July, 2013


Report for The Bregenz Festival of July/August 2013

Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.

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

Austria's President Dr. Heinz Fischer Invokes the Festival Theme: Toward the Light
WA Mozart's DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE [*****]
André Tchaikowsky's DER KAUFMANN VON VENEDIG [**]
Speaking & Singing Shakespeare's Less Loved Sonnets…


Who knew that Wolf Mozart's Magic Flute was really about Three Giant Giraffe Like Hounds Heads thrusting into the skies over the Bregenz Festival's great Lake Stage on the Bodensee?

What the Festival Planners gleefully knew was that they had already sold some 220,000 Tickets to this past summer's Fest on what the French are pleased to call Lac Constance.

The Fame of this eclectic Opera & Theatre Festival has grown so great since its modest founding in 1946--in the disastrous wake of World War II--that its Outdoor Bleacher Seating for Music Theatre on the Lake has been expanded to nearly 7,000 Seats.

If you have never even heard of Bregenz--Austria's Western most City, nestled between German Lindau & the Swiss Border--you are missing one of Central Europe's most delightful spots to spend your Summer Holidays.

But its Annual Festival Attractions make it all the more an Important Destination.

What's more, if you missed this summer's Devil Dog Zauberflöte, it will be repeated in Summer 2014!


Austria's President Dr. Heinz Fischer Invokes the Festival Theme: Toward the Light

The Bregenz Festival customarily opens with the festive arrival of Dr. Heinz Fischer, the popular President of Austria.

Although he is always greeted with an Honor Guard from the Austrian Armed Forces, this smiling, genial Democratic Potentate is never swamped with Men in Black Suits, protecting him from the similarly smiling crowd of Bregenzers & Festival Guests.

Dr. Fischer takes time to shake hands, pat Children on their heads--especially those dressed in the Traditional Costumes of Vorarlberg, & wave to the Onlookers, before proceeding into the Festspielhaus for the lively Opening Ceremonies.

Every summer so far, he has always struck an Inspiring Note.

This past July, he took his inspiration from the Enlightenment Enriched Fest Theme: Dem Licht entgegen

While it is true that Mozart & his ingenious Librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, did endow Sarastro & his Temple of Reason with Masonic Inflected Ideals of Enlightenment, the necessarily abbreviated Sung Text didn't dwell on them this summer.

Nonetheless, President Fischer used those Ideals to castigate the United States for its failures to live up to them. He alluded to Vietnam, where he said the Principles of Humanism & Democracy had been invoked in the Fight Against Communism.

But, unfortunately, the Means--Torturing Prisoners, Fire Bombings & other Barbarities--were said to Justify the Ends.

Dr. Fischer noted: Der Bombenhagel amerikanischer Flugzeuge tötete nicht nur Soldaten und Zivilisten, sondern verwundete nachaltig jene Prinzipien, die in Vietnam verteidigt werden solten.

Currently, said Dr. Fischer, Democratic States are using Fighting Terrorism--instead of Fighting Communism--in the same way.

This is leading them into the Dead End--or Sackgasse--of Der Zweck heiligt die Mittel.

This Problem, Dr. Fischer observed, is Uralt--or Ancient--but it is still not solved…

After these Sobering Remarks--which I did not take personally, so great is my regard for President Fischer--the Fantastic Terrorism that the Malicious Queen of the Night invoked on the Great Lake Stage seemed indeed Spectacular, but ultimately only Harmless Theatrics.


WA Mozart's DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE [*****]

Giant Horse Puppets & Horned Dragon Dogs Dominate Bregenz Shoreline on the Bodensee

If you thought you already knew what happens in The Magic Flute, guess again!

Basically, Prince Tamino makes an Entrance, is confronted by a Monstrous Dragon, which is swiftly dispatched by Three Mysterious Ladies--Servants of the Queen of the Night--& is sent off on a Quest to Rescue Princess Pamina, the Abducted Daughter of the Star Flaming Queen.

