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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, July 16, 2007
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
BRITAIN & BRITTEN IN BREGENZ FESTIVAL 2007: *
Also Puccini’s TOSCA, Whose Eyes Are Everywhere! *
Opening the Annual Bregenzer-Festspiele: *
Benjamin Britten’s DEATH IN VENICE [*****] *
Giacomo Puccini’s TOSCA [****] *
Tosca Technical-Details: *
Just in KAZ: Britain in the Workshop: *
After the Opening Week: *
In Two Years: Aida Replaces Tosca on the Lake-Stage: *
Some Bregenzer-Festspiele Statistics: *
Other Austrian Summer-Festival Offerings: *
Celebrating Angelika Kauffmann! *
MYTHOS Beside the Bodensee: *
Kunsthaus-Bregenz Showcases Beuys & Barney & Twombley, & Gordon! *
BRITAIN & BRITTEN IN BREGENZ FESTIVAL 2007:
Also Puccini’s TOSCA, Whose Eyes Are Everywhere!
Opening the Annual Bregenzer-Festspiele:
Mid-July must find the Austrian Capital, Vienna, almost empty of Politicians. They all seem to have rushed off to Bregenz for the opening of its Annual Festival. Notable among the Dignitaries are always the President of Austria and his charming wife. Plus various Ministers of State…
This July, not only President Heinz Fischer was at the Opening-Ceremonies, but also the Chancellor of Austria, Alfred Gusenbauer—who wields the real political-power.
President Fischer saluted the courage & genius of the British composer Benjamin Britten, whose last opera, Death in Venice, was a centerpiece of the Bregenz Festival. In fact, he specifically addressed Britten’s problems as an Outsider, both as a Pacifist & Homosexual—which had caused him to leave his Homeland for America in 1939 for a time.
Dr. Fischer also noted that, even in Austria, Britten had to fear arrest & imprisonment until as late as 1971, when laws against homosexual-relationships were repealed. But even with this limited protection, President Fischer said, there are still Social & Legal Barriers that he finds "problematic."
In fact, both the Death in Venice production & an in-house exhibition of Britten’s Life & Work serve, Dr. Fischer noted—not to soften & not to ignore—but to emphasize that there is still Discrimination & also unsolved Social-Questions about which Austrians, especially in the Arts, should not be deaf.
There were greetings as well from Günther Rhomberg, the admired Festival-President, & from Dr. Claudia Schmied, Federal-Minister for Education, Art, & Culture. Dr. Schmied’s title sounds even more impressive in Austro-German: Frau Bundesministerin für Unterricht, Kunst und Kultur!
Unlike the United States—with its bogus "Leave No Child Behind" slogans—Austria takes both Education & the Arts very seriously, handsomely funding them accordingly. It is also worth noting that Education, Art, & Culture are all linked under one cabinet-post, unlike America, where Art & Culture—at least at the White House—are regarded as being a long way off from anything to do with Learning.
In previous summers, the Opening-Ceremonies have always been the occasion of a major-address by some distinguished poet, playwright, philosopher, or mover & shaker. Last season, however, the Festival’s new Intendant—or Artistic-Director—David Pountney turned the event into a Jolly Show, spotlighting samples from productions past & present.
This proved so popular that this year Pountney—spiffily dressed in a White-Suit, with a Red Rose in his buttonhole—even danced the Light-Fantastic onstage with one of the Festival’s lovely dancers. Even President Fischer was brought up to the Podium like a member of a Studio-Audience, as if chosen at random to join the real performers on stage in front of the cameras…
In fact, ORF—Austria’s Radio-TV—was busily transmitting the often colorful proceedings to both Austria & to the World. Videos of past & present productions were shown the audience on giant overhead screens, so ORF was, in effect, also videoing the videos!
The live Musical-Offerings at the ceremonies were played by the Vienna Symphony, conducted by Paul Daniel, with choral-backup from the Festival Choir, the Kornmarkt-Choir, & soloists from this season’s production of Britten’s American opera, Paul Bunyan.
Opera-lovers who know Benjamin Britten mainly as the composer of such grimly serious works as Peter Grimes & Death in Venice may have been surprised to find his cabaret-song, Tell Me the Truth About Love, on the program. Not to overlook Britten’s Boogie-Woogie!
For some, it may have been even shocking to hear the program enlivened by Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Tahiti Trot: Tea for Two. As well as by his Polka No. 2, from Schostakovitch’s Jazz Suite.
Not only was Shostakovitch—despite Soviet Dictatorial-Oppression & Supervision of the Arts—delighted by American Jazz, but he also became a close friend & admirer of his fellow-composer, Benjamin Britten!
With War in Europe looming, Britten, his close friend tenor Peter Pears, & his poet-chum W. H. Auden decamped England for America, where they were thoroughly immersed in its Popular Culture, leading to their folkloric opera, Paul Bunyan.
Duty called, and they duly returned to Britain. But Auden had fallen in love with Manhattan: so much so that in his later years, he divided his time between St. Mark’s Place in the East Village & his country-house near Vienna. [Where Your Scribe interviewed him & his lover/collaborator Chester Kalman about their opera-librettos for Stravinsky—The Rake’s Progress—and Hans Werner Henze: Elegy for Young Lovers & The Bassarides.]
The Eröffnungs-Ceremonies also featured Vissi d’Arte, from Puccini’s Tosca: certainly a long way off from Britten & Britain. But there was a very good reason for this inclusion…
From its beginnings back in 1946, the real Centerpiece of the Bregenz-Festival has always been the Spiel auf dem See: the opera, operetta, or musical-comedy mounted on a stage over the Bodensee, or Lake Constance, as this huge Rhine-connected body of water is known to non-
This summer the great Lake-Stage has been filled with a monumental Tosca/Scarpia Movable-EYE, for the ingenious new staging of Puccini’s steamy masterpiece of Fatal Love, Jealousy, & Betrayal.
When you see the photos of this immense construction—or see videos of it in action—you may well wish you had booked Bregenz this summer. But do not despair: the Lake-Stage Tosca will return next summer!
