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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, August 17, 2007
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
THE BAYREUTH FESTIVAL 2007— *
The Great Debate: *
Who Will Be the Next Artistic-Director of the Bayreuth Festival? *
Is There a Katharina-Campaign? *
The Other Wagner-Candidates: *
Should the Bayreuth Season Be Longer? *
Could Bayreuth Become an International Opera-Festival City? *
The Wagner Family-Inheritance & The Gremium: *
Is the Bayreuth Festival Sexist? *
Only Two Women Have Staged Wagner in His Festspielhaus *
Is Katharina Wagner’s Meistersinger Her Meisterstück? *
[And Just What Is a Meisterstück?] *
What Really Happened in Nuremberg? *
Hans Sachs: Painter & Poet vs. Sixtus Beckmesser: Avant-garde-Artist! *
Katharina Wagner’s Bayreuth Beckmesser-Bombshell! *
Theoretic-Bases for This Wagner Innovation? *
Two Wagner-Song-Contests—Quasi-Comic vs. Religio-Tragic: *
Basic Prize-Concept: The Winner Is Supposed To Get the Girl! *
Philippe Arlaud’s Tannhäuser Returns Yet Again— *
The Wagnerian Essence Is Still In The Music! *
Venusberg an Open Powerbook! *
Tankred Dorst’s Vision of Wagner’s Ring Revised & Revisited: *
Das Rheingold: *
Die Walküre: *
Tradition vs. Experimentation: *
Are Wagner’s Operas An Endangered-Species? *
Bayreuth News & Notes: *
Not To Early To Book for 2008? *
14th Annual Bayreuth Easter-Festival 2008: *
New Book on Wagner’s Festspielhaus: *
Bayreuth Facts & Fictions: *
THE BAYREUTH FESTIVAL 2007—
The Great Debate:
Who Will Be the Next Artistic-Director of the Bayreuth Festival?
In recent Festival Summers, the question of Who will be the next Intendant of the Bayreuth Festival has been a regular-theme. On 30 August 2007, the current & longtime chief, Wolfgang Wagner, will be 88-years-old!
Unlike the New York Times & many other American Institutions, there is no Mandatory-Retirement-Age for Wagner’s unique post. Indeed, at one point he asked for & received a Lifetime-Contract from the Gremium that nominally oversees the Festival.
He has invoked this contract when there have been moves to select a successor. One of these candidates was his daughter by his first marriage, Eva Wagner-Pasquier. She graciously withdrew when it became very clear that her father had no intention of yielding his Intendancy to anyone but his daughter by his second marriage.
This summer, a number of newspapers & commentators have renewed the Successor-Question with incremental-eagerness—not only because of the known preference of Wolfgang Wagner for his daughter, Katharina Wagner—but also because age seems to be taking its toll.
Peter Emmerich, the Press-Officer of the Bayreuth Festival, responded to the Successor-Suggestions of the Bunte-Illustrierte by saying: "We have a Festspielleiter, and his name is Wolfgang Wagner!"
"Nobody can force Wolfgang Wagner to retire," Emmerich emphasized, also annoyed at the unseemly hunger of some in the media for Wagner’s withdrawal from his long stewardship of his grandfather’s Festival.
If anyone is waiting for Papal White-Smoke to rise from the chimney of Bavaria’s Cultural-Vatican this Fall, signaling a Successor, Emmerich guarantees they are in for a disappointment.
Nonetheless, 88 is a great age—your reporter is only 78—so Wagner-Watchers cannot but become concerned. Recent photos show an aged Wolfgang Wagner, supported by a cane. He may have had a mild incident, as some report his speech is now somewhat slurred. Others dispute this hotly.
In any case, the very mixed reception that greeted Katharina Wagner’s Bayreuth directorial-debut—with her great-grandfather’s Die Meistersinger—has made the Questioners even more insistent, as some don’t believe her avant-garde staging-skills qualify her for the post of Intendant.
Interestingly, Katharina Wagner—in one of the many interviews she has given recently—points out that the talents required for an Artistic-Director are not the same as those needed for a Regisseur. Whether one is an effective stage-director or not has no real bearing on the Arts-Management skills needed by an Intendant.
Indeed, some of the most effective Artistic-Directors have never staged a play or an opera. Gerard Mortier—former Intendant of the Salzburg Festival, now chief at the Paris Opera, & soon to take the helm at New York City Opera—is certainly one of these.
A pantheon of British Knights have also been Artistic Directors of Major Opera-houses, without ever having staged an opera: Sir Rudolf Bing at the Met, Sir Peter Jonas at the Bavarian State Opera, & Sir David Webster at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden!
For that matter, even British-Royalty has had a fling with Opera-Arts-Management—without having to actually stage an opera. The Queen’s cousin, Lord Harewood—born Gerald Lascelles & son of Alice, The Princess-Royal—proved an excellent Intendant for the English National Opera—or ENO. Harewood even edited & revised Kobbe’s definitive Opera-Guide!
Some fans of the distinguished conductor, Christian Thielemann—a very popular Bayreuth star—are eager for him to be named by the overseeing Gremium as the next in line. His Bayreuth curtain-calls are usually greeted with standing-ovations: notably for his conducting in the current Ring.
But being a GMD—or General Music Director—is not the same as being an Intendant, for most GMD’s are more concerned about the orchestras they conduct & their choruses, than they are about choosing talented actor/singers, brilliant stage & costume-designers, & ingenious regisseurs, as well as installing technical-innovations & even filling the seats of the opera-house.
And if they are so famous that they are Principal-Conductors or GMD’s of several leading orchestras, the opera-house they nominally serve won’t see them all that often…
Of course, at Bayreuth, the "season" lasts only five-weeks, unlike the standard ten-month-seasons of most European theatres & opera-houses. Nonetheless, other major festivals in Europe are seldom more than five weeks, some even shorter. But complex fests such as those of Salzburg, Edinburgh, & Bregenz do need to have the Intendant on hand, not phoning-in from time to time.
Of course, for Shaw’s "Perfect-Wagnerites," the control & continuation of the Artistic-Heritage of Richard Wagner should remain in The Family & in the Festspielhaus. But even when Wolfgang Wagner finally does retire—or Time takes its toll—there is no shortage of Family-Candidates.
The most obvious is Katharina Wagner, who for many years has learnt all aspects of the Festival’s operation from both her father, Wolfgang, & her mother, Gudrun Wagner, who has a firm hand on management of the Festival. And Katharina has been able to work as an assistant to the famous opera-directors working at Bayreuth.
Nor is her fiercely-debated Bayreuth Meistersinger her first staging. She has staged Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer for Würzburg, Wagner’s Lohengrin in Budapest, Lortzing’s Der Waffenschmied at Munich’s Gärtnerplatz-Theater, & Puccini’s Il trittico for a Berlin debut. This October, Katharina Wagner will stage Richard Wagner’s seldom-seen opera, Rienzi, for Theater-Bremen!
Not only is Bremen eager to see Katharina Wagner at work, but Wagnerites in Seoul are also looking forward to Wagner-staging-Wagner! Initially, she was invited to mount a new staging in South Korea’s capital-city, but she thoughtfully declined: "I don’t think that my kind of stagings would really be accepted in this Kulturkreis."
Instead, she will revive her father’s 1989 Bayreuth Parsifal, rebuilt & re-rehearsed after her father’s original-plans & conceptions. The Bayreuth Festival Archive has preserved all the records: plans, models, photos…
Is There a Katharina-Campaign?
Shortly before Katharina Wagner’s Bayreuth debut, the media were flooded with a series of extremely glamorous photos of the actually glamorous young stage-director & Heir-Apparent. In previous years, she was usually seen in a group-photo—with her parents & distinguished Bayreuth guests.
This press-barrage does suggest an organized-campaign to further her cause as her father’s Nachfolger. And it has been very effective: not only is she a striking beauty, but her astute & often witty replies to reporters’ questions indicate both a keen intellect & an off-beat sense of humor.
She actually told one journalist: "Wagner is too long." Even some Wagner fans might agree with this observation, after slogging through some the more repetitive-passages of the 16-hours-plus Ring.
Although many opera-houses do introduce cuts in the scores of Wagner operas, that is supposedly never done in Bayreuth, where the totality of the operas is sacred. But how they look on stage in new productions is quite another matter.
Possibly part of the Katharina-Campaign is Dagmar Krauss’ film-documentary on the creation of the new Meistersinger. Fräulein Wagner permitted Krauss to follow the entire process, video-camera in hand. Krauss says Katharina Wagner never asked her to turn off the camera, even in a tense moment: everything has been captured.
This could well be because Krauss is no Bayreuth-Outsider. She was once one of the Blue-Maidens, who tend the auditorium-doors & check the tickets of worshippers at Richard Wagner’s Shrine. She has also been both a Dwarf & a Nibelung in the Ring!
In the six or seven weeks of Meistersinger rehearsals, Krauss was able to record some 80-hours of the process. This she has edited-down to a 24-minute-documentary for Sat 1. This was broadcast on 15 August, Maria-Himmelfahrt—the very day the Blessed Virgin Mary ascended into Heaven!
Whether there is any connection between that Grand-Ascension & Katharina Wagner’s debut-ascent at Bayreuth remains to be seen. Krauss’ documentary, however, does remain to be seen. You can check it out on Sat 1’s website: www.sat1bayern.de.
Some measure of worldwide interest in Katharina Wagner is provided by the 1.76 million Google-hits mentioning her name!
The Other Wagner-Candidates:
Nonetheless, Katharina Wagner is not the only Wagner-Family-Candidate waiting in the wings, so to speak. Her half-sister, Eva Wagner-Pasquier—born of Wolfgang’s first wife, Ellen Drexel-Wagner—is an experienced Intendant, currently advising the Aix-en-Provence Festival.
Eva’s brother, Gottfried Wagner, is out-of-the-running, as he has long been leading the attack against the Bayreuth Festival for alleged Anti-Semitism & its former affiliation with Adolf Hitler. He also has obvious issues with his father: they are not on speaking-terms.
But another strong candidate is Nike Wagner, Wieland Wagner’s brilliant daughter. Not only is she a respected Musicologist, Critic, Essayist, & Dramaturg, but she is currently Intendant of the admired Weimar Festival. No, she does not stage operas, but she certainly knows who can do that job with genius & imagination.
When it appeared, back in 2001, that Wolfgang Wagner might step-down, Nike Wagner was also a candidate to replace him. She & her cousin, Wieland Lafferentz—son of Verena Wagner-Lafferentz, sister to Wolfgang & Wieland—had suggested an entirely New Look for the Bayreuth Festival. To the horror of Old-Traditionalists & the delight of other Wagner-Fans…
At its inaguration, Wagner’s Festspielhaus was the most modern opera-house in the world—from a purely technical-standpoint. Its architecture & decoration were definitely Period, but its famed "covered-orchestra-pit" is still a marvel.
Unfortunately for theatre & opera-lovers, this historic theatre is open only five-weeks each summer—and not every day of those July-August weeks. On performance-days—when sets are being struck & mounted—there are not even tours of the house for those who have come all this way to Upper-Franconia. They travel the distance only to see the inside of the famed Festspielhaus, not expecting to get a last-minute-ticket.
This means that there are thousands of Germans & even more thousands of Wagner-Fans worldwide who will never get a seat for one of Bayreuth’s celebrated productions. Or even for a production-disaster like Christoph Schlingenseif’s Parsifal, gasping out its lungs this August.
Because of the very limited five-week window-of-opportunity, some Wagnerites who are on the Gesellschaft der Freunde Bayreuth or the Lottery-List have to wait as long as ten years for a ticket. Nike Wagner’s tentative suggestion that the season could be extended, possibly even to ten-months—which is the standard-season for most Central-European theatres & opera-houses—would certainly break this audience-barrier.
Should the Bayreuth Season Be Longer?
This would also make possible the production of other Richard Wagner operas never seen on the sacred-stage: Rienzi, or the Last of the Tribunes; Die Féen, & Das Liebesverbot. Of course, if Wagner himself had wanted to produce them, he could have. But he did not…
So: would such proposals violate his Will & Intentions?
