GLENN LONEY'S ARTS RAMBLES
Report for The Munich Opera Festival 2012
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
To navigate to items in this table of contents, click on (*)
THIS WAS THE FEST THAT WAS…
This Year of Our Lord, 2012, the Ancient City of Monaco was 850 Years Old!
No, we're not talking about the Adopted Home & Throne of the Late & Much Beloved Princess Grace…
The City of Munich--which was founded 850 years ago by Beer Brewing Monks--was originally named Monaco, which is Latin/Italian for Monks.
Among those Beer Loving Servants of God were such Holy Orders as The Franciscaners, The Paulaners, The Benediktiners, The Augustiners, & The Dominikaners…
As for that Worldwide Favorite, Löwenbräu, there was neither then nor is there now a Holy Order of Lion Monks.
Nor were the Sisters of Mercy nor the Carmelite Nuns very much into Brewing…
On the 800th Anniversary, Your Roving Arts Reporter was among the Thousands of Native Münchners who thronged the Ludwigstrasse & the Maximilianstrasse--to watch the Faschings Parade of Lavish Floats, celebrating the Long, Long History of the Bavarian Capital.
In German Speaking Roman Catholic Countries, Fasching is very much like New Orleans' Mardi Gras.
Right up to the Rigorous Religious Horrors of Ash Wednesday--when All Good Things & All Good Times must come to a Full Stop [Lent & Re Lent] waiting for the Catastrophe of Jesus' Crucifixion & the Miracle of His Rising from the Dead--Faschings Gesellschaften, or Societies, have Great Good Times, climaxed by the Annual Parades.
The Fasching Floats are usually Elaborate & Celebratory, but they often also are Parodic, making lusty Visual Fun of Politicians & Public Morés.
Munich's famed National Theater, destroyed by Allied Bombing Raids--which left the Heart of Munich some 90 Percent Rubble & Ashes--had then yet to be rebuilt.
So one Float--whose Sponsors were probably Beer Swilling Tax Payers who didn't want to spend Millions of Deutsche Marks on a Cultural Facility that they would never enter--made Hilarious Mock of the Bavarian Elitists who were so eager for the 1963 Reopening of the National Theatre, with the beloved American Opera Singers, Jess Thomas & Claire Watson, who effectually became King & Queen of the Bavarian State Opera.
Today, the National Theatre is the Major Venue of the Bavarian State Opera & its Annual Opera Festival.
So now Everyone has something to be Thankful For, with the Reconstruction. We Bombed It: They Fixed It!
Even Local Opera Haters profit from the Tourist Trade that's generated by Bavarian State Kultur!
This was the Summer of Infrastructure Repair in Munich.
Although the Sides of Tour Busses advertised Hairspray & Avenue Q as Potential Attractions at the Deutsches Theater, its Auditorium was, in fact, filled with Scaffolding…
Not only was the Gärtnerplatz Theater--the Bavarian Capital's Second Tier Opera house--closed for Renovations, but the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich's MoMA, had developed Serious Cracks in its Walls, so that all the Contemporary Art Treasures had to find other Venues for flaunting their Notoriety.
Munich's many Museums, nonetheless, had a wide variety of Interesting Exhibitions on display.
Among the most Notable were those at the newly Digitally Interactive Stadtmuseum am Jacobi Platz.
Its amazing Collection of Musical Instruments--not only from All Over the World, but also from Four Centuries or more--provided visitors the opportunity to find out how some of these actually Sound when Played!
The History of the Food Market was celebrated, as were the Lives & Customs of Münchners over the Generations.
Munich also has important State Museums--in addition to the Structurally Unsound Pinakothek der Moderne--there are also the Alte Pinakothek, the Neue Pinakothek , the Palais Pinakothek, the Glypotothek, the Staatliche Antiken Sammlung, the Lenbach Haus, the Museum Brandhorst, the Sammlung Schack, the National Museum, the Natural History Museum, & the Science & Industry Oriented Deutsches Museum…
Even the great Staatsbibliothek was showcasing Carl Orff's Worldwide Hit, CARMINA BURANA, which was itself enjoying a 75th Anniversary: Music Manuscripts, Production Photos, Record Jackets for all the Shellacs & Vinyls made of this remarkable Medieval Oratorio.
