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THE 2004 BEYREUTH FESTIVAL
By Glenn Loney, August 5, 2004
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
The New Beyreuth *
Wolfgang Wagner Takes Over! *
Outsiders Out of Austria! *
About The Scourge of AIDS in Africa, not a word. *
Venusberg Like an Open Powerbook? *
A Production with a Hole in Its Heart *
Waiting-Not for Lefty-But for Parsifal? *
A RING Fit for a Prince-Or Vice Versa? *
Moratorium on Multi-Media Opera-Productions Now! *
AIDS in Africa Ignored by New Parsifal Production! *
Do You Know What You Have Just Seen? *
Sinister Cremaster Influences, Plus Josef Beuys! *
Workshopping Parsifal for 2005? *
The Flying Dutchman Flies Again-With Videos That Work Wonders! *
All At Sea in Senta's Living-Room! *
A Last Sad Look at a Remarkable RING *
Visualizing a New RING To Be Different from All Others? *
Goodbye, Flimm RING, Goodbye! *
Personnen-Regie-and Then Some! *
Credits To the Cast! *
What's Hagen Doing in Siegfried's Opera? *
Götterdämmerung Sensations: *
Who Will Stage the 2006 RING? Who Is Competent To Do It? *
Loney Bayreuth Festival Website Project: *
Bayreuth Goes To The Dogs! *
THE NEW-NEW BAYREUTH
Is This Nonsense Really Necessary?
The Past Is But Prologue-
When Richard Wagner's grandsons-Wieland & Wolfgang Wagner-resumed the Bayreuth Festival in 1951, after the wartime closure of the annual festival, the production-style that soon emerged was given the title of THE NEW BAYREUTH.
Neither of the Wagner brothers wished to resume the pre-war fantasy-romantic Wagner Festival stagings of director Heinz Tietjens and designer Emil Preetorius-although even today some of these stage-visions look very attractive.
But that very attractiveness-"picture-pretty"-obviously worked against the power and the mythic meaning of Wagner's operas.
Nor did the Brothers Wagner want to exhume historic Wagner stagings, despite the eagerness of some "Perfect Wagnerites"-Bernard Shaw's dismissive term for Wagner Fanatics- to see such revivals.
Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner understood very well that their illustrious grandfather had been in the forefront of experimenting with new technology for the stage-the obvious visual complement to his revolutionary approach to Music-Theatre. Richard Wagner had also famously said: Kinder, schaff was neues! Or: Create something new!
The so-called New Bayreuth was largely Wieland's intellectual and visual inspiration, but Wolfgang Wagner was never far behind in adapting the new ideas of Expressionist or Abstracted stage-images in place of literal or historic evocations of Wagner's musical visions of Old Germanic Legends.
Nor was Wieland Wagner shy about using a kind of modernized Historicism in his new production of Die Meistersinger on Shakespeare's 400th anniversary. He set the action in the framework of the Bard's Globe Theatre!
Wolfgang Wagner Takes Over!
After Wieland's untimely death, Wolfgang Wagner had to assume the artistic as well as the financial and technical direction of the Bayreuth Festival. This has been a Herculean Task.
Running the Festival on the administrative side has always been a full-time job: securing state subsidies and corporate sponsorship, contracting artists and musicians, overseeing design and construction of new productions, planning annual repertories, ensuring that the famous Bayreuth workshops have the latest and best equipment-as well as keeping the even more famous Bayreuth stage in the forefront of technical innovations.
All of these responsibilities are more than enough for one Performing Arts Manager, no matter how able and energetic.
But Wolfgang Wagner also is the Public Face of the Bayreuth Festival, so he also has to make time for interviews and press-conferences. Not to overlook visits to Wagner Societies in major European cities such as Budapest! His talented daughter Katharina Wagner-surely his successor as Festival Director-was working there at the National Opera at the time.
To be wearing the hat of the Festival's Artistic Director as well would seem more than any mortal could manage. But even at age 83, Wolfgang Wagner shows no slowing of pace.
He has finally given up staging operas, but in the wake of some unfortunate "New-New Bayreuth" Wagner productions-and not only at Bayreuth-Wolfgang Wagner's post-Wieland stagings are beginning to look better and better!
Two Cases In Point: Wagner's recently retired Bayreuth Die Meistersinger looks like a Masterwork, compared with the ghastly new Multimedia Post-Modernist staging in Munich.
And, frankly, I was not the only Bayreuth Regular to have become bored with his Maya-style Bayreuth Parsifal.
But-compared with the cluttered new staging that has just replaced it- Wagner's Parsifal now looks like a jewel of visual clarity in interpreting the Legend of the Grail. That is: the mythic fable as imagined in music, character, action, and words by his illustrious grandfather.
Not as a Parsifal, reworked to be something else entirely by a director who doesn't seem to have listened analytically to Wagner's score-nor to have closely studied the libretto-for cues in staging this monumental work. This was all too apparent after the Bayreuth premiere of the new staging in late July
Kunst-Aktion Schlingensief in Wagner's Festspielhaus!
Reacting-or, perhaps, over-reacting-to critics of his stagings and his management of the Festival, in recent years Wolfgang Wagner has made a point of inviting celebrity enfants terribles stage-directors to "make something new" out of his grandfather's operas.
This summer, this practice reached the visual and intellectual nadir in Christoph Schlingensief's appalling production of Parsifal. Of which, more to follow shortly...
The choice of Schlingensief for Parsifal-as well as Christoph Marthaler for next summer's new Tristan und Isolde-moved a former directorial enfant terrible to suggest that Wolfgang Wagner had become senile.
This critic was Claus Peymann, former head of Vienna's prestigious Burg-Theater, but now trying to keep Bertolt Brecht's Berliner Ensemble afloat. Though Peymannn is no longer an enfant, he can still be terrible. Some observers noted he might be sour because he's never been invited to stage a Wagner opera at Bayreuth.
That is still a pinnacle of prestige in the world of German Music-Theatre!
Knowing this very well-and also knowing about Schlingensief's scandalous reputation as the "Bad Boy" of the German Kultur-Scene-it seems amazing that Wolfgang Wagner would have invited this provocateur to come anywhere near the Grüner Hügel where sits the Grail Temple of Wagner's Masterworks.
Actually, the invitation may well have been an act of Wagnerian Desperation.
Originally, Martin Kusej was to have staged Parsifal. He is currently at the Salzburg Festival-where he has staged an appalling Entführung aus dem Serail-and is soon to be Chief of the fest's Theatre Program!
Kusej bowed out of the Bayreuth contract because-as he recently told the Austrian press-Wolfgang Wagner "treated me like an employee: You can't do this and you can't do that!"
Apparently, Wagner was not able to put a leash on Schlingensief, however. The chips are still flying...
New Yorkers may think they have never heard of Christoph Schlingensief, but where were they on 9 November 1999? Dressed as an Orthodox Jew, Schlingensief came to Manhattan with the 99 German Souvenirs he had been schlepping around Germany in his Deutschlandsuche-Wagnertour 1999.
All these souvenirs Schlingensief threw into the Hudson River. I never heard about it, and this is just the kind of nonsense for which I would be sure to get a press-release.
Maybe nobody noticed-including the Ultra-Orthodox Hassidic Lubavitchers-because so many people throw so much garbage into the Hudson.
Not to mention the East River: but that might have reminded Schlingensief of the late, unlamented DDR/GDR East Germany. Which would have required an entirely different kind of Kunst-Aktion-Schlingensief.
And what did Christoph dump in the Hudson? Among the 99 German Items were a Bloody Tampon, a Dead Mouse-or Maus, a Beer-Stein, a Stuffed Animal, and a ticket for admission to the Post-Modernist Cupola of the renovated Reichstag in Berlin. Wow! Some Kunst-Aktion!
But that's just treading water, artistically speaking, for this ageing young Genius. When he was only 12-years-old, he had already formed the Jugendfilmteam Oberhausen. Two of his films of this period were shown on West German TV in Cologne.
