June, 2013

Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.

Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:

Kander & Ebb's CABARET [*****]
Giuseppe Verdi's SIMON BOCCANEGRA [****]
Giuseppe Verdi's RIGOLETTO [**]
Richard Wagner's TRISTAN UND ISOLDE [***]
Richard Wagner's SIEGFRIED [***]
Get a Lump of Rheingold
Now for The Valkyries: DIE WALKÜRE--
Modest Mussorgsky's BORIS GODUNOV [***]
George Benjamin's WRITTEN ON SKIN [***]



The Munich Festival of June/July 2013



German Scientists & Inventors have enriched the World with their Discoveries & Diversions.

What would Modern Life be without Diesel, Ohm, Siemens, Thiessen Krupp, Mercedes Benz, & BMW

But was there ever a Markus Fahrenheit or a Max Celcius?

How did Germany lose out on creating Klima Anlage --otherwise known as Air Conditoning--for its Opera Houses?

31 July 2013 was the Hottest Day Ever in Munich!

At Bayreuth--where some Perfect Wagnerites still wear Tuxes--the Argument against Air Conditioning is that its installation would Ruin the Acoustics

But surely Something can be done to improve upon the Feeble Gusts of Cool Air that now & again waft across the Spectators in Munich's Nationaltheater?

Otherwise, it was wonderful to be back in Munich, enjoying Innovative Productions of War Horse Operas, on the occasion of Two Hundredth Anniversaries for both Giuseppe Verdi & Richard Wagner.

It was the Last Festival for Kent Nagano, longtime General Music Director, who will be replaced by Kirill Petrenko, who dazzled Bayreuth Audiences this past summer with his conducting of the Problematic New RING of Ex DDR Genius, Frank Castorf.



Every Summer Sunday when I am in Munich, I make a point of attending Mass at St. Michael, the Jesuit Collegiate Church--in the heart of Neuhäuserstrasse--not far from the Medieval Frauenkirche, which is effectively the Cardinal's Seat

Raised a Methodist, I nonetheless prefer the Music they customarily offer in Roman Catholic Sanctuaries. Panis Angelicus is, to me, more soothing than Onward, Christian soldiers

Sundays at St. Michael are often highlighted with Major Masses by Mozart & Others, complete with Chorus, Orchestra, & even Soloists from the Bavarian State Opera!

So vast & soaring is the Nave of St. Michael that it seems a Basilica, not just a Collegiate Church.

In its Crypt lie the Last Remains of many Wittelsbach Monarchs, included that of "Mad" King Ludwig II.

In a Golden Shrine in a Side Altar of the Nave rest the Skulls of Sts. Cosmas & Damian. They are exposed only once a year, on their Saints Day.

It is said that Sickness can be Healed on that Holy Day, if you stand near & say a Prayer. Touching is Forbidden, of course…

On my First Munich Sunday this summer, there was so much Incense being wafted about the Five Level High Golden Baroque Altar, the Fragrant Clouds rising ever Upward--if not to Heaven, at least to Coat the Dome with Smoke Particles--that I feared an Asthma Attack!

Was some Sainted Jesuit retiring?

There were so many Acolytes & Priests & Monks & Monsignors & Lay Folks around the High Altar--Almost All in Elegantly Embroidered Linens & Laces--that this was certainly an Important Occasion.

But Who was being so Honored?

Not G D, certainly, as He or She shouldn't need such Earthly Adulation.

The Very Idea of a Needy God

Papal Postscriptum: After the Incense, after the Opera Festival, the Pope--who was unable to come to Munich for the Fest--flew back from Brazil.

On the Papal Plane--did they have Nuns for Stewardesses, or merely Novice Monks?--the Subject of Gays came up.

The Holy Father was quoted in the Press: "Who am I to judge?"

Hey! Get a Grip on Yourself!

That's why You were Elected Pope!

It is Holy Dogma that You are Infallible in matters of Faith & Morals!

Benjamin Britten could have written an Opera about this…


Historic Gärtnerplatz Theater Now in Disused Bavarian Cavalry Reithalle


Kander & Ebb's CABARET [*****]

Stunning Evocation of the Rise of the Nazis, Never Seen Here Before, Shocks German Audiences!

Joel Grey, you never came near the Real Decadence of Weimar Era Berlin that is so vividly suggested on the simple Mirror Walled Stage set up in Munich's Reithalle

Both the Boys & the Girls--garishly made up & near nakedness--look readily available for any kind of Kinky Fun you might have in mind.

