him…
Early on, in this Wasteland, a man & woman walk on upstage. He's pushing a bike. They kiss. She leaves. He lays the bike down on the ground.
For a long time, he looks into the Middle Distance. He takes no notice of what is going on downstage--hard to imagine how he can ignore it, as the vocal-performances are generally stunning--and then he leaves with his bike, which was seen earlier in Hunding's Railway-Station.
When Fricka enters--instead driving a Ram-drawn-Chariot--she is accompanied by two dancers with Ram Masks. Those in the audience who do not know that Rams & Chariot are Her Major Attributes may well think that she's hurt her foot and needs two attendants to support her.
The most amazing thing about the Final Confrontation of Hunding & Siegmund--who is constantly vocally-overshadowed by Youn--is that the Godly Sword Nothung is not smashed to shards.
At least not on the night of Walküre in the Second Cycle. Brünnhilde, in fact, picks up a perfect Nothung--not broken metal--as she rushes Sieglinde into the wings. Fortunately, both Linda Watson and Falk Struckmann were in splendid voice, so this gaffe was only a momentary surprise.
Siegmund must have picked up the Wrong Prop-Sword in the wings: not the trick-sword with the break-away trigger. [Sometimes, it's tooth-picks that do the trick of sudden-breakage.]
Worse than an Unbroken Nothung, however, is an Anvil--or Amboss--that breaks in two before Siegfried strikes it with the re-forged Nothung. This happened once with Jess Thomas, who stepped a moment too soon on the foot-pedal which triggers the split.
But this was Not a Problem for either Siegfried or Tankred Dorst, as there was no Blacksmith's Hammer, no Anvil, & no evidence of a Traditional Forging in Mime's Chemistry-Class Workshop.
Instead, Siegfried dumped some shards into a Meat-Grinder, after which, somehow, there were some explosions in an oil-drum and the Sword Was Made Whole!
But this happened in the Next Installment of The RING…
Fortunately, Walküre ended in a splendid Scenic-Milieu: the Valkyrien-fels was a magnificent Abandoned Quarry.
But why Brünnhilde and her eight sisters were outfitted in such bizarre battle-dress--each slightly different, but in the same colors and materials--was a Puzzlement. They sang strongly, however, and moved as well as they could in the stiff, awkward costumes.
Dead Warriors, strewn about the rocky floor of the Quarry, got up and walked-off into cracks in the stone-walls when nodded at by the Warrior-Girls. No horses…
Just to give the scene a modern nudge, a graffiti-motto was projected onto the Quarry-wall with a bright white light. It read--in German--but translated into American: You Love Life/We Love Death.
Well, you get the Idea…
When the saddened Wotan laid his beloved Brünnhilde on a pallet--surrounded with a circle of glowing plastic-panels in the floor--the Magic Fire and its accompanying music soared.
But when Wotan covered her body with a Clear Plastic Shield--apparently Standard Quartermaster-Issue for Valkyries--one wondered what would happen when Siegfried first looked upon her:
Before he removed the traditionally non-transparent metal-shield and cried in astonishment: Das ist kein Mann!
In the Next Opera, Siegfried, this proved not a problem, as either the costume-designer or Wotan had switched shields to make this Famous Sexual Discovery valid.
The important thing about this Walküre Finale was that it was Very Touching. And very well sung, although the interactions of Wotan & Brünnhilde seemed instinctive, not the product of Dorst's muddled stagecraft.
Bayreuther Festspiele 2006--Siegfried. Actors: Falk Struckmann, Andrew Shore. Photo by Jochen Quast.
After the unfortunate & abandoned Sieglinde has given birth to the Future Hero, Siegfried, she dies--but not on stage. That is, however, what director Tancred Dorst had metaphorically devised for his two actor/singers, Stephen Gould & Gerhard Siegel, as Siegfried & Mime, respectively.
After the Wanderer has dropped by to chat with Mime--checking-up on his Grandson's
Education, among other things--the Lusty Young Siegfried appears, wearing a bearskin over his head.
This second-section of the first scene in the new Siegfried is a Total Disaster, and Siegel's admirable vocal & acting talents are veiled in a pall of bad stage-direction.