But would Wagner have denied his beloved son, Siegfried Wagner, productions of his own operas—such as Sonnenflamme, Bärenreiter, & Blame It All on the Little Hat [trans]—now virtually forgotten? [Richard Wagner died—a Death in Venice—before his young son had crafted an opera.] Nike Wagner might give them an airing, at least.
[It is not a given that only Richard Wagner’s operas can be performed on his stage. During the American-Army-Occupation of Southern Germany, in the wake of World War II—when Wolfgang Wagner’s mother, the former Festival-Director, Winifred Wagner, had to undergo two De-Nazification Hearings—the US Troops produced American musicals & cabarets in the Festspielhaus! To Winifred’s immense annoyance, as she told your reporter years later.]
A new Intendant could continue the Bayreuth Werkstätte Tradition—but in a new sense—by also producing other forgotten or neglected operas. The actual Bayreuth-Workshops—for building sets, making costumes, & other technical concerns—should be the envy of any repertory-theatre in the world.
Yet they are in service of a short five-week season only.
Years ago, when I questioned Wieland Wagner about this, he explained that it was that very limited season that made Bayreuth so very special. The fact that it was so difficult to obtain tickets just made the Festival even more special. Wieland thought that this fact also validated the work he & his brother were doing: that thousands of ticket-requests had to be turned-down.
He had another point, however, that Wolfgang Wagner has also repeatedly stressed: The remarkable Bayreuth Orchestra & Chorus—chosen from outstanding artists—can only be assembled when other opera-houses are closed for summer-holidays!
Of course, if the Free State of Bavaria were willing to provide an attractive subsidy, the Zukunfts-Intendant could probably contract an excellent orchestra & chorus for a ten-month Bayreuth season. Leading Music-Schools are churning out thousands of talented musicians & singers, after all!
What this could do for local Hotels, Restaurants, & Shops can only be imagined! Not to mention VAT & other tax-incomes for the City of Bayreuth, Ober-Franken, Freistaat-Bayern, & the Federal Republic of Germany!
Consider these recent statistics: During the five Festival-weeks, there are some 70,000 over-nights in Hotels, Gasthäuser, & B&Bs. Some wealthier Wagnerites do not even stay in Bayreuth, but in one or other of the historic towns of Ober-Franken. [The late, great Birgit Nilsson always stayed in Pegnitz, partly to avoid autograph-hunters.]
For that matter, all the soloists, chorus, orchestra, & special technical-staffs also have to be housed in the area. And their Euro-inflow for lodgings, meals, haircuts, & sundries are not even included in the Wagner-Tourist Stats.
That 70,000-sum accounts for a quarter of all the over-nights in a twelve-month Bayreuth Year!
Then there are the more than 500,000 Tagesgäste, who come only for a day during the Festival. These account for a local income of more than 10 Million Euro. The Over-nighters spend about 11 Million Euro! Numbers not to be sniffed-at in a seemingly-declining local-economy…
In the summers when the Ring is performed—with its two Spielfrei days, to let Wotan, Siegfried, & Brünnhilde rest their tonsils—even more is spent in the many attractive local shops, not to overlook those that specialize in Richard Wagner Memorabilia!
But there is a Problem in Bayreuth & all of Northeast Ober-Franken: the Population is declining. There are not enough children & too many schools, a local paper reports. In the heart of Bayreuth, there are major commercial-locations vacant.
At the Hauptbahnhof, the Weinerwald has closed. The Wienerwald-franchise is to Mittel-Europa what Big-Macs are to the world. A Central-Station without a good restaurant? What are things coming to in the European-Union?
Near where I always stay, in Tristan-Weg, the virtually historic Gäststätte Kropff has just closed in bankruptcy. Not enough custom, apparently. And the Rheingold-Hotel has also closed.
This means, of course, a loss of rooms for Wagner-Tourists—as well as sales of Bier & Essen—that is currently concerning Bayreuth’s Oberbürgermeister, Dr. Michael Hohl. [Can you imagine New York or San Francisco having a Mayor with a PhD?]
Dr. Hohl & the City of Bayreuth, as a result, have "ein grosses Interesse an der Ansiedlung eines hochwertiges Hotels, um diese ‘Angebotslücke’ schliessen zu können." Calling all Hiltons & Hyatts!
Could Bayreuth Become an International Opera-Festival City?
Even without these threatening Economic-Indicators, Bayreuth itself has always been too small to support a ten-month-season in a theatre the size of Wagner’s Festspielhaus. For that matter, it already has a city-theatre-venue, the Stadt-Halle, not to overlook the fabulous Baroque Opera-house Bibiena built for the Margravine Wilhelmine—who produced her own operas there. [But then she was the sister of Fred the Great & had talent to spare!]
As both Katharina & Nike Wagner have made it clear that they believe there must be a Renewal in the Festival—although they may not both have the same kind of change in mind—Bayreuth needs to be developed as an International Opera-Festival City. This is something Gerard Mortier tried to set in motion in Salzburg, which is also ideally suited to such a Cultural-Development…
Obviously, one does not immediately launch a ten-month season in the Festspielhaus. But special holiday-seasons cry-out for special opera, concert, & theatre-seasons. Salzburg has an Easter Festival & a Pentecostal Celebration as well. [Pfingsten, Whitsun, Pentecost: it’s all the same thing.]
How about A Wagner-Family-Christmas in Wahnfried? With Christmas-Carols—Martin Luther’s Away in a Manger comes to mind!—in the Stadtkirche? Wesendonck-Lieder in the Margräfliches Opernhaus? And a very merry Meistersinger on the Grüner Hügel?
Wagner-Fans & Theatre-Lovers alike could also take a day-tour to Nuremberg for its world-famous
Christkindl-Markt & its beloved Lebküchen!
None of this could happen overnight. And it would take an Intendant with fantastic Vision & compelling Charisma—plus International-Connections & Big-Subsidies—to build Bayreuth into an International-Festival-City. But the local-economy certainly needs Something-Big to happen soon!
If Dance of the Vampires—a rapid flop on Broadway seasons ago—can now be celebrating its 10th year in Berlin, the German appetite for Wagner’s much more highly-evolved Musik-Theater ought to do even better at home in Bayreuth…
The Wagner Family-Inheritance & The Gremium:
The idea of the World’s First Opera-Festival having been founded as a small-family-business—& remaining that way for virtually a century—almost defies belief. How could Wagner’s widow, Cosima, & Siegfried’s widow, Winifred, have maintained control of the Festival over the years, without having to close it down—or have the State take it over?
That is, of course, a book in itself—& several have been written on this subject.
Central to Family-Control, however, was the fact that the Festspielhaus & Wagner’s historic home, Villa Wahnfried, were family-property, thanks to the generosity of "Mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The priceless Wagner scores, manuscripts, & letters—as well as the performance-rights—also remained in the family.
But production-financing was so difficult that the Festival was celebrated only every two years at times. Cosima was tireless in seeking patrons, as was Winifred—who found her Patron-of-All-Patrons in Adolf Hitler. [To the end of her days, she insisted she remained Hitler’s True-Friend—to the understandable distress of her children, especially Festival Intendant Wolfgang Wagner.]
With such a history, it’s understandable that the Bavarian State—not to mention the many Wagner-Fans worldwide—wanted to establish the Bayreuth Festival on a much more stable basis. Without removing talented Wagner Family members from involvement in the Festival…
So the Wagner Real-Estate—including the Art-Deco Siegfried-Haus—as well as the Wagner manuscripts & memorabilia were bought by the Bavarian State to add [officially] to the rich cultural heritage of Bavaria.
[Many countries in Europe have the odd idea—to American-thinking, at least—that Theatre, Opera, Dance, & Concerts, even Art-Museums & Libraries, are an important part of Continuing-Education, as well as an Essential-Resource for enriching the lives of their citizens. Not to overlook the advantages of providing employment for those of their children who have decided to dedicate their lives to the Arts! Leave No Child Behind, as someone once said…]
When the Great-Wagner-Purchase was made, there were four Wagner-Heirs: Wieland, Wolfgang, Friedelind Wagner, & Verena Wagner-Lafferentz. The late Friedelind Wagner never married—she was effectually married to the memory of her father Siegfried.
[Disclosure: Over the years, your reporter got to know both Friedelind & her mother fairly well. Also Gertrude Wagner, abandoned wife of Wieland, who rejoiced that his divorce—which would have left him free to marry his mistress, the striking soprano Anja Silja—became final only on the day he died of an embolism!]
But Wieland had a son, "Wummi," & daughters. Wolfgang had a son & daughter in his first marriage, with Katharina blessing his second-union. Verena also had children, five of them, but as she has long lived—withdrawn from Wagner Family frays—in Nussdorf, little was heard of them…
In the Wagner Gremium, the Family has four votes. Of the surviving heirs, I have no information on who gets to vote these Wagner-Stock-Options.
But there are a total of 24 votes—or Stimmen—available for a possible change-in-management. Five of these votes belong to Federal Republic of Germany—so it’s good that Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel is now a Bayreuth-Regular.
The Government of Freistaat-Bayern also has five votes, presumably under the control of the Minister of Education & Culture. The remainder of the votes are shared-out—two-each—among the City of Bayreuth, the Society of the Friends of Bayreuth, the Upper-Franconia Foundation, the Province of Upper-Franconia, & the Bavarian State Foundation.
The Oversight Gremium is to meet soon. Whether it will leave the ailing Wolfgang Wagner in place—or replace him with his younger daughter—has excited a lot of interest. And not only in Bavaria…
Christoph Schlingenseif—who seems to be almost a Male-Muse for Fräulein Wagner—has announced his eager support for her bid for the Intendancy. If she is chosen, he believes it is his duty to mount a new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.
Unfortunately, the most recent Tristan—staged by yet another Christoph, Herr Christoph Marthaler—returning next summer, after a well-deserved absence from the repertory—is so disappointing that the threat of a Parsifal-like Schlingenseif Three-Ring-Circus-Tristan is not encouraging. [Marthaler’s Tristan seems to be a Recreation-Director on the Andrea Doria…]
So the Wagner Gremium not only has options, but it also needs to think carefully about what moves it will make. The World Is Watching!
Is the Bayreuth Festival Sexist?
Only Two Women Have Staged Wagner in His Festspielhaus
Curiously, while three strong Wagner-Women have kept the Bayreuth Festival on course in difficult times—either supporting their Men, or replacing them when they passed-on—only two women have ever directed one of Richard Wagner’s operas on the Festspielhaus stage.
Cosima Liszt Wagner was one of them. She was the strong staff on which her often troubled husband, Richard, could lean, but she also carried on & developed his vision of the Festival after he died. She was certainly one of the world’s first female Arts-Managers.
Not only was she an astute judge of the artists, designers, & technicians who should work in the Festival, but she also knew very well how the Master wanted his operas to look & sound onstage. And, to this end, she also was involved in production.
Her daughter-in-law, Winifred Williams-Klindworth-Wagner, similarly had to carry-on, when both Cosima & Winifred’s husband, Siegfried Wagner, died within a month of each other in 1930. Already experienced in the management of the Festival—although Cosima held a tight-rein over both Festival and son—Winifred knew enough not to try to direct, but she also knew who the best artists, directors, & conductors were, in order to invite them to Bayreuth.
Fortunately for the survival of the Festival in the Depression Years—but unfortunately for the later fame of the fest—she was also a good friend of the Führer, Adolf Hitler, who funded the Festival from his private-purse into World War II—when no foreign-guests were flocking to Bayreuth. [You couldn’t get a Visa, even if you wanted one.]
In the wake of the Second-World-War, Siegfried’s sons, Wieland & Wolfgang Wagner, revived the Festival in 1951. Wieland’s star as a stage-director shown brightest, but he would never have achieved the international-fame he justly won, were it not for the astute business-management of the Festival by brother Wolfgang—also a stage-director, but somewhat standing in his brother’s shadow.
After Wieland’s untimely death, from an embolism, the entire burden of running the Festival—both Artistic & Managerial—fell upon Wolfgang’s broad shoulders. But his burdens were certainly eased when his second wife, Gudrun Wagner, began to assume managerial-responsibilities.