For more information about the Bregenz-Festival, phone: +43-5574-407-234, or check-out the website: www.bregenzerfestspiele.com
Benjamin Britten’s DEATH IN VENICE [*****]
Although the Brooklyn Academy of Music—BAM—already has hosted a choreographic-production of Tod in Venedig/Death in Venice this past February, the Aldeburgh-Festival staging of Benjamin Britten’s operatic-version, now being shown at the Bregenz-Festival, certainly should be seen at BAM. Or even Lincoln Center!
Unlike John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet choreography of Death in Venice—in which the Thomas Mann Protagonist, the celebrated author Gustav von Aschenbach, is changed into a rigidly-disciplined Choreographer, on the verge of a nervous-breakdown—Britten’s favorite librettist, Myfanwy Piper, has remained largely true to Mann’s famed novella.
It would even be something of an Artistic-Coup to have both these Death in Venice productions play back-to-back at some prestigious Performing-Arts Festival in the near future… Also supported by Lucino Visconti’s haunting film-treatment of Mann’s ageing author, Von Aschenbach, falling desperately in love with the Apollonian-Beauty of a teen-age lad of an aristocratic Polish family, on holiday on Venice’s Lido Beach.
This new mounting of Britten’s last opera owes nothing to Visconti, for the inspired stage-director Yoshi Oïda & his brilliant designers—Tom Schenk for sets, Richard Hudson for costumes, & Paule Constable for lighting—have conjured-up an Edwardian-Vision of fin de siècle Venice that is also very Asian in its shimmering golden simplicity & spareness.
Nine long textured golden panels form the stage-environment’s backdrop, centered with a slightly-protruding rectangle that shows images & videos evoking Venice, the Lido, the Summer, the Langours of Upper-Class Tourism—and even the looming threat of a Cholera-Epidemic… At times, this revolves to reveal its mirrored-verso, which then reflects actions on the stage below.
Over a shallow pool of water—suggesting the Lagoon of the Serenissima—are simple board-platforms & gangways that can be moved about to evoke changing scenes. A leisurely ride in a Gondola is easily suggested by a chair placed before a platform, with two "Travelers-Attendants" moving long black poles in the water, serving as Gondoliers.
These visible Stage-hands also stretch a long brown cloth in front of the stage-structures to suggest the Lido Beach, much in the manner of some Asian theatre-traditions. This can be rapidly gathered-up for the seamless changes of scene, as there are no painted-wings & borders; no set-props, aside from Tourists’ Suitcases.
What does distinguish this production visually—moving or posing against the beautiful but spare set-environment—are the mostly mute Characters, impressively & whitely-dressed by Richard Hudson. Silent women in long white skirts, elegant blouses & jackets, & topped with those immense wedding-cake Edwardian-Hats evoke an Era which was swept away by the Guns of August in World War I.
Britten & his librettist found an inspired way to tell Von Aschenbach’s tragic tale of longing & loss by keeping their doomed tenor-hero at the very center of the action, with a variety of important characters inter-acting with him—all played & sung by one bass/baritone.
The lively youngsters sporting on the Lido Beach are all mute—as are their doting mothers & fathers. In fact, Tadzio—the forbidden-object of Von Aschenbach’s long-repressed-libido—& his friends are young dancers, not singers.
At the center—and magnificently holding the Center—of the Aldeburgh/Bregenz Tod in Venedig production is the remarkable Alan Oke, as the widely-honored but emotionally-emptied author Gustav Von Aschenbach. Slim, dignified, with a certain hauteur, elegantly suited in white, Oke’s Von Aschenbach is obviously accustomed to command & have things as he wishes them.
But on this—his last & fatal visit to the Serenissima—something is not quite right: neither with Venice, nor with him. Britten has written for him a fascinating vocal-line—often unsupported by the orchestra—in which Von Aschenbach conducts a kind of ongoing Sprechstimme-Soliloquy: an internalized Self-Analysis, which he is effectually not sharing with anyone around him, nor with the audience. We are—in effect—eavesdropping…
As he is seized by longing, as he becomes increasingly irritable & desperate, as he has his cheeks rouged to seem younger, possibly more attractive to Tadzio—who has noticed him only glancingly—as he begins to succumb to the plague, Von Aschenbach’s vocal-line echoes these changes.
Percussion & Schlagwerk often punctuate actions, proving potent accents to the gymnastic & sportive feats of the Teen-Age-Elite on the Lido. These are young talents of the Nuremberg Dance-Theatre, with the mutely handsome Tadzio played by Pavel Povrazník.
As Von Aschenbach contemplates Tadzio with cautious longing, he occasionally hears the Voice of Apollo—incarnated by the liquid countertenor of Will Towers. But—aside from Alan Oke himself—the real Vocal Heavy-Lifting has to be done by bass/baritone Peter Sidhom.
Sidhom is adept in many roles & professions: Hair-dresser, Cosmetician, a Mysterious Tourist, a Procurer, an Old-Gondolier—who has seen it all, a Hotel-Manager—eager to suppress rumors of Cholera—as most of the tourists flee the Lido, & also as the Voice of Dionysus!
Damian Thantrey is especially effective as the honest & earnest young Englishman—working for a Venetian Travel-Bureau—who finally tells Von Aschenbach the appalling truth about the rapid spread of the Plague & the mounting toll of Deaths.
Despite all the rumors & warnings—& attacks of gut-wrenching sickness— Von Aschenbach cannot bring himself to leave while Tadzio is still there. When the noble Poles depart, it is all over for him…
It has been said—both of Mann’s Novella & of Britten’s Opera—that Von Aschenbach’s refusing to leave Venice, when he has had several opportunities to do so, is an act of Ritual-Suicide. Indeed, in this production, it might be so viewed…
Curiously, a German reviewer wrote of this staging—just after the Bregenz-premiere—that the nature of Von Aschenbach’s fascination with Tadzio was not clear: was it only an attraction to Apollonian Beauty? The critic saw nothing sexual in Von Aschenbach’s vocal-plaints, nor in Alan Oke’s stage-behaviour.
