| go to lobby page | go to other departments |
Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, September 2010.
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Two Wolfgang Wagner Sisters--Eva & Katharina--Give the Bayreuth Festival a New Look & New Directions…
Report on the Annual Wagner Festival in Bayreuth: Edition 2010…Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
HUGE LAB RATS ENGULF ELSA & LOHENGRIN IN NEW BAYREUTH STAGING! Genetic Engineering Gone Wrong & Plucked Swans? *
GERMAN HISTORY: 1870 TO POST WORLD WAR II SOCIO POLITICALLY REPRISED IN BAYREUTH PARSIFAL! Or an Opera about a Big Bed in the Middle of Haus Wahnfried? *
A SECOND LOOK AT KATHARINA WAGNER'S DIE MEISTERSINGER From the Show Notes Archives: *
What Really Happened in Nuremberg? *
Hans Sachs: Painter & Poet Versus Sixtus Beckmesser: Avant garde Artist! *
Katharina Wagner's Bayreuth Beckmesser Bombshell! *
Theoretic Bases for This Wagner Innovation? *
What Looked Different in Meistersinger 2010? *
Two Wagner Song Contests--Quasi Comic vs. Religio Tragic: Basic Prize Concept: The Winner Is Supposed To Get the Girl! *
Wagnerian Opera for Kids: Find the Pink Flamingo! *
WHAT TIME'S THE NEXT SWAN? *
AGAIN, ECHOES FROM THE LONEY BAYREUTH ARCHIVES: *
The Great Opera Debate: Who Will Be the 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? *
What's Blowing in the Bayreuth Festival Winds: Is the Wind Vane Beginning To Turn? *
German & even Austrian newspapers--they still have newspapers in Mittel Europa!--were teeming with large photos of Immense Black Rats!
The powerless & hapless Elsa von Brabant seemed surrounded with these Genetic Freaks!
Even her Nameless Saviour--Lohengrin, but she's not supposed to ask him that, or everything will Go To Hell--is buffeted about by ranks of Black Rats & even some Giant White Rats!
There are some Red Rats, but also small Pink Rats scampering about as well, so a Mad Scientist has not unleashed either the Black Plague or the Red Death on Elsa's indolent pre Belgian Army.
Some opera critics suggested that these costumes & the entire production concept of director Hans Neuenfels might have been more appropriate to a show about the Rattenfänger von Hameln--or as we in the Trans Atlantic West might say: The Rat Catcher of Hamlen. [No, no: he is known here as The Pied Piper of Hamlen…
For a moment, when Your Reporter first saw green garbed Lab Attendants herding the Rats around the stark white Bauhaus style Lab, he thought of Die Ratten. But that's a drama--not an opera--by Gerhardt Hauptmann, who was more concerned with a turn of the century gritty Naturalism than with Medieval Myths.
I didn't see the Premiere, so I missed the Boos that Neuenfels harvested. At Bayreuth, the director & designers usually leave town as soon as possible after the opening--unless they were or are Wagners…
Nonetheless, once I visually acclimated myself to the Idea of Rats on the borders of the River Scheldt, I found myself carried along with the flow.
Especially now at Bayreuth--but also in many European Opera houses--audiences have become so used to Historicism in opera productions that they are often eager for Something Entirely Different…
From the Boos, you might not think so, but those--if you look round you--seem to come largely from the Tux & Gowned Old Conservatives. Younger audiences are often delighted with New Visions of Old Masterworks.
It's interesting that few have tried to write new Librettos--or even craft new Scores--for such War Horses as Logengrin, Aida, or Tristan. Well, yes, there was Carmen Jones, but the music remained & at least the script idea…
Especially at Bayreuth, no one is--yet--going to tamper with the Master's Scores.
Nor with his Words: they are still sung, even though the new Visual Librettos often have little to do with their original narrative & emotional content.
In the Original Version of Lohengrin, King Henry is going to War & he needs the Military Support of the Army of Brabant--rather like George Bush's "Coalition of the Willing"--which he has come to request/demand from Elsa.
Unfortunately, she is in a very awkward position--Uneasy on the Throne: it has Arrows piercing it!--for the Rightful Heir, Gottfried, has vanished & she is accused of killing him…
Actually, she is too nice, too blonde, & not too bright to have done anything as vile as kill her own brother!
What no one knows is that the evil, scheming Ortrud--who wants to put her evil, scheming husband, Telramund, on the Throne of Brabant--has turned the boy into a Swan!