They can surely show you how to do Things you had no idea Decent Germans could even imagine.

As the Boys gripped & stroked their Crotches, the Girls shimmied in 1920s Style & stuck out their Tongues.

Hal Prince! Your Broadway Vision of Jazz Age Berlin Decadence was much too sanitized!

Liza Minelli! Your Sally Bowles was a Sentimental Softie, compared to the dissolute & desperate Sally of the shattering Nadine Zeinti.

Her final Farewell is not just The End of the Line, but The End of the World

The current Munich Cabaret production is the most Overtly Sexual & Implicitly Violent that I've ever seen.

I suspect that Christopher Isherwood--whose I Am a Camera & Goodbye to Berlin inspired Kander & Ebb--might himself feel both Sexually & Politically Threatened by Werner Sobotka's savage staging.

The Conférencier of Dustin Smailes makes Joel Grey's look like a Pussy Cat in comparison.

His Wilkommen is more of a Challenge than an Invitation.

As Fräulein Schneider & Herr Schultz, those two Aging Love Birds--so memorably once played on Broadway by Lotte Lenya & Jack Gilford--that wonderful veteran actress, Gisela Ehrensperger, & Franz Wyzner were both superb & touching in their Loss

Of course, New Yorkers in Munich for the Opera Festival know all about the Rise of the Nazis. As well as knowing various versions of Cabaret, both on Broadway & on the Silver Screen.

But just imagine what a Shock this Staging was to German Friends who had never before seen Cabaret or, for that matter, had not lived through the Thousand Year Reich that lasted only from 1933 to 1945.

When the genial Ernst Ludwig [Ferdinand Stahl]--who had been so helpful to the Young American Writer, Cliff Bradshaw [Dominik Hees]--revealed his Swastika Armband, there was an Audible Gasp.

Even more horrifying for our Friends was the very Blond, very Aryan Hitler Jugend singing Tomorrow Belongs To Me

This was a Doomed Period in German History that had been Blacked Out in Post War West Germany.

In the Schools, one read almost nothing about it. Nor did Families talk much about it at home.

"What did you do in the War, Daddy?"

That was a Question you did not ask…

When I was teaching in West Germany in the Late 1950s, all the Wehrmacht Vets I met had fought on the Eastern Front, against Godless Atheistic Communism.

After our Landing on Omaha Beach, why did it take us so long to reach Berlin--if all the Good Germans were fighting the Soviets?


For the Record: If you can go to Munich during the 2013 2014 Season, here are some of the Gärtnerplatz shows you will be able to see in the Reithalle, Circus Krone, the Carl Orff Saal, the Alte Kongresshalle, the Prinzregententheater, or the Wittelsach Baroque Court Theatre, the Cuvilliéstheater:

Jesus Christ Superstar, Aida, Der Mann von La Mancha, Semele, Tschitti Tschitti Bäng Bäng, Die Zirkusprinzessin, Der Flaschengeist, Jolanta, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Arsen--Ein Rokokothriller, & Berlin 1920--Ein Burleske.

Repeats from Last Season: Peter und der Wolf, Don Pasquale, & Dornröschen.

Although the Gärtnerplatz production of Anything Goes was a Visual Delight, it's not programmed. But there are two New Extras: Minutemade & Kifferwahn, by Kevin Murphy & Dan Studney.


Meanwhile, Over on Max Joseph Platz, The Annual Opera Festival of the Bavarian State Opera…


Giuseppe Verdi's SIMON BOCCANEGRA [****]

Updating Historic Genoa to Depression Era Bushwick, Aided by Edward Hopper!

Who would have guessed that Edward Hopper would become so essential in illustrating the Agonies of those battling Genovese Factions who populate Giuseppe Verdi's Simon Boccanegra?

If you still believe that the Autocratic Fiesco--the Historic Doge of Genoa--as well as the Plebian Pirate, Simon Boccanegra, belong somewhere back in the Distant Past of Northern Italy, then you have not seen the Current Production of Boccanegra at the Bavarian State Opera.

Instead of being before a Palazzo in Genoa, we seem to be in the midst of a Gangsta Gang somewhere in Depression Brooklyn. Some of these Heavies look like Russkis out in Bensonhurst

No, we are Nowhere in Italy, then or now. We are smack in the middle of Edward Hopper Land.

