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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, August 30, 2007
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
THE SALZBURG FESTIVAL 2007: Jürgen Flimm & The Night-Side of Reason! *
Hector Berlioz’ BENVENUTO CELLINI: Roman Carneval with Special-Effects! *
Franz-Joseph Haydn’s ARMIDA: No Sex, But Violence Aplenty! *
Carl Maria von Weber’s DER FREISHÜTZ: Not a Show for the National-Rifle-Association! *
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s LE NOZZE DI FIGARO: Fuss & Feathers from Cherubino’s Doppelgänger! *
Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: The Burg-Theater Joins the Volks-Theater in an Airy-Fairy Staging! *
Serious Outbreak of Cancellitis in Salzburg! *
Saluting Salzburg’s Maestro—Herbert von Karajan! *
Make More Festivals in Salzburg: If an Easter-fest was OK, Why not Weihnacht? *
THE SALZBURG FESTIVAL 2007: Jürgen Flimm & The Night-Side of Reason!
This is the first season Jürgen Flimm has served as Intendant of the Salzburg-Festival. But he is no Newcomer. In fact, several seasons ago, he created the Young Directors Project for the Festival!
For many years, Flimm was the adventurous Intendant of Hamburg’s prestigious Thalia-Theater—whose innovative-productions have been seen at BAM in Brooklyn.
His fairly recent Ring-staging, in Wagnerian-Bayreuth, was one of the most interesting productions of this challenging-epic in years.
Before taking up the challenge of running the Salzburg-Festival, Flimm was Intendant of the Ruhr-Triennale. Oddly enough, he followed Gerard Mortier in that post—which Mortier had more or less created for himself, after he departed from the Salzburg fest.
It proved a kind of Holding-Action, before Mortier was able to take over management of the Paris Opera, where he is currently awaiting the end of his tenure: to be followed by heading the New York City Opera!
If Jürgen Flimm has any such long-range plans, he has told no in the press. Nor would he want to, as the first season seems to have gone very well, even if he has yet to prove himself as a programmer.
In strong contrast to the previous Salzburg-Festival-season’s Mozartian Sweetness & Light—programmed by the then Intendant, Dr. Peter Ruzicka—Flimm this summer decided to choose works that would explore the Dark-Side of the 18th Century Enlightenment’s Infatuation with Reason.
Flimm has themed the Festival as the Nacht-Seite der Vernünft: the Night-Side, the Dark-Side, the Nocturnal-Side of Reason…
That says it all…
Next season’s Theme has yet to be announced.
Hector Berlioz’ BENVENUTO CELLINI: Roman Carneval with Special-Effects!
As stage-director for Berlioz’ challenging Benvenuto Cellini, the multi-tasker Philipp Stölzl had already made his Mark—& his Name—as a very successful producer-director of Music-Videos for the likes of Madonna & Mick Jagger.
Stölzl has also won acclaim for his TV advertising-videos. Not to mention just having completed his second film, Nordwand. Nor is he exactly a newcomer to opera-production, having mounted Der Freischütz in Meiningen—home of the famed "Theatre-Duke."
For the Ruhr-Triennale-2006—then under the Intendancy of Salzburg’s new Intendant, Jürgen Flimm— Stölzl staged Rubens und das nichteuklidische Weib. [Considering the heft of Ruben’s Robust Women—at least in his paintings—there weren’t many sharp Euclidean angles…]
In a free-wheeling interview in the Salzburger Nachrichten, Philipp Stölzl notes the interesting conmingling in Berlioz’s Cellinni-score of Melodrama, Operetta, & even Wagnerian-Grandiosity.
From the various versions on which Berlioz toiled, it’s clear he never quite came to terms with the work that he really wanted to create. [The Trojans wasn’t easy, either…] This is probably the main reason Benvenuto Cellini is so seldom revived.
Nonetheless, for Stölzl, Berlioz’ remarkable music activates tremendous Theatrical-Scenes: Roman Carneval, a potentially Fatal-Duel, a Workers-Strike, & the Climactic-Casting of the great bronze statue for the Pope, Cellini’s Masterwork.
Thanks to Stölzl’s saturation in Pop-Culture, he didn’t search for his Thematic-Concept in Renaissance-Art-History albums. Instead, he thought immediately of the World of Adventure-Comix.
Batman was his effectual-Inspiration for the "Post-Futuristic" Rome of Benvenuto Cellini: the darkly threatening atmosphere, the murky mysteries, the oversized-melodramatics, the Heroics & the balancing forces of Evil. All in Berlioz’ score; all in the Barbier/de Wailly libretto…
Indeed, the opening-scenes of Stölzl’s Cellini occur on the neo-Baroque Rooftop of a great 19th century building in the heart of Rome. Futuristic Helicopters & other space-craft are zooming by.
The roguish-rascal-genius-lecher-seducer Cellini [Burkhard Fritz] drops down on the Parapet—very like Batman, but with no Robin—to romance the lovely Teresa [Maija Kovaleska], daughter of the Pope’s Treasurer, Balducci [Brindley Sherratt], who has, of course, forbidden their union.
As the action is on the roof, audiences do not get to see the great Roman-Carneval-Parade down in the street. Only the balloons float high enough for spectators to get a sense that something wonderful is going on down there out-of-sight.
But they do get to hear Berlioz’ Carneval-Music. This doesn’t have the immediate production-virtue of Saving-Money-on-Costumes for the large chorus, as some of them still make it to the top-floor. Not to overlook the expenditures for Teresa’s immense wardrobe of gowns: she is continually slipping-offstage to return in yet another ravishing Creation!
Stage-director Philipp Stölzl has, however, been sabotaged by his set-designer. In order to suggest the Rooftop, the entire front-of-stage is raised & painted a dull black.
As the initial scene occurs at night, matters are made even more murky, especially when Cellini’s rival for Teresa’s hand, Fieramosca [Laurent Naouri], is scrambling over the parapet or diving-down chimneys—one of which he runs across the stage wearing…
The raised-stage is an effectual Visual-Barrier, as it remains in place for other changes-of-scene. What is more awkward, however, is that it limits the open-stage-space available for the director to move his large choral-forces around in.
The result is chaotic Crowd-scenes, in which stage-movement is constricted, minimal, or non-existent, with some banal gestures suggesting caricatures of chorus-characterizations. Other crowded-scenes are also awkward or counter-productive of dramatic-effect.
It may well be that producing Madonna-Videos has not prepared Stölzl for deploying large groups of artists on an actual stage. But he is just beginning as a stage-director, so it’s to be hoped he will explore what other resourceful drama & opera-directors have done to solve such problems.
Opera-staging is not simply a matter of Traffic-Management. Although that is exactly what it used to be at the Met, Covent Garden, & the Vienna State Opera. How to use crowds—especially non-speaking, non-singing-Supers—requires special directorial-skills!
[Actually, that is how Duke George of Saxe-Meiningen became famous: even bringing his Ensemble to London! He devised ingenious ways to stage crowd-scenes, notably in Shakespeare, that dazzled. As Philipp Stölzl has already staged an opera in Meiningen, it’s too bad he couldn’t have consulted the Duke’s Archives there. He might have found some strategies that still work…]
Nonetheless, that raised-stage-front is not the only problem Stölzl’s set-designer has created for him.
Before the opera opens, the Grossesfestspielhaus audience has to stare at a strange dark brown design that seems to represent Roman-Scenes, although it is much to dark & depressing to be either interesting or worth staring-at for very long.
