[Note: This post has been updated (11) as of 7:07 AM Eastern on 3 Aug. See below.]
Here's the first of what we suspect will be a fairly long list of press reports and reactions in English to Katharina Wagner's Konzept production of Die Meistersinger for the 2007 Bayreuther Festspiele:
After the first two acts of "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg", composed by Richard Wagner and directed by his 29-year-old [great-granddaughter] Katharina, some were critical of her modern and unconventional reading, while others gushed with enthusiasm.
"Fantastic," said one American woman as she emerged from the hallowed "Festspielhaus" theatre following the first act of the three-act "comic" opera.
"Surprisingly good," enthused Carl Julius Brabant, an octogenarian who said he has been coming to Bayreuth since 1951.
And stay tuned to this post for further updates.
Update (7:21 PM Eastern on 25 Jul): And another from the same source:
The first-night audience of the 96th Bayreuther Festspiele, which began with Katharina's eagerly anticipated new reading of "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg", jeered and whistled when the willowy blonde took her bows after the final curtain came down.
While the applause had been fairly friendly after each of the first two acts of Wagner's only "comic" opera, the political and social elite attending the glitzy opening night were outraged by the third and final act, with its depictions of nudity and sexuality, showing Nuremberg's guild of singers, or "Meistersinger", romping around the stage with outsized penises.
"It had absolutely nothing to do with 'Meistersinger'," raged Herbert H., 64. "It was all so gratuitous. It wasn't true to the text at all."
Update 2 (8:57 PM Eastern on 25 Jul): From The Washington Post (AP story):
Expectations were high, and for the hundreds who booed the performance obviously not met. But at least as many among the audience loved the production, reflecting the annual Bayreuth split of traditional Wagnerites and those hungry for experimentation.
And experimentation ruled Wednesday. No quaint gabled houses or medieval town squares and no period costumes either. Instead, the audience was given a plot turned topsy turvy, a villain turned hero, a hero turned wimp, and a few minutes of full frontal nudity.
Update 3 (9:34 AM Eastern on 26 Jul): Here are three more.
From BBC News
The 29-year-old great-granddaughter of composer Richard Wagner was loudly booed following her directorial debut. Katharina Wagner's interpretation of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg opened Germany's Bayreuth festival, which is dedicated to staging Wagner's operas.
But some fans were incensed by the seven-hour staging [sic!], which featured full frontal nudity and rewrote the plot.
"It was all so gratuitous," said one audience member. "It wasn't true to the text at all."
Roger Alier, a Spanish opera critic, said the production was "just horrible".
From EUX.TV The Europe Channel
First reviews of Katharina Wagner's maiden production at the Bayreuth Festival were faintly positive Thursday, much like the audience reaction the night before. While jeers could be heard as the opera Meistersinger, or the Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ended, and nerves played on her face as Wagner, 29, awkwardly strode out to the front of curtain to face the audience.
But the applause was sympathetic and encouraging in the theatre built by her great-grandfather Richard, author of the operas which have a passionate following worldwide.
Stephan Maurer, reviewing the opera for the news service Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa, said there were no terrible blunders but it was not a masterly production either. It was uncertain if it helped Wagner's ambitions.
The story about a 16th-century guild of lyric poets in Nuremberg became a tale of conflict between tradition and progress in her staging in modern dress and settings.
Maurer said the staging was too self-indulgent and lacked a distinct theme. At one point, sports shoes rained down on the stage. At another, composer Wagner himself was depicted dancing in his underwear.
From Bloomberg News
One boo for the first act, several for the second. Then the curtain fell on the third act and the storm broke. Katharina Wagner's new staging of her great- grandfather's "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg" unfolded amid passion at the Bayreuth opera festival in Germany.
At the end, there was a generalized howl, followed by polite applause for the lesser singers. Then a handful of boos (entirely undeserved) for Amanda Mace's sweet-voiced Eva. At this point, far too early for protocol, Katharina stormed onto the stage with her team to "support" her hapless singer. And the booing began in earnest, drowning out a flurry of cheers.