The Central Problem--aside from who is going to Run the Rackets here--is the Disappearance of the Daughter that Boccanegra had long, long ago with Maria, the almost incestuously Beloved Child of Fiesco.

But, Guess What!

There's this lovely Young Lady, Amelia, who has been adopted by the Patrician Grimaldi Clan, to safeguard the Grimaldi Inheritance.

Unfortunately for her, she is beloved not only by Gabriel Adorno, but also by the Untrustworthy Paolo, an Essential Aide, to Boccanegra--who is now Ruler of Genoa.

Or Bushwick… Or Flushing, Queens!

Fortunately for the Extremely Complicated Plot, the Difficulties about The Lost Child, The Furious Fathers, & Too Many Lovers cannot be resolved without several hours of Very Good Singing, notably by Zeljko Lucic [Simon], Krassimira Stoyanova [Amelia], & Ramon Vargas [Adorno].

It should be here noted that the Ensemble, Chorus, & Orchestra of the Bayerische Staatsoper are generally regarded as the Best in Reunified Germany. Excepting only those of the Bayreuth Festival, but that's only for Five Weeks in Mid Summer

Not only has Director/Designer Dmitri Tcherniakov put a Period Automobile Center Stage, its Parking Lights flashing furiously, but he has also dressed Adorno in Racing Gear, having him arrive on the Scene on his State of the Art Motor Bike

Actually, Tcherniakov's Costume Designer, Elena Zaytseva, has had an Easy Job of it, for many in the Chorus are wearing Basic Depression Raincoats.

They could even be mistaken for DDR East Germans, on a Workers Holiday in Brooklyn's Greenpoint

Aside from a Central Scene that takes place in an Immense but almost empty Room--essentially a Wall stretching across the Stage, punctuated by a Huge White Window--we are in Hopper Land, including those famous Night Owls at the Soda Counter!

But, even in that Enormous Room, there's a Hopper Canvas on the Endless Wall!

Toward the Close--when the Plots Thicken--Major Characters meet in what looks like a Lecture Room at LaGuardia College.

Bertrand de Billy conducted, without making Verdi seem Unduly Depressing in this Depression Era Staging.

This is a Co Production with ENO, the English National Opera & it certainly has that ENO LOOK.

Even the Handsome Program has some stunning Hopperesque Scenes. It is a Keeper!


Giuseppe Verdi's RIGOLETTO [**]

Stage Filling Stadium Bleachers Solve Problem of What To Do About Moving Chorus Around!

Fortunately, Rigoletto is No Haughty Patrician Doge nor an Heroic Plebian Pirate

In the Complicated Plot of Francesco Maria Piave--after Victor Hugo's original Page Turner--Rigoletto is supposed to be a Hump Backed Court Jester to the Court of the Wicked & Lascivious Duke of Mantua, which is East of Genoa.

But, as visualized in the Person of Tenor Andrzej Dobber, he could be a Middle Level Office Worker, the Guy who will make those Xeroxes for you.

Instead of anything resembling the Conventional Outfit of a Court Jester--well, who would go around dressed like that anymore?--he's wearing Chinos, with Rolled up Sleeves on his Conventional White Shirt.

At least he is not working in some Las Vegas Casino, where the Met Opera's new Rigoletto is set…

Instead of anything remotely resembling Renaissance, 18th Century, or Modern Mantua--either Interiors or Exteriors--we have a Stage filled with White Bleachers, complete with a Chorus in White, wearing what seem to be White Masks.

This is surely Symbolic of Something!

When the Hapless Gilda is abducted from Rigoletto's Walled Garden--you have to Imagine this or already have read the Libretto--she is passed, Hand over Hand, down the Bleachers by the Masked Men!

The Immense Bleachers stretch right across the already Broad Stage of Munich's Nationaltheater, but they do Divide, when more Intimacy is Desired.

That doesn't really work, however, as a Stage Filling Gauzy White Curtain turns the Arena into a kind of Concert Venue for important Arias, Duets, & that famous Quartet from Rigoletto

At one point, there seemed to be an Immense Horse looming upstage behind the Curtain, which seemed about to Part, to Reveal it.

But then, the Stage Crew seemed to have decided Not To Bother with this Special Scenic Effect.

So I never discovered what that Thing really was. Or why it was even constructed & put on stage.