Being a Longtime Admirer & later, a Friend of Professor Orff--he enthusiastically endorsed My Efforts to get his Astutuli & Die Bernauerin translated into American English & produced in the United States--Scott Bennett & I dropped by the Orff Institute in Munich to say Hello to its Chief, Dr. Thomas Rosch.
[Very soon, my Carl Orff Source Book will be on line on the Glenn Loney Bookshelf, one of the varied features of TheArtsArchve.com…]
But this year was also the 75th Anniversary of the Opening of Adolf Hitler's Haus der Deutschen Kunst, designed by Prof. Paul Ludwig Troost.
The Purpose of this new Temple of Aryan Art was to celebrate the Paintings & Sculptures of Approved Artists such as Arno Breker & Adolf Ziegler--who had captured Der Führer's fancy with his almost chaste Art Deco Nudes.
In his Opening Festrede, Hitler denounced what he called International or Cosmopolitan Art, which were really Code Words for the Distortions & Abstractions that such Moderns as Picasso & Kandinsky had foisted on an Innocent German Public.
Like that Other Major European Dictator, Joseph Stalin, Hitler preferred the kind of "Socialist Realism" that both accurately depicted & honestly honored the Work & Dedication of German Farmers, German Autobahn Builders, German Factory Workers, Heroic German Soldiers, & Fertile German Mothers…
At the same time, the Nazis opened the Infamous Exhibition of Entartete Kunst, in the Glas Palast--which was destroyed in World War II.
Teaching in Post War West Germany, Your Arts Reporter was able to acquire the Official Catalogue of the Haus der Deutschen Kunst Austellung. In a Junk Shop, actually…
There was No Catalogue for the Degenerate Art Modernities, because both Hitler & Propaganda Minister Goebbels did not want anyone to have a Visual Memory of what had been removed from Major Museums to be Destroyed… Or Sold at Auction in Switzerland.
Now--after Decades of Neglect--the Bavarian State has spent Millions to Restore this Fascist Art Deco Architecture to something like its Original Interior. Only with Doubled Exhibition Space!
The Exterior was never compromised, although after the End of the War, American Officers did use the Kunst Haus for their Officers Club…
Now, it is under the Supervision of the Distinguished Nigerian Yoruba Curator, Okwui Enwezor, who first came to Prominence as the Chief of Documenta in Kassel.
Although the Big News this July was the New RING at the Bavarian State Opera, Friday the 13th saw hordes of Beer Trucks setting up shop in the Marienplatz--in front of the Neo Gothic Rathaus--to help some [estimated] 30,000 Schwulen celebrate Christopher Street!
One Leading Newspaper asked: "Is Munich the Gayest City in Germany?"
Way back in 1933, Gays began to fear for their lives, as Adolf Hitler initiated his Incarceration & Extermination Program at Dachau, to rid the German Reich of any Effeminate Aryans.
How Times Have Changed!
Your Roving Arts Reporter saw some really Tough Looking Dykes on the Marienplatz…
PASSING GLANCES AT SCENES SEEN:
THE RING: DAS RHEINGOLD
There once was a Time when every Opera House & City Theatre in West Germany had to have its very own productions of Richard Wagner's RING Cycle in its Repertory.
Even then, back in the 1950s, there weren't enough Wagnerian Helden Tenors to go around.
Not to mention Memorable Brünnhildes…
Today, the Casting Problems are even worse, as Opera Houses around the World have to have their own RINGS.
In 2012--unlike at Manhattan's Met Opera, with its disastrously clanking Robert Lepage RING--the Bavarian State Opera is fortunate to have assembled an Outstanding Cast for its New RING.