This Taste-making Critic must have fallen asleep toward the close of this three-hour-long—including Intermission!—performance. In the clutches of the Cholera, as well as his frustrated longing for Tadzio—after a long, disciplined, self-enclosed-life, relating to no-one—Von Aschenbach suddenly plunges both his hands violently downward to grab his Genitals.
Nothing could be more clear. And this is a revealing-gesture that director Yoshi Oïda & Alan Oke surely worked-out in rehearsal to make the true nature of Von Aschenbach’s tragic longing manifest.
Perhaps it’s not only Honored Men of a century ago—like Von Aschenbach & possibly even Thomas Mann—who have discovered a Homosexual-Longing in their older years, but also many well-educated, prejudice-free contemporary men do not want to hear about—or see—such embarrassing actions?
Paul Daniel conducted the Wiener Symphoniker—& cued the singers—with a rare sensitivity for the fragility of this tragic/nostalgic achievement in Musik-Theater.
Aldeburgh’s Britten Festival Chorus—under the leadership of Philip Sunderland—were not only singing Britten’s Venetian choruses, but also playing various small roles, mostly mute.
Daniela Kurz devised the choreography for the young dancers of Tanztheater Nürnberg, but the entire production—thanks to Yoshi Oïda’s directorial-genius for movement & character—looked like a wonderfully evocative choreography.
[Incidental Note: Some years ago, when Peter Brook brought his Epic Production of The Mahabharata to the Brooklyn Academy of Music—better-known as BAM—Your Scribe was asked to create a semester-long Peter Brook Seminar for the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.
[Among our Guest-Lecturers were, of course, Peter himself, as well as Talented Artists who had worked with Brook over the years. Plus members of the Mahabharata cast, notably Yoshi Oïda, the ingenious stage-director of the Aldeburgh/Bregenz Death in Venice production.
[Oïda had been responsible for the Body & Movement Training that made it possible for Brook’s cast to perform this demanding Hindu-Saga. For our class, Yoshi not only explained how he worked with performers, but he also put both students & professor through some of his exercises!]
Giacomo Puccini’s TOSCA [****]
Once upon a time, Victorien Sardou’s gripping drama about the fatal love of the brilliant opera-soprano, Floria Tosca, & the admired painter, Mario Cavaradossi, was the talk of all Paris. For that matter, David Belasco’s Girl of the Golden West was once the talk of all Manhattan…
Today, no one thinks of reviving either of these plays as a rediscovery of a Forgotten-Masterpiece. If Giacomo Puccini had not seen the dramatic-potential for the opera-stage in both of these dramas, the memory of their Protagonists & their Loves would have long ago faded away.
It is in such transformative arias as Vissi d’arte & E lucevan le stelle that the power & passion of Tosca & Cavaradossi’s lives & loves lives on. Surely, Tosca is one of Puccini’s most affecting & powerful scores.
But the Maestro also understood a thing or two about Dramaturgy. And that is why he was so attracted to such plays as Sardou’s & Belasco’s—including, of course, Belsaco & John Luther Long’s Madame Butterfly. Belasco—as a stage-director & producer—was famed for the Realism with which he put dramas on stage.
So the three potentially-overpowering settings for the three acts of Tosca were obviously very important to Puccini’s Vision of the opera-in-performance. The first-act was ordained for the historic Roman church of Santa Maria dell’ Valle, with the second-act set in a luxurious chamber of the Palazzo Farnese.
The most powerful scene of all, however, was placed by both Sardou & Puccini on the very summit of the Castel San’ Angelo, with its great looming Angel’s-Wings spread out over the Execution of Cavaradossi. This was to have been a faked death-sentence, but the bullets were real!
And what a stunning ending!
The distraught & desperate Floria Tosca—realizing that she has been outwitted by the villainous Scarpia, whom she had just stabbed to death—jumps over the crenellated-parapet of the great round Castle-Prison to her death in the swiftly-flowing River Tiber!
[The story is told of Maria Jeritza—and also of other great Toscas at the Met—that after she jumped over the castle-wall & hit the trampoline behind the set, she bounced up into sight of the audience again!]
When it was initially announced that the Bregenz-Festival would follow its astounding Oil-Refinery Trovatore with Tosca on the Lake-Stage, Your Scribe had visions of an Immense Black-Angel looming over the unfolding drama—and also over Lake Constance.
This was, in fact, a Residual-Memory of a fantastic Tosca production, directed & designed by the late, great Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. That darkly foreboding, forbidding Angel hovered over all…
Anyone who has been a Bregenz-Festival-Regular for at least a decade or so knows not to expect the Usual, the Conventional, the Traditional, the Historical, or the Realistic under the sub-Alpine skies of Bregenz.
So the motto of the new Bregenz Tosca could well be: I’ve got my eye on you!
Thanks to the combined ingenuity of Tosca-director Philipp Himmelmann & set-designer Johannnes Leiacker, the production is all about Oversight: The Eyes Have It!
In the handsome Tosca program, however, it’s clear that they prefer the Orwellian-Threat: Big Brother is Watching You!
Actually—although there are some Eye-Studies lying about the vast Lake-Stage set—the Visual-Centerpiece of the entire production is in fact a Giant Eye!
Not a combination of Puccini’s Chiesa-Palazzo-Castello! But why?
Well, it is a Symbol both of Tosca’s prying jealousy about possible contenders for Mario’s affections, as well as an Official All-Seeing-Eye. This is not the All-Seeing-Eye of God—or of Masonic Mythology—but a Symbol of the Police-State in Rome, embodied in the sadistic Baron Scarpia.
Although the painter Mario Cavaradossi has been commissioned to paint a large portrait of St. Mary Magdalene on a wall of Santa Maria dell’ Valle, at Bregenz he seems to be concentrating on creating an Immense-Eye—at the center of a much larger rumpled canvas that extends down from the tall wall’s optical-image, forming the stage-surface in front of it.
In order to reach the Magdalene’s eyebrow-level, Mario has an electrified-winch window-cleaners’ bridge—which also later serves as a kind of Podium in the Sky, for Police-Chief Baron Scarpia to direct his brutal henchmen in repressing & executing Political-Dissidents.