But even she never asked to stage a Wagner opera. Instead, she has passed that baton on to her daughter, Katharina Wagner, now 29, who has learnt every aspect of the Festival from both her mother & her father. So Katharina is only the second woman to direct a Wagner opera on Bayreuth’s quasi-sacred stage.
Has there been some kind of Male-Dominant-Sexism at work over the years? There have certainly been women costume-designers—aren’t they supposed to be good with needle-&-thread?—but only one woman has been invited to design settings, as well as costumes.
This was the distinguished modern artist, Rosalie, who designed an entire Bayreuth Ring, staged by Alfred Kirchner.
If Katharina Wagner is chosen as the Festival Intendant-successor to her father, Wolfgang, will she make sure that other talented women have the opportunity to stage, design, & even conduct at the Bayreuth Festival?
Is Katharina Wagner’s Meistersinger Her Meisterstück?
[And Just What Is a Meisterstück?]
Katharina Wagner, the 29-year-old Heir-Apparent—or should that be Heir-Presumptive?—to leadership of the annual Bayreuth Festival, made her directorial-debut on the Festival’s Opening-Day, in the presence of such luminaries as Dr. Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor of Germany.
The strikingly handsome daughter of the current Festival Intendant, Wolfgang Wagner, she chose her great-grandfather’s only comic-opera—Die Meistersinger—for her Bayreuth Meisterstück. In the event, it was more of a Trial-by-Fire…
In German-speaking lands, craftsmen-artists have always learnt their special skills by serving first as Apprentices—Hans Sachs’ apprentice-shoe-maker David, for example—then advancing to Journeyman-status when they have satisfactorily completed their training.
But to become a Master of the craft or trade, the candidate has always had to create a Meisterstück, to prove himself worthy of this great honor. [For centuries, there was never any question of a woman being permitted to learn a craft. This was a Man’s World! Women’s place was in the home: Kinder, Küche, und Kirche…]
Literally translated, Meisterstück is a Master-Piece. It serves to demonstrate visually that the Journeyman has mastered all aspects of his craft & is now able to create a work that is virtually a celebration of his skills, as well as an indication his potential for making future developments in his trade.
In fact—as well as in fiction—a truly talented & trusted apprentice/journeyman, advanced to Master, might well marry his Master’s daughter & inherit the shop & trade! Hans Sachs has no children, so David’s inheritance of the shoe-shop seems secure.
How the usage of Meisterstück was changed to Masterpiece—to signify a Great Work of Art, instead of a stunning piece of craftsmanship—is another story.
So no one should have expected Katharina Wagner’s debut-staging of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg to have been a Masterpiece in the modern sense of the term. In fact, it was really her Master-Piece, by which she should be judged by other Masters.
Unfortunately for most artists making their stage-debuts, they are not judged by Masters of their Arts, but by Critics! [Bernard Shaw once noted: "Those who cannot do, teach." He might have reformed this to include critics, few of whom can or do practice the arts they so authoritatively monitor.]
As has been already outlined, Katharina Wagner has served a long apprenticeship at the Bayreuth Festival, working alongside her distinguished Intendant/Regisseur father, Wolfgang Wagner, and learning all aspects of the Festival’s complicated Arts-Management from her resourceful & highly-organized mother, Gudrun Wagner.
No contemporary young opera-stage-director could have had a comparable training-experience. What is more, she has also been able to work as a directorial-assistant to some of the most remarkable stage-directors & designers of our time!
Thanks to these experiences, she was invited to stage opera-productions in Würzburg, Budapest, Berlin, & Munich. So her Bayreuth Meistersinger is hardly her first time to take a bow before a well-informed opera-public.
Nonetheless, the lusty chorus of Boos which engulfed her great-grandfather’s famed Festspielhaus-auditorium as she came before the great curtain was daunting indeed.
There was something almost savage about some of this roar of disapproval: something almost shameful, coming from an obviously well-educated & well-heeled audience. And especially insulting, improper even, in such an almost sacred setting…
Despite this ill-mannered greeting, Katharina Wagner—her long blonde hair setting off her sleek black gown—was remarkably gracious as she bowed, even taking the boos in her stride, as if she was somewhat amused at such boorish behavior.
Possibly she & her production-team view this as an entirely-predictable-reaction to anything new or non-traditional on the sanctified Bayreuth stage? Some of the best directors & designers have also been booed here, as was Patrice Chereau, for his Bayreuth Centennial Ring, way back in 1976.
In 1976, however, the first season of the Chereau Ring’s five-year-run, there were some real visual gaffes on stage—as well as some deliberate comic-mockeries of the Nibelungen Legend—that invited jeers & catcalls.
These Production-Problems disappeared in the second season, for Wolfgang Wagner has long insisted that the Bayreuth Festival is a kind of Workshop, where new Wagner stagings are regarded as Works-in-Progress. [Unfortunately, that concept had no constructive-effect on the Christoph Schlingensief Parsifal production.]
So it is to be hoped that some of the technical-infelicities of the new Meistersinger—as well as some visual-formulations that were ill-defined, or virtually impossible to decode—will be changed, removed, or clarified in 2008!
Before describing in as much detail as possible—I do not take notes: forgetting is also a form of criticism—what I think I saw on stage in this new Wagner-Wagner Meistersinger, it might be useful to offer a brief summary of Wagner’s Original-Plot. The new staging offers few clues to the plot that Richard Wagner had actually intended to unfold on stage.
Those spectators who had Wagner text-books in hand—or who had seen this Masterwork in many different productions—were surprised to discover that Katharina Wagner, her Dramaturg, Robert Sollich, & her designers, Tilo Steffens & Michaela Barth, had conceived a rather novel vision of Wagner’s Original.
So anyone following the printed-libretto was confronted with a rather different visual plot-line, although the words & music remained as Wagner had created them.
What Really Happened in Nuremberg?
In essence, in Wagner’s original version, Veit Pogner—a wealthy & well-respected Nuremberg Guildsman & Chief of the Mastersingers, who are guildsmen-singers from various crafts & trades—is offering the hand of his beloved daughter, Eva, to that bachelor-Mastersinger whose original lyrics & melody wins the Song-Contest on the Festwiese on St. John’s Day.
This is not as crass as it may now seem: Pogner honors & respects his fellow Singer-Guildsmen above all other men in Nuremberg. Who better than one of them to become his daughter’s loving-husband, his son-in-law, & His Heir?
That man could be Hans Sachs, the Master-Shoemaker—who is also a local poet & playwright, a novelty in Medieval Times. Sachs is an older man, but still a bachelor. And he has always loved Eva from afar…
The Guildsman who really aspires to Eva-dom, however, is Beckmesser, the Town-Clerk. But he is seen as a rather pathetic, laughable local character. He is always fussing about the rules of creating a song worthy of the Mastersingers. As if rules could produce a work of genius… [He could have been a parody-portrait of the critic Eduard Hanslick, whose critiques had angered Wagner. The Master even considering calling him Hans Lick.]
At this time, Nuremberg was a Free Imperial City—ruled not by a king or duke—but by its own citizens, overseen by such grandees as the heads of the old Patrizer-Families & the Chiefs of the Guilds.
Into this well-organized & thoroughly traditional world comes the young Junker, Walther von Stolzing. A descendent of a Minnesinger-Knight, he is also seized with a love of song. But he belongs to a rather different Feudal-Society, so he is a mistrusted Outsider in Nuremberg. He has glimpsed the lovely Eva & longs to win her hand—which he can do only by pleasing her father.
Historically, the Nuremberg Meistersingers met in the Katharina-Kirche for sessions of song & testing applicants for membership.
Richard Wagner opens his opera during a church-service, where Eva & Walther are stealing glances at each other, she being carefully chaperoned by her maid, Magdalene. As the service comes to an end, they cement their fondness for each other.
In a side-aisle of the church, Apprentices set up the necessary furniture & symbols for Walther’s Test to become a Mastersinger. Beckmesser is insistent that Walther follow the rules to the dot.
In the event, Walther sings out a glorious but unstructured song. Beckmesser’s noisy chalk-marks fail him in the Masters’ view. Walther storms out in disgust.
In the second act, Walther plots with Eva to elope. The wise old Hans Sachs is determined to prevent this, for both Eva & Walther’s eventual benefit. He sets up his cobbler’s-bench outside his shop, so he can oversee unfolding-events. A Night-Watchman wanders by.
Then the over-eager Beckmesser comes with his lute to serenade Eva—who is now hiding outside with Walther, waiting to flee. Instead, his song goes up to Magdalene, disguised in Eva’s clothes.
Sachs punctuates the lute-tinkling love-song with sharp raps of his shoe-hammer, recalling Beckmesser’s frantic chalk-markings of Walther’s Test-Song. This infuriates Beckmesser, but the noise awakens sleeping Nurembergers, who throw whatever is under their beds down into the town-square.
Soon they are rioting in the streets, the Apprentices being especially lively. Beckmesser’s lute is broken over his head.
Sachs makes sure Eva returns home, then he makes Walther take shelter with him. The morning after—in his famous Wahn Monologue—he meditates on the Madness of Crowds & Humanity in General.
When Walther comes down from what must have been a troubled-sleep, Sachs shows him how to structure his wonderful lyrical/musical inspiration into a Meistersinger-worthy Prize-Song. He transcribes it for Walther.
Later, Beckmesser comes by & finds the song. He purloins it! In the meantime, Sachs’ David has been advanced from Apprentice to Junggesell & his future with Magdalene seems secure.
In the triumphant final-scene on the Festwiese, the different Nuremberg Guilds make their entrances, with distinctive symbols & songs for each: Tailors, Bakers, Shoe-makers, etc. The Test-Stand is set up for the Song-Contest.
A very nervous Beckmesser attempts to sing Walther’s lyrics, but he has had no time to learn them & gets them hilariously wrong. He also sings them to his own tinkling lute-melody, making them sound even more grotesque.
He is hooted off the stand & then denounces Sachs as the true author of the lyrics. Sachs demurs, then produces Walther, whose now glorious Prize-Song wins the day & the woman.
But Walther now proudly refuses the honor of becoming a Meistersinger—after the way he had been initially treated—to Eva’s immense distress. Hans Sachs then lectures him, in magisterial song, on proper respect for the Masters & their achievements, as well as offering a resounding Salute to German Arts & Crafts.
[Adolf Hitler loved this ending, even though Richard Wagner was originally dubious about including such an overblown celebration of German-Culture. Cosima Wagner insisted he leave it in place. This may have been a mistake, with world-shattering results.]
Hans Sachs: Painter & Poet vs. Sixtus Beckmesser: Avant-garde-Artist!
Now for Something-Completely-Different: Katharina Wagner’s visual re-writing of her great-grandfather’s Masterwork!
Not that Wagner’s texts have been changed, nor his dynamic original score. They remain audially-intact in this new staging, although the visual-plot is drastically changed.
All Richard Wagner’s operas are set in the past, the distant past, even the legendary past—though the central-characters were often already known to Wagner’s audiences through old Sagas & Tales, as well as History.
Had Wagner wanted to write an opera with a contemporary setting, he certainly had an important theme ready to hand in the failed Revolution of 1848—in which he fled Dresden, with a price on his head. But he found it safer to deal with questions of the Misuse of Power & the Uses & Abuses of Love from an historical—even legendary—perspective.
So it is sometimes unsettling when a young director with a reputation-to-make—or even an ageing enfant-terrible—decides to update an opera from its fictional-period to a more recent century, decade, or even today, often changing the original-site of the story as well.
There needs to be a good-reason to do this. And the updating & location-changing both need to enhance audiences’ appreciation & understanding of the basic-story, rather than just be a Visual-Novelty that works against both the libretto & the score.
At Bayreuth, there have already been some stunningly powerful updatings & re-imaginings of Richard Wagner’s original conceptions—with absolutely no damage done to Wagner’s lyrics, nor to his sublime scores. Despite initial protests of Shaw’s "Perfect Wagnerites," most Wagner-Fans who saw the Chereau 1976 Ring—or the videos of the production—now agree that it was Seminal.