This may be the Batman-Effect, but the darkness, the brownness, continues through successive-scenes. Fortunately, the often colorful costumes of designer Kathi Maurer do help to enliven some otherwise over-dark scenes. Duane Schuler’s lighting also helps, but not enough…
Before their next production, Stölzl ought to sit down with his set-designer & have a heart-to-heart about what works & what does not. This should be fairly easy to arrange, as Stölzl is his own set-desiger!
In the case of a design & directorial genius such as Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, this arrangement usually can work very well—although Ponnelle the designer sometimes undercut Ponnelle the director. He once told me: "I was trying to call attention to myself as the designer, not as the director!"
Stölzl’s experiences as a producer of ad-videos & MTV-specials may also have unconsciously have influenced his sense of audiences’ attenuated Attention-Spans. What works on TV seldom works Live on Stage!
Nonetheless, he used a variety of Media-Effects in Benvenuto Cellini that were unusual & of some passing interest. Art-Deco film-clips in the background of Streamlined-Trains speeding high overhead looked like borrowings from H. G. Welles, but they made an Initial-Impact. But seeing such footages over & over became Visually-Tiresome.
Of course, if the stage-action down in front of them had been more varied or interesting, one would not have been staring at the film-clips so much. It also became a bore to see the same Classic-Roman-Temples burning & burning & burning over & over.
The Great-Casting of the Pope’s Statue-Commission—into which Cellini throws all of his other Masterworks, as the molten-metal runs out—is supposed to be of Perseus. From the model on his workbench—which the Pope [Mikhail Petrenko] accidentally knocked-over—the subject seemed to be something rather different.
The Production-Poster actually showed The Winged Victory, but she is marble, from Samothrace, & not from Cellini’s Foundry.
In fact, scattered around his studio were such statues as Rodin’s The Thinker—not a piece Cellini would have known, in order to make a knock-off for some Cardinal or other. Oh well, all in fun—& it was amusing to spot the various sculptures around the studio…
The actual Casting—the opera’s Big-Scene—was OK. With the Arbeiter-Aufstand a few minutes before, it had the visual & ideological aspect of a Brechtian Berliner-Ensemble production.
[Curiously, this casting-scene was achieved more effectively several seasons ago at Manhattan’s intimate Second-Stage, over on Eighth Avenue & 43rd Street. This was not Cellini, the opera, but an unusual drama that had also been based on the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini.]
Naturally, this being a Salzburg-Festival-production, all the Principals sang very well, but I was especially impressed by both the voice & the acting-abilities of the unfortunate Fieramosca, Laurent Naouri!
Being rammed-down chimneys & generally abused, he nonetheless projected a strong comic-sense & a real zest in performance. Not just a Knockabout-Clown—although there was something Marxian about him, Groucho Marxian—Naouri also commanded a certain respect for his character-in-love.
Adam Plachetka was also interesting as the rogue Pompeo, whom Cellini slays, earning the Pope’s-Wrath. If the statue-casting fails, Cellini dies: it was all that simple in Renaissance Rome. In Stölzl’s Post-Futuristic Rome—Looking-Ahead—he might have wanted to substitute a Caliph?
The Big-News, of course, is that Valery Gergiev conducted the Vienna-Philharmonic in Stölzl’s Cellini.
[If you have ever read Hector Berlioz’ Evenings in the Orchestra, you can imagine what he would have written about this production…]
Franz-Joseph Haydn’s ARMIDA: No Sex, But Violence Aplenty!
Considering the current & ongoing Desperation of trendy young—& some not so young—Opera-Stage-directors to find new ways to put Old-Wine in Contemporary-Bottles, it is amazing that no one seems to have thought of linking the Graphic-Past to the Lyrico-Musical-Past.
Instead of updating, say, Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde to a 1950s Cruise-Ship—with Tristan as the Recreation-Director, or moving Don Giovanni’s Seville to a brand-new Wal-Mart outside Edinburgh, why not, instead, either abstract the general-locale & specific-sites stylistically, as in Claus Guth’s compelling Salzburg Nozze di Figaro.
Or transport/translate the Period of the Plot from an Historicist-Reality into an Artistic-Meditation on the Essences of the opera?
That is: instead of a Medieval-Ship or an Historic-Seville—complete with Orange-trees—the fable is re-interpreted in the style & imagery of a particular artist, like Goya or Van Gogh, or of a special Movement in Painting or Design, such as Impressionism, Expressionism, Jugendstil, Art-Deco, or even Cubism?
Cubism might not work so well anymore, now that Tenors & Sopranos are less Cubic than they were some fifty years ago. But what about Goya & his Goyescas, his Horrors of War, his Sleep of Reason as visual-metaphors for such a librettic-curiosity as Haydn’s Armida?
After all, Salzburg Intendant Jürgen Flimm’s 2007 Festival-Theme of Nachtseite der Vernünft certainly does evoke images from Goya, especially of the Monsters conjured up in the Sleep of Reason.
As Haydn indicated a variety of rapid-changes of fairly exotic-scenes in his Armida—something almost impossible to achieve with the stage-craft of his time, or even now—these could be easily & compellingly created with images from Goya, reworked in Video-Animations, as backgrounds for the opera’s enactment!
Video-clips now seem to be very trendy, especially in Salzburg, where they are seen as essential to the design-fundaments of Benvenuto Cellini & Der Freischütz.
But that’s not the way stage-director Christoph Loy chose to visualize his new Armida, although it could much less expensively & expansively have been produced as a Concert-in-Costume or a chamber-opera.
In the event, Christoph Loy mounted Armida on the vast-expanses of Salzburg’s Felsenreitschüle.
This festival-venue is the former open-air Manège—or Spanish-Riding-School—carved into the Living-Stone of the overshadowing Mönchsberg & created for the worldly Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg, who ruled both as Temporal-Princes & Spiritual-Potentates.
[By-the-by, what is it in Mittel-Europa about Christoph as a first-name for Opera-Stage-Directors: Christoph Marthaler, Christoph Schlingensief, & Christoph Loy? Is Saint-Christopher watching over all of them?]
Although there are only six characters in Armida—it could be quite impressively performed in a Less-Is-More Renaissance-Cubiculo, for instance—Christoph Loy chose an arena wider than football-fields are long.
Set-designer Dirk Becker’s major-problem then was how to fill this vast space with Something: something in the nature of Big-Set-Props, as the three architectural rows of arched-viewing-boxes carved in the native stone behind the action are already Very Much There!
Becker even tried to suppress the Architecturally-Repetitive-Power of these arched-colonnades by closing them off with graystone-colored blinds. But, at one point, they all opened at once, to reveal a bright blue painted-sky, studded with fleecy clouds. [Unfortunately, this was still exposed when the lyrics made reference to dark, threatening skies of war…]
The Nominal-Action of Haydn’s fuzzy-plot occurs centuries ago, during the Seige of Damascus, when Christian-Crusaders were trying to free the Holy-Land from its domination by Muslim-Warlords.
[Déjà-vu all over again! But the Pope’s-Troops weren’t even looking for Oil… Who knew from Oil in the aptly-named Dark-Ages?]
Anyway, if you have ever actually been to Damascus—recently, with Condoleezza Rice, or in a Previous-Incarnation—you would not recognize it from Becker’s bulwarks.
This is just as well, for Christoph Loy has wisely avoided updating Haydn’s opera into a CNN-Special from the War-Torn Middle-East. In any case, this Modern-Christians vs. Contemporary-Muslims Concept has already been used several times, notably with Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, also a Salzburg Festival-staging not so long ago.