As elsewhere in Mittel-Europa on many opera-stages today, the Killing-Squads are in modern battle-dress, with AK 47s to terminate their prey. Is this Up-dating really necessary? Is Scarpia an earlier version of Dick Cheney?
Before Tosca makes her initial entrance to check-up on Mario & his painting, the escaped Freedom-Fighter Cesare Angelotti has appeared & been promised safe-haven by Cavaradossi. When Tosca does come striding in to joyfully embrace Mario, she catches sight of an Eye-Study with a Blue-Retina!
She recognizes it as the eye of Angelotti’s sister, the lovely Countess Attavanti, whom she thinks may be her rival for Mario’s kisses—and more… She demands that Mario give his Magdalene "black eyes," like hers, not the pale blue of The Attavanti.
[Unfortunately, when this is translated in American Super-titles, "give her black eyes" can suggest that Tosca wants Mario to punch her detested—if entirely innocent—rival in the face.]
Instead of a Grand Clerical-Procession up the nave of Santa Maria for the Te Deum—a great Visual & Musical Moment in Tosca—in the innovative Bregenzer-Festspeile staging, the Immense-Eye moves smoothly forward & upward from its painted surroundings, thanks to a huge & powerful crane.
In what now may be considered the empty-eye-socket, two sliding-stages—laden with lavishly-frocked Clergy come together for a Te Deum virtually aloft. From the murky waters of Lake Constance—between the spectators & the Lake-Stage—an immense Steel-Cross rises up!
Meanwhile, Scarpia has dispatched his Killers to the church to capture Mario, suspected of aiding Angelotti’s escape.
In the Second Act, the Eye—Iris & Pupil together—descends toward the stage-surface, the crane’s controls making it parallel to the stage. On this slightly-sloping roundel—with barely-seen security-wires around it—Scarpia confronts Mario & Tosca, remanding Mario to brutal—but unseen—Torture.
[Actually, Mario’s torment—as well as Tosca’s reaction to hearing his screams of pain—are relayed to the Lake-Stage audience via Live-Video, projected on a kind of electronically-shimmering Replacement-Iris, now filling the eye-socket-void.]
In effect, this crane-controlled Eye-Stage is symbolic of the Palazzo Farnese, customarily seen in Tosca stage-representations, usually burdened with history & opulent-decoration, making the Eye a strong contrast—to more conventional stagings—with the raw brutality of Scarpia’s rule in Rome. Soon to ended by a Victorious Napoleon Bonaparte!
But the stark nakedness of the Eye as Symbol & as Stage strips the strong passions of the Trio of Tosca, Cavaradossi, & Scarpia to their elemental-essences. It simplifies what a more historical-setting might have obscured!
After Tosca has won Scarpia’s promise that Mario’s mandated Execution will be faked—and she has received a laissez-passer from him, so the two lovers can escape Rome—she stabs him, rather than surrender to his lascivious kisses & caresses.
Both his attempted-rape & her thrusting stabbings are violent—and very bloody for him. After she flees the Eye-Stage, its surface begins to slope forward, with Scarpia’s body sliding off the edge into the darkness below!
The final-scene is even more spatially-confined—despite the vast expanses of Lake-Stage that frame it. The great Eye has become vertical once more, but this time the Black Pupil of the Eye opens out & downward to form an even smaller stage than that of the Entire-Eye.
It is on this small circle that Mario writes his last letter to Tosca, is blindfolded, & is shot to death—by Taliban-Snipers standing in the auditorium-aisles—with real bullets, not the blanks Tosca had been promised.
As the Pupil-Stage opens out & downward, behind the larger Iris, the entire back-wall of the set folds backward—thanks to hydraulic-pistons—to reveal four sets of two-storied prison-cages, crammed with Scarpia’s Prisoners, all gunned-down after Mario’s death.
As there is no crenellated-castle-wall for Tosca to leap over into the Tiber, she is instead standing atop the Eye’s Iris, looking down at the dead Cavaradossi on the Pupil-Stage. To suggest her Libretto-Mandated Suicide-Leap, she suddenly dives down behind the Eye, as a wispy Video on the Eye’s surface then shows her fluttering descent. Tosca does not plunge into the Tiber. [Nor does she bounce back up from an unseen-trampoline…]
Cavaradossi’s cadaver slides over the edge of the Pupil-Stage. But, unlike Scarpia—who merely seems to slide from the Eye-Stage into darkness—Mario’s corpse plunges off the high stage into the cold waters of Lake Constance!
Even with three Mario-Tenors, you don’t want any of them to catch cold—or break a bone, hitting the once-again submerged Steel-Cross from the Church Te Deum scene. So a Super has to be switched with the singer at the blindfolding…
And how did they sing?
The Premiere-Cast not only sang very powerfully & passionately, but they also acted with an intensity & energy that was at times almost frightening. Zoran Todorovich was a handsome & engaging Mario, with Nadja Michael a tempestuous, vibrant Tosca.
Gidon Saks, as Baron Scarpia, could give the Sopranos—the gangland Sopranos—a run for their money in calculated cruelty. The difference was in the elegance & suavity with which he practiced his savage suppression & murder on Roman Freedom-Fighters. Sebastian Soules was a frantic Angelotti, hopping about the stage, with hands cuffed behind him.
It’s interesting that—although Tosca jealously sees Countess Attavanti as a rival for Cavaradossi’s affections, Scarpia even playing on that fear—the actual Attavanti has no singing-role in the production & her physical-presence is not important to the working-out of the plot.
[Of course, an imaginative stage-director could always introduce her in a mute-role, praying in the Church as Mario sketches her, with rapture in his eyes, during an orchestral-prelude.]
Because the principal roles are so taxing—and because Tosca is performed almost night-after-night during the short festival-season—the major roles are triple-cast. Tosca is also performed by Karine
Babajanyan & Tatjana Serjan.
Scarpia is also sung by Claudio Otelli & Peter Sidhom, with Mario being doubled by Andrew Richards & Brandon Jovanovich.
I regretted not seeing the Tosca cast with Jovanovich, as I first heard him perform as a student in a Manhattan School of Music opera-production. Even then, I was sure this stalwart blonde Held—who is a fine actor, as well as singer—would become a Star.