Perhaps as a Visual Sop to those Verdians who know that Rigoletto is supposed to be a Cripple, there was a Wheel Chair with Immense Wheels

Nonetheless, as Gilda, Patricia Cioffi was amazing, even with all that Manhandling in the Bleachers!

What a Stunning Voice!

Joseph Calleja was properly Wicked as the Lusty Duke, but was this Naughty Mantovani really worth Dying For?

Árpád Schilling staged in the Bleachers of Mártón Ágh. This Production Team sounds like Crazy Hungarians.

Well, Budapest is a Long Way Off from Mantua, after all…

The stalwart Marco Armiliato conducted, fortunately not from the Bleachers, but the Pit!


Richard Wagner's TRISTAN UND ISOLDE [***]

How About Drinks on Deck, on the Good Ship Lollypop, Off to Cornwall for a Royal Wedding?

Hey! Why not settle down in Deck Chairs & have some Piña Coladas?

After all, this is a One Way Trip to Cornwall & neither You, Bride to Be Isolde, nor Brangäne, your resourceful Sorceress Hand Maiden, have Return Tickets!

At least, it's nice to making the Sea Voyage on what appears to be an Art Deco Cunard Yacht.

Nor have you set out on the Irish Sea without Fashion Accessories! That Pussy Cat Bag would make Prada so envious. But she's Centuries in the Future, isn't she?

Taking it Easy is about all you can do, right now.

Tristan is up in that Deck Tent, Shaving, no less. Has he no Feelings?

You ought to Hate him, as he has recently Beheaded the Man you were to Wed!

Maybe Brangäne should freshen your Drink & give a Cocktail to Tristan?

OK, so this is the Tristan Vision of Peter Konwitschny [Stage Director] & Johannes Leiacker [Designer], dating from 1998, not from 1928

In fact, once the Girls & Tristan have landed, we seem to be in Maurice Sendak Country: that Thick Forest is Pure Sendak.

But that Crescent Moon overhead seems stolen from Proctor & Gamble.

Later, we are in a Large Room with Flowered Sofas & Throw Pillows. Which get thrown

Singing about Love, Tristan & Isolde actually step down out of the Stage Box into almost Utter Blackness.

Later, at Tristan's Castle, where he takes about 45 Minutes to Die, there is an Odd Slide Show on the Wall.

Kent Nagano--originally from Fresno, CA--conducted with Vigor, ably assisting the valiant Tristan of Peter Seiffert & the devastating Isolde of Petra Maria Schnitzer.

René Pape was a Magisterial King Mark. Not to overlook the Vocal Magic of Ekaterina Gubanova's desperate Brangäne.

Or the Staying Power of the stalwart Kurwenal of Markus Eiche.

Oddly Conceived as this Production originally was, it is still Leagues Ahead of the recent Bayreuth Tristan, which seemed initially set on the Cruise Ship Andrea Doria, with Tristan as Shipboard Recreation Director


Richard Wagner's SIEGFRIED [***]

Much Ado About Forging Nothung, With Dragon Fafner a Mask of Red Women?

In staging Richard Wagner's RING, Less certainly can be More.

Adolph Appia was right about Hazy, Suggestive Scenes, with Subtle Changes of Lighting to make the Magic happen.

The Fantastic Myth of the Niebelungen doesn't need to be Upstaged by Tons of Scenery & Gratuitous Special Effects.

Nor does Wagner's Majestic Music need to be Emphasized by Bizarre Decorative Details.

The new Frank Castorf Bayreuth RING--as well as the Met's Cumbersome Clanking Metallic Robert Lepage Incarnation--Miss the Mark by Miles.

But so does Munich's new RING

The Third Segment--Siegfried, new this year--repeats the relentless Cuteness & Busy ness of the previous Rheingold & Die Walküre.

Stage Director Andreas Kriegenburg--together with his Designers, Harald B. Thor, Andrea Schraad, & Stefan Bolliger--is determined that No Major Musical Moment should occur without some kind of Visual Illustration or Antic Activity.

While it is true that Siegfried cannot leave Mime's Cave without Re Forging his Father's Shattered Sword, Nothung, there is no reason to make a Cirque du Soleil Las Vegas Production out of this Task.

For some reason, the Actual Anvil & Forge is enclosed in Silver Metal Panels that can fly apart & come back together again. Which they do, with disturbing frequency…

The Bellows is Immense, with a Huge Handle to power it. There are also Back Up Tire Pumps

The Sparks that Siegfried strikes are Showers of Glitter!