For this Armida, at the extreme stage-left side of the Reitschule, Becker has constructed a huge wooden-wall, or wood-solid, that may represent a mystic Myrtle-tree, important in the relationship between the captivating Muslim-Sorceress, Armida [the ravishing Annette Dasch], & her lovelorn captive, Rinaldo [a stocky Michael Schade].
Angled-upstage—on the stage-right boundary of the action—is a steeply-inclined-plane or ramp. There are two chairs secured to its surface, for gravity-defying seating-effects. The surface must be a mixture of glue & sand, to keep the performers from slipping: The World’s Biggest Emery-board?
At least this adds a bit of Visual-Tension to an otherwise banal-exercise in exploring some perhaps undeservedly-forgotten Haydn Arias & Duets. This long-overlooked opera was performed 54 times in Prince Eszterhazy’s Court-Theatre in Eisenstadt!
[Even today, there’s not much to do in Eisenstadt, aside from a visit to Schloss-Eszterhazy, the Eszterhazy Schloss-Theater, Franz-Joseph Haydn’s Home, & the Tomb of Haydn.]
Meanwhile, back in Salzburg, cohorts of what look like casually-uniformed adult-skateboarders—sans actual skateboards—rush across the vast stage, up this incline, over the top, & then drop down out of sight, like Hordes of Lemmings.
This is the non-singing Armida Bewegungs-Chor, choregraphed by Jochen Heckmann. They seem to represent both the Crusaders & Damascene-Warriors. As Muslims, they wear red T-shirts. But they switch to blue-jackets as Crusaders.
Their very Interchangability suggests the senselessness of their Military-Clashes, driven on to Death by Impervious-Leaders. Haydn’s more Martial-melodies issue from a Nazi-style loudspeakers in the center of the stage.
Anyway, the Insidious Idreno [Vito Priante, in excellent voice] has caused Armida to use her magic-arts—as well as her considerable feminine-attractions—to ensnare the weak-willed Crusader-Hero Rinaldo in a web of amorous-entanglements.
He cannot seem to pull himself free, until the Crusaders’ Commanding-General, Ubaldo [Richard Croft], buzzes onstage in a motorized-wheelchair, to rally Rinaldo to the Christian-Cause.
Rinaldo resolves to renounce Armida & her witchcraft-love. But then: he thinks of the pain this will cause her. And she remonstrates at his change-of-heart as well…
A more genuine & honest love—perhaps intended as a counter-balance to the Artificially-Enhanced Love-Affair of Armida & Rinaldo?—develops between Zelmira [Mojca Erdmannn] of Damascus & a captured Crusader, Clotarco [Bernard Richter].
The only really visceral physical-action of the entire production occurs when Idreno brutally beats, kicks, & generally mistreats the naked-to-the-waist & bleeding Clotarco downstage. Clotarco seems to take this abuse rather well for a Christian… He looks like he could even stand a kick or two more!
This Violence is almost Sexual in its intensity, recalling the choreographed-mayhem of Professional-Wrestling—on which many people actually get-off, watching TV-wrestling-matches in the privacy of their own homes—or the bloody-pummellings of Boxing-Bouts, Donald Trump’s favorite Sport!
Another powerfully visceral moment occurs when the stricken Armida collapses on the Inclined-Plane that seems to be an All-Purpose-Damascus, rolling over & over all the way to the bottom! [A talented & gorgeous young soprano who is ready to do that for an ambitious stage-director is Someone-To-Watch!]
Such Gymnastics provided a strong contrast to Christoph Loy’s less-demanding staging-moments, such as that when Michael Schade sits comfortably front & center on a Modern-Blue-Sofa, singing Haydn-agonias. This sofa & a modern-floor-lamp are supposed to represent the Christian-Encampment.
The really strange thing about Haydn’s Armida is that it looks & sounds like three-takes on the same basic-theme. There is really no through-plot-line, as in other operatic-versions of this tale from Tasso’s Gerusalemma-Liberatta.
After three heart-wrenching attempts—in fairly glorious song—for the lovers to separate, to remain together, or to reunite, the opera comes to an Unresolved-Close. But without any Closure…
Nonetheless, that dedicated Baroque-opera-Specialist, Ivor Bolton, conducted the Mozarteum-Orchestra from the cembalo with every bit as much enthusiasm he musters in Munich for David Alden’s sometimes-Surreal opera-seria-stagings.
Not that there are no other effective Armida-Themed operas: CW Gluck & GF Handel are only two of the other composers who could not leave this tale alone. In fact, Handel’s Rinaldo now exists in several handsome opera-repertory productions.
Oh, if you were wondering how Dirk Becker filled the enormous Felsenreitschule stage-space between his Lemmings-Leap & the Mystic Myrtle-Tree, well, he caused to have constructed a tall & long, long stack of what looked like splintery-sawed slab-sidings, fresh from a Hallein-Sawmill!
Not, perhaps, the Damascus of Saladdin, Richard Lionheart, or Donald Rumsfeld, but something more or less suggestive of Rinaldo & Armida’s Lemming-like Splintered-Loves.
[If you cannot make it to Damascus for Id al-fitr or Ramadan this year, you could make a shorter trip to Eisenstadt, to contemplate Haydn’s Sarcophagus. What you will have missed, of course, were the ceremonies when the Soviet-Russians—then Military-Occupying-Forces, in the wake of World War II—opened his coffin & put his long-missing skull back in place at the top of his skeletal spinal-column! The Russians had taken the skull off with them as War-Booty…
[You cannot make-up stuff like this: After Haydn’s death, some Vienna medico-phrenologists thought it a Good-Idea for Advancing-Medical-Science, to sever Haydn’s head from his corpse & give its contents a thorough-examination. Big-Heads at that time argued Big-Brains! Not quite the same thing as the Swelled-Heads of Modern Heads-of-State, however…]
Carl Maria von Weber’s DER FREISHÜTZ: Not a Show for the National-Rifle-Association!
Falk Richter—the stage-director of Carl Maria von Weber’s Gothick-Romantick very Grimm Fairytale, Der Freischütz—is young & good-looking. He obviously watches a lot of Television, & this shows both in his stage-production & in the interview he gave Austria’s theatre-magazine, Die Bühne. [For which Your Reporter once wrote, some decades ago or so…]
To give the Ancient-Folktale of the Diabolic-Magic-Bullets new potency for a Modern-Audience in a Western-Europe that does not seem to believe in Good & Evil anymore—the Middle-East is a different matter, but Weber didn’t compose an opera about Muslims; that was Mozart—Richter thought he had to find some kind of Post-Enlightenment-Touchstone that would help his Salzburg audiences to respond to this Peasant-Fable of an [almost] Doomed-Love.
His Touchstone proved to be Twin Peaks, & his own Diabolic-Inspiration came from no less a Fiend than David Lynch!
Richter’s Problem with Der Freischütz—which has daunted many an opera-director & not only in German-speaking lands—is the idea that an Aspect of the Devil, or a Force of Evil, is always lurking about in the deep dark Teutonic-Forests, waiting to pounce on innocent, decent, but desperate people & seize their Souls.
Of course, in the wake of the 18th Century Enlightenment, this kind of Ignorant-Superstition began to lose its power as an explanation—or excuse—when someone went berserk, when things went very wrong in communities, or when armies ran amok.