[Elsa! Do not eat that Stuffed Swan Ortrud is offering you! It could be Gottfried Wagner…]
The foolish, trusting Elsa thinks Ortrud is her friend: she is an earlier version of Princess Di.
But--horrors!--Ortrud is actually a Priestess/Sorceress of the Old Religion. Before those Monks came across the Channel from Scotland & Ireland to convert the Pagans…
With King Henry & his troops looking on, Telramund calls for a Challenger to defend Elsa's name, as she still insists she did not murder her brother, Gottfried.
Arriving in a majestic Swan Boat--actually the transformed Gottfried--an even more majestic Knight steps out & accepts the Challenge. He soon strikes Telramund to the ground, but makes the mistake of allowing him to live…
Quite naturally, Elsa wants to thank this No Name Knight the best way she can: in Wagner & indeed in the entire Middle Ages, this means offering her Hand & Herself--if her father the King had not already done so--in Holy Marriage.
But in this opera, it gets even better: Elsa has really Fallen In Love, as has the Mysterious Stranger, with her.
Somewhat similar to Wagner's Flying Dutchman, Elsa's love offers him the Freedom from Loneliness, the freedom to live in the Real World, instead of way off in Mont Salvat, with the remnants of the Grail Knights from Parsifal…
But there's a Sexist Catch--there always is: Bluebeard telling his new wife not to open any of those castle doors while he is away!--in that Elsa must never ask her Knight his Name or from Whence he has come to her rescue…
[Why, in these tales, is it always the Women who wreck everything because they cannot obey their Lovers and/or Husbands, especially in controlling their Curiosity.
[Obviously, there's a Reason for that Old Saying: Curiosity killed the Cat! In many productions, Elsa lies dead at the end, with Lohengrin catching the Next Swan back to Mont Salvat.]
With her husband humiliated, False Friend Ortrud keeps urging Elsa to ask her Knight's Name: If he really loves you so much…
In the new Bayreuth production--once you have accepted the Lab Rat Concept--the Major Events of Wagner's Libretto are all in place.
The obviously ingenious Reinhard von der Thannnen--he sounds like a Wagner Character!--has set them in a pristine white Lab, with large white Portholes in its wall. These design elements change to suggest different locales, notably the Bridal Bed scene.
When Elsa needs to be backed up by Ladies of Her Court, especially for the famed Wedding March, some of the Rats slip out of their Rattiness to become charming young women, dressed in wide fringed hats & shiny pastel colored perky dresses.
Male Rats don Tuxedos, but their Rat Feet still show. The Lady Rats, however, have smart shoes!
These split second costume changes are remarkable, but then they were also worked out by the ingenious costume designer, Reinhard von der Thannnen.
Although Rats are visually more in evidence than Swans, the Birds have not been removed to some other Genetic Lab. At one point, a Plucked Swan with a Neon Halo appears suspended over the stage: this could be a Visual Metaphor for what has happened to Wagner's Libretto?
There is also a sculpted white swan upstage, whose long neck can be moved back & forth, rather like one of those old fashioned water pumps.
Although Elsa is first seen in a white quasi Uniform, later, when she is confronted by Ortrud--who is wearing a very wide long skirt of Black Swan Feathers--Elsa is garbed in an almost mirror image skirt, but of White Swan Feathers!
At one point, a Swan rises from the midst of the Marriage Bed…
But that's not all: there are projected cartoons of Red & White Rats, as well!
The rear projection screen also suggests we are dealing in Truths in this production, with projections of: Wahrheit I, Wahrheit II, & Wahrhiet III…
Initially, the Rats are caged, but these grids are movable & removable. At one point of transformation, all the Rat Suits vanish overhead.
Almost every stage picture is striking, but none more so than when the banned, disgraced Telramund is discovered downstage in a broken black buggy, a dead black horse stretched out in front of him. The front wheels have come off…
My first thought was of Murnau's Nosferatu: The Undead racing against Time, against the Rising of the Sun, flooding the world with Light…
Considering that Katharina & Eva Wagner had never spoken to each other until they were confirmed as co producers of the Bayreuth Festival, I continue to hope for a new Lohengrin, in which, at the close, instead of the Swan, the dis enchanted Gottfried at last appears.
Only this Gottfried will actually be the brother of Eva & the half brother of Katharina: banned from the Bayreuth Festival by his angry father, Wolfgang Wagner.
Gottfried Wagner's major claim to fame is castigating the Festival for its former ties to Hitler & its perceived--especially by him--Anti Semitism. This plays very well in Israel!
