Russell Thomas, speaking to Anne Midgette [here]: "The conversation about blackface is a distraction. It’s not about whether or not Mr. Antonenko was painted dark. It’s also not about whether whites should be allowed to sing Porgy and Bess. It’s about this: Why aren’t the stages representative of the communities in which they are located?"Answer: Because it's unimportant, no pressing matter, and "a distraction". What matters on theater stages, the ONLY thing that matters — whether what's being presented is straight drama, musical comedy, opera, or what have you — is the excellence of the presentation and performance of the artwork being staged. Period. Full stop. Everything else — everything — is but of ancillary importance and only a hypersensitive, corrupted postmodern sensibility would argue otherwise.
We've had occasion to say something about this [new 2015] production in a prior S&F entry based on a live audio stream of the premiere by BR Klassik Radio as well as on act-by-act production photos and verbal descriptions of the physical action and this new HD video [of the entire production] held no surprises for us as far as the staging is concerned. We previously called that staging sophomoric and sophomoric is what it proved to be, from the conceit of Act I's blatant if only tenuously symbolically apposite allusion to M.C. Escher's impossible staircases leading nowhere, to the bizarre sci-fi futuristic prison of Act II (yes, this is a Regietheater staging — what else? — and Act II is set in a prison run by the henchmen of this production's tyrannical König Marke wherein Tristan and Isolde are held captive along with Kurwenal), to the imagined symbolic rightness of Act III's utterly black, all but featureless blank stage and background with its reappearing, floating, Isolde-filled triangles of light (perhaps a reference, if reference they indeed are, to the tent-like structure Tristan and Isolde jerry-rigged in the prison of Act II to hide them from the searchlights of König Marke's henchmen, but given Katharina's sophomoric Regie mentality we shudder to think what else those triangles might be a reference to), not to again speak of the imbecile close of the music-drama in this staging wherein Isolde, at the close of her Verklärung, is ripped away from Tristan's corpse and dragged off by König Marke very much alive as if she were mere chattel (as indeed she was originally intended to be). Finally, after having seen the full production, to all the above we now feel compelled to add how appalling the disconnect is, emotional and intellectual, between this staging and the nonpareil transcendent work created by Katharina's great-grandfather more than 150 years ago in what proved to be an ironic attempt to compose an opera that could be mounted quickly and easily even by theaters of modest means. We do, however, have to give Katharina credit for cleverly and neatly doing away with the magic love potion thing upon the magic of which potion even those who ought to know better are still wont to lay blame for the lovers' out-of-control passion for each other.If you think this all quite horrid we assure you the actual witnessing of this Regietheater staging is a full order of magnitude more painful than is the reading about it. Currently, following Bayreuth's lead, Regietheater Wagner can be seen on the stage of almost every major opera house worldwide, New York's Metropolitan Opera, arguably the world's most important opera house, included,** which opera houses are the only established opera venues with the wherewithal, talent, and facilities to stage Wagner's stageworks properly. And so, to restate the opening question, What damage, if any, would be done to world culture were it the case that in no competent public venue could the stageworks of Richard Wagner be seen presented true to the way Wagner set them down with their hallmark, artform-defining organic unity of music, text, and stage picture that's the unique and special genius of Wagner's art? For an informed some, ourself included, the answer is manifestly clear: appalling damage; damage so appalling as to be virtually unthinkable. Curiously and inexplicably, the jury of the opera world is still out on the question even after some 43 years of accumulated hard evidence arguing against Regietheater Wagner as Werktreue Wagner and so the unthinkable threatens perennially to become appalling, permanent reality worldwide. This may seem a thing of concern only for dedicated Wagnerians who are but a small minority of audiences for opera. But a moment's reflection will reveal just how tragically myopic is such a view. For absent the existence of genuine Werktreue presentations of Wagner's stageworks, opera audiences, existing and new, will be denied the essential fundamental references necessary to understand and assess the value and worth of those stageworks as well as the value and worth of their creator and the impact of both on the shaping and development of the artform, not to even speak of being denied the sheer, soul-enriching pleasure of experiencing the full sense and spirit of the stageworks themselves as their creator imagined them experienced. Appalling damage indeed and no small matter as we're certain most, if not all, will agree.