After all, both Wieland & Wolfgang Wagner took entirely New Looks at their grandfather’s operas, from the resumption of the Bayreuth Festival in 1951 onward. And they were both severely—occasionally satirically—criticized for their innovations. "New Bayreuth" soon became a Watchword for modernizing boring old traditional ideas of opera-staging. But not for being untrue to the essences of the operas…
In recent years, the innovational Bayreuth stagings of Harry Küpfer & Jürgen Flimm have been both powerful & influential. In fact, Claus Guth’s only recently retired Bayreuth Flying Dutchman has been one of the most striking re-imaginings in years of the Dutchman-Legend & Wagner’s treatment of it.Ha
When an updated, modernized, contemporized production of a well-known opera—especially one of the Operatic-War-Horses—is mounted & does not succeed, either with audiences or critics, the reasons are usually not hard to find.
In Mittel-Europa, especially, there is a new breed of young—and some not-so-young—opera-stage-directors who seek to make their reputations through the daring of their stage-visualizations. As some stage-directors really do not have a very good visual-sense—even in moving the human-traffic around the opera-stage—it is often the set-designers who should get credit—or blame—for the results.
Most opera-goers, over time, remember how a famous production looked, not how it was sung, not how the orchestra played, nor who moved where on stage. So "innovative" directors may be banking on that.
But when such productions do not work at all—or do not work plausibly, in terms of the updating—it may well mean that the director cannot read music & does not understand what is happening in the opera-score. Drama stage-directors look first at the texts—and the often-imagined sub-texts—for their clues to the emotional powers of the work, as well as to its visual-effects.
This is a mistake: the interpretative clues are all there in the music.
Even directors who do understand what’s going on in the plot & the music may not trust their audiences: "They just won’t get it, if I don’t update it!" This may also be a mistake, as well as dissing the ticket-buyers.
In Deutschsprachiger-Raum, however, there is another factor at work: opera-lovers have seen fairly traditional productions of Lohengrin, Bohème, Carmen, & Aida so often that some directors believe they have to provide Something-Completely-Different.
That surely must have been on the minds of Katharina Wagner, her Dramaturg, & her production-team when they decided to take a New Look at Die Meistersinger. She is certainly more familiar with the libretto & score of this opera than almost any other young stage-director, especially after working closely with her father on his marvelously evocative Meistersinger for a number of seasons at Bayreuth.
But her Vision is not that of her father, Wolfgang; her grandfather, Siegfried Wagner, nor essentially that of her great-grandfather, Richard Wagner.
Katharina Wagner’s Bayreuth Beckmesser-Bombshell!
Walther von Stolzing is no longer the Artist-Outsider, whose poetic-genius is heightened by mastering the rules of the Masters. In fact, he is no longer a Junker-Poet at all, but a handsome young Modernist painter & something of a Lounge-Lizard!
No, the real Artist-Outsider is Sixtus Beckmesser, whose stolen Stolzing-Sachs lyrics are viewed by Katharina Wagner & her team as an avant-garde fore-runner of Dada!
The fact that Dada itself proved an Artistic-Dead-End—though it unleashed uncounted demons in its wake—doesn’t quite relate to what’s going on in Wagner’s score seems of no concern. Not to mention the actual words of his libretto…
Both the actual words & the original score work as minor-inconveniences in this unusual new staging.
As few readers of New York Theatre-Wire will have been lucky enough to get tickets for the Bayreuth Meistersinger—and as some strategic-changes will surely be made in the supposedly work-in-progress Werkstätte-Bayreuth production before it reopens in July 2008—it may be helpful to describe various visual aspects of the staging as they appeared on the immense Festspielhaus stage.
When the great gray-black curtain opens, we are not in a Nuremberg Church anymore. Not in the Katharina-Kirche, nor St. Laurentius, nor St. Sebaldus… In fact, no one in this production seems to have any interest in Religion, as such. Let alone Shoe-making!
We seem to be looking at the imposing interior-court of a pre-Nazi Kunstakademie. This doesn’t have the Albert Speer-look of Nazi Art-Deco, so perhaps it was designed in the Jugendstil Period. The School-Uniforms of the young student/acolytes enrolled—and almost coltishly-enslaved—here look like 1920s English Public-School outfits, via Evelyn Waugh.
The three-storied structure—which remains in place for all three acts—has a central covered court, backed by three levels of three box-rooms each, making a total of nine. In the middle-level-left room—reading left-to-right—there is a Grand-piano, from the bowels of which Walther von Stolzing makes his first languid Playboy appearance. There is also a fabric black & white keyboard that can be used as a trendy scarf—as the piano is not functional.
On the top level of this 3x3 construction—in front of the right-side box-room—there is a metal-scaffold, atop which a mural-artist & his aide are painting a ceiling-fresco. This seems to be a period-costume image—matched by two others in the two adjoining ceiling-cells—and he is working on the skirt-hems.
Toward the front of the stage, the coved-ceiling features three more cells, all of which contain an image of a somewhat mad face—not quite Medusa-like, however. From Row 25, it was not easy to see the entire image: it could have been Katharina Wagner, captured during a difficult rehearsal.
Flanking this central construction are two three-story side-galleries with ornamental guard-rails. On each side, busts or small statues of Famous German Authors & Artists are on display. Naturally, Richard Wagner is one of these Greats!
In the first act, they are only sculpted-figures, but in the madness of Act II, they are replicated as humans who silently interact, as Wagner failed to write any music or words for them! If only he had known!
In Act Three, their heads have grown into Monstrous Bobble-Head-Caricatures, as they loll about in the poorly-lit box-rooms of the central-structure.
Anyone in the audience who was not already familiar with the iconic representations of, say, Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff, might very well have had his or her attention distracted from the main-action of the opera, desperately trying to guess Who was Who!
For the Record: The Busts & Statues of Great Germans—or Meister-Figuren—Katharina Wagner & her designer Tilo Steffens have placed on stage to represent German Arts & Artists are as follows:
Above-Front: Friedrich von Schiller [1759-1805]
Above-Rear: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe [1749-1832]
Middle-Front: Johann Sebastian Bach [1685-1750]
Middle-Rear: Richard Wagner [1813-1883]
Below-Front: Gotthold Ephriam Lessing [1729-1781]
Below-Rear: Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff [1699-1753]
Above-Front: Heinrich von Kleist [1777-1811]
Above-Rear: Karl Friedrich Schinkel [1781-1841]
Middle-Front: Albrecht Dürer [1471-1528]
Middle-Rear: Ludwig van Beethoven [1770-1827]
Below-Front: Friedrich Hölderlin [1770-1843]
Below-Rear: Johann Gottfried Schadow [1764-1850]
As quasi-Bobble-Heads go, this is quite an Academic-Elite-Pantheon: not an American-League baseball-player among them!
At least Richard Wagner made-the-cut! But then his great-grand-daughter was operating the Genius-Sweepstakes…
Meanwhile, down below in the central-court—which later serves as a kind of café—school-uniformed students march in to offer up what seemed to be symbolic sabers in front of some kind of easel-art-ikon. From Row 25—without opera-glasses—it was not easy to decode many of these curious Production-Details. But they all surely have a Significance: otherwise, why load the visual-production down with so much Optic-Weight?
No longer are Eva & her maid, Magdalene, pious church-goers. Instead, they are uniformed art-students: red-bob-wigged dumpy German-sausage-like twins, who jump up & down with excitement when they see Walther climb out of the Steinway. Or is it a Bechstein, or even a Bösendorfer?
As Walther is now actually a painter—as well as a musician—he engagingly paints some sophomoric white swirls on a cello & lowers it on a rope to the ecstatic girls.
In the court, or Hof, David—in a trim business-suit—is busily Xeroxing copies of the Meistersingers’ Rules. The art-students set up tables for the meeting of these Worthies, who all now seem to be Professors of Art at the Nuremberg Kunstakademie.
Instead of standing a Singer’s-Trial to join the Meistersingers and, so, to win Eva’s hand in marriage, Walther now seems to want to be admitted as a student in the Art-School. On the basis of his cello-painting, a few lessons wouldn’t do him any harm. [Or does he really want to join This Faculty? Will there be Tenure-Possibilities?]
What a shame Katharina Wagner didn’t go All-The-Way with this Art-School-Concept. She could have replaced Walther von Stolzing with the young water-colorist/sketcher Adolf Hitler, who was so desperately eager to get into Vienna’s prestigious Kunstakademie!
Had those dour Viennese Professors of Art admitted Adolf Hitler to the Wiener Kunstakademie, the History of the World would have been different. Not better necessarily, but certainly Different…
It was unclear to me if—unlike the Junker Walther—Katharina’s Walther is not seeking admission to the School, but, instead, presenting his own Meister-Stüken for an MFA in Painting! That should all be made clear by next July…
In any case, some of the outraged professors cover the breasts & labia of one of his unrolled long-works with their distinctive Doctoral Mortar-boards. As all three of his table-long submissions were shown upside-down, it was not possible to know if the exposed-sexuality was an offense against tradition.
[This apparent outrage at frontal nudity seems borrowed from Wagner’s Tannhäuser, where the critics of Tannhäuser’s celebration of Venus were Medieval-Knights, not Profs from an art-school—which surely must have had some classic nude-sculpture copies on hand, not to mention nude-sketching-classes.]
Considering Walther’s random inattention as the school-students are setting up the seminar-table—he is all over all the three levels of the upstage-construction—he does not seem overly concerned about the art-professors’ judgments. But rather, already convinced of his own genius…
Although also a Arts-Faculty-Member, the painter/poet Hans Sachs tends to slouch about the stage in a casual shirt & pants, chain-smoking, & totally shoeless: an interesting variation on an historic character who made his living as a Master-Shoemaker & wrote plays on the side.
At times, Katharina’s Sachs looks like Norman Mailer between Great Novels.
As for Wagner’s Meistersingers, without name-tags it is not easy to know who is who among these fusty musty art-professors. Walther’s unrolling of three of his paintings, it soon develops, was only showing his bona-fides to earn the right to a Prüfung.
And what an unusual test this proves to be: Instead of Walther being judged for his song alone, he is subjected, instead, to a kind of art-competition, possibly intended as an innovative prelude to the climactic Song-Contest in the last act.
Two great easels are set up downstage right & left. Working from a copy of a Medieval woodcut of Nuremberg—which is a visual-ikon throughout the production—Walther & one of the professors vie in assembling jig-saw-puzzle-pieces of this woodcut, inside great black frames.
The Professor gets the pieces into the right places. Walther, on the other hand, places them upside-down or randomly, surely anticipating the random aleatory-arts of John Cage! The woodcut looks like an illustration from Hartmann Schedel’s Nürnberg Weltchronik of 1493, so its use must be intended to remind us of the difference between Then & Now, as well as the necessity of Breaking-with-Tradition, to Create-Anew…
Although the sung-texts in most of this act are about composing songs—and actually doing that—for the Meistersingers’ Guild, they are, in fact, in this new staging sung in the active service of a quite different sort of Prüfung. Perhaps, had there been German Super-Titles, some German-speaking audience-members would have understood that the words & music did not really relate to the onstage-actions.
Nor does that seem to be a Priority of this production. In the Second Act, Beckmesser’s Serenade seems to be sung to empty-air, as Eva & Walter are perched on top of a mysterious Silver-Hand that has recently reclined from its original upward-position. Nor is Beckmesser actually playing his lute: its music sounds from afar.
The Silver-Hand—first seen standing erect, with index & middle-finger pointing upward, the ring & little-finger folded down—must be an Important-Symbol, but I could not place it in an Art-History or a Nuremberg Context. Perhaps it is a secret only Germans can decode! Is it an early Michelangelo study for God creating Adam?
Wagner’s Night-Watchman is now making his rounds inside the Kunstakademie, flashlight in hand, making sure no one has harmed the images of German Artists.
When All Hell Breaks Loose—in the wake of Beckmesser’s Avant-garde-Serenade—Nuremberg’s Citizens throw down a hailstorm of white-sneakers on the stage. This barrage of footwear—especially as Sachs is no longer seen as a shoe-maker—puzzled some spectators.