There is nothing in Emanuel Schikaneder's adventure packed Libretto about Three Towering Horned & Fanged Heads that look like Mad Cows after an Outbreak of Their Very Own Bovine Disease. Or maybe like Devil Dogs or Hell Hounds?

As The Magic Flute is already a fantastic Work of Imagination, there is no Historical Period that can be invoked as a Point of Departure for Designers & Directors.

Fortunately, Set & Prop Designer Johan Engels has been able to draw upon a Vast Trove of Mythic Images, ably assisted by the ingenious Costume Designer Marie Jeanne Lecca.

Not only will those Three Horned Monsters loom over Lake Constance all winter long, but next summer, as during this, the Lofty Catwalks linking them will once again be thronged with Daring Stunt Men & Furious Flamings.

Time was when every Bregenz Lake Show would end with a burst of Fireworks that could be seen as far away as Lindau Harbor.

Live Flames onstage were a Big No No: Too Dangerous

Not so with this David Pountney Directed Zauberflöte.

In fact, during Dress Rehearsals, some of the Set got scorched!

Watching the Fire Technicians at work below the Domed Revolving Stage, I was impressed with all the Precautions taken, as well as with the Flaming Results in Performance.

If you have already seen the Royal Shakespeare's War Horse--in London, on Broadway, or On Tour--you may have marveled at the Construction & Operation of the Puppet Horses.

If you book for Bregenz in Summer 2014, you will surely be even more astonished when you see the Queen's Three Ladies riding Magical Steeds that look like those Golden Dinosaurs in Louis Vuitton Window Displays.

A Dazzled Spectator exclaimed to me how remarkable it was that these Horsey Sopranos could ride such Boney Mounts & sing at the same time.

I had to disabuse her: "There's No One inside those Masks. The Singers are all inside the Festspielhaus. As is the Entire Orchestra!"

As with War Horse, what seem to be Attendants for the Ladies of the Night are actually Puppet Handlers for their Prehistoric Rides.

This is also true of the Geharnischters, those Mysterious Armored Knights, who guard Sarastro's Sacred Temple.

Unfortunately for the Endangered Species that can still eke out a living by Reviewing Live Performances, the Miracle of the Internet--aided & abetted by Google, Facebook, & You Tube--now makes it possible for any Interested Theatre & Opera Lover to see fantastic Set Photos, as well as Live Action Performances on your own Home Computer, your Cell Phone, your iPad, or even--very soon--on your Wristwatch.

So, it may well be a Waste of Time & Effort to try to describe Sets, Costumes, Action Sequences, & Vocal Excellence in mere Words

Hear Pamino sing for yourself! Don't take My Word for it…

At Bregenz, with the previous Aida & André Chenier stagings, what were actually Intimate Scenes were spread out across the wide, wide Lake Stages specially designed for those operas.

For Zauberflöte, however, Johan Engels has concentrated the Varied Actions on the Green Domed Revolving Stage & up above on the Dragon Hound Catwalks.

But, as the Bregenz Stage is always a bit separated from the Audience by a bit of the Bodensee, there always has to be some kind of Boat drifting by.

Engels provides this Effect ingeniously Over & Over for Zauberflöte.

You've heard of the Underground Railway?

Well, he's created an Underwater Railway, which he & Tech Master Director Gerd Alfons call an Underwater Carousel.

Unseen by the Spectators--but lurking just below the Bodensee Surface--is a Circular Rail Track, onto which Spectacular Set Elements can be lowered backstage to Cruise into Audience View.

One of these is a long Funeral Boat, bearing the Coffin of the Queen of the Night's late Husband, Previous Owner of the Magic Flute & an Enchanted Set of Chiming Bells--or a Glockenspiel, depending on the Designer's Whim.

Then there's a gleaming Giant Turtle on which Pamina appears, encased in Glass. Not to overlook that Giant Golden Hand on which Tamino makes a Watery Journey.