Unlike Bayreuth--where each New RING has to premiere Four Operas in sequence in Opening Week--in Munich, it has been possible to unveil them one at a time, beginning back in February, with Das Rheingold.
What that meant, however, was that Siegfried & Götterdämmerung did not complete the New Cycle until this Summer.
What that meant was that Your Roving Arts Reporter was only able to see the First Two Operas in the Cycle, so great was the Demand--not only from Major Music Critics, but also from Perfect Wagnerites--to see the RING entire.
Fortunately, this RING will be repeated Next Summer, so my Hopes Are High for seeing it Complete!
Even with some Memorable Scenic Moments in the Unusual Staging of Andreas Kriegenburg, there are some Peculiar Decisions that work against both the Text & the Score.
Finally, these do not really matter so much, for the splendid Staatsoper Orchester--under the Magisterial Baton of Maestro & General Music Director Kent Nagano--makes Wagner's Score truly Soar.
The Brilliant Voices & Mimetic Talents of the Outstanding Cast are even more Effective in bringing this ancient Nordic Myth to a kind of Super Human Life.
What was, for me, even more Rivetingly Effective was watching & listening to the Actor/Singers, while also reading Wagner's German Texts, projected above the Stage Picture.
Yes, of course, One Knows What Happens; One knows, more or less, what Wotan, Loge, & Fafner are singing.
But few in the Audience--including the Critics--have the Libretto completely Memorized…
So, to see the Actual German Words of Wagner's Poetic Texts projected above the Action gives New Meaning & Immediacy to the Humanity of the Mythic.
Projected English or French Super Text Translations do not work quite the same way as Wagner's own unique Germanisms, with his fondness for Alliterations of Consonants in Short, Sharp, Single Syllable Words: often with a string of G G G Gs…
These have a Peculiar Power, especially when barked out in Ecstasy or Agony.
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: 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 World 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 National Theater, 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 Bodies 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 the Gods 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…
THE RING: 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.
[As part of a number of Accompanying RING Art Installations & Art Actions, there is a Replica of Nothung on a Great White Catafalque in one of the Elegant Ludwigian Chambers of the Grand Foyer.
[But the Name engraved on the front of the Catafalque is NOTHING…]
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 Jihadis.
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?
To Be Continued, Next Summer…
Looking at the handsome production of Rossini's Cenerentola--or Cinderella--in the National Theater, I remembered what my Old Friend, Jean Pierre Ponnelle, once told me about this Comic Opera for Kids of All Ages: "Glenn, this is a Perfect Rossini Machine!"
What I had forgotten--as I never look at the actual Program until I'm back home at the Keyboard--was that Ponnelle had himself designed & directed this Production!
So I must have seen this delightful Show years & years ago on this very Stage!
Initially, Ponnelle began working in Opera as a Set & Costume Designer.
But--frustrated by Stage Directors who didn't know how to use his Artistic Visions effectively--he decided he needed to do the Stagings himself.
What Ponnelle soon discovered, however, was that his Sets & Costumes were Too Fussy, Too Busy. They actually detracted from the Effect he wished to produce on stage.
"They distracted the Audience's Attention from the Performers & from the Development of the Narrative.
"As a Stage Designer, I had been attempting to call attention to myself, rather than to serve the Total Production."
Soon after that Epiphany, Ponnelle had the ingenious Pet Halmen begin designing his new Productions.
But, in Mid June, at the Bavarian State Opera, I had forgotten how I once loved this Staging, thinking instead that it was Far Too Complicated…
In fact, when some of the Mugging & Romping Overkill of Ponnelle's Replicated Staging became too Obvious & Juvenile, I even welcomed the Baroque Complications of Ponnelle's Ruined Palazzo Setting as a distraction from the Hi Jinx filling the Stage.
Now, at this Remove from the Performance Aesthetics of Yesteryear--Crowd Pleasing that apparently still works in Munich--I'd rather have Jean Pierre's Settings as a Toy Theatre, than as a Framework for Monumental Mugging.