When he was cast as Lt. Pinkerton in Mark Lamos’ New York City Opera production of Madame Butterfly, I was sure of it. And here he is, Cavaradossi in Bregenz—a long way off from MSM up on Convent Avenue!
In the early days of the Festival—way back in the 1950s—singers’ voices could be lost in the strong winds blowing down on Lake Constance from the alpine-heights behind the city. Or even when singers were moving out the range of the four of five mikes set up on the original barge-stages, their voices could be momentarily obliterated.
Today, the in-house evolution of the BOA—or Bregenz-Open-Acoustic—has made possible a clarity & power of both vocal & orchestral sound that should be the envy of any open-air-arena. At times, Cavaradossi & Tosca were so powerful it almost knocked Your Scribe out of his seat!
Indeed, when Angelotti made his first furtive entrance among some lumber-scraps downstage-left, his booming voice made it initially difficult to see where he was. Yet he sounded Center-Stage! In any case, you are unlikely to need Hearing-Aids—and some of the orchestral-sound even seems to surround you: Church-bells chiming behind the audience…
The BOA sound-system is still in process of development, but a big increment was made when the orchestra & chorus were moved into the Festspielhaus-complex to their own performance-space. Formerly, they had sweltered under the actual performance-stage, unseen by audiences. [That space is now wardrobe for quick-changes.]
And now, Tosca-conductor Ulf Schirmer can even modulate the sound of the Wiener Symphoniker as he is leading them & the choruses through the score! Sound-discriminating spectators can sense where each orchestral-group is playing, in relation to the whole—although the actual orchestra is no longer sited & hidden in front of them: effectually, it is playing behind them…
For the Principals, costume-designer Jorge Jara provided appropriate contemporary-attire. More formal for Scarpia than for Mario—and more elegant than both for Tosca…
Davy Cunningham’s Lighting-Design was of major importance in heightening the effects of the
Wandering-Eye, as well as illuminating the squads of Supers & Chorus onstage at various times. In the final moments, however, it was not easy to see what was going-on in the Pupil…
Wolfgang Fritz is credited with the Acoustic-Design, with Evita Galanou, Ueli Nüesch, & Thomas Wollenberger responsible for Projection-Design—which included images of Tosca & Mario singing or suffering, or both, on a slowly-rotating Eye-Projection, thrown on a two-section inner-eye-screen, replacing the Actual-Eye, now serving as a stage. Complicated to explain, but it worked.
Philip Sunderland led the combined vocal-forces of the [Benjamin] Britten Festival Chorus, the Kinderchor, & the Bregenzer Festspielchor.
Lake-Stage productions are performed without intermissions. Tosca came in under the wire, at slightly less than two hours. The Moving-Eye mechanisms prevent the extended & noisy delays most opera-houses experience in shifting or striking scenes for complicated & set-overburdened opera-productions.
Since almost the inception of Musical-Theatre on the Bregenz Bodensee-shore, productions have either ended with a great Fireworks-Display—or had fireworks somewhere along the plot-way. Not so with the new improved Tosca… Or was the gunfire from Scarpia’s killers meant to replace the sounds of rockets & firecrackers?
It has also been a production-custom to have—at some point in the proceedings—a boat or ship pass between the Lake-Stage & the Audience. The water separating stage from the public is shallow but navigable.
In Masked Ball, guests came to King Gustav-Adolf’s Opera-Ball in a Coffin-shaped boat. In Fidelio, a small yacht crammed with American-style Cheer-leaders steamed in to bring freedom to Florestan & his fellow-prisoners.
In a recent La Bohème, a very large origami-folded boat—made out of a Period Paris Newspaper—sailed in front of the spectators, seemingly steered by a large stuffed rabbit.
But for the new Tosca, the only sea-craft in evidence was a really small folded-paper boat, set into the water by a character who should have been a Shepherd-boy, but actually appeared to be an energetic high-school girl out for a hike…
So the Era of Fireworks & Ships in Lake-Stage productions may finally have come to an end.
After all, Intendant David Pountney has to leave his mark on this very special festival—not just echo what has gone before. Excellent as that often was—including some major David Pountney productions!
If you cannot make the trip to Bregenz this summer or next to see Tosca on the Lake-Stage, you might be interested in knowing how Big, how Long, how Wide, or how Heavy its Major-Set-Elements actually are. If this is of no interest, scroll onward…
The effectual stage-set, the Augen-Wand—or Eye-Wall—covering a sturdy steel framework is 50 meters wide & 25 meters high. Actually, the entire stage is wider on either side, with wrought-iron gates on the stage-right-side to indicate the entrance into the Choir of the Church of Santa Maria dell’ Valle, where Mario Cavaradossi is painting his portrait of St. Mary Magdalene. Or, rather, only her Eye, in this production…
The rest of his Immense-Canvas flops over the stage-surface & over & down & almost into the waters of Lake Constance. This was prepared last winter by Studio Brighella in Wiener Neustadt, enlarged from the designs of Johannes Leiacker onto 1,000 quadrameters of canvas!
Brought to Bregenz, this great canvas was sealed to the underlying wooden-panels of the wall & stage—in 6x6 meter sections—in only a week.
The entire back-wall—weighing some 200 tons—can be folded back flat silently & swiftly, thanks to hydraulic-pistons which rotate the great wall on two giant axle-pivots.
The Augen-Wand is not the only part of the set that can move. The Iris of the Immense-Eye is also mobile, set in motion by a great backstage Crane—20 meters long—also hydraulically-operated. The Iris is 12 meters wide & it can move forward—out of the wall & its eye-socket—upward & downward, either standing vertically or moving to a horizontal position to provide an acting-surface for the Palazzo Farnese scene.
For the Te Deum sequence in Act One, the third major Movable-Element of the Set-Complex comes into action. This is the great metal Cross which has been hidden in a horizontal position in the lake-waters in front of the stage. It is 14 meters high & weighs 12 tons! Hydraulic-controls also activate the Cross, silently & swiftly.