In the new Lohengrin, we don't get a Living Breathing Gottfried at all…
A huge Swan's Egg is revealed. It revolves, revealing a foetus like Creature inside, fouled with strands of Umbilical Cord. This newly born Thing advances to downstage, tearing off pieces of its Umbilical Cord like sections of Bratwurst, throwing them into the Troops…
This one moment excepted, the stage pictures in motion that Hans Neuenfels & his designers have created are fascinating. I look forward to seeing this amazing production in Summer 2011. If I live that long…
For the Record: Franck Evin designed the Lighting, with Videos by Björn Verloh.
Why do I always leave the Singers for last?
Possibly because, for decades, I have been writing about Design & Technical Aspects of Productions for Theatre Crafts, Entertainment Design, Theatre Design & Technology, & academic publications.
Often, what most people remember about fabled productions was HOW THEY LOOKED. Not how they sounded: unless you have the Vinyl LP or a CD or DVD…
Andris Nelsons conducted, with the brilliant young star, Jonas Kaufmann, as an outstanding Lohengrin. You can also hear him at the Met!
His radiant Elsa was the lovely Annette Dasch. Recently, Anna Netrebko has suggested she could play this role at Bayreuth, but Katharina Wagner has pointed out that they already have the Elsa they want.
Evelyn Herlitzius was a bone chilling Ortrud, with Hans Joachim Ketelsen as her craven partner, Telramund.
Army Recruiter König Heinrich was Georg Zeppenfeld, represented by his shock haired Herald, Samuel Youn.
Only after I'd seen the staging was I told I'd missed the morning's pre show lecture in the Choir Hall of the Festival: the Inzenierungsbezogene Einfürhungsvorträge.
Unlike Stefan Mikisch's invaluable introductions to the librettos & scores of Wagner's Operas--illustrated at the keyboard by Mikisch--these new lectures help ticket holders to understand what they will actually see on stage.
An Important Point: Even from the outset of Wagner's Lohengrin, this opera is a Search for Wahrheit, or Truth! Unfortunately, a Game is to be played, the Rules of which the players clearly do not KNOW!
[Think of Lohengrin as Obama in Afghanistan?]
Next summer, I must not miss these lectures. The one for Die Meistersinger must be a Revelation!
It's entirely possible that few Bayreuth spectators actually read the weighty & instructive essays in the impressive Program books. Some accidentally drop them on the reverberant wooden flooring of the hallowed Auditorium, with Terrorist Thuds during performances.
But important clues to this production are hidden in several of these Think Pieces!
Weiss Du was Du hier gesehen hast?
This formulation is from Memory, not from consulting the Libretto of Parsifal, of which I no longer have a copy on hand. All my Wagner Books are in Anti Bedbug Storage over in Brooklyn…
But when I had seen the opening moments of the new Bayreuth Parsifal, I felt that Guernemanz might have been talking directly to me: Do you know what you have seen here?
Of course, he is talking to the Young Parsifal, who knows nothing about anything, least of all who his Mother might have been. Parsifal is a Pure Fool or, if you like, a Holy Innocent.
Roaming aimlessly in the forest, he has shot a Sacred Swan: in some productions, it looks like a stuffed Albatross, which it well might be, considering the Problems that unfold from that Unlucky Shot.
Taken to the secret Temple of the Holy Grail by some Knights, he beholds the Ritual of Renewal that streams from the Grail onto its attendant Grail Knights.
But the Grail Celebrant, Amfortas, has a hideous wound which will not heal. Elevating the Grail for the Ritual requires a super human effort he can hardly summon anymore.
But even his dead father, Titurel, can muster enough energy to sing from his coffin!
For those Republicans & Evangelical Fundamentalists who believe that the Scourge of AIDS is God's Punishment on the Wicked--especially on those who have Morally Transgressed!--it might be good news to learn that Amfortas is being similarly punished for Sexually Fooling Around in Klingsor's Magic Garden…
Only the touch of the Holy Spear can heal the Wound, but who will wrest it from Klingsor?
Well, Parsifal, of course! Otherwise you would have to call this late Wagnerian Epic something like Lohengrin's Father…
For those Evangelical Fundamentalists who are trying to protect Our Children from Bad Role Models by banning books from school library shelves, Parsifal may seem fairly harmless. The name sounds like one of those herbal enhancements you add to salad or roasted meats.