But the Big Moment visually--when Siegfried strikes the Anvil with the Forged Sword--always occurs when the Anvil Breaks!

That did not happen the night I saw Siegfried.

When Wotan--now transformed into The Wanderer--poses Three Questions for Mime, this still seems like Musical/Textual Padding for Spectators who didn't get tickets for Rheingold & Walküre & need to be filled in on what has Already Happened. Or what is Foretold

How about Great Forest Trees that are suggested by White Clad Gymnasts clinging to Rope Grids!

When the Stage is spanned with what looks like a Giant Sack of Carrots from COSTCO, we know Dragon's Lair is nearby.

Fortunately, Fafner is not a Walt Disney Dragon in this Directorial Vision.

Instead, his Head seems to be a Mask--composed of Rows of Red Hued Women--with Fangs hanging down.

Actually, this is really Effective, though Wagner might well have hated it.

Munich's General Music Director, Kent Nagano, conducted a generally Fangless Performance, as Stephen Gould's Siegfried valiantly kept hammering away at his Sword Shards.

After all the Visual Fuss of the Forging, the Awakening of Brünnnhilde [Catherine Naglestad] was a distinct Let Down.

Mime was sorely taxed in this staging, pulled this way & that, but he certainly sang well, burdened as he is with the name of Wolfgang Ablinger Sperrhacke.

Munich has at last completed its New RING, but I wasn't able to see the Götterdämmerung, for I had to rush off to Bregenz for the festive opening of the new Magic Flute.

Nonetheless, the stunning Production Photos in the Program suggest this is well worth a Trip to the Bavarian Capital.

The Hall of the Gibichungs looks like an Industrial Prison Scaffolding, crammed with Men in Black Suits.

Standing stolidly in the background is a Stiff White Horse, which must be Brünnnhilde's beloved Gräne.

Looking at the Götterdämmerung Program is a Show in Itself, so Handsomely Designed & Information Packed are these Printed Souvenirs at the Bavarian State Opera!


Just in Case You Missed the Two Previous Installments: Das Rheingold & Die Walküre…


Get a Lump of Rheingold

Although Wotan--the excellent Johan Reuter--is the Valhalla Building God Father, it is the Wickedly Seductive Red Suited Fire God, Loge, [Stefan Margita] who is the Real Star of this new Rheingold.

He knowingly helps bring the Gods forward to their Doom.

After all, Wotan is not a Bail Outable, Golden Parachute Deserving CEO!

Also admirable in Character & Performance are the Fricka of Sophie Koch, the Alberich of Wolfgang Koch, & the Fafner of Phillip Ens.

Decades ago at Bayreuth, the late Goetz Friedrich was the first Regisseur to stage a Wagner Overture.

Traditionally, the great gray Curtain remained closed, as the Audience gradually drifted into the Leitmotived Worlds of Tristan or Tannhäuser.

Friedrich changed all that, although his Actor/Singers didn't have any Text to act or to sing during the Overtures.

Andreas Kriegenburg has exceeded Goetz: He even stages imaginary No Music, No Text Action before the Overture even begins.

Wagner might not have Been Amused.

When the Audience enters the lavishly Neo Baroque Auditorium of the Nationaltheater, a gaggle of White Clad Young People seem to be having a Picnic Outing on stage.

Then they shed their Gym Clothes & smear Blue Paint all over their Effectively Naked Bodies.

I thought at first of Old Saxon Warriors, covering their Flesh with Wode, but No!

When all these Supers or Extras lay down on the Stage & began to ripple & surge, it was clear that they were the Waves of the River Rhine.

In the midst of which the Three Rhein Tochters suddenly appeared to tease & taunt the Sex Starved Niebelung, Alberich.

Silly Girls! That's just the way to Lose Your Precious Rheingold!

Unwise Wotan, meanwhile, has contracted the Giants, Fafner & Fasolt, to construct Valhalla, not only as an Impregnable Home for the Gods, but also as a kind of Army Reserve Armory for Dead Heroes--who will defend these Norse Deities when Push Comes To Shove

Kriegenburg's Valhalla Visual is a simple projection of a Dentellated Line, such as a Child might draw in a Montessori School.

Actually, Kriegenburg's Stage Space is, in effect, Peter Brook's fabled Empty Space.

It is a Giant White Box, whose Floor can slant upward, with its Ceiling sloping downward.