In order to work way-up-high on the Eye, Mario has a Malerlift—a window-washers’ cable-hung-bridge, in effect—that can rise from stage-level to the 25-meter-summit of the Augen-Wand in a mere 50 seconds! It is five meters wide, offering ample room for histrionics from Mario, Tosca, & especially Scarpia, who uses it to oversee the search for Enemies-of-the-State, hiding in Santa Maria dell’ Valle.
The complexities of the State-of-the-Art Bregenz Lake-Stage Lighting-Installations would require a small book to itemize them & explain how they function in making Tosca such a stunning-staging. The same is true of the BOA sound-systems: the mikeing of singers, the sophisticated speakers which make the orchestra & chorus & soloists sound brilliantly alive on stage…
Just in KAZ: Britain in the Workshop:
A number of varied Pop-Performances of contemporary & cutting-edge British music & music-oriented-events were programmed for the Bregenz-Festival’s large new Werkstattbühne. For the record, KAZ means Kunst aus der Zeit—or Contemporary-Art, including, of course, Neue Musik!
[KAZ could also stand for Kunst Aller Zeiten, or Art from All Ages—which might prove to be more interesting & less frantically-concentrated on desperate artistic-attempts to distance the New Innovative Art-works from all that has gone before. If you had a CD of Harrison Birtwistle’s Io Passion, would you play it again & again?]
The Bregenz/Britain-Connection was launched way back in March, when Richard Ayre’s contemporary-opera, The Cricket Recovers was presented. It was not about the very British Sport of Cricket, but about an insect & an elephant. Also a squirrel, a sparrow, an ant, & an owl…
In the Fest’s July Opening-Week, KAZ debuted with a three-part program: Made in Britain, Vol. 2, which featured at its center New Music composed by Rebecca Saunders, Michael Edwards, & Richard Barrett, plus Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ Ave Maris Stella & Aubades & Nocturnes from Birtwistle’s Io Passion.
[Maxwell Davies’ youth-opera, Cinderella, was performed in Munich at the Gärtnerplatz-Theater only the week before…]
This tri-partite program was prefaced at 6:30 pm by the Gob Squad with Who Are You Wearing?
The Concept involved a long black Stretch-Limo, some sections of Red-Carpet, a Marquee featuring two golden Oscar-like figures—actually a dumpy woman clutching a purse, & an Entrance lined with flashy frocks on coat-hangars, representing the kinds of Celebrities one might pass by at the Golden Globes, the Oscars, or the Emmys. That is, if you were yourself a Celebrity, making a Grand-Entrance!
By-standers & actual ticket-holders were herded into the Limo, driven to the Red-Carpet, ushered out, & Interviewed on Live-Video! These fake-interviews—supposedly with famed Personalities— were shown inside the KAZ Club on a large screen.
Actually, two nights previous, there had been a real Celebrity at the Tosca performance: TINA TURNER! Unfortunately, she didn’t stay for the Saturday-Show—which sadly looked more like Sophomore Stunt-Night at Beverly-Hills High than a cutting-edge Social-Satire.
If Intendant Pountney really wants to bring the Best of Britain to Bregenz, he should check-out the Edinburgh Festival-Fringe. Every spring, Manhattan has a stunning Best of Britain season, largely chosen from the previous summer’s Fringe-Festival-Firsts!
The New-Music—at 9 pm—was followed by Culture Shock, with a sample of London Night-Life—at 11 pm. Intendant David Pountney’s son, James, was responsible for providing the right kind of Sound for this evocation of the lively London Clubszene. Complete with lots of Second-Hand Cigarette-Smoke, as smoking is not yet forbidden in Austrian pubs, clubs, & restaurants…
Other British-Treats programmed included Minimal Britten, The Shops—all about shopping, & Strictly British. There is even an opera about British Soccer—Playing Away—coming up in August in the Werkstattbühne! Staged by David Pountney, no less…
After the Opening Week:
Not only will the Salute to Benjamin Britten—begun with Death in Venice—be continued with his American folk-opera, Paul Bunyan, but there will also be concerts of some of his orchestral-compositions. As well as of the music of his good friend, Dmitri Shoshtakovich! The two composers are both seen in the Festival programming as victims of varied forms of Oppression, Political & Social.
An impressive Benjamin Britten Life & Career Survey was set-up in the Festspielhaus foyer, with vintage-photos & informative-texts. This emphasized the extent of Britten’s innovative-experiments with Opera—in addition to the Paul Bunyan & Death in Venice productions actually being performed.
Among these impressive works of Music-Theatre are, of course, Peter Grimes—created for Peter Pears, Curlew River, Noye’s Fludde, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Albert Herring, The Rape of Lucrece, Gloriana—composed for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, The Turn of the Screw, inspired by Henry James’ haunting short-story, & Billy Budd—based on a story by Herman Melville.
The Bregenz Tradition of inviting drama-productions from major German-language-theatres has been reinforced this season with Christopher Hampton’s Gefährliche Liebschaften/Liasons Dangereuses, from Vienna’s Josefstädter-Theater & A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Hamburg’s prestigious Thalia-Theater. Oddly enough, Bregenz’s festival-rival—the Salzburg-Festival—is also offering a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream!
In Two Years: Aida Replaces Tosca on the Lake-Stage:
The identity of the next opera or musical chosen to follow a new Lake-Stage production—which will run for two summers, before its distinctive setting is dismantled—is always a Closely-Guarded-Secret. As is the title of the often-neglected Music Drama to be revived on the indoor-stage of the Festspielhaus.
Imagine the shock & chagrin of Gerd Alfons, Chief of Technical-Operations for the Festival—to discover the morning after the Tosca Premiere that the Vorarlberger Nachrichten’s review for Tosca was printed on the page facing a Big Story about Aida as the new Lake-Show for 2009!
This violation of Secrecy-Protocol was made even more painful by being illustrated with a stunning photo of the Aida production staged recently in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza!
Will Alfons & his production-team have to construct the Sphinx & all three Pyramids on the Lake-Stage in July 2009?
At least Bregenz’s leading newspaper didn’t betray the title of next summer’s indoor-opera. Not yet…
What Your Scribe found astounding was that both this report & the Tosca review were in print in fresh-off-the-press copies only an hour after the premiere’s final-curtain! Hold the Presses!