Gould doesn't fare much better, and it could well be the appalling scenic-milieu and the ridiculous stage-business Dorst has dumped on him that initially inhibit his vocal-performance.
After the visual astonishments & excellences of designer Frank Philipp Schlössmann's River Rhine & Walkürien-fels scenes, it is difficult to believe that the same hand also created the Chaotic Clutter that infests the Failed High-School Chemistry-Classroom that takes the place of Mime's Customary Cave.
Among the many unnecessary set-props are a Skeleton, Siegfried's Crib, a Slide-Projector, a Blackboard, a Globe of the World, Stacks of Classroom-Chairs, an Empty Oil-Drum, a Folding Medical-Screen, and a Meat-Grinder.
This last machine Siegfried uses to grind-up the shards of the shattered sword, Nothung, which was, in fact, not actually broken in Siegmund's fatal fight with Hunding. By mistake, he picked up the whole-sword in the wings, not the breakaway trick-sword…
As both Mime & Siegfried have no anvil in this shabby classroom, no real sword-forging takes place. Despite the lusty sword-forging noisily suggested in the music…
Somehow, some bursts of red-flames from the blue Oil-Drum result in a re-forged Super-Sword. In all this clutter, chaos, and confusion, Mime's mixing of the Poisoned Drink is hardly noticeable.
This condemned school seems to have been Closed by the Black Forest Board of Education, for a tree-stump can be seen outside an open-window, which does suggest a wooded-location. If not actually the remote forest-cave Richard Wagner specified in his Partitur.
But what stage-director or designer now actually reads the Music or the Libretto of an opera, let alone the composer's original stage-directions?
As in previous RING scenes, the Contemporary World intrudes on the Mythical, as a Truant Kid sticks his nose in a window before running off. Why isn't Hans in school, instead of in this production?
When it's time for Alberich & the Wanderer to bump into each other in the Deep Deep Forest, right outside Fafner's Cave, the German Bundesbahn railway-construction-crews seem to have been there already.
Indeed, a Night-Watchman--or perhaps a Homeless-Person, lost in the forest--is camping-out in a tent high above the dense thicket of tree-stumps and half-trunked naked-gray trees that almost fill the stage.
But this tent is not up in a tree. No, it is set on the unfinished-end of an elevated poured-concrete Railroad-Line!
Did they suspend construction when they found out that they were right on top of a
This Bizarre Scenic-Novelty has, of course, nothing to do with the Action or the Intent of the succeeding scene.
But it is not so Novel, either, as it seems a Direct Steal from Hans Schavernoch's set for the Bregenz Festival Porgy & Bess.
On Lake Constance, some seasons ago, Schavernoch constructed an immense California Elevated-Freeway--recently partly destroyed by the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Porgy's historic Catfish Row was immediately below this. Not in Charleston at all…
Anyway, after the Wanderer & Alberich compare notes--and some Civilian Kids slink through the forest--Wotan/Wanderer wakes up Fafner, who protests: Lass mich schlafen.
Although some in the audience seemed able to continue sleeping, the Reluctant Dragon comes awake.
When Mime & Siegfried come on the scene, the woods seem teeming with people and Waldvogels snarking about. Robin Johannsen sang the bird's-part, but an extra with what looked like a Pinocchio-Nose darted about the tree-trunks for her.
Very bucolic & arboreal, but when Siegfried calls out to Fafner, the forest-floor gives way to a red-hot lava-pool. This looks rather like a Volcanic Malfunction at Mount Saint Helens…
As for Dragon-Visibility, there seemed to be some fearsome Teeth-like Stalactites hanging from the roof of the cave. At least, Fafner had not turned himself into a Cobra again!
Following the rather anti-climactic scene of Siegfried Getting the Message from the Bird--after retrieving both the Ring & the Tarnhelm from the fallen corpse of the Reconstituted Giant--The Curtain Fell.
Of course the Act was not Over, but there were--so far--no Magical Transformations in this production, although talented designers & stage-engineers could certainly provide them.
Then, in a smoky black void, Erda rose from the Bowels of the Earth--as is her Mythic Wont, when summoned by Wotan/Wanderer. She had another of those Gloomy Forecasts, which was not as Impressive as it should have been.