After University studies in Art History-which he broke off, preferring to Make Art History, rather than study it- Schlingensief made the films: 100 Jahre Adolf Hitler-Die Letzte Stunde in Füherbunker and The German Chainsaw Massacre. He even made his own remake of Pasolini's 120 Days of Sodom. You might want to download those from the Internet-if you can find them...
Kinderpornographie might be a Gooogle-start...
At the 1997 documenta X in Kassel, he and his ensemble were barricaded in a sand-bagged chamber. Passers-by could look through a window and watch them eating, sleeping, play-acting, and even carrying out intimate personal functions.
Among the ensemble's actions were destroying Works of Art. At one point, the Bad Boy held up a sign: Kill Helmut Kohl! This got him arrested, for the Chancellor of Germany was not to be threatened with death.
All this was not exactly innovative or revolutionary, however. Or even, any longer, shocking. A Dutch family had done this for several weeks in Manhattan at the height of Hippie Madness way back in 1968.
You could sit and watch them for 24 hours. Or longer. Some people liked to watch them shit. Is it possible that Schlingensief is a Hippie Reborn?
Chancellor Helmut Kohl-whose political career came to a sudden end because of a scandal that is still playing itself out-always took his vacation at the same little chalet on the Wolfgangsee, instead of going abroad to Rome, Paris, London, or New York. Rather like the Man From Crawford: a really Small-Town Mentality...
Schlingensief got the Bright Idea-for Kohl's Party's re-election campaign in 1998-of rallying six-million Obdachlosen, or Homeless, to bathe in the Wolfgangsee at the same time. He hoped to drown Kohl's holiday home in the overflow of the lake.
Outsiders Out of Austria!
In June 2000, he deliberately infuriated Vienna politicians and ordinary citizens with his "Big-Brother" Project.
Nobody knows what to do with all those steel shipping-containers that are piling up in every harbor and railroad-station. In Central Europe, they have been used as housing for Asylum-Seekers from Africa and Asia.
Most do no get asylum, but many locals do not want them around, even waiting for a court-decision on asylum. Austria's radical-right Fascist, Jörg Haider, has made it almost a Political-Plank that Outsiders Must Go!
So Schlingensief set up five of these "Big-Brother" containers by the Vienna State Opera-where no one could possibly miss them. Over his Container-City, he raised a sign: Ausländer raus! Or: Foreigners Out!
Every morning, the inmates were wakened with a rant from Jörg Haider. In the manner of Reality TV Shows, each day an Asylum-Seeker would be voted out of his container. All their actions could be watched-thanks to video-cameras-on the Internet.
But how could I have missed Schlingensief's documenta Installation, as I saw almost every horror of Post-Modernist Art on view there? Answer: it took place only for two days, luckily when I was not in Kassel.
But I was in Venice last summer for the Biennale, and I also missed his Installation there. Just lucky again, I guess...
Somehow obsessed both with Germany's Lost African Colonies and with Richard Wagner, Schlingensief rallied twelve jeeps, equipped with loud-speakers, so he and his merry crew could manifest Der RING in Afrika. It was in Namibia-a former colony-that he photographed the decaying rabbit which caused so much outrage or soul-searching during the Bayreuth Parsifal.
About The Scourge of AIDS in Africa, not a word.
So Schlingensief's "Protests" obviously do not have a Humanitarian Base. They are only intended as Self-Promoting Masturbatory Provocations. In doing this, however, he has succeeded. But these Aktions were no proper preparation for staging Parsifal at Bayreuth. This Wolfgang Wagner must surely have known?
A Tannhäuser To Remember!
The Wagnerian Essence Is In The Music!
In their desperation to win new young audiences-as well as to retain older subscribers who have seen opera's "War Horses" too many times-Opera Artistic Directors in Europe, America, and even in Antipodean Australia have been falling all over themselves to engage trendy young stage-directors, or even film-directors, to give Old Operas a New Look.
Unfortunately, many of these flash-in-the-pan drama-whizzes cannot read a score. Let alone listen intelligently to a recording of an opera they are to stage, in order to understand what the music is actually doing and saying.
With Stanislavskian Intensity, they search the libretto for pregnant sub-texts to illuminate their innovative vision of a masterwork they cannot even begin to comprehend.
The late, great director/designer Jean-Pierre Ponnelle-who gave Bayreuth a magical vision of Tristan und Isolde-once told me he always began with the score of an opera, not the libretto, when preparing a staging. The libretto's seeming mysteries were always unlocked by the composer's musical genius.
On the other hand, in rehearsing a stage-drama, the director and actors can spend hours trying to decide just how "I love you" should be said in that scene, in that dramatic context, and by one of those characters.
Wagner, Verdi, Mozart, and Puccini have already shown their actor/singers how to do this in their scores!
What Wolfgang Wagner-and I, as well-may gave forgotten in the rush to modernize operas, or at least give them the newest of New Looks, is that how an opera production looks on stage: the sets, the costumes, the lighting, the Video-Projections, and the Special Effects really do not matter so much.
Not when the opera is brilliantly sung and acted by outstanding artists! All else can fade away in the magic of the music...
When director/designer Philippe Arlaud's Tannhäuser premiered several seasons ago in Bayreuth, I thought his visual solutions were quirky and unusual. I thought they worked against the fable and the music.
Venusberg Like an Open Powerbook?
His Venusberg looked-and still does-lie a giant version of this G4 Powerbook, open for monkey-business. But it was certainly a change from most operatic Venusbergs-and minus the usual, if often embarrassing, Obligatory Orgy.
Arlaud limits himself to three maidens fondling golden balls. They might be the Rhine-Maidens in Paradise. But their balls could very well be copies of the Golden Apple that Paris awarded Aphrodite/Venus-a novel visual-intellectual sub-text that has nothing to do with Wagner's opera.
Initially, I actively hated Arlaud's carnation-studded Thuringian Meadow scene for various reasons. Not least that its curious mechanics visually worked against the effect of the Pilgrims going off to, and returning from, Rome.
They still look as if they are disappearing into an IRT Subway Station under the front of the stage!
Having inspected the construction of this set backstage last summer, I realized that it was impossible for Arlaud to change his staging or to redesign this scene, so complicated and costly is the mechanism which makes it function-and which permits it to be stored compactly.
A Production with a Hole in Its Heart
The real problem with Arlaud's Tannhäuser premiere was that he had a Hole at the very center of it. His Tannhäuser was simply not up to the challenge of this role, either as a singer or as an actor.
This summer, however, the young American, Stephen Gould, proved a Tannhäuser that even Richard Wagner could only have dreamt about.
Gould is a handsome, heroic man, with a rich and powerful voice to match. What is more, he is an agile actor, capable of effective stage-movement in character. Even more important, he is sensitive, passionate, intelligent, intuitive: all necessary for vital interaction with the other characters in this difficult opera.
In the first season, Arlaud's glowing golden Bull-Ring vision of the Great Hall in the Wartburg Castle-the Teure Halle scene of the Battle of Singers-looked unnecessarily constricting, confining. But it now clearly seems intended to be so, visually enhancing the sense of a court dominated by a ritually confining etiquette. The elaborate costumes heighten the sense of ritual and restriction.
Initially, the dramatic effect of this major scene was ruined by muddled stage-movement and inadequate Personnnen-regie. It was almost impossible-even for spectators who know the libretto very well-to decode who was who and what was going on.
In the second season, the staging was vastly improved, but there was still that Tannhäuser-hole at the center of the scene. This summer, however, the hole was more than filled with Stephen Gould!
Gould electrified every scene. What's more, he seemed to inspire even more powerfully interactive vocal and visually responsive performances from his colleagues. Judit Nemeth's Venus has never seemed so passionately compelling.