Actually, Katharina Wagner has her own Uncle Wieland’s ingenuity to thank for such an innovation during this scene. For the 400th Anniversary of William Shakespeare, he mounted a new Meistersinger production in a mock-up of Shakespeare’s Globe-Theatre—which looked rather like Medieval Nuremberg!
What’s more, he had his angry sleepers throw down the first thing they found under their beds: their Chamber-Pots! This "lapse of taste" so angered some influential Festival-supporters that Wieland changed the props the next summer. Instead, there was a rainstorm of Cabbages!
The Bayreuth Werkstätt at work even that early in time!
Surely some oddities in the current production will be taken care of, but the Basic-Concept cannot be abruptly changed. Or replaced by Wagner’s original-conceptions—which are a matter of record.
One thing that the still young, still growing, still experimenting stage-director Katharina Wagner might want to ponder is the Idea that Less Is More—especially in the theatre, where avant-garde directors have long been eager to strip-away the sets, costumes, & production-details of musty traditional opera-stagings.
There are in the current production entirely too many unnecessary & distracting details—which draw attention away from the centers of action. In the first act, for instance, Walther’s random activities in the box-rooms may be designed to indicate his devil-may-care attitude about Professors, Rules, & Academies, but they are an unproductive-distraction.
There are many other examples of this Hyper-direction that need to be modified or eliminated. Its source is often a director’s Insecurity: that not enough is happening on stage. Or that the Audience Won’t-Get-It.
Another problem is the Schlingensief-Factor: Katharina Wagner is obviously a great admirer of the artist-theories & stage-practices of Christoph Schlingensieff, whose cluttered, chaotic Parsifal transformed Richard Wagner’s Final-Solution into a Third-World-Circus.
In Katharina Wagner’s new Miestersinger, both the Second Act Wahn finale & the Third Act Festwiese scene degenerate into visual squalor & chaos. The stage is awash in cast-off stuff. Unfortunately, this is not Artistic-Clutter, but something more like the Sophomore-Farce…
It must have come as a Very-Big-Surprise to Bayreuth’s Perfect Wagnerites to discover that Hans Sachs is no longer a Master Shoe-maker, but a serious Painter, Art-Professor, & Typist!
But the production has not been so updated that Sachs writes poems & plays on a Laptop. No indeed! He seems to be using a vintage Olivetti—not a Hermes, as they were smaller than this model—but I couldn’t tell from Row 25.
By his smart modern-white-desk—all his furniture looks IKEA-attractive—stands one of Sachs’ recent paintings. Initially, I thought it would get rejected from the Whitney Biennial—they only admit American artists, anyway—but MoMA might like it. No worse than Sigmar Polke on a bad day…
When Sachs tires of having all those Famous German Artists lolling about in the box-rooms behind his great studio-windows—a white-frame dropped into the Kunstakadmie-Hof—he draws down a sheer-white-curtain. The Artist wants to be Alone with his Thoughts, without the burden of German Arts & Traditions staring him in the face…
Perhaps Hans Sachs is dreaming of a New-German-Art, formed in a Crucible-of-Fire? A foolishly smiling conductor & two bowing artists are crammed into a Container, with rubbish dumped on top of them. Sachs then sets this on fire.
Out of the smoking embers, he lofts a small statue of a Goldener Hirsch! As the Golden-Stag is a popular & traditional hotel-name, this could serve as an inn-sign [ensign] if Sachs decides to rent rooms. Later, the Hirsch appears to be one of the Song-Contest Prizes—along with an immensely blown-up check from the Nürnberg Bank—both of which Walther angrily refuses, as he strides off stage.
Curiously, Sachs’ great-white-curtain remains in place in his Studio during the [now-unseen] Triumphal-Entry of the Guilds & Mastersingers. If you didn’t already know what Richard Wagner intended with this music, you might think Sachs was keeping the curtain down to shut out unwanted Street-Noise!
But when both the curtain & the window-frame fly up out of sight, what an astonishment! From the very deep bowels of the Festspielhaus stage, an immense set of bleachers slowly rises up, reaching the top-level of the Kunstakadmie.
The Bayreuth Chorus—smartly dressed in formal-attire, the women’s gowns standing-out in regimented color-patterns—is prepared to watch the Song-Contest between Walther & Beckmesser! Rather like being in the stands at Wimbledon…
The Production-Costs for this new Meistersinger must have been staggering. The costumes alone would wipe-out a Broadway show’s budget. Having a Basic-Set-Frame helps somewhat, but there are so many odd set-props & other novelties that one would hate to have to work this show as a stage-hand or a dresser.
How about the two great gold neo-Gothic picture-frames descending to enclose Happy-Family-Portraits of Walther & Eva, with three kids on one side & David & Magdalene & kids on the other? This, even before Walther has won the contest!
As the two couples stand in-frame, one of Eva’s boys keeps clutching his crotch: obviously he needs to pee. As soon as they are freed from their frames, he rushes off to relieve himself. Very cute!
This is the kind of Directorial Feinheiten that illuminates this new production. But it adds nothing to the impact of the Original-Work, as conceived by Richard Wagner. It belongs in South Park. Or The Simpsons…
Metropolitan Opera regulars who know & love their own Romantic-Realistic Meistersinger wouldn’t recognize the Festwiese-scene as Katharina Wagner & her designers have re-imagined it.
Their Basic-Idea, borrowed from Ernst Bloch, is that it is Beckmesser—not Walther—who is the real Outsider-Artist, the Poet of the Future, showing us & the Nuremberger-Burghers the way to Dadaism!
Although the Song-Contest has nothing to do with the Oscars, nonetheless two life-sized golden-statues rise out of the floor at either side of the stage! They must be Goethe & Schiller—Giants of German Poetry—although those geniuses are already represented on stage by the Bobble-Heads.
While the preening Walther is behaving rather like Paris Hilton at the Beverly Hilton, the virile Beckmesser is stretching his sinews, like Jake LaMotta before a fight. He even wears a T-shirt with the legend: BECK IN TOWN.
Once again, he does not play his lute—although its tinklings can be heard in the distance. Instead, he drags onto the forestage a large wheeled-container, with strings of colored balloons floating above it.
As he powerfully mangles Walther’s verses, he pulls the container’s panels open, revealing not only more balloons, but also a flood of green-apples, which roll out over the stage. Also in the box is a buck-naked man, who may symbolize Adam—hence, the apples?
Eve, however, is a pink-plastic blow-up fuck-doll, balloons attached: indicating a good time may be had by all? As Beckmesser then pulls a three-foot-long pink-rubber-penis from his fly—rotating it lasciviously, as he evokes strange sexual-delights—this seems indeed to be the point: Go For It!
In the event, this doll is torn apart, amid general confusion, echoing the riotous behavior of the Act Two Serenade-Night.
And again—as with the Serenade—the stage is literally littered with cluttered detritus. A chaotic mess, in the manner of a Christoph Schlingensief staging…
Oh, the Bobble-Heads also come forward, in their Calvin-Kleins, to parade on stage, forming a kind of chorus-kick-line. As each comes forward for a bow, he places a curved horn on his crotch—which may be intended as some kind of Symbol?
The wonder of this production is that the actor/singers were as good as they proved to be. Not only did they make Katharina’s Wagner’s stage-directions & character-visions their own—not at all easy, if you are worried about the impression you will make as an artist on agents, managers, Intendants, & wealthy Wagner-Lovers—but they certainly did Wagner’s music justice vocally.
The New-Beckmesser-Concept would not have worked at all had not Michael Volle been so able vocally & histrionically. And Klaus Florian Vogt was equally able—though entirely different in manner—as Walther.
Norbert Ernst was certainly earnest as the Nerdy Man-of-all-Tasks, David. Franz Hawlata was a world-weary, chain-smoking Sachs, clacking away at his typewriter, instead of at his cobbler’s-bench. His Sachs gained in vocal-authority as the production progressed. Artur Korn was Veit Pogner, somewhat eclipsed by this staging—as were the other Mastersingers as well.
The remarkable Bayreuth Chorus—under the magisterial direction of Eberhard Friedrich—was excellent, even when they were singing [unnecessarily] unseen. Sebastian Weigle conducted, but he must have been overwhelmed by the requirements of this production.
Usually, when I see a Meistersinger production, I cannot help feeling sorry for poor old Beckmesser & how shabbily he is treated. [Don’t forget the brutal nasty Nazis’ fondness for Medieval Nuremberg & Wagner’s Meistersinger.]
But this time, my sympathies were with Amanda Mace, whose Eva was too light to carry on the Festspielhaus stage. She wasn’t off-key & she did all the jumping up & down required of her, in that dumpy frumpy costume Michaela Barth designed for her.
Nonetheless, she was difficult to hear, balanced against Sachs & Walther. The result was that, at her solo-curtain-call, she was roundly, soundly Booed. She kept a brave face, but this must have been an awful moment for her.
And it was savage of so elegant an audience to treat her that way. Light, polite applause—rather than the resounding cheers that greeted favorites—would have been sufficient to indicate audience-reaction.
One would think that all potential Bayreuth soloists would be auditioned on the Festspielhaus stage, to be sure their voices would be strong enough?
Theoretic-Bases for This Wagner Innovation?
Why Katharina Wagner decided that her great-grandfather’s opera critiquing some Medieval German Traditions about Lyric-Poetry could or should be transformed into an Indictment of Academic Traditions in the Arts in general is still a mystery.
Had Richard Wagner really wanted to analyze a Painter’s Problems in an opera, he might have composed Mathis der Maler, but he did not. Not to overlook a Composer’s Problems with a Patron—with which he certainly had to deal. But he left it to Hans Pfitzner to compose Palestrina!
An essay by Ernst Bloch—written for the 1961 Bayreuth Meistersinger program—may well have been the inspiration for Katharina Wagner’s production-concept of Beckmesser as the real Outsider-Artist.
Bloch suggests that Beckmesser may, in fact, be more than he seems: perhaps Wagner in disguise? Wagner—in both the Serenade & the travesty of the Wagner/Walther/Sachs Prize-Song—may be offering a kind of concealed critique of musical-conventions & traditions of his time.
As Bloch notes: "…Wagner only intends the silly features of this figure as travesty; musically it aims at travestying prosaic old-fashioned forms and pointless coloratura passages…"
"The travesty of the text of the Prize Song, however, is a different matter because this refers quite definitely to Walther’s first original, to Sachs’ written copy of it, which is by no means ‘well memorized’ by Beckmesser. …now the burlesque element is more and more stressed… he makes something that might be straight out of Hieronymus Bosch…"
"The increasing non-sense of the text itself is in any case most strange, very remote from the infallible mock old German lyrics which flourished in the second half of the 19th century: it is disparate from the rest of the text."
"Thus one is at times here reminded of what the narrow-minded like to call decadence: even if none of the old and new Nazis would like to use Beckmesser’s verses as a travesty of the ‘incomprehensible’ poetry of today."
"Nevertheless, it anticipates modern poetry to a certain degree in the style of imprévu, of the unexpected, which is the best part of travesty. It reminds one of Morgenstern, which is especially curious in this context, and of an abstract word-ballet arranged by the green Muse absinthe…"
"Beckmesser’s text, too, was intended to be derisive, and nevertheless resembles the beginnings of Dadaism, and all the other products of word laboratories; thus, despite a few contemporary parallels, it is practically a new idea." [Italics-Added]
The entire essay is well worth reading. Possibly the Bloch text can be obtained on the Bayreuth Festival website? Worth a try…
This certainly does suggest that Richard Wagner was concealing a critique of the music & the lyrics of his time in what has always seemed an annoying, meddling, yearning, & entirely pathetic character. So there is more to Beckmesser than meets the eye—at least in the view of Ernst Bloch.
How this idea has now reached the Bayreuth stage visually is another matter.