Unfortunately, that excellent Soprano, Joyce DiDonato, was not feeling so Great & so begged the Audience's Indulgence, soldiering on as Cinderella.
As often happens, she saved her Voice for the Big Moments, improving as the Libretto progressed.
But Rossini's Genius was not in creating Through Composed Musical Narratives.
Instead, Cenerentola is a Series of charming--even Virtuoso--Set Pieces: Solos, Duets, Trios, Sextets & Choruses, all lustily rendered by the able Staats Oper Ensemble.
Outstanding was the Dandini of Nikolay Borchev--the Kammerdiener of the Prince, pretending to be the Prince himself, to expose & shame the Ugly Step Sisters: Eri Nakamura & Paola Gardina.
The Award Winning Young American Tenor, Lawrence Brownlee, was the Prince.
Antonello Allemandi briskly conducted the frisky Staats Oper Orchester.
When Jean Pierre Ponnelle designed & directed his Stunningly Innovative La Bohème for the Kleines Haus of the Salzburg Festival many years ago--it later was transferred to & visually swamped on the Immense Stage of the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House--its Central Scenic Prop was a Giant Stove.
Ponnelle's Idea was to Visually Dramatize how Very Very Cold the Quartet of Bohemian Parisian Artists were feeling in their Miserable Garret.
This really Worked…
For the Metropolitan Opera production, Franco Zeffirelli designed equally Cramped Quarters, but, as the Met's Stage is enormous, Franco showed this Attic surrounded by the Roofs of Paris, seemingly stretching for Kilometers.
But both Director/Designers made the Quartet's Quarters look somehow Interesting, which is not the case with Munich's Now Ancient Production.
I regret to have to say this, as the Faded & Shabby Settings were long ago designed by the Late Rudolf Heinrich, who was a Dear Friend & a Longtime Mentor to me in matters of Opera Design & Stage Technology.
One of the most recent Bohemian Garrets of Worthy Memory was that of the New York City Opera--now struggling to survive--in which Marcello, the Painter, was warming the space by splashing Vibrant Color all over the walls, as he depicted the Israelites Crossing the Red Sea, with Pharaoh & his Armies being engulfed.
Even worse in Munich was the potentially Dynamic Scene at Café Momus, where the Four Friends--with Tubercular Mimi, now deeply in love with Rodolfo, the Poet--go to Celebrate.
As originally staged by Otto Schenk & unfortunately Replicated even now, it is all on One Level, with a variety of Street Parades & Activities all crowded together, in what seems to be the most Cramped Intersection of all 19th Century Paris.
Franco Zeffirelli's magnificent Met Staging is Bustling with Life on Several Levels: A fascinating, colorful Parisian Slice of Life…
What absolutely Saved the Munich Festival presentation of this Tired Old Staging was the Heart Breaking Performance of Angela Gheorghiu as Mimi!
Strongly Supported by the Passionate Rodolfo of Joseph Calleja…
Laura Tatulescu's flighty Musetta was also Plus, supported by Levente Molnár's Marcello.
Israel's Multi Talented Dan Ettinger conducted. He is also No Stranger to the Orchestra Pits of the Met &Covent Garden!
Unfortunately for the Ghost of Giacomo Puccini--were it hovering over the Stages of both the Met & Munich--Verismo is not much honored in Luc Bondy's deliberately sterile Vision of Tosca.
At the Turn of the Century--19th into 20th, that is--Naturalism & Realism were replacing Romanticism & Historicism.
David Belasco's "Realism"--in both Butterfly & Girl of the Golden West--fascinated Puccini, yielding both Madama Butterfly & La Fanciulla del West.
In setting the Doomed Love of Floria Tosca with Mario Cavaradossi to Music, Puccini was intent on visually evoking Showy Scenes.
Notably the great Church of Santa Maria dell' Valle, an Elegant Salon in Rome's Palazzo Farnese, & the Summit of the Castel' San Angelo, with its great Looming Angel.