The deeply moving interactions of Ricarda Merbeth's Elizabeth and Roman Trekel's always magisterial Wolfram von Eschenbach with Gould's Tannhäuser were tragical and magical. The Teure Halle scene was, as a result, both exciting and heart-breaking.
Originally, Trekel had vocally dominated this entire production: now his Wolfram has found its proper place.
In this summer's refined staging, with Gould as Tannhäuser, rejected by the Pope, the returned, defeated knight and lover sang with such alternating ferocity and hopelessness that one was frightened and immensely saddened by turns.
The dramatic effect of the production was building from the beginning. But, by the final scene, the vocal and visually emotive powers of the doomed trio-sparked by Gould's Tannhäuser-was so powerful that the mise-en-scène seemed to melt away into nothingness. Only Tannhäuser, Elizabeth, and Wolfram existed.
It was a fabulous and magical moment. These do not occur often in opera-performance, but when they do, you can never forget them.
Way back in the 1950s, there was just such an evening at the Prinzregenten-Theater in Munich. Jess Thomas and Birgit Nilsson so inter-stimulated each other as Tristan and as Isolde, that the theatre and the setting seemed to fade away, in the blaze of their vocal and visual Transcendence. After half an hour of excited applause, the management had to bring down the iron-curtain to make people go home!
Transcendence and Incandescence were exactly the effect of Bayreuth's Tannhäuser in the Second Cycle of Season 2004. Christian Thielemann conducted with great sensitivity for the dramatic powers of this music-fable. And, of course, the world's best opera-chorus distinguished itself under the direction of Eberhard Friedrich-an able successor to Norbert Balatsch and Wilhelm Pitz.
What this performance demonstrated more than anything, however, is that the visual aspects of Wagner opera-production are never so important as the actual performances of gifted actor/singers in Wagner's roles, words, and music.
In an interview published mid-season in Bayreuth, Philippe Arlaud admitted what he had discovered in working on his production in the two seasons after its premiere: That the staging did not need a lot of visual details.
Most of these he has stripped away, leaving it to the actor/singers to bring Tannhäuser to glowing life. He paid special tribute to the talents of Stephen Gould, who, he noted, has inspired even better performances in the rest of the cast this summer!
My sentiments exactly-as noted above-but I wrote them down a week before his interview appeared. For once, it is good to find that a director agrees with the critic, rather than denouncing him for having misunderstood the production.
What Arlaud has discovered-even if some other Bayreuth Newcomers have not-is that Visual Simplicity can be a virtue, especially if a work of Music-Theatre is powerful enough in its own right.
This was also demonstrated in the Salzburg Festival's new Così fan tutte. On an immensely wide and virtually bare stage, the six actor/singers made musical and theatrical magic.
Multimedia Visual Trendiness and ingeniously innovative directorial staging-strategies are ultimately unnecessary for Wagner's operas to have their maximum artistic and emotional impact.
It's all in the score: what Bayreuth-New or Old-has always needed are the actor/singers who can make these Masterpieces magical. Considering what Wolfgang Wagner can afford to pay his singers, this does not always happen. Perhaps he should save money on directors and designers and concentrate instead on musical genius and quality?
Waiting-Not for Lefty-But for Parsifal?
People signed up in the Bayreuth Ticket-Lottery now have to wait as long as nine years for a single seat. If you get The RING, you're in luck, for you always get all four operas.
But there won't be a RING next year-which means more chances for tickets to individual opera-productions. In fact, Wolfgang Wagner has been boasting for some time now that there are over a hundred requests for each seat available during the five-week Bayreuth season.
The reason the season cannot be longer is that the World's Best Opera Orchestra and Chorus are only available in this time-frame. They are hand-picked from the best opera orchestras and choruses in Europe. In September, they have to return to their own opera-houses. In effect, these gifted musicians never have a summer-vacation!
Even the famed Blue Maidens-who sell programs and guard the doors to the historic Wagner amphitheatre-are only paid Euro 2000 for the five-week season. The real pay-off is being permitted to see and hear all the performances. This is something many Wagnerites would kill for, but they are too old. Or the wrong sex...
Unfortunately, Bayreuth opera tickets are wasted on some people. As I was waiting for the doors to open this August for the first of the four RING operas, a deeply tanned American woman asked me if I could speak English. I revealed that I could indeed, but that it was more difficult when one has been speaking German all week.
She showed me her program cast-list for Das Rheingold-which we would both be experiencing in fifteen minutes. She was very upset. She could not find a listing for Brünnhilde anywhere, although she did recognize the Wotan, Alan Titus, as a fellow American.
She and her companion were from Miami, she explained, and they had so much been looking forward to seeing Brünnhilde. I pointed out that, although this Nordic Wonder Woman does not appear in Rheingold, they would have more than enough of her love-problems in the three operas to follow.
She looked puzzled: "You mean the four operas aren't all alike?"
Oh well, maybe next year someone who has actually read a Wagner libretto will win the Lottery. But not for the RING. Jürgen Flimm's masterful staging has run its course.
For the Record: Celebrity-Trendy Danish film-maker Lars von Trier was contracted to stage the new 2006 RING, but he got cold feet and cancelled. This is very awkward-especially for the shops, who have to build the sets and costumes for the four major RING operas.
But this is not entirely surprising as Von Trier initially indicated he knew nothing about opera and even less about Wagner. Fortunately-or unfortunately-his plans for the production are to be published. His replacement will be announced at the close of the current season.
I had hoped Wolfgang Wagner would invite Patrice Chereau to return to show what he had learned about Wagner and opera thirty years after his controversial-but, ultimately, innovatively influential-1976 Centennial RING.
What I do not really understand is why Wolfgang Wagner has never invited an American stage-director, with a team of American stage-designers, to work at Bayreuth. Not even on an individual opera, although the four operas of the RING are certainly the ultimate opera-challenge.
After the success of the "French Team" with the 1976 RING-and before the unfortunate RING adventure with Sir Peter Hall's "British Team"-I'd asked Wolfgang Wagner about the possibility of an "American Team."
A RING Fit for a Prince-Or Vice Versa?
Wagner indicated he was interested in the talents of Broadway's Harold Prince, but he needed to see a Wagner opera staged by Prince before he issued an invitation. In the event, the late stage-director Götz Friedrich-who gave Bayreuth a controversial Tannhäuser and a revolutionary Parsifal-asked Hal to stage the RING for the Deutsche Oper Berlin, of which he was Intendant.
I was certain this was the staging-test Wagner wanted. I looked forward to "The American Team" in Wagner's historic Festspielhaus.
But, when I asked Hal about the project, he told me each of the four operas would have required him to be in Berlin for six months-time he was not willing to take away from the American theatre.
Even though Prince is now in his mid-seventies-and Wolfgang Wagner is 83-he is still very active. An epic production of Phantom of the Opera, staged by Prince-is now in the works for Las Vegas. Incidentally, Bayreuth's new Tannhäuser, Stephen Gould, is a veteran of Prince's Phantom production!
The Legendary Parsifal Should Be the Opera's "Redeemer"-
But Can Anyone Redeem Bayreuth's New Parsifal?
Perhaps Hal Prince could take a month or two in 2005 to rethink and restage the disastrous new 2004 Parsifal?
Even Peter Sellars-very popular at the Salzburg Festival-would have given Bayreuth audiences a far more bizarre, but, at the same time, far more focused and controversial Parsifal than what is now in storage, waiting for next summer.
And America's International Theatre Genius, Robert Wilson-much in evidence in Salzburg, Paris, London, and even at the Oberammergau Passion Play in 2000, although only with "Installations" of Stations of the Cross-could surely give Bayreuth a Parsifal of endless elevation and elegance, as well as of mythic mystery.
Why haven't either Sellars or Wilson been invited to Bayreuth? Perhaps they could restage the current Parsifal in tandem?
If you are one of the lucky ones who will get a ticket to Bayreuth in 2005, pray that it will be for Tannhäuser and not for the new Parsifal.