The reason was her Faulty Dress-Sense. In Rheingold, she was wearing a Basic Black dress, with No Accessories. Here, she appeared completely covered in large clear bubbles. Erda seemed to have fallen into the World's Biggest Bubble-Bath!
I suspect designer Bernd Skodzig was having a bit of fun with that Ancient Vision of the Magna Mater, or Earth-Mother, which is what Erda is supposed to be. You may have seen those pre-Classical statues in museums? The ones with fifty-breasts, to suggest Fecundity?
Just such a costume would have been titillating--excuse the expression!--enough, without turning breasts into balloons.
But All Was Forgiven in the final scene, when Siegfried awakens the Sleeping Semi-Broasted Brünnhilde. This remarkable Sexual Awakening of a simple & inexperienced rural youth and a formerly sexless Goddess is almost impossible for a feckless stage-director to ruin.
Wagner's glorious, triumphant music--as Brünnhilde awakens to greet once more her beloved Sun, and Siegfried feels the first stirrings of Love & Longing--sweep all before it, carrying the Lovers and the Audience forward on a surging tide of Enveloping Ecstasy.
This is especially so when the Brünnhilde and the Siegfried are singing so gloriously and acting so movingly. Linda Watson was magnificent--both acting & singing--as was Stephen Gould. Any doubts about his Readiness for the Role of Siegfried were swept away by this powerfully affecting finale.
And Conductor Christian Thielemann got yet another Standing-Ovation!
Designer Frank Philipp Schlössmann's vision of the Three Norns--at the Beginning of The End of Wotan, Valhalla, & the Gods--was infinitely foreboding.
The Norn-Mothers are those Eternal Old Women who Fatefully Spin, Stretch-out, & Cut-short the Thread of Life. They are the Three Fates, in Greek Mythology. Even if a soprano only sings the Third Norn just once at Bayreuth, she goes down in Opera-History for this feat.
With skull-like faces--in long black robes--they sat upon a Hill of Skulls! This looked like an image from Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. [And why doesn't Wolfgang Wagner invite Bergman to stage a RING for Bayreuth?]
This strange, if brief, scene also reminded me of Carl Orff's Comedy of the End of Time--certainly a Concept and a Work of Music-Theatre closely related to The Twilight of the Gods.
Oddly enough, I had just been thinking about that Connection--and the remarkable but long-ago Salzburg Festival production of De fine tempora commoedia, with Bewegung by the Hamburg Ballet's brilliant Artistic Director/Choreographer, John Neumeier--when I realized he was sitting right in front of me in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus!
I promptly begged him to give Carl Orff a New Premiere for his forgotten Last Masterwork. Stay Tuned…
As for the Vision of Valhalla that Frank Philipp Schlössmann had called into being onstage, I whispered to Johnny Neumeier that it looked like the Hotel Intercontinental in Detroit, on the occasion of the Elks Club's Annual Dinner-dance. But things didn't seem to be going very well…
In line with a number of recent "Contemporary" settings for Wagner's Hall of the Gibichungs, this Post-Modernist foyer was distinguished by a huge Treppenhaus on the stage-right side.
Magisterial Stair-Wells seem to be Very Big this year: Salzburg's Figaro is dominated by one! And, of course, Bayreuth's Holländer features a very grand Staircase…
What was especially curious, however, was that Gunther & Gutrune's Indolent Courtiers--all in Formal Attire, a costume- quirk also used in Patrice Chereau's Gibichung Hall way back in 1976--were either just standing there or repeating quirky actions of no especial significance.
Along the line of the forestage to this Post-Industrial Space were many pairs of Shoes, all in a row. They seemed to belong to no-one, as everyone on stage already was wearing shoes. And no one had taken theirs off to enter the Hall.
Perhaps this was a Visual Foot-note to the Power-Madness of the Great, urging them on to buy More of Everything. Or was this a Silent Tribute to Imelda Marcos?
[It used to be said: "No-one has a right to criticize Imelda Marcos until they have Walked a Mile in every pair of her Shoes!"]
The Schloss Pilnitz Water-Gate returned, this time equipped with the three Rhine-maidens, begging Siegfried to give them back their Rheingold, now in the form of that Powerful--but Alberich-Accursed--Ring.