A highlight of [Barenboim's] 1995 "Tristan" recording is King Marke's Act II monologue, where he tenderly conducts a noble Matti Salminen. But at the pivotal moment earlier in the act, where the lovers are reunited, the music rushes impetuously through the scene without deeply taking hold. Mr. Barenboim, of course, doesn't have the Isoldes of the past. The truest emotional record of that moment remains, to these ears, that of Kirsten Flagstad on the 1952 Furtwängler recording (on EMI); despite less than ideal casting, with Ludwig Suthaus as Tristan, the music — to resort to Wagnerian cliché — achieves the kind of transcendence the moment requires [emphasis ours].Excuse us? A "Wagnerian cliché" to use the word transcendence here(!)? We of course understand Ms. Midgette's preemptive self-defensive apology for her use of the word as it's used often in connection with any number of things having to do with Tristan, but calling the word's use here a cliché does Wagner, Tristan, and, in this case, Furtwängler a deep injustice. What other word would serve better or even just as well? None we can think of. There's simply no help for it.
In Anne Midgette's review of the Met's _Otello_ for _The Washington Post_, she writes: === Begin Quote ===
Before the opening, the Met announced it was dispensing with the usual dark makeup, a wise decision because it didn’t affect the drama a bit....
=== End Quote === I, of course, didn't see the production but if what Ms. Midgette wrote is really true, there's something terribly — fundamentally — wrong dramatically with this production. With an un-made-up Caucasian Otello it's not possible theatrically to establish and maintain what is absolutely essential — absolutely central — to this tragic drama: Otello's "otherness" as I put it some two months ago [i.e., in our above S&F entry] as outwardly signified by his blackness (or "Moorishness"). Absent that outward constant signifier of Otello's otherness, which otherness "drives his every action and reaction in the drama", we're left with nothing more than a half-demented, murderously jealous brute blindly acting out his mad rage. Hardly a tragic hero. ACD
———————————————Dennis ______ wrote: >Otello's blackness is the essence of his standing as a Romantic hero. >That blackness is vital to the character and all that stems from it to >form the action of the opera. It may be subtly suggested, or it may be >overtly shown; but it needs to BE THERE. It simply cannot be ignored: >forcing Otello's "blackness" to be a product, merely, of the opera >goer's imagination is a totally modern approach. It's a perfectly valid >approach in SOME works, as Paul _______ notes in his post; but it is >one totally inappropriate to an opera steeped in Romantic tradition. Good points all. I would only further suggest that anyone who imagines Otello's visible blackness (or "Moorishness") is anything other than essential — central — to both the character and the opera should ask himself why Shakespeare made his wholly fictional Othello, from which character Boito's Otello is taken as is, of course, Boito's libretto taken from Shakespeare's play, a black (a Moor). Does anyone seriously imagine Shakespeare did that willy-nilly just for the hell of it or, just as bad, to be true to his fictional source (a story titled "Un Capitano Moro" by Italian novelist Giovanni Battista Giraldi ("Cinthio"))? The very idea is, of course, thoroughly preposterous. Shakespeare made his Othello a black (a Moor) in an all-white society because Shakespeare saw in the device powerful and tragic dramatic possibilities and a perfect outer signifier of his character's otherness — an otherness that underlies and drives his Othello's (and Boito's Otello's) "every action and reaction in the drama", as I've previously put it, which is to say it's absolutely central to the character and to the drama both in Shakespeare's play and Boito's libretto and MUST be shown *explicitly*. ACD
Listening to Bayreuth _Tristan_. What the fuck is Thielemann doing!? Can only guess he's adjusting the music to K's imbecile staging.We, of course, had no idea at the time what Katharina's staging was or even looked like. We simply assumed it was imbecile; had to be imbecile to force Thielemann to go so markedly off-center. And we weren't far wrong as regards both Katharina's staging and the reason for Thielemann's reading of the score of that first act. Here's a Bayreuther Festspiele production shot (© Bayreuther Festspiele/Enrico Nawrath) of the Act I staging:
Act III T&I done. CT on his superlative game again. Singers made it through in good voice. Marke again splendid. Overall, an adequate T&I.Ah well. At least the staging wasn't grotesque Eurotrash. The Castorf Ring is also on the menu this Bayreuth season and that's more than enough Eurotrash grotesque for any single opera season anywhere. Here are links to two eyewitness accounts of the production, one from The New York Times and one from The Guardian.
I'll never be able to fulfill people's expectations of me if those expectations are super-human. You can't expect a production to be liked by all 2,000 people in the audience. That just isn't possible. [However,] we've achieved what we wanted to achieve [with the production].To our knowledge no informed person of consequence has ever had super-human expectations of you, dearie. And your "achiev[ing] what [you] wanted to achieve" with your new production of Tristan is precisely what most Wagnerians and other lovers of Wagner's transcendent masterpiece fear most. We're almost afraid to look at the production photos when they're made available after Saturday's (25 July) 2015 Bayreuther Festspiele premiere. Source for the above Katharina quote can be read here.