Bondy's Designer--who also designed Patrice Chereau's 1976 Bayreuth RING--is the Minimalist Richard/Riccardo Peduzzi.
Forget about Great Papal Pomp in a Grand Procession up the Central Aisle of the Mural Infested Nave of Santa Maria…
This bare Brick Walled Space looks either Unfinished or Abandoned.
The Villainous Baron Scarpia conducts his Military Interrogations in a Post Post Modernist Void that would shame the Enhancements of Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.
There are No Signs of Water Boarding, but Dick Cheney was not an Advisor on this production, seen first at the Met, before Munich.
As for the Execution of Cavaradossi--in the Desolate Nothingness of the Current Staging--even in Puccini's Original Libretto it seems unlikely that Tosca & Mario would have so much time to themselves before the Actual Firing Squad goes to work…
As for that Failed Puppet popping out of a Window in a Bare Brick Tower: Bring Back Zinka Milanov & HerTrampoline!
Franco Zeffirelli's magnificent Met Production gets all this Verismo lavishly Right.
Daniel Craig even looked Verismisch in the Bregenz Festival Tosca, with a Great Eye for a Stage…
What certainly Saves Munich's Festival Tosca is the passionately effective Floria Tosca of the magnificent Catherine Nagelstad.
The Evilly Conniving Bryn Terfel makes a Frightening Foil for her Desperate Attempts to save the Mario of Massimo Giordano.
Marco Armiliato conducted as though he meant it…
Admirerersof Peter Shaffer's Amadeus are well aware of Young Wolf Mozart's Efforts to Please his Demanding Father, the Salzburg Archbishop's Court Composer & Music Master, Leopold Mozart.
Stage Director David Bösch has constructed his fascinating Prinzregenten Theater production of Mitridate around this tortured Father Son Relationship.
But--although the Nominal Historic Era of this Italianate Musik Drama is verging on the Christian Era--the Visualization is rather like a Children's Horror Story.
This is thanks to the Genius of the Stage Design & to the Ingenious Projections of Patrick Bannwart.
The Stage at first seems like a black Inverted Bowl, on which a Frustrated Child is trying to find ways to Sketch Out his Troubling Visions…
Comical White Outline Characters march across the Black Upstage. Even Roughly Drafted White Slogans appear!
The Mitridate Program repeats such Images & Devices, notably with Roughly Drafted White Words from Leopold's Cautionary Letters to Young Amadeus.
Based on a Tragedy by Jean Racine, Mitridate's Libretto juxtaposes Two Sons--Sifare & Farnace--Rivals for the Approval & [Non Existent] Affection of their War Lusty Father, Mitridate.
Imperial Rome threatens his Pontian Kingdom, even as his Counter Tenor Son, Farnace, is Making a Deal with a sneaky Roman Intermediary.
A False Report arrives of the King's Death: Who will seize His Throne?
Who will get to Marry Aspasia, his Designated Second Wife, now seemingly Available to either Sifare or Farnace?
Can You Imagine a Dad who would pretend to be Dead, just to Test the Loyalty of his Sons?
Well, that's the Way Royal Dads used to be in Neo Classical French Tragedies, based on Historic Lore & Legend…
But--with Soaring Celestial Music of the 14 Year Old Wolfgang Amadeus--this Tragic Tale takes on a New Dimension of Coloratura Hi Jinx entirely…
Nixing the Idea of a Neo Classical Performance Milieu, however, Bösch & Bannwart have set the Story on the Beach, where Soaring Seagulls are dropping Shit Rich Guano all over the Stage, including the Musicians in the Staatsoper Orchestra!
There are even two Stuffed Seagulls standing watch in the Auditorium!
But the Real Glory of this Visually Arresting Production is the Magnificent Singing of the equally Magnificent Cast: notably the Counter Tenor of Lawrence Zazzo, whose Muscular Acting as Farnace also amazes.