The simplest way to deal with such a basic-fable involving Good & Evil—especially if you want to permit Weber’s powerful score, in some measure suggesting the Wagneriana to come, to score with your audiences—is quite simply to set the show in a picturesque German or Austrian sub-Alpine Village, such as Oberammergau, & in the 18th Century.
[Don’t forget: the Pious Oberammergauers still present their centuries-old Passion-Play every ten years to thank God for sparing the Village & the Valley from the Black-Plague way back in 1600-something. Apparently, God had a Choice in which villages He wished to Annihilate: This was, surprisingly, not seen as the Devil’s-Work, but as a Divine-Retribution.]
Anyway, that is the Simple-Solution.
Weber’s Der Freischütz will work very well in such a Retro-Production. And audiences will surely find the music both charming & compelling: some themes will seem very familiar, even to those who never heard of Carl Maria von Weber!
They can also feel very smug that they have been freed of such Superstitious-Fears & Barbaric-Customs that afflict the uneducated Roman-Catholic-Peasants in Fürst Ottokar’s Forests.
But even such an Educated & Convinced-Communist as the late, great opera-stage-director Ruth Berghaus—widow of Brecht-composer Paul Dessau—felt so smug about the Superior-Intelligences of DDR Audiences that she staged Der Freischütz as a kind of Hilarious-Goof on the entire plot & the characters, when she revived it for Berlin’s Staatsoper Unter den Linden, way back in the days of the good old Communist-Party-Secretary, Erich Honecker.
But Falk Richter wanted to find in the fable—if not in the music—some Responsive-Chords to the Way-We-Live-Now. David Lynch’s Twin Peaks was the key!
Consider Richter’s Difficulties, however: Max is a young Jägerbursche—a Marksman & Hunter. He loves Agathe, the innocent & lovely daughter of Kuno, Prince Ottokar’s Hereditary-Forester.
They are eager to be married, but to win her—unlike Wagner’s Song-Contestants, Walther von Stolzing & Tannhäuser, who can get the girl with a really good song—Max has to Hit the Bulls-eye on the Day of the Great Test. Both Kuno & Agathe want him to win, but lately his Shooter’s-Eye & Trigger-Finger have been off the mark.
Kilian, a rich peasant, wins a pre-Test shooting-contest. The Villagers cheer him & mock Max, as is the wont of the mob, turning on a perceived-weakling.
Under this tremendous pressure to perform superbly—something he no longer believes he can achieve—the desperate Max turns to his false-friend, Kaspar, a badly-damaged man who has recently slunk-back from the Wars.
Kaspar tells him of the mysterious Magic-Bullets which cannot fail to hit their intended-target, even if the gun is not properly-aimed. He has himself used them, but he does not tell Max that the Price of this Diabolic-Ammunition is the Sale of one’s Soul—which Kaspar has already forfeited, though the dread Samiel, a kind of Demon-Hunter, has not yet collected on the debt.
To postpone this Settlement-of-Accounts, Kaspar implicates Max. The Bullets are cast in the darkest night in the forbidding Wolfsschlucht, a Nest of Evil. There are Witches here!
Meanwhile, back in the village, the Ancient Portrait of Kuno & Agathe’s famed forebear Forester—who mysteriously disappeared: did he also have Magic-Bullets?—falls from the wall, injuring Agathe. She believes this is a Bad-Omen—she is right!—but she is consoled by her more carefree cousin, Ännchen.
Well, to cut a very long Volks-Märchen short: on the day of the Great Shoot-Out, Max’s Magic-Bullet is aimed at the target, but it actually seems to hit Agathe, eagerly ready for the Hoped-for-Wedding.
Even in Weber’s time, audiences liked Happy-Endings. So did the Official-Censor!
So a possibly much more powerful Tragic-Closure gave way to a final-curtain right out of Hansel & Gretel. With the result that Weber’s intriguing score & the Friedrich Kind Period-libretto work more like Operetta than Romantic-Opera.
When Prince Ottokar—Ruler of all he surveys—arrives on the apparent Death-Scene, he ordains the worst of punishments for the understandably-upset Max. Fortunately, Samiel’s Magic-Bullet has hit the wicked Kaspar, instead of Agathe, who now rises from her Ohnmacht.
At this most opportune moment, a Holy-Hermit passes by, offering blessings & forgiveness for all & sundry. Max gets his bride. Kuno redeems his pride.
And the Hermit advises Ottokar that a Shooting-Match is not the best way to choose Chief-Foresters or for them to find the right husband for a beloved daughter! [In one sense, this is odd: who wants an Erbförster who can’t shoot straight?]
So, despite the various excellences of Weber’s Score, with such an ending, this is not exactly as powerful, as compelling a Love-Story, as, say, Il Trovatore or Tannhäuser.
And—on its Librettic-Merits alone—it apparently has little of Interest or Importance to say to Modern-Audiences: Do not shoot Magic-Bullets if you want to be President of the United States?
But that’s where Twin Peaks, David, Lynch, & Falk Richter come Into-the-Picture, so to speak. Twin Peaks showed Richter how it is possible to suggest that Evil can indeed be released into a contemporary community.
As Richter explained to Die Bühne: "The pressure on Max is enormous; it has pushed him so far that he’s almost running amok, because he can no longer achieve a goal that is expected of him."
Richter conceived the idea—suggested by Lynch’s darker-imaginings about people—that Diabolic-Impulses may already exist within us, only to get the upper-hand over our behavior when we have Negative-Feelings & Fears.
Mary Baker Eddy could not have said it better, even in Science & Health, with Key to the Scriptures! Negative-Thoughts will make you sick!
Thus, Richter believed Der Freischütz didn’t have to be played-out in some backward ignorant superstitious semi-Medieval Bavarian or Thuringian Village. It could be happening Here & Now!
But to make this work onstage, he thought he needed to revise the original-libretto, replacing it with a somewhat newer text of his own. This is one of those Disputed-Areas in the Great Debates between Traditionalists & Renovators.
And it is not at all a bad idea when most of an Historic Opera-score is still powerful—even beloved—but the Original-Libretto is now unbelievable, incomprehensible, or unfathomable, as well as being, dated, banal, clichéd or even downright-ridiculous.
This does not always work, of course. The new or revised libretto still needs to connect with the tempos, tonalities, Leitmotifs, & emotional-tempests at work in the music.
[One thinks of the Broadway revision of Offenbach’s Die schöne Helena, reworked as The Happiest Girl in the World, starring the late Cyril Ritchard. The score was still delightful, but the story did not work: at least not for Manhattan audiences & critics.]
Unfortunately for Richter’s updating, neither does this Freischütz. One thing that seemed to annoy the Salzburg audience—& not only the Traditionalists—was his odd decision to have the usually terrifying Samiel leave the Wolfsschlucht, put on a natty white-suit, & stroll amongst the Villagers, functioning as a sort of Deviled-Hammy Narrator or Commentator.
Richter also invented two entirely new characters: Samielgehilfe 1 & Samielgehilfe 2. These two insidiously-sexy-lads spoke the darker, fearful Inner-Thoughts of Others. This Idea fortuitously demonstrated the Salzburg Festival’s 2007 Theme: The Nocturnal Side of Reason.
But it somewhat pulled Weber’s opera out-of-shape, virtually turning it into a knock-about Singspiel, with a lot of unsung Overheated-German-Verbiage, more suited to shriller Schiller at Vienna’s prestigious Burg-Theater.
Nonetheless, Richter was quite right to suggest to Die Bühne that there were probably many in Salzburg’s wealthy, powerful, & elitist audience who had already made their own Deals with the Devil—or his modern-equivalent—to attain their hard-won status, position, & acclaim.