But in English, those who still read know this name as Percival. The name sounds sissy, but Percival was a pure Knight, one of the most perfect at the famed Round Table of King Arthur--who, unfortunately, doesn't have a role in Wagner's opera.
The perceived difficulty in permitting American Children to read Tales of the Round Table is that it threatens American Family Values. Percival is OK morally, but Sir Launcelot makes love to King Arthur's wife, Guenevere. This is not good…
Richard Wagner could not resist some strong Sexual Stuff in his Parsifal, but what American Teen Ager reads Wagner Librettos?
But, on seeing Stefan Herheim's unusual vision of this opera for the first time this summer, I felt as clueless as Parsifal at the Grail Ritual. If Guernemanz had asked me: Do you know what you have seen here? I might have answered: a bizarre fantasy of Prussian & Nazi Military Adventures from 1870 to Post World War II
Initially, it becomes clear that we are in Wagner's own Haus Wahnfried, as an historic wall, complete with fireplace, clock, & majestic Portrait are seen Stage Right. At one point, this becomes not one wall, but four duplicates…
The novelty here is that the Overture is silently acted out, although, beginning with director Goetz Friedrich at Bayreuth, that is not such a surprise anymore.
But a Big White Bed Center Stage dominates the proceedings. Amfortas is in it at one point, but he--as with other occasional occupants--slides down out of sight under the covers.
Another apparent Death Bed scene involves a white clad woman who desperately stretches out her arms to a blond young boy in a Sailor Suit, who runs from her to his toys. Could this be Parsifal's Mother dying, rejected at the last?
As we seem to be in Wahnfried, could this woman be either Cosima Liszt Wagner or Winifred Wagner?
Not likely. Cosima died in 1930, followed six months later by her doting son, Siegfried.
Winifred--whom I came to know--long remained an uncomfortable annoyance for her two sons, especially with her five hour long appearance in that Syberberg film in 1976, the Centennial Year of the Festival.
If only I had used the morning of my 4 pm Parsifal to attend the Explanatory Lecture: the Inzenierungsbezogene Einfürhungsvorträge! Perhaps then I would have understood why I seemed to be watching snippets of All's Quiet on the Western Front, The Blue Angel, & Cabaret…
One historic Wagner Related scenic treat set designer Heike Scheele presented was an initial suggestion of the original setting for the Grail Temple in the Festspielhaus!
But costume designer Gesine Völlm had to replicate period costumes from several fairly recent eras in German History, beginning with what might be called Victorian--or Wilhelmine--suits & gowns from around 1870 & the defeat of the French at the Battle of Sedan.
What really distinguished these outfits for the transformed Grail Knights were the long gray wings that were attached to their shoulders: Real Feathers?
Were they graying German Eagles? Or War Loving Vultures…
Increasingly, Bayreuth productions are integrating other Performance Media. Not so long ago, Titurel sang from his sarcophagus via closed circuit TV!
Herheim's staging requires many feet of Historic Film clips. Thanks to UFA & Pathé, we are able to see enthusiastic German troops marching off to the Front in France & the Debacle that followed.
Klingsor has not vanished: he now sports a Tux, but below he's wearing sleek nylons & a garter belt. Kundry seems to be a kind of top hatted Marlene Dietrich: why not?
As for the Magic Garden & the enticing Flower Maidens, we are instead in a Hospital Ward with badly damaged soldiers in iron beds.
Instead of Flower Maidens, they are serviced by Red Cross Nurses, who straddle them & ride their various Manhoods!
The Nurses are backed up by what look like outrageously costumed fugitives from a Ziegfeld Follies. I was told these ladies represented the Weimar Republic entertainers in Cabaret…
Between the Wars, starving Germans hold their hands out for food--ignored by those who have well survived--but those without bread are lured by Communism.
Suddenly, long red Nazi Banners drop from above, Black Swastikas on White! A Nazi Eagle dominates the stage. Winifred Wagner would have been amazed…
So was I: this is Parsifal?
Instead of Klingsor hurling the Spear at Parsifal, a Hitler Youth lad rises out of the bowels of the stage & throws the Sacred Spear at Parsifal downstage.
All the Nazi Insignia suddenly drop down, the plaster Eagle crashing to the floor, breaking into pieces. [They must have extras back in the stage shop…]
Film footage upstage shows Germany in Ruins…
Well, you get the Idea, or the "Production Concept."
But is this really about the Healing Power of the Holy Grail? Or rather a Salute to the Marshall Plan & Ludwig Ehrhard's Wirtschafts Wunder?