This incoherent production tries to do far too many things at once. There are abundant clever references to German art, culture and architecture. Statues of Goethe, Schiller, Bach, Wagner, Kleist and others come to life and dance, in grotesquely oversized masks and their underwear, for the third-act meadow festivities. A little nudity and some simulated sex are thrown in for good measure.
Bayreuth cannot be saved by pretentious essays on art history. Nor are infantile gestures of rebellion the same as innovation.
Update 4 (9:52 AM Eastern on 26 Jul): From Deutsche Welle:
Amid a family feud over the running of the famous opera festival, Katharina Wagner's directorial debut at Bayreuth split the audience. Not everybody, it seems, enjoyed seeing Richard Wagner dancing in his underwear.
Germany's annual Bayreuth Festival of Wagner operas began on Wednesday with a highly anticipated, make-or-break production [of Die Meistersinger] by the 29-year-old great-granddaughter of the composer Richard Wagner.
And while the applause after the first two acts of Wagner's only "comic" opera was friendly, the audience — which included a smorgasbord of German political and social elite — was less amused by the third and final act, which featured a few minutes of full frontal nudity, a bizarre sight of Richard Wagner dancing in his underwear and a bunch of master singers horsing around the stage with oversized penises.
When, at the end of the marathon seven-hour performance, which included 2 one-hour breaks, visibly nervous Katharina Wagner took to the stage, she was greeted with boos, hisses, jeers and whistles as well as bravos and cries of approval. The Bayreuth audience proved itself to be worthy of the music genre: dramatic, passionate and self-involved to the point of absurdity.
Update 5 (10:23 AM Eastern on 26 Jul): From Guardian Unlimited:
It was one of the most anxiously-awaited theatre premieres of recent years, played out at the Bayreuth festival, the operatic shrine dedicated to the works of Richard Wagner, by none other than his great-granddaughter. Last night Katharina Wagner, 29, faced her "make or break" moment, boldly going where directors are often scared to go by interpreting the most controversial of his operas, Die Meistersinger vion Nürnberg.
Clearly she was keen to show a break with the past, and a certain irreverence towards her great grandfather, an anti-Semite, who was Hitler's favourite composer, because in the performance - her Bayreuth debut which was attended by the German great and good - she put him on the stage as a figure dancing in his underpants. Most crucially, Wagner's production is also set to decide whether or not she is suitable to take over the job as festival head from her father, the 87-year old Wolfgang.
So the critics' reactions were eagerly awaited. The first were decidedly mixed, with most German newspaper websites reporting how the young director was booed off the stage after the seven (!) hour-long performance.
Update 6 (7:50 PM Eastern on 26 Jul): From The Telegraph:
Despite some bold intentions, one feels [director] Katharina [Wagner] twisting herself into knots as she tries to make her ancestor's opera mean what she wants it to mean: the result is a rather conventional essay in the all-too-familiar German deconstructionist style, drawing cartoon-like contemporary parallels and undercutting idealistic romanticism.
A far more radical approach would have been to engage sympathetically with [Richard] Wagner's conception of 16th-century Nuremberg and attend to the libretto's directions.
Update 7 (1:01 AM Eastern on 27 Jul): Another from The Telegraph
The great-granddaughter of the composer Richard Wagner was jeered and booed after staging one of his operas complete with nudity, giant plastic phalluses and "raining" shoes.
The world's most fastidious opera-goers had gathered eagerly on the opening night of the Bayreuth festival in Germany to pass judgment on 29-year-old Katharina Wagner's direction of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
Update 8 (11:39 PM Eastern on 27 Jul): From the Financial Times:
Katharina [Wagner] portrayed the mastersingers as dowdy look-alikes who were so conformist that, during guild meetings, they even had to leave the room to pee together. She exaggerated the work’s axis between tradition and innovation to the point of ruthless parody. Walther von Stolzing, the young aristocrat representing new ideas in art who has to temper his wilder notions to win Eva’s hand, started out as a paint-spraying Jackson Pollock lookalike, only to end up as a rich, happily married celebrity – victim of what Katharina clearly sees as the Hollywood-isation of talent. Sixtus Beckmesser, by contrast, started out as the pedant of Wagnerian tradition, bound to the rule-book, only to emerge, after his humiliation and rejection, as a free-thinking creative type – the only character to end the opera without chains of social conformity.