You don’t imagine, for a minute, that CEOs like Jack Welch got there by accident: Mr. Nice-Guy doesn’t make it anymore, studies show!
What is more, says Richter: "Today, we absolutely recognize the pressure that is put upon a young man to achieve certain goals."
"Basically, Max is simply in love; he wants to be with his Agathe, but to win her, he has to show the entire Village that he is a good marksman, that he can attain all the concealed goals, that he can take over all the functions of Agathe’s father, & in such a tense situation not be nervous."
That’s when the Samielgehilfen begin to function as Max’s Inner-Voices, pushing him toward the Dark-Side.
Richter also makes the point—hardly stressed in the original libretto—that these traditional Village-Marksmen’s-Contests were, in fact, ways to recruit good Riflemen for the Military.
So the Contests were also accompanied with general merry-making. As Richter puts it: "A fest would be celebrated with Music, Dancing, Alcohol, & Girls, with the goal of winning the best Marksmen for the Army."
Back at Twin Peaks, Richter saw something of Laura Palmer in Agathe: "…the blonde-beauty whom everyone finds a bit crazy. There are still such women today, who want to get married, who are still religious or at least believe in Conservative Values, & are true."
For Richter, Agathe is not naïve, but she has been brought up to believe in God & that there is justice in the Universe. Richter sees her as an opposing-force to all the dark Power in the world.
As for the Lair of Evil, Richter finds the Wolfsschlucht-scene & its music unbelievably powerful: "A Dream-Scene for any stage-director. One can stage Hell, a place where the Undead appear, overlooked from the latest War."
He notes that Friedrich Kind—the original librettist—specified Burning Horses flying over the Horizon, for example. But Richter cannot imagine how that may have been achieved so long ago.
Richter also notes of the music for this Demonic-scene: "…mit diesen düsteren Klangfarben wird bereits Wagner vorgeahnt…" And that is certainly very true!
What the Freischütz audience sees initially is an almost clinical White-Box. This looks rather like the Empty-Space Peter Brook conceived for his now legendary Midsummer Night’s Dream production.
It has an Art-Deco-Futurist Look to it, thanks to the ingenuity of set-designer Alex Harb. The upstage-wall is actually two-panels, with a huge stylized Target-Circle in the center, divided into alternate black & white quadrants.
The panels slide aside to reveal a lot of loutish Modern Villagers—colorfully & casually dressed by costume-designer Tina Kloempken—eagerly awaiting the outcome of a Marksmen’s contest.
At the close of the production, the Target has disappeared from the panels, to be replaced by narrow-slits which form a Cross as they slowly close. The Holy Roman & Apostolic Church has triumphed over Ignorant-Peasant-Superstition, thanks to the Holy-Hermit & the State-Censor!
Although there are no disclaimer-signs in or around the theatre, refuting any similarity in the production to activities of America’s National-Rifle-Association or the Pentagon’s methods of recruiting infantry-riflemen for Mid-Eastern combat-duty, there are, nonetheless, Visual-Hints.
[Charlton Heston would not have been a Big-Fan of this staging, even though he, as a Gun-Lover, enjoyed Marksmen’s-Matches.]
Upstage of the Merry Villagers is a very Modern Rifle-Range with human-outline-targets. This easily could have been used by the CIA & the FBI, as well as by Ignorant-Peasants!
Instead of the stocky, perhaps a bit overweight Max [Peter Seiffert], Weber’s rich peasant Kilian, now a lively young sex-pot [Alexander Kaimbacher], wins the contest. He struts like a Rock-Star.
The audience doesn’t have to wait until the Wolfsschlucht-scene to see Samiel [Ignaz Kirchner]. The Villagers freeze—& Olaf Freese’s lighting changes—as a Man in a White-Suit strides out, working like a Cabaret-MC, backed by his two Samielgehilfern, to fill in plot-backgrounds & forecasts of Coming-Events.
This is where the music stops & Singspiel-Rant begins. German-speaking-audiences are used to this kind of dramatic-delivery, but it is alien to Anglophone-Ears. Nonetheless, Samiel & his helpers [Rafael Stachowiak & Sven Dolinski] do it very well, even stylishly.
Compared to Philipp Stölzl’s awkward staging of crowd-scenes the previous evening—in Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini—Falk Richter handles stage-groups rather well. But that may be because he has the aid of a choreographer: Simone Aughterlony.
[Broadway’s Hal Prince also has had better luck with groups of actor/singers when he has had a choreographer—someone like the late Michael Bennett—at his side.]
The White-Box is effectively both the frame & the container for all the opera’s scenes. A few modern metal-benches, foot-lockers, & cabinets serve well for furniture & props.
But this very Bareness & Simplicity proves a problem now & then. Agathe’s Ancestral-Portrait cannot fall off the wall, as there IS no wall.
So Agathe [Petra Maria Schnitzer] & her lively cousin Ännchen [Aleksandra Kurzak]—Richter thinks she would have Sex-Before-Marriage, unlike the chaste Agathe—struggle to set up a curtain-roller movie-screen on a shaky tripod, on which a bizarre image of the Mythic Forester will be projected.
As the girls fumble to extend the screen, it collapses & Agathe is hit on the head. Big Deal! Some Omen!
The caricatured ancestral-image can also change form, but it is frequently obscured as Ännchen dances back & forth in front of it. This should have been a rear-projection, as the dancing-shadows look amateurish.
Like Benvenuto Cellini‘s director, Philipp Stölzl, Falk Richter has obviously been greatly influenced by TV in general & MTV 30-second-attention-span video-images in particular.
When Agathe, Ännchen, & the Bridesmaids gather—with Samiel’s Gehilfern on hand to utter their darker-thoughts, complicate matters, & generate fear & foreboding—the downstage side-panels of the White-Box are flooded with a moving-montage of slick Bridal magazines & fashion-shots!
Suddenly, a black & white video upstage shows greatly-enlarged Maggots slithering about. This has been used before in stage-productions as a decadence-shocker: Grand-Opera Gross-out! But all these videos are tacky-distractions, rather than Visual-Enhancements.
For that matter, the descent of the malignant Kaspar [John Relyea] & Max into the Wolfsschlucht has its own set of side-panel black & white Videos.
Chief among them are some very jumpy shots of what seem to be basement-stairs. Occasionally, one sees a dancing-spider—suspended from a rod—skittering above the stairs.
Is this supposed to suggest Evil?
Actually, these tacky videos look like failed sophomoric-attempts to win admission to the Whitney Biennial—where it doesn’t take much to win an entire room for such take-outs…
Fortunately—as promised—Richter pulls out all the Visual-Stops in his hellish Wolfsschlucht organ-concerto. There is a naked Witches’-Sabbath, complete with a Black-Mass, celebrated by the Devil, wearing Cardinal-Ratzinger-Red robes.
With the Casting of the Magic-Bullets, all Hell bursts loose, as Kaspar is surrounded with tongues of flame & great surging belches of flame almost engulf the White-Box. Enough fuel is used in this scene to permit an Austrian Air-Force Bomber to fly to Kabul!
Or an American Bomber, as various production-details suggest an implicit Indictment of American-International-Interventions & Marksmen’s Shoot-Outs. Indeed, at the close, In God We Trust is smeared on the downstage-right panel as a graffito!
There are also some video-clips of Max—with a SWAT patch—& Kaspar in a Pacino-like auto-interlude.
