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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, August 2010.
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Fragments of the Shattered Statue of Liberty Rise Up Out of Lake Constance for Bregenz Aida!
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
Festive Opening of the Bregenz Festival 2010 *
DIE PASSAGIERIN: Honeymoon on an Ocean-Liner Becomes a Horror-Story! *
Mieczyslaw Weinberg [1919-1996]: A Great Modern Composer, Virtually Unknown in the West! *
STATUE OF LIBERTY SMASHED INTO FRAGMENTS--POSSIBLY BY TERRORISTS--FOR BREGENZ-FESTIVAL AIDA PRODUCTION! *
Not Only Performing-Arts in Bregenz: Also Art in Kunsthaus-Bregenz & Antony Gormley's Iron-Men in the Alps! *
French-Revolution To Take Center-Stage on Lake-Constance: Giordano's André Chénier To Rise Out of Bodensee-Waves in Festival 2011! *
Mid-July must find the Austrian Capital, Vienna, almost empty of Politicians. They all seem to have rushed off to Bregenz for the opening of its Annual Festival. Notable among the Dignitaries are always the President of Austria and his charming wife, Margit. Plus various Ministers of State…
Instead of flying off to Bregenz in a Presidential-Plane--or even being driven by chauffeur in a Presidential-Limousine--the environmentally-aware President of Austria used the Austrian Bundesbahn!
The President told the Press: "The ÖBB is important for Austria & it is the ecological-alternative to the automobile. With this train-trip alone, in comparison with using an auto, we're saving more than 100 kilograms of Carbon-Dioxide!"
This July, not only President Heinz Fischer was at the Opening-Ceremonies, but also Dr. Claudia Schmied--who is Austria's Frau Dr. Bundesministerin für Unterricht, Kunst, und Kultur.
That means Dr. Schmied is the Federal Minister for Education, Art, & Culture. This linkage of Art & Culture with Education may seem strange to many Americans, who see No-Connection between what we teach our kids & the often incomprehensible creations of both Self-Proclaimed & Critically-Approved Artists.
Both President Fischer & Dr. Schmied addressed the Gala-Throng at the Ceremonies, focusing on this season's Program-Theme: In der Fremde. This Leitmotif served to introduce the largely unknown musical-compositions of Mieczyslaw Weinberg, notably his Post-Holocaust opera, Die Passagierin.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg--although Polish--lived most of his creative life in the Soviet-Union, where his genius was eventually recognized by Dimitri Shoshtakovich. So he was certainly in der Fremde--almost in Central-Asia--until he was called to Russia's Culture-Central.
To be an Alien in a strange land, far far from home, is an experience few Native-born Americans have ever experienced. But this can be especially disorienting for writers, composers, & other artists whose previous creations have strongly drawn on Native-Roots.
So it was entirely appropriate that Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness--adapted as a drama--was also on the Festival-Calendar. Not only was Conrad also a Polish-Alien, writing in English, but his tale of a White-Man who had established a kind of Kingdom in the Black Heart of Africa was resonant: Mistuh Kurtz, he dead!
As the attractive & well-dressed Lisa walks the decks of the elegant German Ocean-Liner that is taking her & her new husband to a Diplomatic-Posting in South-America, she momentarily glimpses a gauzily-veiled Woman-Passenger.
South-America was certainly a popular German-Destination after the Second-World-War, but Lisa also runs the risk of running into Adolf Eichmann or Dr. Josef Mengele…
The veiled quasi-disguise of the Passenger in itself is puzzling, but--worse for Lisa--she fears that this Mystery-Woman has recognized her!
She is so upset that she finally has to confess to her husband, Walter, that in her Previous-Life, she was a Concentration-Camp-Overseer in Auschwitz!
This is, of course, not Good-News for a post-war West-German Diplomat, when many West-Germans were trying to bury or obliterate their Nazi-Pasts.
Marrying the charming, caring Walter & moving to far-off South-America meant, she thought, that she was Home-Free! Now everything can come crashing-down on both of them…
Then the scene shifts to Auschwitz where we see Lisa in Uniform, at work sorting out Women-Internees for Forced-Labor or for Extermination in the Gas-Chambers.