The Finale takes place in what looks like the new German Bundestag in Berlin: all Circularities & reflective surfaces. Both the Audience & the Parliamentarians are reflected in a huge mirror, perhaps left over from Peter Hall's doomed Bayreuth RING…
Amfortas lies in Titurel's coffin, a German Eagle on top & one on the floor before it. Parsifal Heals & Blesses. There's even a Mary Magdalene foot washing that recalls the Oberammergau Passion Play…
Nonetheless, this is a fascinating production I'd love to see next summer, making sure to attend the pre show Inzenierungsbezogene Einfürhungsvorträge!
Momme Hinrichs & Torge Møller provided the film clip Videos, with lighting by Ulrich Niepel.
The greatest opera orchestra in the world was conducted by Daniele Gatti, with the greatest opera chorus in the world as usual directed by Eberhard Friedrich.
It might seem odd to leave the acting/singing credits for the last, as--in a hectic production like this one--they have to work the hardest to register any affect/effect.
But stagings that so deliberately depart from the Basic Librettos are really calling attention to the "Creative Artists," rather than to the beleaguered performers.
Nonetheless, Detlef Roth as Amfortas, Kwangchul Youn as Guernemanz, Thomas Jesatko as Klingsor, Susan Maclean as Kundry, & Christopher Ventris as Parsifal were all admirable. Even from the grave, the Titurel of Diógenes Randes could be clearly heard!
"The lusty chorus of Boos which engulfed Katharina Wagner's 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 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."
This was written way back in the Summer of 2007, when Ms. Wagner's curious new production of Die Meistersinger premiered. But the same thing happened this summer of 2010.
Everyone else--Cast, Chorus, Orchestra, Conductor, Chorus Master--was justly cheered to the echo: Superlative Performances all!
Because even Your Reporter has difficulty locating past Reports in the Ether that is the Internet, I will take the Liberty of recycling from my own hard disk some of the comments I made about this Meistersinger three summers ago.
I missed possible changes and/or improvements in Meistersinger in 2008 & 2009 because I had been almost destroyed by Bedbugs--now a Nation Wide Plague!--in 2008 & I fell on my head after photographing the Golden Gate Bridge with a trick lens, then having to spend almost half a year in various hospitals on both the West & East Coasts in 2009…
In this past August, I was seated next to a German Opera Critic who assured me that there had indeed been changes to the production both in 2008 & in 2009. So I watched especially intently to detect these changes.
As I do not now have Total Recall, I saw only one Major Change, but it is a very important one in terms of the Meistersinger Legend, as imagined by Katherina Wagner's great grandfather, Richard Wagner.
Rather than effectively try to recap anew what happens on stage in this Die Meistersinger, I'll return to what I wrote in 2007, followed by comments on what seems different or improved…
"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.
"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 surely must have been a troubled sleep, Sachs shows him how to structure his wonderful lyrical/musical inspiration into a Meistersinger worthy Preis Lied or 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.
"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 Richard Wagner found it safer to deal with questions of the Misuse of Power & the Uses & Abuses of Love from an historical--even a 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 version of it.
"The most magical Lohengrin I've ever seen was Werner Herzog's Bayreuth production, largely the visual inspiration of his long time film designer, Henning von Gierke.
"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.
"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 forerunner 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 an 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--can this be Beckmesser: in suits, Meistersingers look somewhat alike!--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 non leather 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 Bayreuth 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 a Major 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 Kunstakademie.
"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 that 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.
"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?
Well, for one small difference, David no longer seemed to be making Xerox copies of the Meistersinger's Song Rules.
It is still something of an Irritation--if not an Outright Loss--to watch Hans Sachs [James Rutherford] typing what seems to be A Farewell To Arms or The Sun Also Rises while the Triumphal Music of the Entrance of the Guilds is playing in the sunken orchestra pit…
No Banners… No gaily costumed Apprentices…
And certainly no self important Meistersingers…
A cocky Beckmesser does appear, still wearing that T Shirt with the cute motto: BECK IN TOWN.
But we no longer get him triumphing--complete with Phallus--as the Musician of the Future.
Instead, he slinks quietly offstage into the wings, ignored--rather than scorned & repudiated--by all.
In the two summers I was unable to come to Bayreuth, there must have been many complaints about the initial production's "Closure," fuck doll & all…
So that has now vanished.
Nonetheless, full marks for Adrian Eröd as the ambitious Beckmesser.
As in 2007, Klaus Florian Vogt was again a raffish, quasi Hippie Walther von Stolzing, still painting white designs on Eva's blue dress.