As for the Final-Shooting-Contest—if there was any question of an American-linkage to Shooting, Armies, & War—it seems to be taking place at Annapolis, on Graduation-Day. Both the men & the women of the chorus are in summer-white Uniforms. Max looks like a Chief-Petty-Officer.
Erbförster Kuno [Roland Bracht] could well be the Commanding-Officer. As for Fürst Ottokar, he looks like a very self-assured & nattily-dressed young CEO & the role is very well played & sung by Markus Butter. [This is a talent to watch!]
In fact, it must be emphasized how vocally & dramatically strong all of the principal & character-roles were, thanks to an outstanding roster of talents!
Even the Rock-Star Holy-Hermit of Günther Groissböck made quite an impression! Not what you may think of when you think about the Holy-Hermits of today certainly… He looked rather like fashion-designer Karl Lagerfeld, only dressed in white, instead of black.
Markus Stenz conducted the Wiener Philharmoniker in this Haus für Mozart post-Mozart-production with devilish-relish.
Nonetheless, at the close, this odd but interesting staging was lustily Booed by the Elitist-Audience. Had Richter’s own interpretative-bullets hit the CEO-Target? Or were the spectators simply disappointed that they had not really seen Carl Maria von Weber’s Freischütz on stage?
In the realm of Grimm-Fairytale fables, Max gets his Magic-Bullets from the Wood-Demon, Samiel, who then vanishes into Nacht und Nebel.
Free-Shooter George Bush receives his Magic-Bullets from Karl Rove, who then disappears from the White House into Night & Fog. [Or was it Smoke & Mirrors?]
George Bush marries Laura Welch—Heiress to Welch’s Grape-juice & French’s Mustard! Max marries Laura Palmer of Twin-Peaks. Which Free-Shooter is the luckiest?
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s LE NOZZE DI FIGARO: Fuss & Feathers from Cherubino’s Doppelgänger!
Last summer in Salzburg, Your Reporter was denied press-tix for the new Claus Guth production of Le nozze di Figaro, starring Anna Netrebko as Susanna. She had just been newly-canonized as an Austrian-Citizen, as well as the Reigning-Diva of the Salzburg Festival.
The previous summer, however, he had been most fortunate to get a seat for one of Salzburg’s hottest-tickets-ever: La Traviata, starring both Anna Netrebko & Rolando Villazon!
At a special-reception for the Press, they both proved immensely charming & very straightforward. Rolando not only gladly gave autographs, but he also might include a quick-sketch of the supplicant. Rather like Enrico Caruso, Caricaturist & Tenor!
But in the late summer of 2006, my only means of seeing Anna in the Salzburg Figaro was to squint at the tiny TV-screen in my room at Vienna’s Kaiserhof, where I had gone to check-out Mozartjahr in Wien.
Although the ORF cameramen & editors are very good at offering a variety of stage-views & close-ups during a Live-Opera-Broadcast, it was at times difficult to figure out what was going-on onstage.
There seemed to be not one, but TWO Cherubinos!
But one of them did not sing & wore tiny white-wings on his shoulders! He also was strewing a lot of loose feathers around the stage.
Now & then, he jumped on Count Almaviva’s back—which suggested that this amorous/lecherous Spanish-Grandee had not a monkey-on-his-back, but Amor instead!
This August in Salzburg, I was turned-down on my request for the newest hot-ticket, the Eugen Onegin. But I was given a seat for Figaro—this time not with Anna as Susanna, but with Diana Damrau, who had been so delightful the previous season in Mozart’s Ascanio in Alba.
In late November 2006—at the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan—Friends of the Salzburg Festival had been introduced to Diana & other Salzburg-Stars by Festival Intendant, Jürgen Flimm.
That all of these shining-talents were also on the Metropolitan Opera’s roster last season was not lost on the generally glittering guests.
But on-the-night, in the Grosses-Festspielhaus, a Bearer-of-Ill-Tidings came before the curtain to announce that Diana Damrau would not be singing, owing to the fact that she was schwer erkrankt—or words to that effect.
At first, I thought this Last-Minute-Replacement would be a disaster, as even on my Vienna TV-screen the previous summer, Claus Guth’s stage-direction had obviously required detailed-rehearsals.
In the event, this was a stroke-of-luck for Your Reporter, for the new last-minute-Susanna was none other than Jennifer O’Loughlin!
This may not yet be a Name-To-Conjure-With in your Opera-Lexicon, but Jennifer O’Loughlin was already an outstanding talent when a student at the Manhattan School of Music, where I first saw her perform! [Co-incidentally, her Manhattan School-classmate, Brendan Jovanovich, was starring as Mario Cavaradossi, in Tosca, at the Bregenz Festival!]
As Susanna, Jennifer O’Loughlin was not only equal to the vocal-challenges of the role, but also to the rigors of the personnen-regie designed by stage-director Guth. She also made an eager conspirator with the deeply-disappointed Countess Almaviva [Dorothea Röschmann], seeking to recover the philandering Count’s love.
As a handsome, commanding Almaviva, Gerald Finley was impressive, not only musically, but also athletically, as he managed to have the winged-Cherubim [Uli Kirsch] jump on his shoulders from time to time—without them both falling-over! Luca Pisaroni, as Figaro, was also primed for action, as well as for arias & duets.
On the Vienna TV-screen—tiny as it was—the entire Grosses-Festspielhaus stage seemed to be taken-up with an immense Treppenhaus, or stair-well, in a very grand country-mansion.
And that is exactly what I finally saw on stage: From the Performance-Level, where Figaro is expected to set-up his Marriage-Bed—with entrance-doors leading off stage-left & an immense white-curtained-window stage-right—some broad stairs led up to the next-level, with doors opening into the Almaviva’s private-chambers.
A continuation of these stairs turned upstage-right, connecting with a long flight of unseen-stairs, only their white-underside being visible to the audience. When characters disappeared around the corner, one could assume they were going to a higher-floor. [Actually, however, into the wings!]
This basic-set—designed by Christian Schmidt, who also did the generally-attractive non-period costumes—could be varied for other scenes by dropping-in a white neo-classic wall with doors, or by opening-up the floor, upstage-right, to provide an immense flight of stairs to the floor below, only glimpsed as characters go up & down them.
But when Amorous-Intrigues were—near the close—turning everyone’s worlds upside-down, this section of staircase suddenly appeared in an effectively mirrored-image, even with door-frames upside down, matching those above them.
This same startling Visual-Effect was also used by Claus Guth in his remarkable re-interpretation of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer at the Bayreuth-Festival
But some Perfect-Wagnerites hated that Dutchman because it did not re-tell the old fable of the Doomed Sea-Captain, who can only be saved by the Love of a Pure-Young-Maiden.
Instead, Guth presented Senta as a kind of immature sexual-hysteric, who had conflated her repressed-love of her stern-father with an amorous-attachment to the fabled-captain, so that the two roles—although sung by two different men—had a Doppelgänger-Effect.
Not only that: there were also Two Sentas: one a little girl, who did not sing, as Wagner wrote her no music, not knowing she would one day be in his opera & the other being the incompletely grown-up Senta.
Not only was this a stunning & astonishing physical-production, but Guth’s re-Vision of Wagner’s libretto & score actually made much more Emotional & Psychological-Sense than the original-fable.
In his re-Vision of Figaro, something similar has been achieved—not only by stripping-away a lot of the customary Neo-Baroque production-details—but also by focusing more-sharply on the currents-of- amorous-attraction invisibly pulsing between & among the various Occupants of the Almaviva-Household!