Seagulls are the Least of Their Trials…
Outstanding also is the Noble Sifare of Tara Erraught, dressed as a Schoolboy, but ardent for the Hand, Heart, & Body of the Woman who should be his Step Mother, Aspasia--passionately sung & acted by Anja Nina Bahrmann.
As a somewhat rejected Bride for Farnace, the Ismene of Lisette Oropesa was both vocally & visually Impressive, considering the Rough Handling she has to endure.
Barry Banks was the Aging & Imperious Father, Mitridate.
Although Conductor Mark Wiggelsworth & his Consummate Cast gave Amadeus His Due, this Partitur goes on for Much Too Long.
People were Leaving well before it was finally clear that Ponto was Doomed…
Beyond Festive Munich & Into the Alps!
Off To Oberammergau & The Passionspiel Theater:
Like the Bayreuth Festival--which was resumed after World War II, only in 1951--the Internationally Famed Oberammergau Passion Play was not shown again until 1950.
But this was not really a Break in the Tradition, for the Citizens of Oberammergau only stage this Epic Music Drama every Decade.
Spared from the Disastrous Spread of the Black Plague through the Bavarian Alps, the Villagers vowed to perform the Passion of the Christ every Ten Years.
This means that some Lucky Alpine Masochist gets to Hang on the Cross for nearly Half an Hour!
But Multiple Times during the Decadal Summer!
Your Roving Arts Reporter was teaching in Oberammergau--at the US Amy [so called] Intelligence School--in the late 1950s, so his First Experience of the Passionspiele was in 1960.
When it was still Eight Hours Long…
I have since returned--decadally--in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, & 2010.
But, in the Years Between Christ's Passion--which recently has been featuring Rabbis in Big Hats--the only thing for Tourists to see is the Vast Empty Stage & the Dressing Rooms, with the Elaborate Costumes displayed on Hangars & Wardrobe Racks.
This seemed a Great Loss, in not using the Great Stage for some kind of Performance that might be in tune with the Semi Sacred Character of this Unusual Venue.
My Suggestions were published--both In Print & Online--but I also believe that some Tourist Minded Locals saw the Light as well.
Oberammergau Lives fromTourism!
Carl Orff's Carmina Burana has graced this stage…
[It is also festively performed at Kloster Andechs, where Orff is buried, despite his Two Divorces.]
Now, Christoph Stückl--a Native Son, as no Outsider can Be In or Work On the Passionspiele--has staged this summer William Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra!
Stückl staged the Passion Play in 2000 & 2010 with such success that he was soon invited to re stage Max Reinhardt's famed Jedermann at the Salzburg Festival.
The Passion Play Stage is, of course, No Stranger to Death.
But Jesus was Crucified, while Antonius & Cleopatra committed Suicide!
Nonetheless, both Historic Narratives share an Augustan Time Frame, with Caesarian Palestinian Egyptian Locales…
Fortunately, Stückl's staging was nothing like an Actual Caesarian!
Considering how Complicated & Massively Peopled the Production was, it was surprising that it had only Seven Performances in July & August 2012.
The Passionspiele Bühne--as devised & modernized over the Decades--is very, very Wide, with a Central Proscenium Stage, used for presenting Living Pictures--or Tableux Vivants--of Famous Scenes from the Old & the New Testaments.
Major Biblical Events like Adam & Eve Driven from Paradise. Or Joshua fighting the Battle of Jericho: Good Book Narratives which must be reduced to a Single Image, although posed in 3 D.
On either side are Arcades & Flights of Steps that permit various Triumphal Entries--Jesus' Fatal Entry into Jerusalem, riding on His Ass, for instance--as well as Crowd Scenes & Choral Ecstasies.
For Antony & Cleopatra, Stage Director Christoph Stückl & his Oberammergauer Designer, Stefan Hagenauer, painted the whole Façade Brick Red!
Talk about Painting the Town Red!
Which the Attic Greeks did for Major Religious Festivals…
Hagenauer's Reds, however, suggested the Military & Territorial Passions which have caused the then Rulers of the World to meet for an ultimately Disastrous Shipboard Get Together, which will Destroy Pompey, Lepidus, & Antony, along with his Inamorata, Cleopatra.