At the close, when he, Eva [Michaela Kaune], & their squeaky clean kids are photographed in a golden picture frame, his visual transformation into a handsome young Suit Wearing Citizen of Nuremberg does offer a modern equivalent of his Medieval Acceptance of the Code of the Meistersingers.
The Photo Op of Walther accepting an immense check from the Deutsche Bank--just like on TV, both American & German!--is an amusing comic touch.
After all, even though Adolf Hitler saw Meistersinger as a Hymn of Glorification of German Arts & Crafts, Richard Wagner well understood the human foibles of the Nurembergers he personified in this lyrical opera.
His grandson, Wieland Wagner, also knew how to bring this out in production. He once told me: "This is my grandfather's only Comic Opera!"
His great grand daugher, Katharina Wagner, however, has very heavily underlined--if not underscored--this point with the comic touches she originally orchestrated & those she has since added.
I don't remember pouring soup down on the singers way back in 2007…
Dumping Campbell's Soup down from the balconies from Giant Campbell's Soup Cans--Que Viva, Andy Warhol!--was something of a novelty, but nearly lost in all the frantic stage activity.
Fortunately, there's a Program Note to help Total Recall: "Campbell's and Soup Label Design Trademarks used with permission of CAMPBELL SOUP COMPANY."
We are now used to Product Placement in Major Motion Pictures, but this must surely be a First for Opera?
David & Magdalena--also photographed in a golden picture frame with the kids--were admirably embodied by Norbert Ernst & Carola Gruber.
Veit Pogner--who offers his daughter as Grand Prize in this American Idol style Song Contest--was played by Artur Korn.
As always, the Chorus & Orchestra demonstrated why they are widely regarded as The Best In The World. Sebastian Weigle conducted, keeping pace with the frantic stage shenanigans, with Eberhard Friedrich, as always, in charge of the Chorus.
Set Designer Tilo Steffens has already been saluted, but he also shares costume credits with Michaela Barth. [Could she be a descendant of my old friend, Herbert Barth, who used to be the Festival's Press Officer?]
At Bayreuth--especially after Wieland Wagner introduced the concept of Licht Regie, using changing lighting to create a sense of Movement in immovable Sopranos & Tenors--Lighting has long been an essential component of Stage Design, but seldom noted.
That may well be because the best Stage Lighting is subtle: it doesn't call undue attention to itself. Andreas Grüter designed the Meistersinger lighting.
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 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.
In the delightful Tannhäuser for Children--performed this past summer on one of the large Rehearsal Stages of the Bayreuth Festival--his beloved Elizabeth even refers to herself as the "Prize Cow" in the Battle of Singers on the Wartburg!
Now, if you are determined to win Young Audiences for Opera Productions in general & those of Richard Wagner in particular, Tannhäuser is a tough nut to crack: what are you going to do about those Orgies in the Venusberg?
Not a Problem for Wagner's Festival on top of the Green Hill--or Grüner Hügel…
When the Sex Goddess Venus [Alexandra Petersamer] first appears to Tannhäuser, she looks like Lady Gaga on Casual Friday. Even better: she's riding a Skate Board!
Forget all those naughty stories you may have heard about Sex Orgies Under the Hill: Skate boarding is much more fun!
Also less complicated for Young Audiences to grasp: why wouldn't you want to sing about riding on a skate board?
Actually, this is not an opera about either Orgies or Skate Boards. Instead, it seems to be a Mythic Search for a Pink Flamingo!
There is even a Fun Workbook for the production: you could make an Origami Pink Flamingo! Or you can color two pages of hip Tannhäuser Comix!
Katharina Wagner herself had the idea for this charming Introduction to Wagner Opera. But it was developed by Alexander Busche & by Reyna Bruns, who also staged.
As it now stands, it could be mounted anywhere there are Wagnerites who want their children to love Wagner Opera as much as they do. For that matter, it should appeal to kids, no matter what their parents' preferences are…
Performed on a rehearsal stage--with bleachers along one side & at the entrance end: the simple set elements are on the opposite side--it opens with the Males in the cast bedding down for the night on a section of the bleachers, in what seems to be an Internat or Private School.
They sleep under what we used to call Feather Beds--now Duvets--so this might seem a bit strange to some youngsters abroad.
The cast was excellent, including Marek Reichert as Wolfram, Sonja Mühleck as Elizabeth, & Jeffrey Dowd as the youthful Tannhäuser. Dowd is, in fact, an American!