I’m not at all sure what those [dead] black-ravens in the Almaviva’s open-window are supposed to mean, but they are often seen as Omens of Death. Do they imply that the Happy-Ending Almaviva-Reconciliation will not endure: that Rosina & Lindoro’s Love is long-since dead?
[If you have read the third novel in Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais’ Saga of Rosina, La mère coupable, you will know that things do not go well for her after Le nozze di Figaro. But that’s not an opera Da Ponte & Mozart were interested in creating…]
Some directorial & designer Cutenesses could have been deleted, with no essential harm done to the elegant simplicity of this Guth/Schmidt production. Among them, the projected chalk-talk-drawings of the currents-of- amorous-attraction, represented by changing Arrows of Intercourse.
As for all those feathers & dead-leaves on the stage, I would hate to be clean-up-man on stage-crew! Do they Recycle the Feathers, if not the leaves?
The lively Daniel Harding conducted with a playful spirit, encouraging the efforts of Martina Janková [Cherubino], Marie McLaughlin [Marcellina], Eva Liebau [Barbarina], & Franz-Josef Selig, as Dr. Bartdolo.
Claus Guth is also set to stage both Così fan tutte & Don Giovanni for the Salzburg-Festival, so it will be interesting to see how he re-Visions the other two pillars of the Da Ponte/Mozart-Triad!
It could be argued, of course—as it often is, by Traditionalists—that Da Ponte’s Original Figaro-libretto is perfectly-clear about the physical-plot-actions, as well as about the various amorous-entanglements.
And, as if that were not sufficient, Mozart’s ingenious Score has given the words & actions an emotional & psychological-emphasis that gives even more power to what the performers will enact on stage.
So updating the story—plus the sets & costumes!—is not necessary for the audience to understand what’s happening on stage. Unless, of course, the opera is sung in the Original-Italian, understood by few in most audiences outside Italy…
[Purists may hate Super-Titles, but they do make many operas accessible to modern-audiences!]
If Da Ponte’s often witty dialogue & tension-charged-situations can be understood by the average-opera-goer—especially with the Mozartian-Underpinnings—then why do contemporary stage-directors like Claus Guth feel they have to do something different with the Operatic-War-Horses?
Movie-director Doris Dorrie recently gave the Bavarian State Opera a Rigoletto production that looked more like Planet of the Apes. This confused the singers, as well as the audiences…
Unfortunately, for some younger directors—like Christoph Schlingensief & Katharina Wagner—updating or otherwise contemporizing an opera-libretto, if not the actual score—is clearly a misguided-attempt to draw-attention to themselves as Amazing Avant-Garde-Artists.
Productions of such would-be Reinhardts & Bergmans seldom honor or even serve the actual works. Of course, they would be the first to repudiate the directorial-skills & practices of Ingmar Bergman—who staged Molière’s Don Juan for Salzburg—or Max Reinhardt, who was a Founder of the Festival!
It may be too much to say that Claus Guth, on the other hand, takes a New Look at both librettos & scores because he is interested in uncovering—or discovering—some deeper-level of Meaning & Emotion than can be offered by a Conventional-Production.
Your Reporter has not yet seen enough of Guth’s stagings to confirm this hunch. But both his Bayreuth Dutchman & his Salzburg Figaro suggest exactly that!
William Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: The Burg-Theater Joins the Volks-Theater in an Airy-Fairy Staging!
Since Peter Brook’s memorable Empty-Space White-Box production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, way back in the early 1970s, both trendy & desperate stage-directors have been eager to make reputations for themselves by doing something New & Different with this Chaotic-Comedy of Loves-Misplaced.
[In fact, Your Reporter was sharply-rebuked—by a Distinguished-Professor-of-Theatre in the City-University-of-New-York—for having compiled & edited the Official Royal Shakespeare Company Production-Book of the Peter Brook Midsummer Night’s Dream. Published & still-in-print by Dramatic Publishers.
[And what was my Offense: "Everyone will want to copy what Brook did. And you have it all down here, to the last detail. This book will discourage young directors from being Creative!"]
Over the decades since, that has not proved to be a problem. Midsummer Night’s Dream is fair-game for any kind of Updating or Re-Thinking you can imagine.
But how curious, then, that the two Major Austrian Summer-Festivals, both Bregenz & Salzburg, this summer programmed new stagings of Midsummer Night’s Dream!
I had already been to Bregenz & was at Salzburg when the Bodensee MSND premiered, so I have only the comments of critics who actually saw it as a guide. But the production of Jorinde Dröse seemed to have had the audience shaking with mirth.
Apparently, thanks to Oberon’s appearance as "a long-haired, drug-damaged, Indian-Freak out of the 1970s," an Orgiastic-Time was had by All—including the Pyramuus-Play-Rehearsing-Rustics! Puck even appeared wearing a Parka!
Interestingly, Salzburg’s Oberon [Robert Hunger-Bühler] also looked like a long-haired, over-age, drug-damaged, thong-wearing Hippie. This was more embarrassing-to-look-at than Revelatory. The problem was also compounded by his Burg-Theater Shakespearean-delivery.
Some Austrian critics said as much, also taxing his Titania [Corinna Kirchhoff] for the same faults. This duo also played Theseus & Hippolyta, the First-Couple of Ancient-Athens.
Fortunately for them, after Salzburg, the production is destined for Vienna & the actual Burg-Theater!
But it began Life as a production of the widely-admired Schauspielhaus-Zürich.
There was a time, however, when all the Salzburg-Festival productions were created in & for Salzburg. Now, production-costs really have to be shared-around, as state & city subsidies are in decline.
The Unquestioned-Star of this production is the estimable Michael Maertens, whose nerdy, prissy, self-important Bottom was immensely enjoyable, not least because it was not a Star-Turn, but just another one of the foolish Rustics, rehearsing a play in the Athenian-Woods.
The fact that Maertens had recently married the production’s Hermia [Mavie Hörbiger] was duly noted by both critics & gossip-columnists. She is an Austrian TV & film-star in her own right, but she is also a descendant of one of Austria’s Premiere Theatre-Dynasties! [Even some Americans must have seen Paul Hörbiger in films, or on the stage of the Burg-Theater.]
Unfortunately, stage-director Christian Weise had the Un-original-Idea of dressing the two pairs of young Athenian Would-be-Lovers in British-School-Uniforms. This may have been hilarious in Zürich, but it has-been-done-before & over-done, at that. It also added nothing to the amorous-mixups.
For that matter, Miriam Wagner’s Helena was more interesting than Hermia, but that is also in Shakespeare’s text, here reworked by Jürgen Gosch, Angela Schanelec, & Wolfgang Wiens.
For once, Puck was not played by a young woman. No, indeed. He was a charming Puppet—who, in a kind of Prelude, alluded to Fest-founder Max Reinhardt. He was animated by his Creator, Hans-Jochen Menzel, with an also-black-clad Bunraku-puppet-handler, Johannes Benecke.
Perhaps so everyone could be In-Pairs, there was also a female Elfe-puppet, animated by Claudia Acker & Oscar Olivo in Bunraku-black.
Instead of Peter Brook’s White-Box, set-designer Volker Hintermeier offered a Black-Box Empty-Stage. Entrances & exits were occasionally made through trap-doors in the stage-floor for some reason.