Katharina Wagner’s Dramaturg, Robert Sollich, offers some insights into the production-team’s thinking about the opera:
"It is not mere chance that Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is considered to be THE artist’s drama ‘par excellence.’ Hardly any other work in the entire operatic repertoire has its act so together thematically as this work. …singers sing about the art of singing, after all, and the function of art and its role in society is musically debated…"
"It is a question of the legacy of tradition, and how one is to deal with this issue; whether the sacrosanct nature of art, therefore, lies confidentially in opposition to tested conventions and the constant reenactment of classically aesthetic values. Or, however, if living art, on the contrary, may only originate in the break with tradition, i. e. from the critical conversion therefrom, and may draw its strength from the very differentiation toward accepted postures of expectation."
If that is not clear enough, perhaps this Sollich quote will help explain why Hans Sachs no longer makes shoes—and Beckmesser is the Zukunfts-Poet:
"Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg allows itself paradoxically…to be interpreted as a piece ABOUT Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, whereby it remains surely an open question, as to what sort of cultural understanding they are in accordance with." [From the context of the essay, I’m not sure who they are. gml]
But you get the General Idea… Or does one?
Two Wagner-Song-Contests—Quasi-Comic vs. Religio-Tragic:
Basic Prize-Concept: The Winner Is Supposed To Get the Girl!
The idea of winning the hand—if not the heart—of a beautiful young woman, in some kind of contest of bravery or skill, is a very old one indeed. The Judgment of Paris is an epic-example, but there are other fabled instances through History, now also including Reality-Television.
But this sort of Arranged-Marriage seems to be a feature of Patriarchal & Feudal Societies. You might have to be badly-wounded—but ultimately victorious—in a Tournament to win the Duke’s daughter, but it will all be worth it in the end, especially if you inherit the Dukedom by marriage!
If you are, however, an extremely pious Muslim Man—the Brits used to call them Musselmen—you have to die a Martyr’s Death to win: but then, you get not one beautiful girl, but 72 Virgins!
This could have been a good theme for Richard Wagner, with his divided interest in the Sexual & the Saintly: Venus vs. Elizabeth.
For that matter—in the light of Katharina Wagner’s new Meistersinger production—you could recast Hans Sachs as an authoritative Ayatollah, Pogner as a Saudi-Sheik, Walther as the young American Cultural-Attaché, & Beckmesser as a Mad-Madhi, Taliban-intent on enforcing Koranic Rules of Conduct.
For the 72 Virgins that Beckmesser will win after he blows up all of Nuremberg on the Festwiese—with a Nitro-stuffed Bratwurst—you may want to borrow all the Blumen-mädchen from Klingsor’s Magic-Castle! Why not: where else will you find such a lot of Available-Women?
What Richard Wagner might have done with Saint Ursula & her 10,000 Virgins is anyone’s guess. Die Heilige Jungfrauen von Köln, perhaps! [Anyway, there never were that many virgins in Cologne: this is a Clerical-Error. The Scriptorial-Monk added three zeroes to make the tale more powerful…]
Jesting aside, it is certainly interesting that Wagner wrote & composed two major operas in which a beautiful woman is the Prize in a Song-Contest. With two quite different outcomes, yet both the major poet-contenders initially don’t care about The Rules.
Walther von Stolzing adroitly learns how to conform & wins. Tannhäuser passionately forgets about the Rules & loses all: even his ultimate salvation is the work of one who loved him greatly, not because he merits it.
Philippe Arlaud’s Tannhäuser Returns Yet Again—
The Wagnerian Essence Is Still In The Music!
It is almost a given of new Bayreuth productions that those that are extremely-updated or oddly-re-imagined, over time, may become like old opera-friends, stagings one is sad to see retired from the repertory. This was certainly true of Harry Küpfer’s Flying Dutchman & of Philippe Arlaud’s Tannhäuser as well.
Tannhäuser had been retired but was brought back for the 2007 season. For those who may not have read your scribe’s 2004 report on the Arlaud production—which improved each season—here’s a summary of what it looked like, with some contemporary commentary included.
Venusberg an Open Powerbook!
Arlaud’s Venusberg looks like a giant version of this G4 Powerbook, open for monkey-business. But it was certainly a change from most operatic Venusbergs—and minus the usual, if often embarrassing, Obligatory-Orgy.
Arlaud limits himself to three maidens fondling golden balls. They might be the Rhine-Maidens in Paradise. But their balls could very well be copies of the Golden Apple that Paris awarded Aphrodite/Venus—a novel visual-intellectual sub-text that has nothing to do with Wagner’s opera.
Initially, I actively hated Arlaud’s carnation-studded Thuringian-Meadow-scene for various reasons. Not least that its curious mechanics visually worked against the effect of the Pilgrims going off to, and returning from, Rome.
They still look as if they are disappearing into an IRT Subway-Station under the front of the stage!
Having inspected the construction of this set backstage, I realized that it was impossible for Arlaud to change his staging or to redesign this scene, so complicated & costly is the mechanism which makes it function—& which permits it to be stored compactly.
The initial production of Arlaud’s Bayreuth Tannhäuser was marred in that his Heldentenor was not equal to the challenges of the role, either as a singer or as an actor.
When he was replaced by the young American, Stephen Gould, the problem was immediately solved. This season, however, Gould has been promoted to Siegfried, so he has been in turn replaced with Frank van Aken, less heroic than Gould, but emotionally & vocally effective in the role.
In the first season, Arlaud’s glowing golden Bull-Ring vision of the Great Hall in the Wartburg Castle—the Teure Halle scene of the Battle of Singers—looked unnecessarily constricting, confining. But it now clearly seems intended to be so, visually enhancing the sense of a Court dominated by a ritually-confining etiquette. The elaborate costumes of Carin Bartels heighten the sense of ritual & restriction.
Judit Nemeth’s Venus is still passionately compelling, but the interaction with Gould was missing this time. Perhaps Van Aken is a bit too stocky to suggest a passionate lover-poet.
The deeply moving interactions of Ricarda Merbeth’s Elizabeth & Roman Trekel’s always magisterial Wolfram von Eschenbach with Tannhäuser were still tragical & magical. The Teure Halle scene was, as a result, both exciting and heart-breaking. Originally, Trekel had vocally-dominated this entire production: now his Wolfram has found its proper place.
In this summer’s revived & refined staging, Tannhäuser—rejected by the Pope, the returned, defeated knight & lover—sang with such passion & hopelessness that one was moved & saddened by turns.
The dramatic-effect of the production was building from the beginning. But, by the final scene, the vocal & visually-emotive powers of the doomed trio—sparked by Tannhäuser—was so powerful that the mise-en-scène seemed to melt away. Only Tannhäuser, Elizabeth, & Wolfram existed.
Nonetheless, the contributions of Guido Jentjens, Clemens Bieber, Thomas Jesatko, Arnold Bezuyen, Samuel Youn, & Robin Johannsen must be noted.
Transcendence & Incandescence were exactly the effect of Bayreuth’s Tannhäuser then & now, again, in this revival. Christoph Ulrich Meier conducted with sensitivity for the powers of this music-fable. And, of course, the world’s best opera-chorus distinguished itself under the direction of Eberhard Friedrich—an able successor to Norbert Balatsch & Wilhelm Pitz.
In an interview published in 2004, Philippe Arlaud admitted what he had discovered in working on his production in the two seasons after its premiere: That the staging did not need a lot of visual-details. Most of these he has stripped away, leaving it to the actor/singers to bring Tannhäuser to glowing life.
What Arlaud has discovered—even if some other Bayreuth Directorial-Newcomers have not—is that Visual-Simplicity can be a virtue, especially if a work of Music-Theatre is powerful enough in its own right.
Multimedia Visual-Trendiness & ingeniously innovative directorial-staging-strategies are ultimately unnecessary for Wagner’s operas to have their maximum artistic & emotional impact.
It’s all in the score: what Bayreuth—New or Old—has always needed are the actor/singers who can make these Masterpieces magical. Considering what Wolfgang Wagner can afford to pay his singers, this does not always happen. Perhaps he should save money on self-important directors & designers & concentrate instead on Musical-Genius & Outstanding-Quality?
Tankred Dorst’s Vision of Wagner’s Ring Revised & Revisited:
A new Bayreuth Ring is always an adventure into the Known & the Unknown. There have now been fourteen Ring productions in the Festspielhaus, including the premiere in 1876. How many there have now been around the world staggers the imagination…
Last summer’s new Tancred Dorst/Ursula Ehlers Ring staging had whiffs of the Traditional about it, but also some novelties as well. It did not look quite completed, &, indeed, Dorst & his production-team claimed they had not had time enough to give it the finish they intended.
This was entirely understandable as the originally-contracted stage-director, Lars von Trier, got cold feet at the last minute & cancelled. He had never staged an opera, so why did he sign-on? Why was he even asked to direct the Ring?
This summer, the Dorst/Ehlers Ring had lost some of the staging-awkwardness of the previous year—as well as some visual-infelicities—& its major singers seemed understandably more confident in their roles & interpretations. Not to mention in some of Bernd Skodzig’s off-center costumes…
Of course, the sense that it is now a better, tighter production could also be a sign that your reporter is just getting used to it? Or, perhaps, he’s finally understanding some directorial-decisions that didn’t seem to make sense last year?
One thing is certainly clear: The Dorst/Ehlers Personnen-regie is immensely improved over last season’s actions & interactions. The singers now are the characters, & their human & godly passions deeply affect the audience, as they did not so strongly in 2006.
For the record—and for those who haven’t archived last summer’s Ring Report—this season’s felicities will be noted in the process of revisiting that extended-account of the production:
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 Bayreuth 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 & 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—& 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.
Director Tancred Dorst’s designer provides an unusual river-surface-effect by echoing the curve of the Rhine-stones below in a kind of overhead video-panel—in which Naked Nymphs are seen swimming in what seems 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 are also some 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 ceramic-segments.
Could this be a Visual-Metaphor for the 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. So some changes in the look & functioning of the production were to be hoped-for in this, the Ring’s second season.
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, & even the fifth year! This year, everything seemed to work more smoothly & surely.
Dorst—the Poet & Playwright—initially didn’t have much experience in deploying his actor/singers on stage. Sometimes, they just stood there & sang. This has changed dramatically.
Surely thanks to the assistance of his companion, Ursula Ehlers, the interactions between & among the characters were greatly improved & the emotional impact of most scenes heightened.
Anyway, Valhalla is Under-Construction—& here are all the Gods on this Sandstone-Terrace. At least that’s what it looks like…
And Costumier Bernd Skodzig—obviously conscious that he 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—& 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. These suggest Ram’s-Horns, Rams being animals sacred to her. In Die Walküre, this costume is identical—but in Black! Fricka doesn’t have a Ram-drawn Chariot, but she does have two black-clad supers, with Ram-Masks, as her Attendants.
Were it not for his Traditional-Spear, Wotan [Albert Dohmen] would be almost unrecognizable among this oddly-clad Celestial-Crew. Fortunately, both his appearance & his performance—by a new Wotan—were greatly improved this season.
As for other traditional Wagnerian Symbols, Donner’s Hammer is now represented by an armor-encased right-arm. Froh carries a rainbow-hued object that looks like a Fraternity Hazing-Paddle, but surely must be a sword?
The Construction-Staging-Site—the actual Valhalla-Work is going on unseen, way upstage in Stygian Mists—looked familiar. It reminded me 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 & put in place in the Foyer… [But this could be an apartment-block satellite-dish—or a neon-lit advertising-sign—as the production-sites, aside from the Valkyries’ Felsen, are supposed to be existing Now.]
Last season, I was both annoyed & puzzled by Dorst’s decision to have contemporary adults & children wander in & out of some scenes. I thought it was supposed to suggest some link between the Wagnerian-Fable & our own times, but this seemed visually & intellectually unnecessary.
But I had not noticed the modern graffiti on the surfaces of the sandstone-terrace. This summer, it suddenly struck me that the ancient sites of this saga are supposed to be still in use today, but the Moderns have no idea about what happened here aeons ago.
The visual-idea suggests that echoes of the Ancient-Myths still haunt these sites, perhaps unconsciously influencing those who now pass by.
After Fafner has murdered Fasolt, downstage some Modern-Kids mime the same kind of savagery. This time round, I found this subtly suggestive of the endless repetitions of Mankind’s violence & folly.