It's rumored that he may even be cast in that role when the Festival brings this majestic Wagner opera back to its great stage!
Hartmut Keil conducted the Brandenburgisches Staatorchester Frankfurt. This surely must mean they are from Frankfurt am Oder, in the former German Democratic Republic, as Frankfurt am Main is certainly not in Brandenburg.
This quote is often credited to Leo Slezak--or, alternatively, to Lauritz Melchior--either of whom was so busy singing to the audience that he missed the Swan Boat as it glided into the wings.
It was used as the title of a Summer Symposium sponsored by the Free University of Berlin, the Festival, & the Gesellschaft der Freunde von Bayreuth.
The full title: Wann geht der nächste Schwan? Wunder zwischen Strategie und Emergenz.
Professors & Researchers discussed the Magical & the Marvelous from a variety of viewpoints, such as Religious, Political, & even in Athletics: Wunder und Glauben im Sport! [Like: "I really believe those Mets are finally going to win this season!"]
One of the speakers was from Schloss Thurnau, the University of Bayreuth's Forschungsinstitut für Musiktheater. This rang a bell, as I used to go to Schloss Thurnau to confer when I was at the Festival & also writing entries for Piper Verlag's Encyclopedia of Music Theatre.
Before the death of Wolfgang Wagner, it was clear that he wished to pass the Artistic Directorship of the Bayreuth Festival on to his daughter Katherina. This was something that her mother, Gudrun Amman Wagner, was also determined to facilitate.
Unfortunately for those plans, she died suddenly--unexpectedly, of course--soon followed by the aged & infirm Wolfgang.
Previously, there had been other Wagner Heir Candidates for the Festival Intendancy, one of whom was Eva Wagner Pasquier, also Wolfgang's daughter, but by his first marriage.
When the two half sisters were finally chosen by the Festival Gremium to run the fest together, readers of the New York Times were possibly surprised that this was the First Time the two women had spoken to each other!
As the Wagner Family Saga is almost as interesting as the plots of some of his operas, it might be useful here to recycle some background Your Reporter provided previously:
Katharina Wagner: First Woman To Stage a Richard Wagner Opera in Bayreuth Festspielhaus Since Her Great Grandmother, Cosima Liszt Von Bülow Wagner; Is Die Meistersinger Katharina Wagner's Meisterstück? Will Katharina Wagner Be the Next Intendant of the Famed Bayreuther Festspiele?/Why Is the Bayreuth Festival So Special for Opera Lovers?/Two Wagnerian Song Contests: Die Meistersinger & Tannhäuser/Tradition vs. Experimentation or Archiving vs. Renewing: Are Wagner's Operas In Danger?/Are They Really Old, Tired, Boring, & Too Long?/Bayreuth Fest Facts & Fictions…
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, 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!
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.
Some measure of worldwide interest in Katharina Wagner is provided by the 1.76 million Google hits mentioning her name!
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 inauguration, Wagner's Festspielhaus was the most modern opera house in the world--from a purely technical standpoint. Its architecture & decoration were definitely Neo Classical 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 von 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.
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.
But 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 hallowed 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, especially from Wagner's own time, such as Heinrich Märschner's Der Vampyr. As Vampires are now Very Big, that might also work well for the Met or the NY City Opera!
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 in America & abroad are churning out thousands of talented musicians & singers, after all! And where are the job openings for them?
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 only 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?
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.
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 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…
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!
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?
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.
When I was last at the Bayreuth Festival in 2007, I'd made a request to interview Katharina Wagner. But she would only have been able to talk with me on the afternoon of the morning I already had to leave for the Salzburg Festival.
When her beloved mother so suddenly died--with Wolfgang not long after--it was clear the Gremium had to make a decision about a Successor or Successors rapidly. What with a Plague of Bedbugs & a Subdural Hematoma, I was unable to monitor the subsequent changes in management.
But the previously unlikely Partnership of the two Wolfgang Wagner half sisters now seems almost Divinely Ordained.
So, long before I arrived in Bayreuth, I'd again requested an interview with Katharina Wagner. But when I came to the Press Office, I wondered whether it might be a Good Idea to interview both sisters together, in hopes of learning more about their plans for the Future.
Several newspaper reports suggested some major changes. Even the Society of the Friends of Bayreuth seemed Under Siege in some accounts. One paper announced that Katharina planned to construct a new theatre next to the Festspielhaus.
This is not the case: the Rehearsal Stage used for Tannhäuser for Children will be in play more often as a theatre. It is, in fact, next to the Festspielhaus.