What troubled me most about this staging—which has the Look of Something-Bound-for-BAM—was stage-director Weise’s decision to encourage choreographer Stephen Galloway to turn the production’s background into a constantly gyrating quasi-Balletic quondam-Bewegungs-fest.
Although, in Shakespeare’s-Original, the Quarrel between Oberon & Titania develops over the possession of a small Indian-Boy—is Oberon really a Kinder-Porn Paedophile?—in Weise’s Version he is a big black man, danced by Galloway!
As some of the Fairies are truly grotesque, to watch this crew in fairly constant Motion-Mutations was very distracting indeed.
Nonetheless, many in the intimate audience of the Fellner & Helmer Salzburg Landestheater were convulsed with laughter much of the evening. I feared the young husband in front of me would pull up the screws holding his seat to the floor, as he rocked back & forth in helpless-mirth.
But all Decorum was not lost. Some older, wiser, & more self-controlled-spectators—who realized that they were watching Shakespeare, a Classic, after all!—were better-able to control their emotions, letting a simple Smile suffice.
[When I first came to teach in West-Germany in the late 1950s, I could not believe that over-respectful German-audiences could sit still during an hilarious comedic-scene—whether Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde—without cracking a smile!
[Functioning both as a Critic for the Christian Science Monitor & as a Spectator, I was often moved to guffaws by the comic-skills of both dramatic-actors & opera-actor/singers—to the obvious displeasure of the Good-Germans sitting nearby.
["You! Ami! Don’t you realize that you are IN THE THEATRE?"
[Fortunately, the actors up on stage—recognizing that they actually had a "live-one" in the audience, would often play the rest of the drama to me…]
Bottom-Line: Shakespeare’s-Comedies may be over 400-years-old, but they are still funny!
Serious Outbreak of Cancellitis in Salzburg!
Although Anna Netrebko looked fabulous & acted & sang splendidly in the Baden-Baden-Festival Gala-Concert on the previous Saturday-evening—Your Reporter saw it on TV in Bayreuth—she nonetheless cancelled the two performances she had been contracted-for the following-week in Salzburg.
That her frequent Dream-Team-partner, Rolando Villazon, cancelled his scheduled Salzburg appearances a day later, had Conspiracy-Theorists wondering. But then, he had also cancelled out of the Baden-Baden-Gala. [Get the DVD! Instead of Villazon, you will see & hear Ramon Vargas & Ludovic Tézier!]
Oddly enough, the admirable Elina Garanca—wonderfully paired with Netrebko in Baden-Baden—had also cancelled in Salzburg. As had Vesselina Kasarova & Neil Shicoff.
Apparently, Kasarova had injured her foot in a Munich performance. She was to have sung
Ascanio in Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini, while Shicoff had been contracted for the title-role.
Shicoff had just been passed-over as a candidate for the post of Intendant of the Vienna State Opera. It was reported that he needed "down-time" to get over this disappointment.
Actually, he had just received a Reprieve from a Virtual Snake-Pit of Ambition & Intrigue.
Considering the kind of Salzburg-production in which he would have had to impersonate Benvenuto Cellini, I thought that might have triggered his cancellation…
Diana Damrau’s much-regretted last-minute cancellation of a performance as Susanna in Claus Guth’s Le nozze di Figaro was vocal-related.
And the up-side was that Jennifer O’Loughlin—seen previously by Your Reporter at the Manhattan School of Music—got to make a Salzburg Susanna-Debut!
Saluting Salzburg’s Maestro—Herbert von Karajan!
Maestro Herbert von Karajan was born just a century ago, on 5 April 1898. But the Worldwide-Centenary-Festivities will begin in his native Salzburg on 5 January 2008, with a Memorial-Concert in the Grosses-Festspielhaus, featuring the Mozarteum-Orchestra, conducted by its current-director, Ivor Bolton.
Way back in 1929, the young Von Karajan debuted as a conductor of the Mozarteum-Orchestra, but under very special-circumstances. His father had hired the orchestra to provide a showcase for his son’s talents!
The January Eröffnungskonzert will feature works by Mozart, Strauss, & Tchaikovsky, recalling Von Karajan’s early interests as a conductor.
Tickets for this very special event—you can also do Christmas in Salzburg!—can be ordered from the offices of the Osterfestspiel-Salzburg. This springtime-fest was founded by the Maestro: it is supported by the Eliette & Herbert von Karajan Institute.
Von Karajan favored Wagner at Easter-tide—especially as he was no longer invited to conduct at Bayreuth & had his own ideas about how Wagner’s operas could be staged & interpreted.
For more information about the Maestro, his Centenary-Celebrations, & his Institute, contact the Institute’s website: www.karajan.org
Make More Festivals in Salzburg: If an Easter-fest was OK, Why not Weihnacht?
Herbert von Karajan was the first to have the idea of creating an Easter-Festival in Salzburg: outside the summer-season, the Festival-Theatres were empty. The Master wanted to present his conception of Wagner, as he wasn’t conducting at Bayreuth.
Later, a Pfingsten-Festival came into being, slotted into the Whitsun or Pentecost holidays.
Easter no longer seems important in the Official-Festival-Calendar, along with the Von Karajan-Aesthetic. But then the Easter-Fest was a free-standing-event. Not part of the Official-Program…
This seems a loss. Even former Intendant Gerard Mortier insisted that Salzburg could be a year-round Festival & Conference-City.
But Pfingsten has officially-survived—religiously-imaged as those Flames above the Apostles’ Heads, signifying the Gift of Tongues.
This past May, the theme of the Pfingsten-Festival was NEAPEL: Metropole der Erinnerung. Or: Naples: Metropolis of Memories.
The operatic-centerpiece of this 25-28 May fest was Domenico Cimarosa’s Il ritorno di Don Calandrino. Music of 17th & 18th century Naples was also featured in several concerts: Il settecento Napoletano, Leonardo Leo’s Sant’Elena al Calvario, Alessandro Scarlatti’s Oratorio a Quattro Voce, & a Neapolitan hotch-potch called Napoli’s Walls!
But why not a Salzburg Christmas-Festival as well?
Your Reporter was invited in December 2001—after 9/11—to witness a co-production of Queen of Spades in Nuremberg, which had been mounted in Siberia in collaboration with Nuremberg’s Pocket-Opera.
This was also the season of that historic city’s Christkindl-Markt—or Christmas-Market, with Echt-Nürnberger-Lebküchen!
From Christmas in Nuremberg, I went on to Christmas in Munich. And then on to Salzburg for both Christmas & Sylvester—or New Year’s Eve—in an ancient city swirling with snow!
What most astonished me, however, were the banners over the narrow Salzburg streets, advertising a Benefit New Year’s Concert, in the great baroque Cathedral, for the relief of the Survivors of the Destruction of the Twin-Towers in Lower Manhattan on 9/11!
That was a wonderful & heart-felt gesture. It also made Christmas in Salzburg seem something very special. Something that many from abroad would have loved to share. Aside from Jihadists, of course…
Near Salzburg is Obertsdorf, the Silent-Night town—where the memories of the creators of this most famous of Christmas-Carols are enshrined. Including a special post-office with Silent-Night stamps & cancellations!
There is even a wonderful shop in Salzburg’s Old-Town that features nothing but Christmas-Decorations, although it’s open all year.
Surely something "Christmassy" could be devised for the Festival-Stages as well: Hansel & Gretel, Amahl & the Night Visitors, The Nutcracker, A Christmas-Carol?
Or Something-Entirely-Different like Heidi Saves Bambi—with a stunning score by Hans Werner Henze!
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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