The only really fortunate people during performances of Christoph Schlingensief's trendy new staging of Parsifal were the members of the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra.
Thanks to Richard Wagner's ingenious innovation of an unseen, sunken, covered orchestra-pit, the musicians do not have to look at the productions on the stage. Or at the singers or the audience! Nor can the singers see them-only the conductor, who is on raised podium.
The musicians also do not have to wear white-tie & tails, as they would in most opera-houses. Conductor James Levine can even wear a bath-towel around his neck to soak up the sweat!
But Levine-one of the slowest Wager-conductors on record-was not conducting the new Parsifal. Instead, it was the 80-year-old Pierre Boulez! One critic commented that Boulez treated Wagner's score as if it were Music of the Future. But, in its own time, it was exactly that.
Boulez is certainly swifter with his baton than either Levine or the fabled Hans Knappertsbusch-who had to see a Dove at the close of Parsifal, even if the director had made sure the audience could not see this historic stage-prop.
Boulez actually cut an hour's running-time in this summer's Parsifal, thanks in part to Schlingensief's staging. This was a visual blessing for many, as the video-chaotic production was very difficult to watch for more than a few minutes at a time.
Moratorium on Multi-Media Opera-Productions Now!
Considering the scenic miracles that have been constructed in the Bayreuth workshops, what appeared on stage in Schlingensief's new production was/were not to be believed. Knowing something of what goes on in the shops before rehearsals and on stage during performances at Bayreuth, I could only imagine the disgust-and surely anger-at what the technicians had to put on stage for Schlingensief and his Euro-Trashy designers.
A photo of this production-team in a festival journal made them look like fugitives from Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters-three decades after the Love Generation had burned out in various forms of VD.
Apparently some time after designs had been submitted for the shops to build, Schlingensief changed his mind about the staging and demanded a revolving-stage not previously planned or budgeted.
Unfortunately-although some critics unaccountably complimented set-designers Daniel Angermayr and Thomas Goerge-what finally appeared on Schlingensief's turntable looked like scraps of scenery from a variety of productions which they just happened to find backstage. It was like Amateur Night at the Met!
Some reviewers were very taken with a few visual images, such as giant silhouettes of characters thrown against a front scrim. This is a cheap stage-trick, something lighting-amateurs love to play with. But its visual shock-or symbolic value-vanishes the second time round.
What was even more unbelievable-and totally inappropriate in such a setting-was Schlingensief's attack on Wagner before the Society of the Friends of Bayreuth. He insisted that Wagner understood nothing of modern video-technology, so that his projections and film-clips failed of their maximum impact.
The truth is that Bayreuth's theatre-technology has always been on the cutting-edge of European theatre-practice. In fact, the still and video-projections used two nights later in Claus Guth's ingenious Der fliegende Holländer were remarkable in their precision, formatting, definition, and movement.
The best projection-technology in the world could not have made Schlingensief's slides and clips look good. Most of the video-images looked like failed footage made by untalented Freshmen students in the New York University Film School. Just awful!
For some unknown reason-perhaps the contracted designers do not any longer really know how to create actual settings for plays and operas?-Multi-Media Productions have become the New Big Thing. On American stages as well as in Europe...
In Munich, at the Bavarian State Opera, video enlargements of the characters dominate-but do not really illuminate-the new production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger. In a previous Munich Macbeth staging, the stage-director even had a CNN TV-crew following the Macbeths around, capturing intimate details of their stage-life for projection on a large overhead viewing-screen. More recently, Mozart's Munich Clemenza di Tito had video-cameras focused on models of Roman monuments, used as backgrounds for video-enlargments of open-mouthed singers. This is a visual disaster for singers who cannot act!
In the new Parsifal, video-screens were used upstage, as well as projecting images on the scraps of setting, the performers themselves, and even on a proscenium-filling white scrim-which descended and obscured the singers, extras, and scenic--trash strewn round the stage
Most, if not all, of these images had nothing to do with the Legend of Parsifal, nor with Wagner's vision of it. One of the most ubiquitous and controversial was the image of a rabbit. Not just any rabbit, but a dead rabbit Schlingensief had photographed on an apparently Life-Changing trip to Namibia.
Searching for a Parsifal Connection-even if Schlingensief had not intended it-I believe his Subconscious told him that this rabbit-image is, in fact, the Easter Rabbit, who brings New Life to Mankind every Easter. Although he also brings colored eggs which he obviously did not lay. Go Figure! Symbolism? It won't pay the rent!
AIDS in Africa Ignored by New Parsifal Production!
Considering the appalling and swift spread of AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa-and especially considering the In-Denial Stance of the Presidents of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa-it would have made much more sense for Schlingensief to have made a photo-expedition to areas where thousands are infected with AIDS and facing certain death, unable to procure or pay for prescriptions which might prolong their lives, if not cure this implacable disease-which originated in Africa, after all.
But no. Instead, this Parsifal is overlaid with images of Namibia and Nepal. The reason for this pastiche-including a side-trip to Haiti for some Voodoo-focusing on rituals which have nothing to do with the Grail Legend or Medieval Europe or even with Wagner's late 19th century vision of the Grail was Schlingensief's attempt to "embrace viewers with a contemporary visual language speaking most readily to them."
This is a formulation of Schlingensief's explanatory notes, as offered by the New York Times. Its critic, Jeremey Eichler, also noted: "The African and Asian cultural artifacts were attempts to find religious and mythological imagery still resonant in a secular age." [Italics Added!]
As these images are really only resonant on the ground in Africa and Asia-and then, only with the tribes or cults from which they arise-this is Patent Nonsense when applied to Europe, the West, or the First World. In the Third World, they might have some resonance.
As for this being a Secular Age, that may be true for people who do not go to church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. As the events of 9/11 have made all too clear, there are Fanatic Muslims out there who are willing to die-and to take as many others along with them as they can-for their Religious Beliefs.
That their targets are largely Jews and Christians ought to give the lie to the idea that we are all now secular and unbelieving.
Schlingensief's Third World images certainly do not illuminate Parsifal, either as Legend or Opera. In fact, "the imagery which speaks most readily" to Wagnerites-who may have waited nine whole years to see this production-is that of the Grail Quest as imagined and illustrated in a Christianity-based vision of Parsifal as a Jesus-like Saviour or Redeemer. A child-like Erlöser, in Wagner's phrase.
Oddly enough, Schlingensief does present his Parsifal-sung by Endrick
Wottrich-in a long white robe, long blond hair, and a Sacred Heart on his robe. As if that were not enough Christian Symbolism, he later equips him with the crooked staff of the Good Shepherd.
What acquiring this stage-prop entails is having Klingsor's all-important throwing of the Holy Spear at Parsifal go for nothing visually. Somehow, it ends up in Parsifal's left hand, while his right holds the shepherd's crook. Parsifal throws the Spear behind some scraps of scenery.
It was really impossible to judge how effective-both vocally and visually-Wottrich might be in the role of Parsifal. The wonder was that he and the rest of the unfortunate cast could even move among the scenic Euro-trash on stage, especially when it was revolving. Most of the major musical moments-though the opera is Through-Composed, it has its important set-pieces-were totally obscured. In some cases, you could not even see where the singer was positioned at the vital moment.
Do You Know What You Have Just Seen?
After what appeared to be Wagner's First Exposure of the Grail to the Knights-who seemed to be mainly Taliban Mullahs-wise old Guernemanz-who looked like the Abominable Snowman-turned to Parsifal, the Innocent Fool, and asked him that famous Grail Question: Weisst du was du sahst?
If he had asked me-or many members of the audience-I would have had to have answered that I, like Parsifal, did not understand what I had just seen-in what should have been the Grail Temple.
In fact, in the foreground, on one sector of the turntable, there was a kind of sand-pit labeled Graal-or "Grail"-but this was often overlaid with a blue projection of Kraal, to make sure the largely non-African Bayreuth audience recognized this "resonant contemporary image" from Native African village-life.