There will be "Public Viewings," although I'm not sure what those may involve, as I had to get all my information from newspapers--which do not seem to be dying out in Germany & Austria.
In the past, Bayreuthers were customarily invited to see new & old productions at the Generalprobe or Final Dress Rehearsal.
Obviously, the Bayreuth Season cannot be extended for more days or weeks, but more tickets have been made available by scheduling individual Wagner operas on what were formerly Spielfrei days during RING Cycles--between Walküre & Siegfried, Siegfried & Götterdämmerung.
Brünnhilde & Wotan can still rest their tonsils, as they aren't cast in Meistersinger or Parsifal.
When I paid my annual visit to the Gesellschaft der Freunde, they did indeed seem to be feeling Under Siege. Or at least Insecure about their future.
The Friends had prepared an interesting collection of fest oriented interviews & reports, but it was held together by large rings, not bound. It was not on sale at any of the Official Kiosks: the Friends had only a small table on the balcony of the Festival Restaurant for occasional sales.
As the Friends' handsome offices are in the Fest Restaurant building, this is a space that might be used for Festival production purposes. The 5,000 Friends--who have generated some 50 Million Euros for the Festival since their 1949 founding--also control a large bloc of Festival tickets.
It's entirely possible that both Katharina & Eva Wagner would like to have those tickets to dispose of themselves: to spread them more widely around among the thousands of would be Festival Goers…
Still, Wolfgang & Wieland Wagner owed a lot to the Friends, who helped guarantee the revival of the Bayreuth Festival way back in 1951. But both brothers are now dead, so the Wagner Sisters may not feel any sense of debt to the Gesellschaft der Freunde von Bayreuth.
In fact, the Handwriting may already be on the Wall.
When the annual summer meeting of the Friends with the Festival Chiefs was held, both Katharina & Eva were suddenly indisposed. Stage director Hans Neuenfels--who was expected to explain what Giant Rats had to do with Lohengrin--preferred to autograph his new book in a different venue.
During the Festival, the Süddeutsche Zeitung published a report on Taff, created by Tim Sternsdorff as the new Team der aktiven Festspielförder. From this, it's clear that the days of the Gesellschaft der Freunde are numbered. As well as their ticket allotment…
So I was looking forward to Katharina & Eva confirming or denying these rumors.
In the event, there was a Press Office misunderstanding: I was not to talk with Katharina, only with Eva.
I was led through handsomely remodeled halls to her spacious offices.
Gracious & friendly, Eva Wagner Pasquier looked just like her photo in the New York Times & the International Herald Tribune. But those duplicates were in black & white.
Here, she was in Full Color, with an attractive flood of blonde curls!
As I set up my mini video, she told me that we were not going to talk about Politics, Gottfried, Controversial Productions, Finances, or Backstage Problems.
There seemed nothing interesting left to discuss: "How about making Wagner's Operas available to the wider world?"
She brightened: "Wagner in Las Vegas? My son is an American. This could happen!"
Actually it really could: especially in HD!
Suddenly, Frau Wagner Pasquier noticed my little blue recorder: "Is that a Video Camera?"
Well, yes. No one is any longer interested in reading my painful transcriptions of taped interviews. People want to see images, preferably ones that move & talk!
"Shut it off! We cannot do this interview!"
I was thunderstruck. I'd survived a half year in various hospitals from a still bleeding Brain Hemorrhage to return to Bayreuth for my Wagner Interview, having purchased online a really neat little video recorder. Now, it was all for Nothing…
Well, not exactly. What worried Eva Wagner was not so much talking about her brother Gottfried, but that she hadn't had her hair done, nor did she have her best make up or glasses Video Ready…
"Look! I'll be in New York in September. Let's do the interview then! Keep the Press Office informed: they can arrange it."
Crushed, I returned to my home away from home in Bayreuth, on Tristanweg. My dear old friend Elfi Hofner consoled me: "But this is good! Don't you know what she does in New York? She's a Casting Director for the Metropolitan Opera!
"At the end of those Met Opera HD opera recordings in cinemas, you'll see her name!"
So I suppose I'm lucky to be given Press Tickets to Met productions, even if they don't invite me to Press Screenings of their HDs. Or let me know what's going on backstage…
It would be a Mitzvah if that were to happen. Meanwhile, I'm still hoping for the Wagner Interview on Video…
| home | discounts | welcome | search | international | lobby |
| museums | NYTW mail | recordings | coupons | classified |