He & his Scenic Designer, Harald B. Thor--who sounds like a worthy Inmate of Valhalla--even favor Projected Texts on the Slanted Floor, to help the Narrative along…

Understandably Demanding Payment for their Construction Work, the Giants appear before the Gods, sitting atop Great Cubes of what appear to be Compressed Rhine Ripple People.

At first, Fafner & Fasolt seem just Ordinary Men, but soon great Cloaks on Poles--like Japanese Bunraku Puppets--cover their Ordinary Bodies, making them seem Immense.

Then, Immense Legs & Feet are added: an Overwhelming Effect!

Wotan, of course, has lost his American Express Card, so the Giants demand Fricka's Sister, Freia, as a Hostage, until Wotan produces Cash on the Barrel Head!

Lacking Freia's Golden Apples--which keep the Gods Ever Young--they rapidly Age, resulting in some rather Tiresome Acting on the Vast Empty Stage.

Loge leads Wotan down into the Flame Enriched Environs of Niebelheim, where an Upstage Panorama of Dwarf Slave Drudges drags along at Upper Middle Height.

When one of them falters, he is unceremoniously dumped into a Rectangular Slot--one on each side of the stage--where a Burst of Real Flame indicates Instant Cremation.

Open Flames on stage can be very Tricky to Manage, but Kriegenburg even has Alberich use the Tarnhelm to transform himself into a Long, Flaming Snake, born aloft.

[In Die Walküre, the Burning Serpent even becomes the Ring of Magic Fire with which Wotan imprisons the Disobedient Brünnhilde…]

The Tarnhelmian Transformations are achieved by having Supers--equipped with Banks of Blinding Headlights--turn them full force on the Audience.

The Laughingly Malicious Loge & the Cash Hungry Wotan could give Lessons to US Army Interrogators in Guantanamo & Abu Ghraib!

They run Wotan's Spear up Alberich's Right Sleeve, inside the Back of his Coat, & out the Left Sleeve.

He is Virtually Crucified, as they brutally push & pull him about…

Later, the insidious Fire God gives Fafner a small Knife--with which he kills his Bumbling Brother, Fasolt.

The Forfeited Rheingold rises from the center of the White Box like a Metal Framed Palette of Fort Knoxian Gold Ingots.

But, as in so many Post Modernist RING productions, there is No Rainbow Bridge

Now for The Valkyries: DIE WALKÜRE--

When Wotan meets with Brünnhilde [the excellent Irene Théorin] for a Briefing about his Wife Problems with Fricka--Goddess of Heterosexual Non Incestual Marriage--he understandably favors his Earthly Son, Siegmund.

Who Is Doomed

In what may be his Sparsely Furnished Office, upstage is a long, long Genre Painting that looks at first like one of those Wagnerian Landscapes.

But the Trees in this Strange Forest have Feet & even Fantastic Faces

When it is time for Siegmund [Klaus Florian Vogt] to take Shelter in the Tree Filled Home of his Mortal Enemy, Hunding [Ain Anger], an Immense Tree rises out of the floor, virtually engulfing the stage.

In its Webby Branches are spiked some Ten Desiccated Dead Bodies

At either side of the wide, wide Stage are Modern Kitchen Counters that look like Sieglinde [the affecting Anja Kampe] is operating a Vegan Snack Bar.

In the Background, behind the Great Tree, are Two Teams of Corpse Washers.

Possibly, they are preparing Hunding's Recent Kills for Spiking up in the Tree Branches?

A Big Feature of any Hunding's Hütte Setting must be the Hilt of Wotan's Invincible Sword, Nothung, impaled by Siegmund's Father into the Heart of the Tree.

In this Production, it calls Attention to itself, looking like a Huge Electric Switch, in a Blue Illuminated Slot.

Although Siegmund is an Outcast & his Long Lost Sister, Sieglinde, has been abducted & forced into a Cruel, Slavish Marriage to Hunding, they soon recognize each other.

But--instead of rushing across the stage into each other's Arms--Regisseur Kriegenburg keeps them Far Apart, virtually at Opposite Sides of the Stage.

This is surely intended to Increase the Sexual Tension, before the Incestuous Lovers come Resoundingly Together.

Nonetheless, the Visual Effect is Immensely Annoying:

When Sieglinde offers Siegmund a Drink--instead of her simply bringing it directly to him--a Corps of White Clad Young Women is enlisted to pass it across the Stage, the Glass of Water being lit from below by Tiny Flashlights, concealed in Their Palms!