The Giants Fafner [Hans-Peter König] and Fasolt [Kwangchul Youn] appear as usual on concealed stilt-shoes. Their bulky costumes still look rather like Kabuki-Outfits.
Without benefit of a Labor-Union representative, the Giants demand to be paid for all their Construction-Work. But Wotan—insolvent in so many ways—doesn’t have Ready-Cash.
So they wrestle into the wings the writhing Freia [Edith Haller]. Immediately, the various gods begin to stoop & crouch, indicating the rapid ageing that must take place, once the Golden Apples of Freia are no more.
This seems unnecessary, as there are still three or four Golden Apples clearly visible on one set of steps of the Water-Gate. But—if the Apples are so precious—why are they just lying around on the steps?
The most effective costume is that of the crew-cut red-haired rascal semi-god Loge [Arnold Bezuyen], who looks a bit like Christoph Schlingensief on a good day… He was wonderfully agile, comic, & wily, manipulating both the Gods & the Giants. He was also in excellent voice.
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 & valves.
Down here, Alberich has just wrung from Mime [Gerhard Siegel] the Golden-Ring & 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 & then disappears 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. But this is another example of Dorst’s mingling Past & Present. It makes more sense when an ancient site or locale is involved. One doesn’t think of Nordic Ghost-Gods haunting modern-factories…
As with most Memorable Myths & Fabulous Fairytales, Mankind’s Racial-Memories—his Hopes, Fears, & Dreams—are deeply embedded in these mysterious tales & fables. So you do not have to be Einstein or Kirkegaard—or one of Dorst’s contemporary Bayreuth spectators—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 & 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, & suddenly a Giant Golden Cobra rears up its fearsome head.
But Loge traps him when he transforms himself into a frog…
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 & later laid on the recumbent figure of Freia.
That even a sharp-eyed, Unpaid-Giant could spot a chink in this mess that needed to be plugged with the Tarnhelm or the Ring is not to be credited. This scene still needs to be re-conceived to be Visually-Effective.
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] rises from the midst of the Terrace to electrify the Gods—& the audience—with her Dire-Forecasts.
The Ancient Stone-Eye—seen earlier from the construction staging-platform—is revealed again in a mist of Rainbow-Colors as the Gods descend—rather than Ascend—toward this Eye that must symbolize Valhalla.
This is still a weak Visual-Closure to what ought to be a Triumphant Entry of the Gods into Valhalla.
Even before the Gods shuffle-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 is awkward.
Instead of using the wide Terrace-stairs on the stage-right side, Wotan & Fricka have to step over the dead body of Fasolt—blocking their access to the narrower stairs at stage-left—on their way down into the Basement. Fortunately, after they have gone down out of sight, they are again glimpsed rising toward their dearly-bought goal.
Of course, this awkward staging could be read as Symbolic: You will enjoy the Wonders of Valhalla Over My Dead Body!
But the singing was generally strong, especially Loge, Alberich, Wotan, Fricka, Freia & Fasolt. Donner & Froh were ably impersonated by Ralf Lukas & Clemens Bieber.
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 Station-Waiting-Room.
But before the desperate Siegmund [Endrich Wottrich] crashes into the space, some Moderns have a look round. They leave; Siegmund enters, & a sleeper awakes, to be revealed as Sieglinde [Adrianne Pieczonka].n
What seems curious about this scene is that Hunding arrives with a cohort of his men to discover an Unwanted-Guest. But 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…
Later, back at the Valhalla Monumental-Memorial-Cemetery, there are even Moderns, unconscious of what once happened here aeons ago. Although how they could get up there to a Götterdämmerunged-Valhalla is a puzzle.
Into this Wasteland, a modern man & woman walk on upstage. He’s pushing a bike. They kiss. She leaves. He lays the bike down on the ground. He reads a newspaper. He takes no notice of what is going on downstage… This is a pity, as the singing is very good!
Where Jürgen Flimm showed Wotan as a busy CEO—in a Post-Modernist-Office, complete with Shredder, Computer, & Water-Cooler, Tancred Dorst presents Wotan, Fricka, & 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 & 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? [Unfortunately, in this production, Wotan is blind in his right eye, for some reason…]
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 & 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…
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 the Ram is Her Major-Attribute may well think that she’s hurt her foot & needs two attendants to support her.
Fricka makes her case for Family-Values, so Siegmund must die… And Linda Watson’s Brünnhilde must bring him the Bad-News.
Fortunately, the new Walküre ends in a splendid Scenic-Milieu: the Walkürien-fels is a magnificent Abandoned-Quarry.
But why Brünnhilde & her eight-sisters are outfitted in such bizarre battle-dress—each slightly different, but in the same colors & materials—is a Puzzlement. They sing strongly, however, & move as well as they can in the stiff, awkward costumes.
Dead Warriors—strewn about the rocky floor of the Quarry—get up & walk-off into cracks in the stone-walls when nodded-at by the Warrior-Girls. No Flying-horses…
Just to give the scene a Modern-nudge, a graffiti-motto is projected onto the Quarry-wall with a bright white light. It is in German—but translated into American, the effect is: You Love Life/We Love Death.
There are also two auto-wheels among the debris & dead. So the Moderns have even been up here in Valhalla’s Valkyrie-Launching-Pad?
Again, the Basic Production-Concept seems to be that Everything is happening in Two-Different-Dimensions, or Time-Frames. Or that the Ghosts of the Past inhabit the boring old everyday Present?
When the saddened Wotan lays his beloved Brünnhilde on a pallet—surrounded with a circle of glowing plastic-panels in the floor—the Magic Fire & its accompanying music soars.
But when Wotan covers 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 & 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, however, is that it is very deeply moving, not least because of the very human interactions of Wotan & Brünnhilde, who also sing superbly in their heart-breaking emotional devastation. The Dorst/Ehlers re-direction of these central characters has certainly improved the effect of the staging.
After the unfortunate & abandoned Sieglinde has given birth to the Future-Hero, Siegfried, she dies—but not on stage. Fortunately, in this, the second-year of the Dorst/Ehlers Ring, no one dies of artistic-insufficiency, but only as Wagner’s libretto directs.
In fact, the Siegfried of Stephen Gould—last season’s stunning Tannhäuser, Albert Dohmen’s Wanderer, Gerhard Siegel’s Mime, Andrew Shore’s Alberich, Hans-Peter König’s Fafner, Mihoko Fujimura’s Erda, Linda Watson’s Brünnhilde, & Robin Johannsen’s Waldvogel are all superb.
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 Ruined High-School Chemistry-Classroom that takes the place of Mime’s Customary Cave.
Among the many set-props are a Skeleton, Siegfried’s Crib—including a stuffed-bear, visually-echoing the bloody-bearskin he wears on bursting in through a window, a Slide-Projector—which for a moment projects the Valhalla-Eye, a Blackboard, a Globe of the World, Stacks of Classroom-Chairs, an Empty Oil-Drum, a Folding Medical-Screen, & a Meat-Grinder.
This last machine Siegfried uses to grind-up the shards of the shattered sword, Nothung. 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, & 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.
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?
It should be noted that—even without the stilts that the Giants wear—Stephen Gould is a very tall man himself.
In the over-padded Siegfried-costume, however, he looks almost lumpy. His movements are sometimes, as a result, Golem-like. Obviously, he is intended to be a boisterous boyish lad, but this comes across as a slightly overweight or muscle-bound caricature.
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 two workmen are in a tent, on the unfinished-end of an elevated poured-concrete Railroad-Line, high above the dense thicket of tree-stumps & half-trunked naked-gray trees that almost fill the stage. After a bit, they leave the tent & walk off on the built-portion of the track-bed.
Everyone wonders: What were they doing up there in that silent-tent? Did they suspend construction when they found out that they were right on top of a Dragon’s-Lair?
This Bizarre Scenic-Novelty has, of course, nothing to do with the Action or the Intent of Wagner’s scene as it is played-out. But it is another example of the Past in the Present. Or whatever…
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.
It’s worth noting that the kids—as in miming the killing of Fasolt in Rheingold—here mime using the Tarnhelm, by putting a paper-bag over one boy’s head. Whether this mini-play sheds any needed illumination on Wagner’s libretto is debatable, but Dorst has this Concept-Thing he has to carry through.
Robin Johannsen invisibly sang the bird’s-part, but a Super—dressed either bird-like or as an
Argentine Tango-dancer—appeared on the elevated road-bed.
It’s all 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, initially there seems to be some fearsome Teeth-like Stalactites hanging from the roof of the cave. But Fafner appears as himself, not as the dragon! The valiant Siegfried dispatches him with Nothung & Mime soon after. Two lumps in a heap…
Following the scene of Siegfried Getting-the-Message from the Waldvogel—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 real Magical-Transformations in this production, although talented designers & stage-engineers could certainly provide them.
Then, in a smoky black void, Erda rises from the Bowels of the Earth—as is her Mythic-Wont, when summoned by Wotan/Wanderer. She offers another of those Gloomy Forecasts, which is not as Impressive as it should be, possibly because of her ridiculous Wicked-Fairy-Outfit.
Erda must suffer from Faulty Dress-Sense. In Rheingold, she was wearing a Basic-Black dress, with No-Accessories. Here, she appears completely covered in large clear bubbles. Erda seems 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 the 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 & 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, & Siegfried feels the first stirrings of Love & Longing—sweep all before it, carrying the Lovers & the Audience forward on a surging tide of Enveloping-Ecstasy.
This is especially so when the Brünnhilde & the Siegfried are singing so gloriously & acting so movingly. Linda Watson is magnificent—both acting & singing—as is 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—is infinitely foreboding. They are very well sung by Simone Schröeder, Martina Dike, & Edith Haller—who later also portrays Gutrune.
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 sit upon a Hill of Skulls! This looks like an image from the recently-late Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. [And why didn’t Wolfgang Wagner ever invite Bergman to stage a Ring for Bayreuth? Instead of Lars von Trier…]
[This strange, if brief, scene also reminded me of Carl Orff’s Comedy of the End of Time—certainly a Concept & a Work of Music-Theatre closely related to The Twilight of the Gods.]
Siegfried & Brünnhilde are still getting-acquainted in the Abandoned-Quarry, but he really seems to like her, so he gives her the Accursed-Ring of the Nibelungs. This is, of course, a Mistake for all concerned. Nonetheless, Brünnhilde will not give up the Ring to return to Wotan, even when her dear Sister-Valyrie, Waltraute [the splendid Mihoko Fujimura, previously seen as Erda] arrives to beg/demand it of her.
Previous to this Surprise-Visit from Brünnhilde’s Past, Siegfried has already taken-off on his Rhine-Journey to do Heroic-Deeds. As well as to brag about them in song…
As for the Vision of the Hall of the Gibichungs that designer Frank Philipp Schlössmann has called into being onstage, it still looks like the Hotel-Intercontinental in Detroit, on the occasion of the Elks Club’s Annual Dinner-dance. But things don’t seem to be going very well this Evening…
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: Salzburg’s Figaro is dominated by one! Also Munich’s Fidelio! And, of course, Bayreuth’s Holländer featured a very grand Staircase…]
What is especially curious, however, is 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—are either just standing there or repeating quirky actions of no especial significance.
Two Jews—in yarmulkes & formal-dress—apply gold-paint to the body of an almost naked boy, who then dons a Golden Ram’s Mask. Later, this variation on the Golden-Calf-idea is stabbed to death, but no one sees it being done. A Ritual-Sacrifice?
A Great Red-Rooster strides down the Great Staircase & thence off-stage… A young man is reading on the stairs, taking no notice of the potentially fatal Social-Interactions taking place.
Although he seems dressed for the Dual-Weddings, he may be just another Modern—who is not really in the same Time-Frame as the Gibichungs & their Art-Deco Cole-Porter hanger-on guests. Well, you get the idea…
Along the line of the forestage of this Post-Industrial-Space are many pairs of Shoes, all in a row. They seem to belong to no-one, as everyone on stage already is wearing shoes. And no one has taken his or hers off to enter the Hall.