Katharina’s interpretation – including full-frontal male nudity and a scene in which Hans Sachs, defender of “holy German art”, is humiliated by marionettes depicting Wagner, Bach and Goethe – was tame compared to some performances elsewhere in Germany. In Peter Konwitschny’s recent Hamburg production, for example, the action was deliberately interrupted during Sachs’s final monologue to allow a stage discussion about German ethics – to the outrage of many audience members.
But Katharina still managed to turn the work upside down: even her parodistic stage-paintings of old Nuremberg were shown wrong-side up. There was a lot of conceptual nonsense, and little in-depth characterisation of the main parts. At the final curtain she was rewarded with a thunderstorm of boos, loud and sustained enough to match the unseasonal weather afflicting this corner of south-east Germany in the run-up to Wednesday’s first night.
Update 9 (11:49 AM Eastern on 30 Jul): From signandsight.com (an English translation of a review appearing in German in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung):
The media coverage before the premiere was almost unprecedented, and even surpassed the hype around Christoph Schlingensief's "Parsifal". Because this new production of "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg" was not only a festival directing debut, it was also that of a potential festival director. The 29-year-old Katharina Wagner is the daughter and preferred candidate of Wolfgang Wagner, who at almost 88 has headed the festival - founded by his grandfather Richard - since 1951. In her media appearances Katharina Wagner has clearly shown she doesn't lack ambition, and her first directing work at the festival (and only her fifth independent directing project overall) is not lacking in ambition either. But does ambition alone suffice to stage a coherent performance of Wagner's monumental comedy?
Update 10 (4:22 PM Eastern on 31 Jul): From the International Herald Tribune:
The appointment of Katharina Wagner, charismatic and photogenic, as general director would at least resolve the long simmering question of Bayreuth succession, however unsavory Wolfgang Wagner's preoccupation with perpetuating his legacy. But the prospect that her new "Meistersinger," which opened the 96th festival last week, would advance her cause vanished in a chorus of boos. In her four previous opera stagings, mainly for second-tier theaters, she has emerged as a fervent proponent of Regietheater, or director's theater, in which concept is king and little is sacrosanct. It is an approach that can yield brilliant results and enrage audiences, sometimes at the same time.
"Meistersinger," an opera about tension between tradition and innovation in art, stands as a glorious affirmation of the human spirit but also has its dark side. Katharina Wagner homes in on the opera's two most troublesome aspects. One is the peroration by the cobbler-poet Hans Sachs urging the populace to keep "holy German art" free from foreign influences. The other is Richard Wagner's mean spirited treatment of the town clerk Sixtus Beckmesser, narrow-minded guardian of the rules of song.
Sachs's injunction became a rallying point of the Nazis in the 1930s, although, interestingly, Wagner included it at the behest of his wife Cosima; he was inclined to leave it out. In a sensitive production, it can emerge as simply a bow to tradition, counterbalancing the triumph of the new, as represented by Walther's prize song. But Katharina Wagner seizes on it. She emphasizes Germany's artistic heritage by setting Act I not in a church but in a museum-like temple to the arts (sets by Tilo Steffens). An oil painting serves as an altar, to which people pay ritualistic respect. Walther splashes paint around like an Abstract Expressionist.
Update 11 (7:07 AM Eastern on 3 Aug): From the National Post:
Last week, the opening night of the Bayreuth Festival included a scene in a seven-hour opera in which 12 come-to-life statues of German greats such as Bach and Goethe masturbate in front of a tied-up Hans Sachs, another great figure who was a shoemaker and poet in the early 16th century.
In this Meistersinger, the performance and staging were continually battling with Richard Wagner's 19th-century libretto and music. Another characteristic scene has the chorus — who normally are stodgy burghers, craftsmen organized by their guilds — alluding to Andy Warhol by throwing paint-filled Campbell's Soup tins. Music itself is displaced: Hans Sachs, the opera's bass baritone part, has become a chain-smoking, shoeless hack tapping at a retro typewriter rather than a cobbler's last; and the heroic tenor, Walther von Stolzing, is an action painter like Jackson Pollock rather than an aristocratic lyric poet wooing a bourgeois beauty, Eva Pogner.