For her own reasons, she favors a Polish inmate, Martha, but she is angry that Martha doesn't thank her for the Special-Considerations. She even makes it possible for Martha to have a Forbidden-Meeting with her husband-never-to-be, Tadeusz.
Every day, Lisa has to decide who is to go on the Extermination-List. She finally consigns Martha to a gruesome death.
So, seeing Martha alive & veiled on her honeymoon-ship is a very unpleasant Shock!
Considering New Yorkers' insatiable-appetite for ever more Revelations, Movies, & Dramas about the horrendous Holocaust, Die Passagierin should soon be seen on either the stage of the New York City Opera or across the Plaza, on the Met's grand stage.
Curiously, Die Passagierin was first heard only in concert, in Moscow, on Christmas-Day 2006! At the Stanislavski & Nemirovitch-Danchenko Music-Theatre, no less.
The Bregenz mounting of Die Passagierin is a co-production with Warsaw's Teatr Wielki, to be shown later this year, with scheduled showings in London at the English National Opera & in Madrid, at the Teatro Real, in 2012. Other European opera-houses have also expressed interest in presenting the Bregenz premiere-production!
The libretto of Die Passagierin is based on the Polish novel of Zofia Posmysz. It may be offered as a novel, but it is her own story, as one of the few women-internees who escaped & survived Auschwitz.
She not only lived to tell the tale but also to see it turned into an opera by Mieczyslaw Weinberg & librettist Alexander Medvedev.
What's more, she was in Bregenz for the Premier! In fact, Zofia Posmysz met with members of the Press to take questions about her Concentration-Camp experiences in Auschwitz…
She is now, of course, a very old, somewhat frail lady, but she can still speak passionately of the Evils of the Past. Your Reporter video-taped this Press-session, but she speaks in Polish, with subsequent German translations & most of the questions posed in German.
[If this video was not destroyed when my Mac-Airbook crashed, I will put it online here, if any of the websites that may carry this report can accommodate videos.]
The libretto is sung in both German & Russian--Lisa & Walter, understandably, do not speak Russian!--so an American production may require an English-translation.
The remarkable cast--especially the miserable women-inmates at Auschwitz--was powerful. Michelle Breedt was Lisa, with Elene Kelessidi as the indomitable Martha. Tadeusz was sung by Artur Rucinski & Walter by Roberto Saccà.
Teodor Currentzis conducted the Wiener-Symphoniker. The Vienna-Symphony is the house-orchestra of the Bregenz-Festival, just as the Vienna-Philharmonic belongs to the Salzburg-Festival in late summer.
Festival-Intendant David Pountny imaginatively directed Die Passagierin for its World-Premiere as a fully-staged opera.
[Shortly after the Premiere, David Pountny graciously discussed Die Passagierin & the varied problems of mounting the Bregenz-Festival. If this video was not destroyed when my Mac-Airbook crashed, I will put it online here.]
Considering the design & technical complications not only of putting a great Ocean-Liner on-stage, but also of rapidly switching to the cramped confines of an Auschwitz Lager, set-designer Johan Engels is to be praised.
Of course, Engels' designs could not have been realized as effectively as they were--on the relatively small stage of the Bregenz-Festspielhaus--had it not been for the excellent Workshops of the Festival, under the oversight of Technical-Director Gerd Alfons.
The Workshops seem to be specialists in constructing Railroads. The staff did wonders with tracks & rail-wagons for Carlisle Floyd's opera-version of John Steinbeck's Of Mice & Men.
The scenic-elements of Die Passagierin are enclosed in a square of rail-trackage--intersecting with a circle of rails--on which they can be moved about. Concentration-Camp Guard-Towers stand at the four corners of the square.
Marie-Jeanne Lecca designed the costumes, with Fabrice Kebour responsible for lighting this complex production.
If Die Passagierin achieves a valued place in modern opera-repertories, there are even more unproduced Weinberg operas waiting to be staged. One of these works could be classified as an operetta, but the total is said to be eight or nine works!