To be fair, Schlingensief did include some Orthodox Hasidic Jews among the Grail Knights. As well as some red-robed Catholic clergy and some sober Evangelical-Reformed priests with their black garb and prim white 16th century clerical collars.
But the final Service of the Holy Grail was made, not by Parsifal The Redeemer, but by what appeared to be either an African or a Haitian shaman.
Is Death the Real Redeemer in Parsifal? Is That a Wagnerian Concept?
In terms of the Grail Legend and Wagner's reprise of it, there is a Spiritual Redemption Beyond Death. Unfortunately, Schlingensief's dramaturg, Carl Hegemann, has the idea that Death Itself is the Ultimate Erlöser. Titurel is already dead-indeed, we get to see his mummy-but he is soon to be joined in death by Amfortas, Kundry, Parsifal: the entire cast perhaps? Someday, surely.
But it is clear in other Wagner operas as well that Death is not the Endgültige Erlösung. Lovers may be united by their love in death, but this union continues after Life.
Think of Tristan and Isolde, of Siegfried and Brünnhilde, and of the Dutchman and Senta. Wagner even had puppets made for his Bayreuth Holländer to show these two lovers rising out of the sea into the Beyond!
Aha! But Klingsor does not die! He shoots upward in a rocket! Toward Heaven-or the Rings of Saturn?
One could write a book-or at least a very long review-about the odd visual effects in Schlingensief's Parsifal. When three orange & black illuminated drums appear overhead-two of them with African rabbit-symbols-the production begins to look like a Bad Halloween Party.
If the sexually innocent Parsifal is confounded by Klingsor's Flower Maidens, it could be because they look like exotic Ghanian Dancers. As for the seductress Kundry-gamely sung by American Michelle De Young-her first appearance is as a slinky Paulette Goddard flapper in cloche, long gown, and ermine wrap.
In her Big Seduction Scene, however, Kundry is wearing a ridiculous long white dress, with an immense white bow just beneath her chin. She looks like a gauche Long Island 18-year-old at a Coming-Out Party at Schindler's Plaza-Dietary Laws Strictly Observed.
Later, she appears, dreadlocks and all, African-Assimilated.
Sinister Cremaster Influences, Plus Josef Beuys!
Amfortas' Unhealable Wound-caused by Sexual Transgression-appears as a huge bloody vertical genital stain on his robe. This gruesome vision-certainly supported by the libretto, but not usually so graphically represented-comes not from Wagner but from one of Schlingensief's Artistic Gods: Matthew Barney.
Evidence of this was provided in a local journal which reproduced a still from Barney's avant-garde film, Cremaster 3. For those who missed all five parts of this epic at the Guggenheim recently, the cremaster is the muscle which controls the movement of the testicles. The film-still shows some Mafia-type enforcers flanking the unfortunate hero, legs splayed apart, with his genitals just having been hacked off.
The late Josef Beuys is another Major Artist in Schlingensief's Pantheon. He is alleged to be the inspirer of the Rabbit Image, but Schlingensief actually photographed a decaying rabbit in Namibia. This image is projected Very Large on stage. There are, of course, also photos and video-footage of Live Rabbits.
In one sequence, a ritual procession of some sort, two naked-to-the-waist Body-Builders carry a wood & wire cage with a Live Rabbit. Unfortunately, he or she has No Stage Presence whatsoever. The Pumping-Iron guys later bring on Amfortas' chair or throne.
Speaking of Rabbits, there was also a visual quote of Jeff Koons. An older, very rotund man sat holding a silver rabbit very much like Koons' famed object d'art.
Then there was large fat woman, with bare drooping breasts, dreadlocks, and a kind of African skirt. She was standing in the Graal/Kraal.
Not to overlook the two local Bayreuthers who suffer from Downe's Syndrome. I thought they were supposed to be a Bridal Couple, but someone told me they were Temple Servers. Or something like that...
Oh! I almost forgot Schlingensief's Cemetery of Art. Performers almost stumbled over some of the tombstones which supported such boring old images as the Mona Lisa. Extras flung some offending Masterworks behind scraps of settings.
Is a new production of Parsifal at Bayreuth the proper place for an apparently charismatic 43-year-old stage-director-not really an enfant terrible anymore-to "get off" on his Pet Peeves and Projects? This production is essentially a juvenile masturbatory exercise in visual outrage.
Workshopping Parsifal for 2005?
Bayreuth has earned the reputation of being a "Workshop," where new Wagner stagings are worked on and improved each season.
But what can be done with this Parsifal? How can it be improved next year-without scrapping the fuzzy concept, such as it is; throwing out all the set-scraps and the costumes, and certainly the videos and all rabbits, living and dead?
At the premiere, apparently the lusty boos were balanced by celebrities who pronounced the production "interesting." At the close of the second performance, however, there were nothing but boos. Some of them for Parsifal.
This was not fair. The singers did their best, against great odds. But Wottrich had in fact done something before the opening which both tradition and common-sense oppose. He had spoken out against the production and the Parsifal interpretation he was required to perform.
This isn't Good Form. Either you bow out quietly well before the premiere, or you stand your ground with the director and do your very best with all the cast. Certainly such fine fellow-artists as Robert Holl, John Wegner, and Alexander Marco-Buhrmester deserved as much.
Attacking the production beforehand looks like a desperate attempt to protect your artistic reputation even before it's on the line. This is counter-productive, and it may be a reason some booed Wottrich. In any case, Wolfgfang Wagner rapidly brought down the iron-curtain to prevent any further audience-demonstrations.
Next year, the best way to "save" or "improve" Parsifal would be to sweep the stage clean of all the rubbish-including the projections and videos. And then-taking a cue from this year's Tannhäuser-let the actor/singers create the drama themselves in performance, with no scenic distractions.
Most kinky, quirky Post-Modernist productions-whether of Wagner's works or any other master-demonstrate more than anything else that the stage-director does not really understand or TRUST the composer, the libretto, the singers, or the audience.
If Wolfgang Wagner must have a Parsifal in the current repertoire, he can either let the work speak for itself in Virtual Concert. Or he could borrow Stefanos Lazaridis' brooding Wasteland setting for Lohengrin, which is to be revived next summer.
What Parsifal really needs is a T. S. Eliot-Fisher King-Wasteland performance-milieu. Lazaridis has created one already for Bayreuth-so it would be interesting to see this visual concept adapted for two Wagner operas.
The Flying Dutchman Flies Again-With Videos That Work Wonders!
Despite the fact that the Japanese and the French-and even English and Americans-are among the greatest admirers of Richard Wagner's operas, you will not see supertitles in English, French, or Japanese over Wagner's Festspielhaus stage anytime soon.
So first-time visitors to the Grüner Hügel really need to study the printed libretto-or, at the very least, the synopsis in the official program-to be sure they know what is happening on the stage in front of them. Unless, of course, they are already Perfect Wagnerites-who know both the libretto and the score backwards and forwards...
If you had not read the synopsis of Parsifal, Schlingensief's bizarre Festival of Rabbits would have made no sense at all. Even if you had studied the synopsis carefully, you would still be confused, because you would not have seen on stage what is supposed to be happening in this great Myth of Sin and Redemption.
On the other hand, the stage-direction and the actor/singers' performances are so clearly defined and so strongly presented in both Arlaud's Tannhäuuser and Jürgen Flimm's RING, that you can both see and hear what is occurring-visually and emotionally-even if you have never seen these operas before or even read about them.
This cannot be said of Claus Guth's memorable and ingenious Der fliegende Holländer, however. But the problem is not a Parsifal Problem. What Guth has done-resourcefully abetted by his set & costume designer Christian Schmidt-is re-invent the age-old myth of the Flying Dutchman. This tale was in circulation long before Wagner set it to music.