The Three Mysterious Knaben--those Girl Sopranos--who advise Tamino at various stages, protecting him from some of the Over Reachings of the Queen of the Night, also get a Free Turtle Ride.

Tamino's hilarious Side Kick, Papageno--a comic Tour de Force Schikaneder designed for himself--appears in a seeming Jungle of Waving Green Fronds. These are inflatable Fabric Forms, with changing colored lights from below.

His Fantastic Headgear is composed of various Bottle Brushes & an Orange Traffic Cone. He's also dragging along Bags of Plastic Bottles ready for Recycling.

As Papageno has a lot of Singspiel Chatter to share with the Audience, but the Show has to play only Two Hours Plus, with No Intermission, a lot of Dialogue has had to be Cut.

But, as with Wagner for Kids at Bayreuth, all the Important Musical Moments are here!

When Papageno's longed for Papagena first appears--like an Old English Tea Cart Lady, with a Piled Up Teacup Headgear, worthy of Walt Disney's Beauty & the Beast--her Costume is almost more interesting than her Performance.

Oh! The Performances!

For the Bregenz Lake Stage, Major Roles are usually Triple Cast.

For the Record: I saw & heard Alfred Reiter [Sarastro], Norman Reinhardt [Tamino], Eike Wilm Schulte [Sprecher], Ana Durlovski [Queen], Gisela Stille [Pamina], Daniel Schmutzhard [Papageno], Dénise Beck [Papagena], & Martin Koch [Monostatos], among others.

Patrick Summers conducted the Wiener Symphoniker, with the Prague Philharmonic Chorus--all inside the Festspielhaus.

The Power of the Presence of the Queen of the Night & her Throat Ravishing Arias simply could not be Electronically Relayed from inside.

At her most Climactic Moment, she has to be thrust high aloft on a Pillar, from the center of the Revolve.

And still Sing so she could Shatter Your Eardrums

As for Tamino & Pamina actually successfully passing the Trials of Fire & Water, Stunt Doubles instead walked through Real Flames high up on the Catwalks, while other White Clad Doubles walked off the stage, down into the Water, disappearing below!

Not quite the same as Fighting Communism in Vietnam, but still harrowing to watch…


André Tchaikowsky's DER KAUFMANN VON VENEDIG [**]

Is Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice Really Something To Sing About?

Not so long ago, the Bregenz Festival premiered Weinberg's Der Passagier, a previously unknown Auschwitz Centered Opera, by a previously unknown Eastern Jewish Soviet Composer.

Would Polish Jewish Composer André Tchaikovsky's Der Kaufmann von Venedig prove another such Discovery?

In the Event, not really, although a Reprise of this expensively mounted Staging was promised for Poland, which also provided extensive Lobby Displays dealing with the Plight of Jews in the Arts in Occupied Poland during the Nazi Domination.

What was especially curious about this Bregenz Premiere was that it was scheduled for only Three Performances during the Festival: The Opening Night & Two Weekend Matinées

No, André Tchaikovsky was No Relation to the late, great Peter of the Same Name.

Instead, he was born Robert Krauthammer.

His Misfortune was to be born a Polish Jew, shortly before the Nazis began rounding up Warsaw Jews & confining them in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto.

Fortunately, his Grandmother rescued him by dressing him up as a very Blonde Little Girl.

Ultimately, he made his way to England, making a very successful Career as a Concert Pianist. Clearly a Prodigy, he was both admired & mentored by such Greats as Nadia Boulanger & Artur Rubinstein.

But his Dream was to succeed as a Composer, for which he had little Spare Time.

In fact, he seems to have worked on his Merchant Opera off & on until his Death in 1982 in Oxford.

Apparently, he had hopes that an Opera Director of the caliber of David Pountney--who first made his name at ENO--the English National Opera--would want to stage Merchant, but the Project was turned down by the Leeds Opera, hardly comparable to ENO.

Perhaps now that Pountney is completing his Tenure as Intendant of the Bregenz Festival, he is trying to make it up to Tchaikovsky by not only staging Merchant but also by programming his settings of Shakespeare Sonnets & other works?