In addition, there is a wide range of orchestral & solo-works!
Perhaps it was the Cold-War that kept the West from discovering Mieczyslaw Weinberg, but that effectually came to an end in November 1989. What has taken us so long?
It should be noted that the Bregenz-Festival has a long tradition of discovering unknown operas or reviving unjustly forgotten works, always in unusually-conceived & outstandingly-designed productions.
Also shown this past summer in Bregenz was Weinberg's The Portrait, inspired by a story of Nicolai Gogol. This was its Austrian premiere, but it opened too late for Your Reporter to see it, alas…
[It should be noted for the benefit of anyone looking up Weinberg in an Opera-Guide that he is not to be confused with Caspar Weinberger, who gave the world Schwanda, der Dudelsakpfeiffer…]
Felled by a Subdural-Hematoma, Your Reporter was unable to see the immense Lake-Stage production of Verdi's Aida in its first summer. But photos of this dazzling staging made me determined to recover enough to "cane" my way to Bregenz this past summer.
As no Outsider is allowed to see the initial-models for the always-amazing Operas-on-the-Lake, when I was still gasping at the daring scenic-conception of the Bregenz Tosca, I couldn't imagine what stupendous Stage-Dominating-Image could embody Ancient-Egypt & the powerful passions of the slave-girl, Aida, her Princess-Rival, Amneris, & the valiant General, Radames.
Momentarily, I did think of a Giant-Sphinx towering over the stage, but that's almost Too-Obvious. That would have been more appropriate for Israel in Egypt, perhaps?
At first glance--as well as at the second, third, & fourth glances!--seeing two giant blue, star-spattered feet on the elevation of the Aida stage was puzzling.
The fact that the star-spattered Torch of the Statue of Liberty was lying face-down in the waters of Lake-Constance--or the Bodensee, as German-speakers prefer to call this French-Named body of water--was even more puzzling.
Who had done this? Had Nubian-Terrorists blown up our beloved Statue of Liberty?
But Why? Why do They Hate Us?
Of course, Verdi was not creating an opera about Blowing-Up the Twin-Towers on 9/11…
Confected for the Opening of the Suez-Canal--talk about Foreign-Interventions in the Middle-East!--the opera's central Physical-Action is about the Armies of Egypt invading, conquering, humiliating, & enslaving poverty-stricken Nubia. The Emotional-Action is a Fatal Love-Triangle that doesn't turn out well.
Aida had already been enslaved, but now her Entire-Nation, including her father the King were made Slaves of the Pharaoh.
We are not told whether this was Pre-Moses or Post-Moses--probably Post, when they no longer had any Jews to kick around--but wouldn't it have made more visual-sense to Blow Up the Sphinx!
Well, no. Not if you are stage-director Graham Vick & designer Paul Brown…
The Sphinx never represented Freedom or Liberty.
Now, at a perilous time, when Liberty seems in real danger in the United States of America, a shattered Miss-Liberty presents a fearful warning about the dangers of a Powerful-Nation sending its supposedly Invincible-Army into Third-World-Nations that cannot effectively resist the incursions: Ritorno Vincitor!
As two towering Cranes lift the broken elements of Miss-Liberty's face & spikey-diadem into place, hovering high above her severed feet, the drama of Aida unfolds. There's even a facial-fragment that sails high in the air above the stage, containing what looks like the Virgin-Mary singing…
The sunken Torch rises half-way out of the water to provide a podium for the Pharaoh. Some of its many stars are cut-out: this permits the gallons of water inside to drain quickly for the torch-uplift!
As the Bodensee waters between the Lake-Stage & the audience of thousands must always be scenically-involved, not only the Torch is in the water, but there are divers & a Water-Ballet, performed by dancers splashing around in knee-deep lake-water, on a sunken rectangular-platform that can rise, fall & revolve!
The Nubian-Prisoners are brought back up the Nile--Nubia is just to the South, now reached only through Sudan, but who wants to go to Khartoum for a Visa?--inside a Golden-Elephant, which may symbolize the Treasures Radames is bringing home as Tribute to the Pharaoh.