Instead of staging Wagner's libretto & partitur straight-forwardly as written-or even in a Post-Modernist concept, such as making both Daland and the Dutchman Space-ship Pilots-Guth has re-imagined the fable as the almost incestuous fascination of a little girl Senta with her Daland-father reading the story of the Dutchman to her in his armchair.
She even has a Dutchman rod-puppet, as well as a model-ship. Unfortunately for her, as a grown woman-the girl Senta and the woman Senta, dressed alike, appear throughout the opera-she has conflated her imaginary Dutchman with her own father, who is also dressed like a ship's captain. Daland-Dad and doomed Dutchman-lover blend into each other.
The only voice of reason that could save this deluded Senta from her psychopathic fantasy is her would-be lover Erik. But she pushes him away, and she will not listen to her old nurse, Mary-who seems to be blind as a bat and deaf as well.
All At Sea in Senta's Living-Room!
If seeing this unusual story-concept on stage is not confusing enough for first-timers, Guth and Schmidt have also contrived to have the entire action of the opera occur in Senta's vast living-room.
A great curving staircase-supported only by the wall behind it-divides this great chamber into two opposing wedges of wall and doors. The upper slice is an inverse duplication of the room-section below the staircase. Even the painting of the Dutchhman's ship-hanging on the upstage-center wall-is shown upside down above the stairs.
And how do production-team Guth & Schmidt deal with the scenes involving storms at sea, ships in distress, the apparition of the doomed red-sailed Dutchman's vessel, towns-people on the docks, reacting to this mysterious craft crewed by dead men?
They do it entirely with projections and videos thrown on the walls of the great chamber. Waves, clouds, storms, ships are suggestively and abstractly evoked, as the Wagner male-chorus-dressed as sailors-fight the waves in Senta's living-room.
Senta's Spinnstube scene also occurs here, but not with spinning-wheels. Instead, blind old Mary is in a rocker at one side as a smartly dressed young women's chorus of 1930s flappers does some precisely executed dance-routines for the distracted girl/woman Senta.
In the final Harbor Scene, the town-women, dressed alike in folk-costume, move like life-sized marionettes, filing up the great staircase. Below, on a platform in the center of the living-room, puppet-sailors-with long Pinocchio carrot-noses-dismantle a model of the Dutchman's ship which has descended from the flies above.
Senta's mystic Love-Death reunion with the Dutchman, after he has sailed away to his endless doom-Die Frist ist um!-is suggested in Senta's frantic fantasy by an immense skeleton-puppet, dressed in captain's uniform, descending upside down from above, bony hands outstreched. When they touch the platform, they draw up a puppet Senta into the heavens.
For me, this is an absolutely fantastic vision/version of an old folk-tale, as well as a brilliantly inventive re-imagination of Wagner's opera.
For others-including critic-colleagues such as Erna Metdepennighen, an old friend who is President of the Belgian Music Critics-it is merely clever, without doing justice to Wagner's libretto and score. Senta, some feel, should see a psychiatrist as soon as possible. Preferably before the next ship comes into harbor!
Some colleagues actively hate this staging-and cannot wait for it to be replaced.
But: Be Careful What You Wish For: You might actually get it! At least you can be sure Wolfgang Wagner will not invite Christoph Schlingensief to stage the next Holländer!
Eric Is the Man for You, Senta, Not Your Dad!
What has also made the current production so compelling for me are the vocal and physical performances of the actor/singers: Adrienne Dugger as the [im]mature Senta, Jaakko Ryhänen as Daland, John Tomlinson as the weary old Dutchman, Uta Priew as Mary, and, above all, Alfons Eberz' Eric. His was the best and strongest voice on stage, and he is a vital actor as well. Watch for him in other roles!
Senta should have snapped him up in an instant. Her mental problems wouldn't have been over immediately, but he could have helped her therapy a lot!
I may have made this suggestion in previous Bayreuth Festival reports, but it would be an interesting idea to present three outstanding Bayreuth Holländer productions en suite, with identical casts.
Guth's current staging would be joined with those of Harry Kupfer and Dieter Dorn. Both of these have already been reprised. If they are still in storage, why not give this a try? Wolfgang Wagner is always on the lookout for innovations, after all!
A Last Sad Look at a Remarkable RING
Of all the RING productions I have seen, over a long life of theatre & opera-going-including RINGs in Seattle, San Francisco, Flagstaff AZ, Munich, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Berlin, Stuttgart, and Warsaw, as well as at the Met, Covent Garden, and the English National Opera: ENO-Jürgen Flimm's Bayreuth staging has been the most perfect and memorable.
Flimm-who may become the new Artistic Director of the Salzburg Festival, where he is now overseeing the drama program-is first and foremost a drama-director.
His productions at Hamburg's historic Thalia-Theater have been on the cutting-edge of the avant-garde. Some critics feared what he would do to the RING when he was invited to stage it for a five-year Bayreuth run in 2000.
As with Patrice Chereau's revolutionary 1976 Centennial RING, Flimm's Millennial RING moves this ancient Nordic Myth of the end of the Old Gods forward. Chereau and his team had imagined a sleek Late 19th Century Post-Industrial-Revolution RING.
This concept, however, was clearly "borrowed" from Prof. Joachim Herz's earlier DDR vision in Leipzig. Herz was the first New Age opera-director to see the RING as an ideal model for the rapaciousness of gold-greedy and power-hungry industrialists of the Gilded Age: Victorian, to British and Americans; Wilhelmian, to German-speakers.
In fact, some of the Leipzig set-designs of the late Rudolf Heinrich owed more than a little to Charlie Chaplin's factory-scenes in Modern Times.
Heinrich's designer-brother, Reinhard, was chief of Bayreuth's costume-shops in 1976. Great was his surprise, however, when Chereau's costume-designer, Jacques Schmidt, suggested Heinrich copy some the Leipzig costume design-plates which were then on display in the Margravine's 18th Century Opera House. In effect, he was asked to copy his own designs without credit, for Schmidt had not bothered to check the signatures on the design-plates.
Visualizing a New RING To Be Different from All Others?
Flimm and his Schmidt-no relation to Chereau's, as Schmidt is as common in Germany as Smith in America-have not copied anyone's designs. But they certainly have been inspired to abstract from Reality.
As a result, the initial setting for Das Rheingold is an obvious construction-site: Valhalla is soaring into the skies. But Wotan has neglected to consider how he is going to pay for this extravagance-which will prove his ruin.
Down in Dwarfish Nibelheim-conveniently reached by elevator-Alberich looks like a 1930s CEO, still clinging to his outmoded roll-top desk, as his dwarf slave-laborers toil at Post-Modernist worksites.
When Wotan is discovered at last inside Valhalla, his luxuriously furnished Post-Modernist office-complete with laptop, fax, and paper-shredder-suggest he could also be a CEO, perhaps running Daimler/Chrysler into bankruptcy. For millions in annual salary, stock-options and residual benefits!
Although Wagner required only eight Valkyries, plus the pivotal Brünnhilde, Flimm floods the stage with a score of them, most dropping down like paratroopers from the skies on bungee-cords.
In the first year of this new RING, I hated this vision. But now that it is so well-choreographed-there is a group flight in mid-air which is beautiful and breath-taking to behold!-it seems absolutely right for this production. Leave the Flying Horses to Mobile Oil posters.
I had planned to reprise here my detailed descriptions of the physical production of this RING, originally made in 2000 and reworked in subsequent years. Unfortunately, after a Venetian water-taxi driver managed to knock my suitcase-containing this G4 Powerbook-into the Grand Canal, all my 2003 files have vanished from the hard-disk.
But all previous Loney SHOW NOTES columns are archived on this website, so you can, if you are interested, check out my Bayreuth reports for 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003!
Even if Wolfgang Wagner had been able-as with the Chereau RING-to videotape the entire Flimm production-sixteen hours-plus of Human History, featuring foolish gods as all too human-a TV monitor could never to justice to the stage-actuality, in all its overwhelming Monumentality.