As for the Fabled Ride of the Valkyries, in the most recent Bayreuth Version, Wagnerian Rock Climbers rappelled down a Cliff Face.

In Francesca Zambello's San Francisco RING, they dropped down with Parachutes!

Some years ago in Munich, when Valhalla was a Space Ship, the Valkyries zoomed aboard on Rocket Scooters!

For this new Kriegenburgian RING, however, the Horsey Ladies pulled & tugged on Long Reins that were tethered to Metal Posts, supporting Definitely Dead Warriors, folded over the Posts like so many Department Store Dummies.

No Use At All to Wotan, in defending Valhalla…

In the Background, a Bevy of Sexy Young Women kept swishing their Unbound Hair around & around.

The Projected Text mentioned the Wunsch Mädchen that the Dead Heroes would enjoy in Valhalla, so I thought they must be these Promised Lust Maidens, rather like the 72 Virgins awarded to Dead Muslim Jihadists.

But NO!

The frantic Hair Swishing apparently represented the Manes of the Valkyries' Valiant Steeds.

About which they Sing at length in Wagner's Projected Super Titles.

Apparently, in these Desperate Economic Times--when So Many are Unemployed--Stage Director Kriegenburg is providing Meaningful Work for Platoons of Supers

When Wotan encircles his Favorite Daughter--not by Fricka, but apparently by Erda?--with Magic Fire, it is Ceremonially Placed around her, in the Form of Alberich's Flaming Snake, by another Corps of White Clad Young Women.

Nordic Vestal Virgins?

Or Vegan Vestal Virgins?


Modest Mussorgsky's BORIS GODUNOV [***]

Forget About St. Basil's & a Coronation Scene: Boris as a Street Protest & Troop Carrier…

Frankly, I prefer Boris Godunov in its Historical Context.

Making everything Modern does not make the Monster more Meaningful

Seeing Hordes of Chorus, Supers, & Kiddies onstage waving Protest Placards doesn't make the Murder of the Czarevitch more Horrendous

When I saw a Great Looming Form begin to Revolve--it looked rather like an Immense Ship--I had the awful sensation that I had seen this Boris in Munich in a previous season. I was sure I knew what would happen.

Maybe I dreamt it? This is a New Production, after all.

The Sides of this Form lowered on Cables, rather like one of those Troop Landing Craft on Omaha Beach.

The Kremlin lay beyond, but Interior Scenes with Czar Boris were In the Box.

But No Coronation Procession. No Historic Buildings. No Romantic Third Act in Poland with the False Dimitri & the Polish Princess

Why was Boris' Presumed Heir played by what was clearly meant to be a Young Woman?

Was this the Modern Russia of the Pussy Riots?

Nonetheless, Alexander Tsymbalyuk strongly sang & played a Power Hungry but Anxiety Ridden Boris, opposed by the Intrigues of Prince Schuisky [Gerhard Siegel] & others.

Kevin Connors played the Holy Fool, but I don't remember him being Shot in the Head in previous productions…

Oh well: To Each His Own Boris.

This one was devised by the Extremely Avant Avant Garde Director, Calixto Bieito.

His Complicit Designers were Rebecca Ringst, Ingo Krügler, & Michael Bauer.

GMD Kent Nagano presided over the Murder & Mayhem. Fortunately, Vlad Putin did not attend…


George Benjamin's WRITTEN ON SKIN [***]

No! This Opera Is Not About Tattooing! Instead, Beautiful Illuminations on Vellum!

When you have a Chorus of Angels singing about Cancelling Flights at the International Airport & Erasing the Car Park from the Market Place, you know you are in Cultural Difficulties.

Especially if you expected George Benjamin's new British Opera to be about a Fatal Bout of Medieval Illumination…

Actually, the Sung Text is by Martin Crimp, but you just have to know they were In Cahoots on this attempt to Keep Opera Alive in Our Trying Times.

The Central Story focuses on Three People: The Protector, his Wife Agnès, & the Boy Illuminator, who was formerly an Angel & becomes one again when the Protector murders him.

You see--if you are not trapped in the now closed Car Park--there's this Very Rich Guy who owns All the Land as far as we can see.

Not only that: he also owns all the People who toil on it; the Fruits of their Labours; all the Animals & Fish & Fowl; all the Soil & all that Lies Under It.