Perhaps this is a Visual Foot-note to the Power-Madness of the Great, urging them on to buy More of Everything. Or is 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 returns, this time equipped with the three Rhine-maidens—standing in the open mouth of what seems to be a Giant Storm-Sewer—begging Siegfried to give them back their Rheingold, now in the form of that Powerful—but Alberich-Accursed—Ring.
The Return from the Hunt loses some of the visual & emotional power it should have—not least because the hunt-trophies look like some old rabbit-skins. Nor is the crowded-staging helpful, as well as being odd: the Gibichungs’ Formally-Dressed Courtiers seem to be part of the Hunting-Party.
Despite all the Conceptual & Visual Infelicities of this fourth & final Arc of the Ring, Linda Watson is tremendously moving & powerful as the wronged Brünnhilde, with Stephen Gould growing in power & confidence as Siegfried. But that costume…
Hans-Peter König’s deeply resonant Hagen dominates almost every moment in which he is involved. His Authority as a stage-presence—In Character—is not only vocally-derived, however.
Of course—as revealed in both Score & Libretto—Gunther & Gutrune Gibichung [Ralf Lukas & Edith Haller] are no match for their evil half-brother, Hagen.
Fionnuala McCarthy, Ulrike Helzel, & Marina Prudenskaya were the frisky Rheintöchter: Woglinde, Wellgunde, & Flosshilde.
Last season, when it was needful to change Scenic-Venues from the Walkürien-fels to the Hall of the Gibichungs, conductor Christian Thielemann had to repeat Wagner’s scene-changing-music for a fairly long Symphonic-Stretch. And there was fair amount of thumping & clanking behind the great curtain.
This season, changes were swifter, but there was still some backstage thumping & wrenching.
It still would have been a very Good-Idea to have designed the Walkürien-fels so it would have been back-to-back on turntable with a 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 various scenes of this Ring—like laying-down a bike & reclining, while staring into the Middle-Distance, with no notice taken of the heightened-drama unfolding downstage—may well be intended to suggest an Idea of a Mythic-Past haunting a banal Present.
But it adds nothing to the Original-Powers of Wagner’s Ring—as he conceived it. Also: it makes no Powerful 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!
Tradition vs. Experimentation:
Are Wagner’s Operas An Endangered-Species?
Fierce Wagnerian-Traditionalists are customarily furious when any stage-director, stage-designer, or conductor attempts to take a New Look at Master’s famed operas. As if Wagner’s own stage-directions were cast in stone when he jotted them down on his scores: Like Notations for All Time…
These Defenders of the Faith seem to have forgotten that Wagner himself was the Great Opera-Innovator of his day. And that he was dedicated to creating the most advanced Opera-Theatre in the world, as well as to employing the latest artistic & technical advances in producing his Masterworks for what he hoped would be a very wide & general public. Not just for an Elite…
The Traditionalists may also have forgotten Wagner’s very wise words of advice: "Kinder, schaff was Neues!"
Various attempts at Bayreuth to rethink ways of visualizing his operas & to re-interpret his characters
Intellectually & emotionally have aroused—or even enraged—Wagner stalwarts, beginning with Wieland Wagner’s New Bayreuth stagings, onward to Patrice Chereau’s Ring & beyond—to the current Meistersinger.
As Katharina Wagner attended the Free University of Berlin, it can be no accident that the Festival & the Free University co-sponsored a mid-August symposium intimately related to her Meistersinger production.
Its title was: Angst vor der Zerstörung—Der Meister Künste Zwischen Archiv und Erneuerung.
While it is true that some Art-Lovers are stuck in a certain period of Art-History & admit no interest in anything beyond that time, there are certainly many more who admire & understand the Art & Artists of the Past, while also taking a lively interest in new ideas, new talents, new works.
So this is not necessarily a definitive Cultural-Dichotomy: Art-Archivists vs. Art Avant-gardists.
For that matter, in staging the operas of not only Wagner, but also of, say, Gluck, Gounod, or Verdi, there is no question of destroying the original work-of-art, for the librettos & scores remain intact.
Unless the Regisseur & Production-Team decide to tinker-with—or entirely replace the score—as well as to devise an entirely new libretto, the original Art-Work, as such, remains intact.
Devising a new production-vision of an Operatic-Warhorse does not really renew its score. Nor does even drafting a new libretto renew the old one: it replaces it, creating a different art-work. That is, if this tinkering actually works on stage with audiences.
In any case, opera-scores & librettos are not like Rembrandts & Pollocks.
Tradition vs. Renewal is not a valid dichotomy in terms of operas written in a specific period about that time or an earlier epoch. These art-works are what they are. They do not need Renewal, as such. If you don’t like them—or believe they are too old-fashioned—then forget about them.
If you love the score but hate the libretto, your new libretto is yours, not a renewal of Wagner or Verdi. If you also hate some of the score—but not all—either cut what you hate or rework it as, say, Carmen Jones.
Re-imagining an opera in production isn’t the same thing as having Jackson Pollock over-paint a Rembrandt to make it More Up-To-Date. Operas & paintings as art-works are not comparable.
In relation to Christoph Schlingensief’s or Katharina Wagner’s re-imaginings of Wagner, it is not a question of a Rembrandt-Wagner vs. a Jackson Pollock-Wagner.
Unlike two paintings from quite different eras, the text & score of, say, Wagner’s Lohengrin remain the same, whether the opera has originally been staged by Rembrandt & much later restaged by Pollock. Traditionalists would surely prefer the Rembrandt-staging to the Pollock.
But a Pollock-style staging does not necessarily destroy Wagner’s underlying text & score, although the Look of his work in the staging may be much more about Pollock than about what Wagner wanted to create for audiences.
Wagner was not creating for Wagner himself, but for paying-audiences. Unlike so many Moderns who paint or sculpt to please themselves & their Inner Gods & Demons—the Public be damned…
It will be interesting to read accounts of these discussions—in which Christian Thielemann—the Ring’s current conductor—will take part. Not to overlook Robert Sollich, the Dramaturg of the new Meistersinger.
Nor are the Opera-Experts limited to Academics from Mittel-Europa. Three Americans were also on hand: David Levin, of the University of Chicago; Michael P. Steinberg, of Brown University, & Lydia Goehr, of Columbia University.
Also related to such discussions is The Best of Bayreuth, a course on Wagner, presented by Penelope Turing & David Stannard, from 27 August to 3 September. Turing first attended the Festival in 1952; 2007 is Turing’s 51st Year here. [It is also your reporter’s 51st year, but he came first to the Green Hill in 1956.]
The focus of the course will be on the 57 years of the post-war Festival. It may seem Archival in nature, as first Stereo Ring, of 1955, will be played for participants, as well as a video of Wolfgang Wagner’s 1981 Parsifal—soon to be revived in his now archival-production by Katharina Wagner, in Seoul, Korea!
Were it not for the extensive Bayreuth Festival Archives, in fact, it would not be possible to recreate this historic production. Also on offer in the course: the new DVD of Wagner’s 1982 Meistersinger!
But Turing & Stannard are by no means ignoring the New, nor placing it in opposition to what has gone before. Even in the early 1950s, Wieland & Wolfgang Wagner’s innovative stagings were angering or at least annoying Wagner-Traditionalists.
Just as Patrice Chereau, Harry Küpfer, Jürgen Flimm, & their successors have done.
Bayreuth News & Notes:
Not To Early To Book for 2008?
Next season—Bayreuth 2008—there will be a new production of Parsifal, although Christoph Schlingensief’s appalling Parsifal-staging was retained in the repertory into this season. Shouldn’t Wagner’s Endgültige-Lösung be given a decent rest before another revival?
Nonetheless, the Production-Team offers hope: the talented Stefan Herheim is to stage, with settings by Heike Scheele & costumes by Gesine Völlm. Also on board: Herheim’s Dramaturg & close co-worker, Alexander Meier-Dörzenbach, who is an expert in—among other disciplines—Amerikanistik Studies!
Daniele Gatti is scheduled to conduct this new Parsifal.
Tancred Dorst’s Ring will return, as will Katharina Wagner’s Meistersinger. After a welcome absence, Christoph Marthaler’s Tristan und Isolde also returns to the repertory-roster.
14th Annual Bayreuth Easter-Festival 2008:
For those who long to experience an actual performance in Margravine Wilhelmine’s impressive 18th century Opernhaus, this coming Easter is the time to be in Bayreuth. Instead of the regularly-scheduled-video—which gives tourists only a taste of what opera must have been like in this Bibiena-designed theatre—Gluck’s Iphigenie auf Taurus will be performed live onstage.
There will also be symphony-concerts, organ-concerts, chamber-music, a salon-orchestra, Festival-brass, & other musical-treats in various historical-venues, in addition to the Opera-house. The Festival is a creation of the International Youth Orchestra Academy.
The dates are 21 to 30 March 2008. There will also be a Franconian-Scottish Brunch—or Fränkisch-Schottischer Frühschoppen—in the Bibiena theatre! For more info: www.osterfestival.de
New Book on Wagner’s Festspielhaus:
Actually, there are this year a number of new Wagner-themed books, including a new view of Cosima Wagner. Wagner Fanatics cannot get enough information & gossip, it seems…
But for those Festival-goers who have always wondered what happens backstage in the Richard Wagner Festspielhaus—not to mention those opera-lovers who have never even been inside this historic-theatre—Markus Kiesel’s new Das Richard Wagner Festspielhaus Bayreuth is the book to buy.
For the excellent color-photographs of all aspects of the theatre—exteriors, foyers, Royal-Loge, auditorium, stage, backstage shops, costume & scene-storage—it is well worth owning. But there are also historic sketches, plans, & illustrations.
For non-German-speakers/readers, the interesting text is also in English. There are even commentaries by Pierre Boulez, Harry Küpfer, & Wolfgang Wagner.
The current order-price is Euro 68, plus shipping. As the dollar has become almost worthless against the Euro, the conversion will cost considerably more.
To Order via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bayreuth Facts & Fictions:
The Bayreuther Festpiele is the oldest private festival in the world. And, until fairly recently, it was still maintained as a small Family-Business! Owned & Operated by the Wagner Family…
The first Fafner-Dragon for Wagner’s Bayreuth Festival Ring was created by the distinguished Symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin. Unfortunately, it was incorrectly crated, addressed, & sent to Beirut, instead of Bayreuth!
Even though the Bayreuth Festival was entirely Richard Wagner’s conception & concern, he had finally to depend on the generous purse of his Major-Admirer, King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Both the Festspielhaus & the Wagner Family Villa, Wahnfried, were paid for by the Wagner-Obsessed Monarch.
Until her death, the Begum Aga Khan was a regular Festival visitor.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes a point of being present at the opening-day production—as do many major German political-figures. That is why the festival never opens with the Ring, as lucky ticket-holders are obliged to see all four of the operas in the Sixteen-hour-plus Cycle!
Although the Bayreuth Festival opened in 1876, this year is only the 96th Festspiele. Funding-problems prevented annual festivals in the early years. And two World Wars intervened…
Katharina Wagner’s new staging of Die Meistersinger is the eleventh new Bayreuth production of this opera since its debut on the Green Hill in 1888.
Despite a report in a leading German newspaper that half-a-million people applied for tickets to Bayreuth Wagner productions for Summer 2007, the actual total was more like 460,500 requests.
The famed Festspielhaus seats only 1,974 people. It is in use only five-weeks out of the entire year—and some of those weeks have Spielfrei days so the Ring-singers can rest their voices.
This summer, some 53,900 tickets were made available to opera-lovers—less than 12 percent of the total requests.
Ticket-requests came from nearly 80 different countries.
Founder Richard Wagner always wanted tickets to be popularly-priced—so anyone interested could afford to come to the Festival. In fact, Bayreuth tickets are still among the lowest-priced of any major opera-festival.
There are 23 price-categories, ranging from 208 Euros to only 13 Euros! The average ticket-price is 132 Euros.
Unfortunately, even for the preferentially-treated members of the Society of the Friends of Bayreuth, the wait for tickets can be long. Those who are not so favored—but who are on what could be called a lottery-list—may have to wait for ten-years to get a ticket. Possibly for a production they did not really want to see, like Christoph Schlingensieff’s appalling Parsifal staging.
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2007. 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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