Goodbye, Flimm RING, Goodbye!
This summer's three RING Cycles were the last ever of this magnificent vision. This saddens me immensely, for I have come to love and look forward to these stagings.
And not only for their visual impact in terms of modern abstractions of physical settings. The vocal performances are everywhere outstanding. Both Rheingold and Walküre-seen & heard in the Second Cycle-were amazing vocally. Cheering audiences almost had to be driven out of the auditorium.
But even more amazing were the physical, intellectual, and emotional performances of the actor/singers. They were so real, so human, so believable, so touching-or annoying. You could see Wotan actually thinking through a difficult decision, even before he gave voice to it.
The heart-rending interactions of Brünnhilde [Evelyn Herlitzius] with Siegmund and Sieglinde, and, later, with her fierce, unforgiving father, Wotan [Alan Titus, ever better in this role], almost brought tears to my aged eyes.
Flimm's staging emphasizes Richard Wagner's genius: how he was able to create a History of Mankind on only 2-and-a-half hours in Das Rheingold, for example.
Personnen-Regie-and Then Some!
As in previous years with this RING, Flimm has continued to refine stage-movement and physical/vocal performances. That is why a first-timer at Bayreuth could easily understand-at least in broad outlines-what occurs on stage, without having to read even a synopsis.
In most RING productions, the singers stand or move with no particular reference to what the music is expressing. Often, moves are completely arbitrary, not keyed to the music at all. Or the movements and reactions are related to the action of the libretto, rather than to music and words.
Jürgen Flimm has managed an amazing visual synthesis: Wagner's unsung music now sounds as if it had been specifically composed to underscore, or to emphasize, the stage-actions and emotions. Not the other way around...
This could all work on a bare stage, so powerful are the performances and so definitive is Flimm's Personnnen-Regie. But the effect would never be so visually overwhelming without the remarkable settings of Erich Wonder and the costumes of Florence von Gerkan. Considering that Wonder had once given Munich a RING taking place in a Space-ship, Bayreuth got lucky!
Even if you do not understand a word of German-which often, when sung on stage in opera, is difficult for Germans to understand as well-the passion, the love, the fear, the hatred, the heart-break: all become crystal-clear from the vocal intonations and the physical gestures. Including personal interactions devised by the director, with the performers, to make visible what is in their minds and hearts-and certainly in the score and libretto.
The Giants have to be paid for building Valhalla. One of them is really fond of their payment-hostage, Freia: he'd rather have her than all that Nibelungen Gold. In the event, he gets neither. Only a fatal blow to the head...
As a flying semi-goddess, Brünnhilde is indifferent to the fates of Mankind. She guides her Valkyrie-sisters in dis-arming the Dead War Heroes who march in endless single-file into Vahalla: some seem from Vietnam, but some now are surely from Iraq.
But when she is sent by Wotan to ensure that his own son, Siegmund-but not by his wife, Fricka, who demands his death to preserve Family Values-is killed by Hunding, she begins to discover what it really is to be Human. What it means to suffer, to fear, to love, and to lose totally and fatally.
This is so wonderfully achieved on stage that even when Brünnhilde is not singing-only standing, moving, musing, thinking-you can follow the evolution in her feeling, being transformed by compassion and love from goddess to vibrant, passionate Woman.
Credits To the Cast!
Mihoko Fujimura's Fricka was so brilliantly acted and sung, I could have wished Wagner had found a way to integrate her into Götterdämmerung. It could have been the Ultimate I Told You So! It could be titled: Frickas Rache, or Fricka's Revenge. As Wotan and all those poor dead war heroes go up in flames while Valhalla burns...
I think I have never been so moved by all four operas of the RING-including previous exposures to this Flimm, but not Flimsy, production-as this memorable summer of 2004!
All praise to all the cast, but especially to Eva Johansson, as Sieglinde; Robert Dean Smith, as Siegmund-he is also a "Rocker" Walther von Stolzing in Munich's new Meistersinger; the delightful Arnold Bezuyen, as a manipulative manager-type Loge; Johann Tilli as Fasolt; Philip Kang, as both Fafner and Hunding, and most certainly, Hartmut Welker and Michael Howard as Alberich and Mime. They don't look the least like dwarves, but you wouldn't want to do business with either of them!
Anja Kampe's Freia is touching, while Simone Schröder's Erda is sublime-even though she comes from the depths of the Earth. The sexy Rhine Maidens could seduce even a pedophile priest, let alone Alberich. The Valkyries are splendid, though not all of them are bungee-jumpers.
In the general vocal-splendor and admirable acting, the first two scenes of Siegfried were-as they had been previously-both a bit overwrought and overworked. Flimm may have made no big changes in the Forging of Nothung in Mime's Cave.
So much has always been going on in this rather elegant Hölle, it was hard to tell. But Graham Clark's extravagantly applauded comical turns, over the five seasons of this RING, have grown tiresome-too hysterical-to be amusing anymore.
Clark's singing, in any case, verges on whining-all right for the role, but wearing, nonetheless. I'd rather have Michael Howard back in the role, but Mime is, at this point-shortly before his well-earned death-obviously much older.
As is Siegfried: He has grown from a fetus in Sieglinde's womb-saved by his aunt, Brünnhilde, from Wotan's stem-cell research-into a big, blustering, brawling, brute of a man, impulsive and ignorant, not to say stupid. But soon to be a Major Wagner Hero!
Christian Franz sings him with a very powerful voice, but he produces it, not so much with effort, as with will-power. It is not lyrical and often sounds like barking or yelping when he wants to land on the right note.
This continues into the Dragon-Slaying Scene, where the vocal contentions of Alberich, Wotan, Fafner, and Siegfried make for a very aggressive communal sound.
Flimm apparently believes Wagner didn't develop this scene sufficiently in terms of dramatic action. Audiences not only get a girl dressed as a Bavarian boy in Lederhosen-with cute little white wings-in place of an unseen Waldvogel, but they are also treated to avian affections for Siegfried which border on the unnatural. But poor Siegfried has had no experience of love or affection of any kind, so what does he know about bird-lusts?
What's Hagen Doing in Siegfried's Opera?
The really important development in this scene, over the five years, has been in the role of Hagen-whom Wagner neglected to include in this opera. Initially, Hagen-who has not a note of music nor a word of dialogue-seemed to be only Alberich's teen-age son, on holiday from his Swiss Boarding-School, which John Kerry may have attended somewhat later.
Now he has a pony-tail, a duvet for sleeping-out, and a front-row seat on the portable bleachers Alberich has provided for Dragon-Watching. At one point, as Siegfried is sleeping, Hagen picks up Nothung and seems to consider cutting his head off. He abandons the notion, but later is able to sit on the edge of the Dragon's below-stage lair and resist stealing some gold bullion. What a Lost
Flimm should create a separate chamber-opera for Hagen. All Mime: no notes, no libretto. It could be called Hägen's-Däys!
When Siegfried finally discovers the sleeping Brünnhilde, there is no Ring of Magic Fire anywhere. The Felsen looks more like a Deep-Freeze. But he awakens her with wonder, and his voice at last takes on a wonderfully lyrical quality.
Evelyn Herlitzius-as a demi-goddess transforming into a woman-is even more dynamically moving, vocally and emotionally, than in Walküre. But, confronted with a bulky, boisterous young man-with thinning hair and clothes which Mime must have got from the Salvation Army-small wonder she is at first fearful of body-contact.
At this point, Siegfried doesn't look like anyone's idea of a Good Catch, let alone a Hero. As this production will never be seen again, it's too late to fix this now...
Although the Thread of Life-actually an orange cable stretched across the stage-appears now and then in this RING, at the end, the Norn Sisters are not spinning, measuring, and cutting it. Instead, they are working on audio-tapes on three great reel-to-reel monitors.