Obviously André Tchaikovsky was fascinated by the Character of the Money Lender Shylock--a despised Jew in Renaissance Venice:

Shylock also lived in a Ghetto, but it was nothing like that from which the young Krauthammer escaped in Warsaw

The Major Problem with this Merchant is not that it has been awkwardly adapted for the Opera Stage, but that its Pounding, Thumping, Dissonant Score is not really very Singable.

That the Staged Version opens with a Troubled Antonio having a Session with Dr. Sigmund Freud seems an Odd Invention.

Possibly he is disturbed that he has been cast as a Counter Tenor?

Christopher Ainslie thus made Antonio something of a Lightweight

Shylock, it should be noted, is not the Merchant of the Title. That Endangered Gentleman is Antonio, whose Cut Out Heart is so avidly sought by the Venetian Money Lender.

Even given these Bizarre Desires, the Shylock of Adrian Eröd was oddly compelling.

That cannot really be said of the Christian Venetians, a Smug Lot.

Quite aside from the Challenges of the Score, the Stage Direction of Keith Warner was both Odd & Smug.

The most egregious of Warner's Visual Innovations was his staging of the famous Scene of the Gold, Silver, & Lead Caskets, in which Three Suitors vie for the Hand of Portia in a Richly Endowed Marriage.

For some reason, Warner chose to set this in an English Maze, with a slanting Mirror above so that the Audience could see all the supposedly Hilarious Hi Jinx that were going on in & out of the Maze.

But, instead of Three Small Caskets, with Important Contents inside, what looked like Three Large Outhouses--or Gold, Silver, & Lead Refrigerators--were mounted at three points on the Maze.

When the First Suitor made the Wrong Choice, the Door of that Outhouse was left hanging open, surely a Cue to his Successor that that Giant Casket was out of play!

Meanwhile, Portia & Nerissa--back from saving Antonio's Heart Muscles from Shylock's Knife--were lounging in the foreground in Lawn Chairs, savoring Cocktails, just like Fashionable Ladies in a Noël Coward Farce

Well, actually Nerissa [Verena Gunz] was typing up some stuff for Portia [Magdalena Anna Hofmann].

Shylock's Venice--as imagined by Designer Ashley Martin Davis--seemed to be made of Walls of Safety Deposit Boxes.

Shylock was also bizarrely taunted by Masked Anti Semites.

Somewhere in the proceedings there were Hitler Youths & Echoes of the Spanish Inquisition. Even Marlene Dietrich was evoked…

Nonetheless, there was a touching Love Idyll between the Jew's Runaway Daughter, Jessica [Kathryn Lewek] & Lorenzo [Jason Bridges].

Erik Nielsen valiantly conducted.


Speaking & Singing Shakespeare's Less Loved Sonnets…

David Pountney was not content to celebrate André Tchaikovsky with an expensively staged production of his Only Opera.

He also made apparent Psychic Amends by personally introducing the Tchaikovsky Shakespeare Sonnet Cycle & reading aloud the Selected Sonnets--none of them the Memorable Fourteen Liners--in English, making sure they were also read in German by an Actress in the Bregenz Theatre Ensemble.

As a Prelude, Polish Pianist Maciej Grzybowski played Ten Inventions that Tchaikovsky had composed, each to specially salute Personal Friends.

After the Sonnet Readings, Grzybowski accompanied Soprano Urszula Kryger, whose task it was to sing the Lyrics. This she did more or less between the Crashing Chords of the Settings

In the Handicapped Elevator after this Performance--rapturously received by André Tchaikovsky Admirers who had paid to take part in Special Workshops, with handsomely designed Background Kits--one of his Elderly Fans asked me, in German, if I had found the Performances Meaningful

Well, yes, in a way.

But it was interesting that David Pountney--who also is Intendant of the Welsh National Opera--had not planned to import his Merchant to Cardiff

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