I was surprised to see the Golden Ark of the Covenant in the midst of all this, also in the water. Maybe this was a Jewish Left-Over? No! That cannot be!
The Israelis--no, no! Israelites!--had possession of it in the Holy-Land. Harrison Ford didn't go looking for it in Memphis or Cairo…
Anyway, instead of dying of Suffocation, sealed-up in a great Stone-Tomb, the Guilty-Lovers--Radames & Aida--are Crane-flown off through the air in the Golden-Boat that takes the Pharaoh's Spirit-Body to the Stars!
Actually, Royal-Spirits ascended to the Constellation of Orion, but that's not easy to see at night in Bregenz…
There is always a Problem on the wide, wide Lake-Stage--just as there is in Salzburg, both on the vast stage of the Felsenreitschule & of the Grosses-Festspielhaus--in that the stage-director has to invent ways to fill the spaces without detracting from the Central-Action or Characters.
Although there are some impressive parades of Courtiers, Servants, & even of Slaves, especially down the central-set stairs, a number of the cast & extras seem to be endlessly scrubbing, scrubbing, dusting, & polishing, notably Aida.
One fellow is high up on a piece of Miss-Liberty, retouching her Golden-Stars with a paint-brush! Of course, this gives you something to look at when the Central-Action is muddy or uninteresting.
But too many Little-People doing niggling Little-Things can be an unnecessary Distraction from the Main-Event.
The very sophisticated audio-technology brings everyone in the audience clear, dynamic singing, both Solo & Choral, but it's well to watch where the follow-spots are moving, to focus on Amneris & Aida. Or on Radames & Pharaoh: actually called the "King of Egypt" by Verdi & his Librettist, Antonio Ghislanzoni.
With so many nightly-performances during the Festival, obviously there is more than one Aida, Amneris, & Radames. Outdoor operas are always triple-cast.
I saw the first two casts, as we were rained-out at the Premiere, so I asked for a ticket for the next night, when it rained even worse, but the opera was played/sung all the way through. Valiant Singers!
These were the admirable talents I saw/heard: Aida--Maria José Siri & Indra Thomas; Amneris--Iano Tamar & Guang Yang; Radames--Arnold Rawls & Philip Webb; Pharaoh--Bradley Garvin & Kevin Short; Amonasro--Quinn Kelsey & Dimitri Platanias; Ramphis--Tigran Martirossian & Sorin Coliban.
The Vienna-Symphony--energetically conducted by Carlo Rizzi--is seen in-action on two great Video-Screens at either side of the stage inside which they play away. Even if Unseen-Live, they don't get rained-on.
Were it not for the Lighting of the gifted Wolfgang Göbbel, most of the spectacular stage-effects would lose their power.
But nothing would work without those two towering Cranes!
Gerd Alfons--Master-Tech-Director all the Festival-Events--took Your Reporter onstage for a Video-tour of the various machines & set-fragments.
[If this video was not destroyed when my Mac-Airbook crashed, I will put it online here, as well as an interview with Axel Renner--Press & Communications-Officer--discussing how the Festival is funded & how it functions!]
For many seasons, I have described the remarkable designs for the Lake-Stage & how they work in action. These appeared in Theatre Crafts & its successor, Entertainment Design. The last of these reports--on Tosca--appeared in Live Design, a subsequent incarnation.
Although the Lake-Stages are sometimes referred to as Floating, they are actually very solid, built on piles driven deep into the mud of Lake-Constance.
For all of the operas over the seasons, Gerd Alfons not only gave me backstage & on-stage tours, but provided detailed specifications on all the machinery, lighting-instruments, controls, & technological wonders. These were important to our readers, who wanted to know what was New & Who was offering it for sale…
But my report on Tosca--for which I was not paid--bore both my name & that of a former student who is now an editor at the magazine. So that is the End of That…
As I'm sure most readers would rather see photos of the Aida production than long columns of Tech-Specs, I'm saving those for the back-up Archive-Files on Bregenz.