This is as it should be, considering that the Hall of the Gibichungs-which appears soon after-is a stunning Post-Modernist construction of gleaming chrome-steel and glass. Apparently, Gunther [Olaf Bär] and his sister Gutrune are co-CEOs of a very large Rhineland Corporation.
Hagen's Men are now Middle-Management Suits, though armed with pistols, rifles, and flashlights when needed. That the Bayreuth male-chorus can give each of these men some personal distinction is admirable. The female-chorus also obliges as sensibly-dressed secretaries in the Head Offices.
As Siegfried, Christian Franz was still pumping out tremendous vocal power in this final opera, but a new subtlety crept in as well. Evelyn Herlitzius' Brünnhilde was finally totally superb. But re-appearing in her Valkyrie bungee-jumping outfit was a visual downer.
Instead of having Valhalla go up in flames-it was nowhere to be seen in the Heavens-huge fountains of flame erupted from the rooftop of Gibichung & Co. Ordinarily, it is quite enough to have it collapse and sink into the Rhine. The two Wagnerian Destructions have here been conflated.
Hagen's extended Death Throes went on far too long. Nor were they made more significant by having the chorus-dressed in Casual Friday clothes-crowding in around him. The final effect-rather than overwhelmingly dramatic-was definitely anti-climactic.
Of course, you only get Bayreuth's marvelous chorus in Götterdämmerung, but they were superb: both vocally and in character in performance!
But what would this mythic musical adventure have been without the dynamic and sensitive conducting of Adam Fischer!
Who Will Stage the 2006 RING? Who Is Competent To Do It?
With the cancellation of Lars von Trier, contracted for the 2006 RING, speculation was rife about his possible replacement. Mid-season, the playwright Tankred Dorst was in conversations with Wolfgang Wagner. You may know his early play, Die Kürve?
Or maybe not, as he is virtually unknown in America...
His big moment as a playwright was way back in the 1960s. He is now 78-years-old! Although Dorst is a Bayreuth Regular, he may be over the hill in terms of what is required to conceive a new RING, let alone rehearse all of its 16-plus hours over and over.
But Dorst was spry enough to appear at the Salzburg Festival in a Dichter zu Gast performance!
Late rumors from sources supposedly close to the Wagner Family also proposed the name of Stephen Spielberg. Instead of Saving Private Ryan, he could be Saving the Bayreuth Festival. Instead of working on Schindler's List, Spielberg could be working on Die Walküre's Prop-List!
The most unlikely late-named candidate has been Michael Moore. His Fahrenheit 9/11 has been packing audiences in all around Germany-including Bayreuth's local Cineplex.
Last summer, two of Moore's titles were No. 1 and No. 2 on German non-fiction best-seller lists. His Stupid White Men is still high up there!
But can an unshaven documentary film-director-who makes George Bush look like a fool in his provocative exploration of the Terror President-make Wotan look good? Should he even try?
If the RING Replacement is announced before this report is filed, I will post his [or her] name here: ____________________.
But, in terms of Political Correctness-or even Equal Opportunity-Bayreuth has not done very well by women directors or conductors.
Thus far, Rosalie is the only woman to design the entire RING at Bayreuth-or anywhere else, for that matter.
Whenever Rosalie has a major European exhibition-which is fairly often-she always sends me an invitation. So I must admit to a certain partiality...
Loney Bayreuth Festival Website Project:
Of course the Bayreuth Festival has its own website. If you are a Perfect Wagnerite, you surely have already found it and book-marked it? If not, do so at once!
So it would seem superfluous to create another Bayreuth Festival Website, would it not?
But the one your reporter is proposing will be different. Even more personal, as he has been seeing Bayreuth productions every summer since 1956, when he first came to Europe to teach for the University of Maryland Overseas.
If he is still around to report on the 2006 RING, that will be his 50th Anniversary in the Festspielhaus. Surely time for an Award of Merit?
Since 1956, your scribe has made it a point to interview directors and designers of each new Bayreuth RING about the Concept, the Design, the Construction, and the Staging.
Many of these reports have been published-with production-photos, set & costume sketches, and even lighting-plots-in Theatre Crafts and Entertainment Design.
Interviews with distinguished directors, singers, conductors, and designers-such as Patrice Chereau, Werner Herzog, Karl Böhm, Wolfgang Wagner, Götz Friedrich, Sir George Solti-have been featured in Opera News, Opera, Opera Monthly, and Musical America, among other journals.
Audio-tapes of many, many Bayreuth interviews have already been digitized for the proposed website.
In addition to the hundreds of press production-photos amassed over the past five decades and now in the Loney ArtsArchive, there are now hundreds of Loney INFOTOGRAPHY photos & slides of Historic Bayreuth, the Festspielhaus, the shops, backstage on the Main Stage, and even of the Wagner Family, including Winifred Wagner, Friedelind Wagner, and, of course, Wolfgang Wagner.
All the Loney reports, interviews, and critiques written over the years will also be posted on this website. The purpose of this not-for-profit website is to make all this material easily available for informational, educational, & research projects.
Any potential commercial uses-even in academic publications-will have to be approved by the author/photographer and, in some cases, by the Bayreuth Festival Press Office, especially for use of copyrighted production-photographs.
Bayreuth Goes To The Dogs!
Much was made in the German press of artist Ottmar Hörl's Art-
Aktion for the Bayreuth Festival. He chained-well, wire-cabled, actually-hundreds of big black plastic Newfoundland Dogs to park-benches or installed them in shops and Public Places.
This was Hörl's Tribute to Wagner's beloved dog, Russ, who is buried near his Master and his wife, Cosima, in the grounds of Haus Wahnfried. All the other Wagner dead are in the city cemetery.
Hörl made 800 of these dogs, 70 centimeters high. Actually, after the Festival, you can buy one or more for your own garden or family-room. Or even smaller models, signed by the sculptor-who is very good a self-promotion. Some of the Newfoundlanders are already tagged for shipment to Japan and America!
There are also black and white plastic busts by Hörl of Richard Wagner and his father-in-law, the composer/pianist Franz Liszt! Or you can sit in a Hörl-devised SmartCar and listen to Wagner's music, on the premise that most people now listen to music-if at all-underway in their cars.
Hörl also provided several black Campers. You can sit in one of them, hear The Ride of the Valkyries, and see a devastating battle-scene from Apocalypse Now. There were several other amusing opera-related Hörl installations, as well.
Local and tourist outcries were immediately raised, however, when the city officials removed all the Newfoundlanders from the gardens surrounding the Festspielhaus.
But there is a law that no artworks can be shown in these precincts. It was, unfortunately, passed after two ghastly Post-Modernist sculptures were already in place...
Hörl's quirky sculptures are currently also on view in Athens, at the Olympics. He has made hundreds of Plastic Owls. They are the totem-symbol of the Goddess Athena. They are also symbolic of Wisdom, so you might want to order a signed copy of one of the smaller owls?
Last summer, to honor Nuremberg's great Master, Albrecht Dürer, Hörl flooded the great Market with hundreds of Plastic Rabbits, modeled on Dürer's famous sketch of a rabbit, preserved in the Albertina in Vienna-where I was once privileged to hold this priceless drawing in my own hands!
Several seasons ago, Hörl filled Max-Joseph-Platz in Munich, in front of the National-Theater, with hundreds of Plastic Garden Dwarves, screwed to a wooden-lattice. From which many were soon pried loose, under cover of darkness. A fate Hörl is now used to. But he'd rather sell them!
Mid-Festival, Bayreuth Police estimated over 150 of Hörl's wonderful dogs had been either stolen or destroyed. Two were dumped in the Hofgarten canal. The Night of 10 August, someone spray-painted the noses of many of the Newfoundlanders with gold or red paint! Not an improvement...
If you want more info, or really want to order a Hörl "Wagner's Dog": Phone: 011-49-921-150-7496. Or FAX: 011-49-921-150-7496. [Loney]
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2004. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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