The Return from the Hunt lost the visual & emotional power it should have had, not least because the trophies seemed to be some old rabbit-skins. Nor was the crowded staging helpful, also not least because the Gibichungs' Formally-Dressed Courtiers seemed to be part of the Hunting Party.
Despite all the Conceptual & Visual Infelicities of this fourth & final Arc of the RING, Linda Watson was tremendously moving and powerful as the wronged Brünnhilde, with Stephen Gould steadily growing in power and confidence as Siegfried.
Hans-Peter König's deeply resonant Hagen dominated almost every moment in which he was involved. His Authority as a stage-presence--In Character--is not only vocally-derived, however.
Of course--as revealed in both Score & Libretto--Gunther & Gudrun Gibichung [Alexander Marco-Buhrmester & Gabriele Fontana] are no match for their evil half-brother, Hagen.
The passionate Waltraute of Mihoko Fujimura was wildly and justly applauded. Janet Collins, Martina Dike, & Irene Théorin were admirable Norns. Fionnuala McCarthy, Ulrike Helzel, & Marina Prudenskaya were the frisky Rheintöchter.
When it was needful to change Scenic-Venues from the Valkyrien-fels to the Hall of the Gibichungs, conductor Christian Thielemann had to repeat Wagner's scene-changing-music for a fairly long Symphonic-Stretch.
This rather uninteresting music was loudly accompanied by sudden Thumps & Whacks behind the Great Curtain, as stage-hands desperately tried to make the Monumental Set-changes as rapidly as possible.
Anyone who has been privileged to see actual Bayreuth sets backstage--during scene-set-up or scene-strike--will have noted how sturdily they are constructed and how ingeniously-engineered, especially so they can be swiftly & compactly broken-down & stored in the limited space available.
A Tornado or Tsunami could destroy the Festspielhaus before any storm-damage would afflict the settings!
But the prolonged and noisy set-changes in Götterdämmerung mean that the designer did not work out an effective interchange between these two big, bulky stage-sets. And it is now too late to re-design or make major changes…
But it would have been a very Good Idea to have designed the Valkyrien-fels so it would have been back-to-back on turntable with Mirror-Image-in-Outline of the Gibichung Hall, so no long change-music--or thumps & bumps--would impede the forward-motion of the drama.
And how much more visually effective it would be with a swift-revolve, showing these Primitive & Post-Modern Spaces in similar Outline!
Stage-director Tancred Dorst's peculiar concept of having Contemporary People strolling through the scenes of this RING--or laying-down a bike and reclining, while staring into the Middle Distance, with no notice taken of the heightened drama unfolding downstage--makes no Visual or Dramaturgic Sense.
And so it is, that at the close, it is not Valhalla that is on fire, but instead the Los Angeles Hilton, with panicked guests fleeing with half-closed suitcases.
At least the Rhinemaidens get their gold back!
Wagnerian Reprises--Not Reprisals!
To design, construct, rehearse, and premiere four separate--but closely-related--operas, totaling some 16+ hours on stage, is a Major Undertaking. Some opera-houses create new RING productions an opera at a time, through four seasons.
That is never the case at Bayreuth. But there is no way a new RING could be sung--cycle after cycle--in a five-week season. Even with two spielfreier days--between Walküre & Siegfried and between Siegfried and Götterdämmerung--five repetitions of the cycle would wear out the singers.
So it is a welcome relief to have popular productions on individual Wagner operas return as well in RING Years. Customarily, the individual productions run for five years. Sometimes, as with Harry Kupfer's beloved fliegende Holländer and Philippe Arlaud's handsome Tannhäuser, some productions are taken out of storage and the stagings replicated.
Der fliegende Holländer:
Bayreuther Festspiele 2006--Der fliegende Hollaender. Actors: Adrienne Dugger, John Tomlinson, Jaakko Ryhaenen. Photo by Jochen Quast.
Your temporarily-Franconian scribe has now seen Claus Guth's Surreal Vision of Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer four times. And it is still Enchanting & Challenging, even though it is a Long
Way Off from the Master's Original Conception.
Rather than attempt to describe the Physical Production once again--you can check that out on the NY Theatre-Wire's archived Loney Show Notes--I'll instead salute the very able singers in the major roles, which also demand some acting-ability.