Nonetheless, a colorful schematic of the set in operation is included. Unfortunately, the explanations are in German, but what are our High-Schools for if not to teach us Math, Science, & Foreign-Languages!
Still, it might be interesting to know that the highest-point of the set reached 68 Meters!
If the whole Statue of Liberty had been built--before being blown-up--she would have been 100 Meters high! Her foot--both of them, in fact--is 15 Meters long!
The Crane on the left side of the stage has to lift Twelve-Tons!
This is a long way off from the days when Tenors & Sopranos just had to stand on stage & sing as loudly as they could. Imagine singing when you are being hoisted high in the air by a Giant-Crane!
Those New-Yorkers who thought that brown man high up on a set-back of the Empire-State-Building was ready to jump now know that he is, in fact, a life-sized stylized-figure of a man, formed in molten-iron by Sculptor Antony Gormley.
There are also other such Iron-Men atop buildings around Madison-Square-Park. They will stand there until October.
But, if you just cannot get enough of Gormley's cast-iron men, you can find One-Hundred of them set atop the Voraarlberg-Alps above Bregenz!
These figures are littered about a 150-square-kilometer area, some 2,039 meters above the level of Lake-Constance!
Actually, they are not littered: Gormley has placed them very carefully, for they are not just Iron-Men, but also Metaphors!
Even though a summer-brochure insists they have no specific metaphoric or inner-meaning, Gormley sees their placement high above Daily-Life as provoking thoughts about the Ultimate-Question:
"What role does the Project-Mankind play in the Evolution of Life on this Planet?"
Meanwhile, back at Kunsthaus-Bregenz, you can see huge concrete floors occupied by Cosima von Bonin's THE FATIGUE EMPIRE, as well as BYE BYE UTOPIA, presented by raumlaborberlin!
Kunsthaus-Bregenz is one of the most cutting-edge exhibition-spaces in Europe. You could see the works of Franz West there long before he showed his colorful welded-steel sculpture at the south-entrance to Central Park this past spring & summer.
Unfortunately, the remarkable Art & History Museum of Voraarlberg was only a shell, as a new, improved Museum is in the making…
For the Bregenz Tosca on Lake Constance, the scenic-centerpiece was a Giant Eye! If you saw Daniel Craig in Quantum Solace, you have watched this setting in action…
Festival regulars--hearing that Verdi's Aida would be the next opera to get the Lake-Stage-Treatment--wondered how Tosca could be topped?
No one expected the Statue of Liberty in bombed-fragments…
Fortunately, few opera-lovers are all that familiar with the works of Umberto Giordano, so they can hardly be speculating on how André Chénier will look surrounded by water!
But the giantesque-set will surely be breath-taking…
After all, André Chénier is about the Reign of Terror, under Robspierre in the French-Revolution.
Will there be a Giant-Guillotine on stage?
As the opera opens with an elaborate, glittering gathering of artists at the Palace Coigny, that certainly offers great possibilities for Bregenz's wide, wide stage.
The poet, André Chénier, in the midst of all this wealth & show, reads a poem condemning the thoughtless excesses of the Ancien-Régime & extolling the New-Time that is coming.
He is soon disillusioned by the excesses of the Revolution as well. But it is a fatal mistake to make this known. So André Chénier--an historical personage--is taken off to the Guillotine…
If Bregenz wanted to make the French-Revolution & Beheadings of Real Historical-Characters next season's Theme, they should also program Danton's Tod, either as drama or opera.
Danton, after all, is better-known to History-Kenners than André Chénier. For those who know neither German nor History, Tod means Death!
Dialogues of the Carmelites would also be a good choice: Beheading of Pious & Courageous Nuns!
Beheading certainly has resonances for Your Reporter, who--in an earlier life--was also Guillotined.
No, I don't still feel the blade chopping through my neck, although, in this present life, Parisians have always been snotty to me.
When I was very young, a Clairvoyant told me that way back in 1789, I had been sympathetic to the cause of the Poverty-Stricken-Masses, but that I lived a sybaritic life & was executed for this.
This, she explained, was why I hated to wear Neckties!
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