It had to happen. As surely as the irresistible force had to meet the immovable object, as surely as Frankenstein had to meet the Wolfman [sic], Roger Norrington and his London Classical Players had to confront Richard Wagner, the fountainhead of everything against which Mr. Norrington, and all of Early Music, have been in constant zealous revolt. The resulting CD (EMI Classics 5 55479 2), which contains the Rienzi Overture, the Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin, the Prelude and "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde, the Meistersinger Prelude, the Siegfried Idyll and the Parsifal Prelude, is one of the most fascinating recordings of the year just past, and one of the most important. Which is not necessarily to imply that the performances it preserves are any good.Read the whole thing.
The woodenheaded board of Der Richard Wagner Stiftung Bayreuth has renewed Katharina Wagner's contract as (sole) director of the Bayreuther Festspiele through 2020. What further proof beyond her disastrous first (co-)tenure of the past six years do these idiots need to convince them Katharina's continued directorship of the Festspiele sounds the very death knell for this venerable institution, the world's oldest and most storied music festival?To which a forum member replied:
"Death knell for this venerable institution"? Just what are you basing that on exactly? People who have actually seen what she has done there seem to continue to go.To which we replied:
On what am I basing that exactly? Why, on actually having seen what Katharina's done there, of course. And as to people continuing to go despite the artistic damage Katharina has already managed to inflict on the Festspiele, people will continue to go to the Festspiele in future no matter how grotesque the productions and less than first-rate the music-making if for no reason other than to experience the amazing Festspielhaus itself, to get a dose of real or imagined nostalgia, and as a kind of pilgrimage of sorts. Artistically, the Festspiele is already beginning to be considered of little cultural importance as well as being something of an embarrassment for Wagnerians, except, of course, inside Germany where other powerful, largely nationalistic forces come into play.Things then began to get quite ugly. MSM opera critic and Eurotrash champion and cheerleader James Jorden, posting under the screen name "La Cieca", responded with the following one-liner:
You haven't been to Bayreuth, you loudmouthed fraud.To which we replied, exercising as much restraint as we could muster:
I never said I'd been to Bayreuth to see what Katharina had done there during her tenure vis-à-vis Festspiele productions (what an idea!), you Eurotrash-besotted, petty little shit. No need to go to Bayreuth for that purpose these days. The full-length presentation of several Bayreuth productions during Katharina's tenure were made available for all to see via YouTube and some also streamed direct by Bayreuth itself. Along with piecemeal video glimpses of several other Katharina-tenure Bayreuth productions, that was more than sufficient for one to make an informed, considered judgment. Needless to say, ALL the productions during Katharina's tenure — every last one of them — have been irredeemable, utterly unmitigated Eurotrash. Since Katharina assumed the Festspiele directorship (along with her Festspiele co-director half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier who has now stepped down) not so much as a single Wagner opera or music-drama has made its way to the Festspiele stage. No surprise there. Katharina is and has been a steadfast and devoted Eurotrash champion of longstanding (it was she, for instance, who was responsible for the über-grotesque "disintegrating bunny" _Parsifal_ of Christoph Schlingensief mounted at the Festspiele during her father's (Wolfgang's) tenure). Do you have anything of value to add to this thread, little man? If so, let's hear it.Apparently nothing of value to add as nothing further was heard from Mr. Jorden in this thread.
I've never seen _Klinghoffer_ and was looking forward to the HD telecast of the opera just to discover what all the fuss was about. That now looks like an event unlikely to take place. There is, however, something I can say about such operas generally (i.e., operas grounded in real, historical events still alive in living memory which would include Adams's _Nixon_ and _Dr. Atomic_) which is that as intended works of art they're a really bad idea from the get-go. The reason for that is that it's all but impossible for a viewer to, at least subconsciously, NOT overlay and/or graft his thinking, biases, and prejudices concerning what was true or perceived as true about the historical case and its surrounding context onto the operas even though the operas themselves may not even so much as have touched on any particular point(s) in question. Once that happens, the work instantly degenerates into propaganda (agitprop) and so becomes, poetically and aesthetically, of little value or worth in its totality as an artwork. Such was true of _Nixon_ and _Dr. Atomic_ (the latter of which two operas has some sumptuous and genuinely beautiful music) both of which operas I did see. Opera creators would do well to stay away — far away — from involving themselves in the creation of such operas — unless, of course, it's their intention to create such Brechtian-poisoned crap.