Senta, of course, is shown both as a Mature--if Psychotic--Woman and as a Little Girl--who does not sing. And not merely because Wagner wrote no music for her. Adrienne Dugger was the Singing-Senta.
She had--in her somewhat Incestuous Obsession--conflated her Father Daland [Jaakko Ryhänen] with her Imagined Flying Dutchman [John Tomlinson]. They both did well in Look-Alike outfits.
The basic-set serves for both Daland & the Dutchman's ships, as well as for Senta's Living-Room. Forget about a Spinnstube: Even Munich's new even Holländer turns that room into a Wellness-Spa Exercycle Gym!
The Bayreuth Chorus--one of the best in the world--was exemplary, trained by Eberhard Friedrich. The entire production achieved a Mythic Unity under the baton of Marc Albrecht.
Claus Guth clearly likes to re-Conceive the Old War-Horses of Opera. This has seemed to wear well at Bayreuth with Holländer, but his bizarre Cherubim-Winged Nozze di Figaro production at the Salzburg Festival may prove too much of a Good Thing: especially for the stage-hands who have to sweep up all the Feathers Cherubim strews about the Haus für Mozart stage.
Tristan und Isolde:
Bayreuther Festspiele 2006--Tristan und Isolde. Actors: Robert Dean Smith, Hartmut Welker, Petra Lang, Nina Stemme. Photo by Jochen Quast.
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 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 Barbie-doll Isolde and Brangäne.
In the third act--supposedly set in Tristan's distant castle--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 they have been contracted to realize.
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 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…
Looking Backward/Moving Forward:
Fifty Years of Bayreuth Festivals!
For the Record: This August at the Bayreuth Festival was your scribe's 50th Anniversary. This means I have seen All The RINGS, since Wieland Wagner's first memorable "New Bayreuth" staging.
When I first came to Europe in 1956, as a Professor for the University of Maryland Overseas--to teach English & Communication to US Officers & Enlisted-Men--I immediately made The Pilgrimage to Richard Wagner's famed Festspielhaus and its world-renowned Bayreuth Festival.
With a Stanford University Ph.D. in Theaterwissenschaft, I already knew about Wagner's remarkably innovative opera-house, but I wanted to experience one of his famed works of Musik-Theater in its hallowed auditorium as well.
In those days, The Dollar Was King--and one could still buy a ticket in the gallery On the Day!
Only in 1960 did I discover that there were Press-Tickets reserved for critics and reporters! As I was already writing reports for Theatre Arts, the Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Herald-Tribune, this made my work both easier and Cheaper!
In that wonderful summer, Jess Thomas sung the title-role in Parsifal for the first time in Bayreuth. I had known him at Stanford, when he sang Dr. Caius in Merry Wives of Windsor--and I did the stage-lighting!
We renewed our acquaintance--and I interviewed him for the Monitor. When I returned to Manhattan, I had to face a furious Press-Agent: "How dare you interview one of my clients without my permission!"
I had thought it was quite enough to be a really gifted actor/singer--with the reviews to prove it--without having to pay someone to make sure your name got in the papers regularly. I was wrong…
Fortunately, she forgave me for my ignorant mistake and subsequently permitted me to interview a host of talents, including Maestro Julius Rudel. Then other Press-Agents began calling, urging me to interview their clients. Thus--among many other remarkable artists--I had a wonderful chat with Leontyne Price--who told me she'd had her hair specially done for our interview!
Over that five-decade-span--from 1956 to 2006, I have also been able to interview the late Wieland Wagner and his sister, the late and rather unconventional Friedelind Wagner, as well as Wolfgang Wagner and their formidable mother, the late Winifred Wagner.
Over the seasons, I got to know the woman who gave Adolf Hitler the pen & paper to write Mein Kampf as a very witty, forceful, and Outspoken Personality. When Edward R. Murrow was asked--after covering Europe in World War II--if he had ever met a German who admitted to having been a Nazi, he said: "Only one--and she was English!" That was Winifred Wagner indeed.
I have yet to have an interview with young Katharina Wagner, who is set to succeed her father as Artistic Director of the Bayreuth Festival. I do hope this will soon be possible. Many Perfect Wagnerites are waiting hopefully to see how she will Continue & Develop her great-grandfather Richard Wagner's Legacy.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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