Most Important of All: The Protector Owns the Lovely Agnès. She is not only his Wife: She is His Property, His Chattel

He holds the Power of Life & Death over her. As well as over All who dwell in His Domains

But this is 800 Years Ago & we are now a Long Way Off from that Mythical Car Park & Our Cancelled Flight from Munich to Dubai

In the Handsome Opera Program, The Protector is said to be both Wealthy & Intelligent, but addicted to Purity & Violence.

Well, there you have it!

Proud of His Possessions & His Familial Heritage, The Protector engages The Boy--who proves to be an Ingenious Illuminator--to record on Vellum his History & Achievements.

He also wants to Punish His Enemies--even Posthumously--in Pictures

Over time, The Boy seems to become Part of the Family, even sitting at table with them.

As His Pictorial Saga progresses, he disarms the Initial Hostility of Agnès until they become Lovers.

This Cannot End Well, especially with the visit of Marie & John, Sister & Brother in Law to Agnès.

So The Protector kills The Boy, then feeds His Heart to Agnès, who then Jumps Out the Window, rather than let him Terminate her personally.

Not To Worry: Aside from The Protector & Agnès, they are All Angels!

So they have come down from Heaven to give us this Little Sung Show--with some Handsome Pictures!

For this Auditor & Spectator, the Simple Story & its Elemental Stage Pictures were sufficient.

What seemed both Bizarre & deliberately Extraneous was having Half the Stage occupied by Angel Archivists who were busily arranging what appeared to be Costume Racks & Props for the Show Below.

Despite the Admirable Efforts of Christopher Purves [Protector], Barbara Hannigan [Agnès], & Iestyn Davies [Boy], the Score was not compelling.

This Odd Production may well have been the Swan Song of GMD Kent Nagano at the Bavarian State Opera.

Oddly enough, the Accompanying Orchestra was not that of the Staatsoper, but an Ensemble called Klangforum Wien.


This appears to have been a Co Production of the Aix en Provence Festival, De Nederlandse Opera, Théâtre du Capitole, Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, & the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden!

In fact--judging from a Spiteful Assessment of Kent Nagano's Tenure in Munich, written by an Influential Local Critic--this Staging was Not Well Received In House, especially by the Staatsoper Orchester

The Local Pundit didn't even find Nagano's Deutsch sufficiently Bayerisch!

For the Record: Katie Mitchell staged, with Setting & Costumes by Vicki Mortimer, neither of whom can be accused of being Bavarian!


Jörg Widmann's BABYLON [Summarized, but Not Seen, Thanks to Austrian Railways Delays!]

Bad Enough That We Bombed Baghdad! Now Widmann Has Trashed Ishtar!

There were only Three Scheduled Performances of Babylon during the Munich Festival, although it was Specially Commissioned.

It may well be that you need to see if you Filled the Seats for those Evenings, before you commit to More Performances

But I didn't even get to see One of the Iterations on offer!

Leaving the Bregenz Festival early in the morning of the Munich Evening Performance, an Austrian Express was delayed outside Lindau: we sat for what seemed Hours, shunted aside as Previously Scheduled Trains roared past us…

Fortunately, you can see some Tidbits on the Staatsoper Website, as well as Oddments elsewhere on the Internet.

But the Handsome Program for Babylon may be even better than the Actual Experience of Seeing/Hearing it--if one were to believe some Local Critics

Even the Production Photos in the Program are Stunning: Digitial Design gone Mad

How about a Parade of Bizarre Monkeys? The Lions Gate come to Life?

Talk about Cuneiform & Clay Tablets!

The Central Core of the Program is a Series of Celluloid See Throughs

There are Fantastic Maps!

Look! Here's the fabled Hängende Garten!

Over here is the Ischtar Tempel. Over there, the Marduk Tempel, near the Gula Tempel & the Ninurta Tempel.

Not to Ignore the Schamasch Tempel, the Ninmach Tempel, the Adad Tempel, & the Belit Nina Tempel

At the Very Center, of course, is the Mythical Tower of Babel, so inspiring to Renaissance Painters.

There's even a Small Map, showing the Distances--over various Routes--back home to Jerusalem!

Reading the Fascinating & Totally Bizarre Libretto in the Program, I knew I'd missed a Night To Remember.

Maybe Peter Gelb will bring this to the Met?

Caricature of Glenn Loney in header is by Sam Norkin.

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