Some Bregenzer-Festspiele Statistics:
The so-called "Floating-Stage" on Lake Constance does not, in fact, float. It is securely mounted on steel & concrete pilings & its core is adapted every two years for the often-amazing mechanized-scenic-structures that are devised for open-air opera, operetta, & musical-theatre productions.
This venue—with its amphitheatre seating—has been expanded over the seasons until it now seats 7,000 spectators, with no possibility of further enlargements.
The Festival Opera House seats 1,200. In case of rain on the Lake-Stage, this means some 5,800 damp ticket-holders will not be able to see the alternative indoor-production of the Lake Spectacular.
The fairly new Workshop-Theatre seats 2,000—and is also good for parties & rehearsals! The Theater am Kornmarkt—Bregenz’s Repertory-Theatre—seats only 550, which limits audiences for drama & musical-theatre performances during the festival.
Together with potential seating in other venues such as the Lake-Foyer, the Lake-Studio, the Park-Foyer, the outdoor St. Martin’s Platz arena, & Kunsthaus Bregenz, there is a total of 12,250 seats available.
Over the past five years, audiences have averaged 192,000 per season—with the Lake-Stage often sold-out for the Opera-Spectaculars. But despite the astounding Visualizations of major works of Music-Theatre & the very high quality of voices, choruses, & orchestras, only four-percent of the summer spectators come from outside German-speaking Mittel-Europa—sometimes referred to as Deutschsprachigerraum.
Even Native-Austrians do not patronize the Bregenz-Festival—only 25 percent of viewers—as much as do their German neighbors, with an impressive 65 percent. A mere 10 percent comes from across the nearby border with Switzerland!
But the Festival does very well financially: it operates almost in the Black, with a total annual budget of some 20 million Euros—only 5.5 million of which come from State Subsidies. Commercial sponsors provide only 1.3 million Euros, although the advertising-exposure they receive is worth considerably more.
Currently, the Major Sponsors are UBS, IBM—which has helped the Festival develop a remarkable computerized Information-System that covers all activities, & Casinos Austria, which has a handsome Gambling-Hall just across from the Festspielhaus.
You do not have to fly off to Vegas to lose your Hemd—or shirt!
Other Austrian Summer-Festival Offerings:
Because of its always-sensational Lake-Stage Music-Theatre productions, the Bregenz-Festival stands out from all other Austrian Summer-Festivals.
Of course, the Salzburg-Festival is much Older & More Historic & More Richly State-Subsidized & has the Most Expensive Opera-Tickets in the World! And that certainly sets it apart from Bregenz, as well as all the rest of the more modest summer-fests in Austria.
But—just to offer a sampling of the other festivals—here are some of the productions being played this summer all over Austria:
How about Alma: Das Kultstück—on view in July & August in Kurhaus Semmering? The Alma in question is Alma Schindler-Mahler-Gropius-Werfel—inspired-wife to three great artists & Muse/Lover to several others! This production has toured worldwide for 12 years! It even played in Los Angeles, but not yet in New York: why not?
The Wörtherseebühne programmed Herr der Ringe, with Christopher Lee & the Tolkein-Ensemble.
Once again there was the Wiener Operettensommer in the Schlosspark Theresianum, as well as Mozart in the Theater an der Wien: La finta semplice & le nozze di Figaro. Not to overlook the lusty hi-jinx in the Wiener Lustspielhaus—which also programmed Così fan tutte!
Hair briefly visited Amstetten’s Eishalle, with Sissy at the Sommerarena Baden & Franz Molnar’s Olympia at the Wachaufestspiele Weissenkirchen!
Both Les Mis & Gluck’s Orpheus & Eurydike were on offer at the Musikfestival Steyr.
Die Geschichte vom braven Soldaten Schweik—from Hasek’s classic—is on view in Schloss Tillysburg. [You may remember Marshall Tilly as a great Roman-Catholic-General in the Thirty Years War: you can still see his mummified-corpse at Bavaria’s premiere Pilgrimage-Site: Altötting!]
Seefestspiel Mörbisch has long been a haven for summer operetta-productions: this season it’s the old reliable Wiener Blut. But the Opernfestspiele St. Margarethen is offering Verdi’s Nabucco!
Other quasi-masterpieces include Flea in Her Ear/Floh im Ohr at the Schloss-spiele Kobersdorf; Don Quijote & Der Bauer als Millionär at Burgspiele-Güssing as part of the Güssinger Kultursommer; The Scarlet Pimpernel at the Felsenbühne Staatz; Das Geheimnis des Grauen Hauses at the Nestroyspiele Schwechat; Nestroy’s own Lumpazi Vagabundus at the Maria Enzersdorfer Festspiele; Faust at the Sommerfestspiele Perchtoldsdorf, & Lohengrin auf Laxenburg at the Komödienspiele Laxenburg.
Not to overlook the summer-programs on offer at Burgarena-Finkinstein, nor Dracula & Traviata in the Schlossburgbühne in Graz, or Ferdinand Raimund’s comedic-classic, Der Verschwender, in Freisach’s Burghofbühne!
These potentially-interesting shows—especially if you understand German!—are listed here not to tantalize North Americans into booking immediately for travel to Austrian towns & villages they have never heard of.
But, rather, to suggest that there are equal—possibly even better—opportunities for more American & Canadian communities to develop attractive summer-theatre productions. There are now more than enough Shakespeare-Festivals, but certainly there are scores of now classical Broadway Musicals waiting for timely holiday-revivals?
And how about an Outdoor-Historical-Drama—preferably with a lot of Music & Dance!—based on important events in your town or city’s Illustrious-Past?
Celebrating Angelika Kauffmann!
In her time, Angelika Kauffmann was one of the most sought-after portrait-painters & she was certainly the one of the most artistically, financially, & socially-successful, regarded by Goethe & other Greats of the Age as "a woman of immense talent."
And yet, she is almost unknown to untutored art-lovers—despite the number of impressive Historical, Mythical, & Religious paintings & portraits of Aristocrats & Archbishops by Kauffmann in major museums.