To Consolidate his Roman Power, Julius Caesar's Nephew, Octavius--one of the Three Ruling Triumvirs--gives his Beloved Sister, Octavia, to be Wife to Antony.
This is really Not Going To Work--as the Man who would later call himself Caesar Augustus well knows--because Antony already has a Wife, the Rebellious Fulvia & a Full Time Lover in Egypt…
Even Antony realizes his Nile Infatuation is a Fatal Infection:These strong Egyptian
Fetters I must break/Or lose myself in dotage…
For the current A&C Production, the Central Stage doesn't offer Tableux. Instead, it houses a Black Pyramid, flanked by Black Palm Trees.
Cascading down a Flight of Stairs in front of it is a Mass of Black Matter, with a Black Fountain in its Center.
At either side are two more Black Palm Trees, which tend to shake uneasily when Cleopatra leans on them.
Because there are so many Roman Soldiers trooping around the Stage, this could be a Re Make of the Passion Play, only without Jesus, Pontius Pilate, & all those Rabbis inFunny Hats!
Will Shakespeare's Drama--or, if you will, Chris Marlowe's Tragedy--is not so well known, nor Often Performed, but it is a Play of Great Power & Human Frailty.
Indeed, the Doomed Romance of Cleopatra & Antony is one of the World's Great Love Stories.
After the Shakespeare/Marlowe Treatment came Dryden's All for Love, or The World Well Lost.
Even Less Often Performed…
The Kleopatra [Germanic Spelling] of Barbara Dobner was indeed Sexy, Imperious, Sinuous, Willful, & Passionate.
Her Antonius, Andreas Richter, was a Hunk!
The Cold Blooded & Calculating Octavius/Octavian of Frederik Mayet was a Dangerous Foe, but Antony did not seem to realize What Was at Stake until it was Too Late.
[This was Nothing Like the Antony & Cleopatra that Anthony Hopkins & Judy Dench once offered at London's National Theatre…]
But several Directorial Choices in Stückl's Staging seemed Odd:
Why should the Supposedly Powerful Commander--the Triumvir Lepidus--be played like some kind of Arm Flapping, Garment Swishing Old Crazy?
Why--if Octavius loved his Sister so much--did he strike her to the ground, in front of the Troops, when Antony had effectively rejected her?
Why did he have a Chorus of Egyptian Maidens parade across the stage in Profile, putting their Arms & Hands out in one of those Old Vaudeville Routines…
There were No Supertitles--neither in German nor in English--but this was Not a Problem, as all Speeches & Choruses were clearly & oftenPassionately Delivered.
Oberammergauer Markus Zwink provided the Score, as he has done for the Passion Play & the
Mardian, Cleopatra's Eunuch, was played with Extreme Effeminacy by Martin Schuster.
This seemed another Odd Choice, but that may be because my Favorite Mardian was
Anderson Cooper's Dad, Wyatt Cooper.
Way back in the late 1940s--at UC/Berkeley--I did the Stage Lighting for our University Theatre mounting of Antony & Cleopatra.
Wyatt was so Seductive, dripping Sexy Southern Charm…
Later, he Lucked Out when he became Mr. Gloria Vanderbilt!
Although, to her Credit, she always insisted that they be indentified in Society Photos as Mr. & Mrs. Wyatt Cooper…
STARS IN THEIR CROWNS:
The Munich Fest's Rational Ratings--
Richard Wagner's DAS RHEINGOLD [****]
Dick Wagner's DIE WALKÜRE [****]
Giachino Rossini's CENERENTOLA [***]
Giacomo Puccini's LA BOHÈME [**]
Giacomo Puccini's TOSCA [***]
Wolf Mozart's MITRIDATE [*****]
Bill Shakespeare's ANTONIUS UND CLEOPATRA [****]
Caricature of Glenn Loney in header is by Sam Norkin.
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