Artemisia Gentileschi is far better known, thanks largely to the film about her life, loves, & career. Perhaps what Angelika Kauffmann needs is a Major-Motion-Picture, starring Nicole Kidman?
Born in Swiss Chur in 1741—but more like a native of the Bregenzer-Wald—Kauffmann learned to paint from her father, a traveling-artist. She learned fast, so she soon became famous in London, not only for her portraits of the Nobility, but also for her Salons, her Intelligence, her Charm, & her obvious Talent.
After a failed first-marriage in London, she moved to Rome with her new husband, also a painter. In the Eternal City, her fame & her commissions grew. Europe’s most influential men—on pilgrimage to Rome—made a point of visiting her Salons & luxurious villa.
When Kauffmann died in Rome in 5 November 1807—this year is the 200th anniversary of her death—her Funeral-Procession was the most magnificent since the death of Raphael.
When she died, she left many of her paintings—she did a lot of self-portraits!—to her family in the Bregenz-area. That’s one reason there are so many Kauffmann canvases in the Vorarlberger-Landesmuseum in Bregenz.
But the exhibition’s resourceful & knowledgeable curator, Tobias G. Natter, has also been able to secure loans of Kauffmann paintings from museums & private-collections in London, Rome, Vienna, Florence, Munich, Krakow, Weimar, Zürich, Edinburgh, & Vaduz—from the Prince of Liechtenstein’s fabled art-collection!
Indeed, there are so many of Kauffmann’s impressive artworks in this exhibition that it has had to be divided between the Bregenz Landesmuseum & the Angelika Kauffmann Museum in Vorarlberg’s
The skill & sensitivity with which Kauffmann portrayed her Royal & Noble subjects—as well as orchestrating great historical-scenes on canvas—is so very special that this show should be seen more widely. Failing that, there is an impressive catalogue available. Try the museum’s Website: www.vlm.at
MYTHOS Beside the Bodensee:
Kunsthaus-Bregenz Showcases Beuys & Barney & Twombley, & Gordon!
The announced Curatorial-Purpose in mounting Mythos—in Kunsthaus-Bregenz—is to bring together one "major historical position" & three Contemporary Artists. The Artistic-Touchstone in this show is Joseph Beuys, who has supposedly somehow influenced or inspired the "work-statements" of Douglas Gordon, Cy Twombly, & Matthew Barney.
Each artist has been given one entire concrete-floor in the Kunsthaus. Beuys is represented by a Seminal-Work, the now dismantled Strassenbahnhaltestelle—ein Monument für die Zukunft/Tram-Stop—A Monument for the Future—which was originally exhibited with its rusted old cast-iron streetcar-pole in a standing-position, accompanied by a piece of rusted tram-track.
Now sections of the cast-iron pole—plus the track-segment—lie on the cement floor, along with four mortar-barrels & a culverin with head, mount, & crank! Actually, this is not the original tram-pole, but an iron-casting Beuys had made of the original for his 1976 Venice Biennale German-Pavilion Installation: Strassenbahnhaltestelle.
Beuys’ original Venice-Installation was far more complex than what is now lying inertly on the Kunsthaus floor. Nonetheless, the KUB guide insists that these pieces of iron, together, make up "one of Joseph Beuys’ most important works."
A Wall-Text—how would we understand the Significance of Modern Art without Curatorial-Explanations?—even suggests that this is one of the most important art-works of the 20th Century! This may well be because Strassenbahnhaltestelle "unfolds as a mythical image [Mythos!] of memory, suffering, & recognition."
It has even more importance—socially & culturally—because Beuys’ "act of processing historical events, both private & collective, is turned into the symbolic incentive for the planning of a better future."
No doubt Dick Cheney & Condoleeza Rice often look at reproductions of Joseph Beuys’ art-works to help them plot a better future for Muslims in the Middle-East!
Beuys? Wasn’t he that gaunt German guy in the fedora hat? Or was he Belgian…
As "the crux of the works shown at Kunsthaus-Bregenz the is the Death-Theme," the quasi-Futurism of Matthew Barney’s Cetacea—sprawling blobs of "a vaseline-like synthetic-material" similar to some glops seen in his fairly recent show at the Guggenheim—does not augur well for the Zukunft, let alone the Gegenwart!
Douglas Gordon’s human-skull—pierced by 40 five-pointed star-shapes—certainly evokes the Death-Theme. Indeed, the Curatorial-Wisdom is that Gordon "transforms an object of death into a symbol of hope & failure." What is even more evocative is that: "It turns the exhibition-space into a sepulchral-chamber."
Actually, it looks like a ritually-pierced-cranium of some nameless-cadaver, standing alone in a plexiglass-case in the middle of an otherwise empty cement-blockhouse…
But there is more to this skull than merely meets the eye: "The forty stars stand for the artist’s age and thus for the knowledge about the transience of human-existence that is preserved in mythical permanence by the artwork."
As for the splash & dribble "Romantic "Symbolism" of Cy Twombly’s twelve-panel epic, Lepanto, unless you already know about this famed Naval-Battle of 1571—in which Ottoman ships were decisively defeated—you wouldn’t have a clue.
Echoing History via American Abstract Expressionism—in Curator-Speak: "confronts the viewer with powerful chromatic chords & a rich palette of yellow, red, turquoise & aquamarine hues, which vividly correspond to the drama of the historical events."
Only if you were actually there in the Corinthian-Gulf in 1571…
But what has Cy achieved with this dozen canvases, splotched & dribbled with bold colors?
He has been "taking the Historical-Narrative & Ancient-Mythic Theme out of the traditional Historical Period Painting Setting & placing it in a Picturesque Panorama infused with the abstractly Expressive Tension between Beauty & Death." [Caps added.]
Oh! Thanks for the Aufklärung!
Also: "The idea of the Myth extends the world of a rationally comprehensible Reality into the Supernatural & Superhuman Realm." [Caps added.]
Good to know that. But with so much empty-space left-over in Kunsthaus-Bregenz, couldn’t there have been more skulls? Or maybe Jeff Koons’ coffin?
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2007. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: email@example.com.
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