[Note: This post has been updated (3) as of 12:43 PM Eastern on 27 Jul. See below.]
No one is more pleased than we to report that, on the evidence of the streaming audio webcast of the first act, our initial fears that a "train wreck of Wagnerian proportions [was] in the making" for the Parsifal that is the opening production of the 2008 Bayreuther Festspiele were ill-founded musically. Musically, the performance by all, Italian conductor Daniele Gatti very much included, was just fine overall. Yes, we've a few objections, but they all concern matters of more or less esoteric detail, and have mostly but not entirely to do with matters of tempi (too slow), and that, also mostly but not entirely, as it concerns the difficult — and decidedly esoteric — matter of internal metric pulse that's so critical to a proper reading of this most difficult and elusive of Wagner's scores. Our pleasure — and relief — that our initial expectations were in error musically preclude our proffering at this time a laundry list of our more or less niggling objections as proffering such a list at this time would serve only to make us appear surly at best.
On to Act II!
Update (7:04 PM Eastern on 25 Jul): Unhappily, we were called away just after the opening bars of Act III and missed that entire act thereafter. We did, however, get to hear Act II in its entirety and, not surprisingly, what we objected to in Act I was present as well in Act II, and there did significant damage both musically and dramatically although, as was the case in the first act, the Festspiele orchestra performed most beautifully.
Of Parsifal's three acts, Act II is the least elusive and least treacherous to negotiate musically, but the most difficult to realize musico-dramatically as of the music-drama's three acts it's the only one that requires subtly nuanced, real-world dramatic interaction between its characters, the two outer acts for the most part (but, of course, not entirely) being more on the order of animated ritual tapestries. And here Mr. Gatti's tendency to too expansive tempi sans the presence of that critical internal metric pulse remarked on above which he either doesn't understand, or understands but is incapable of realizing properly, not only crippled the act musico-dramatically overall, but hamstrung the individual dramatic performances of the singer-actors the only one of whom who managed to escape unscathed both musically and dramatically was the superb Klingsor of Thomas Jesatko whose performance both vocally and dramatically was easily the best of the afternoon. The Zaubermädchen had more than their share of ensemble and vocal problems; the Kundry of Mihoko Fujimura, the timbre of whose mezzo-soprano is rather too soprano and not enough mezzo for this part, was flat dramatically and unnuanced due in large part to Mr. Gatti's failures as noted above, and tended to screech her high notes rather than sing them; and the Parsifal of Christopher Ventris was no more than competently adequate vocally and dramatically. Ditto the Gurnemanz of Kwangchul Youn and the Amfortas of Detlef Roth, both of Act I, of course.
As to the production itself, we heard no booing after the first act — which given the audience tradition at Bayreuth's Parsifal performances that calls for complete silence at act's close was not terribly surprising, although the delayed applause was — and none after the second, either. We're not quite sure what that says vis-à-vis the audience's acceptance of the Stefan Herheim Konzept, and perhaps the audience response after Act III, which act we missed, better told that story as it usually does. In any case, here's a link to a fair number of photos of the production straight from the Bayreuther Festspiele's handsome new website. The sets look quite lovely, actually, but it's a complete mystery to us what they have to do with Richard Wagner's Parsifal although you can be absolutely certain that the Festspiele's program book contained a detailed account of what they have to do with the Parsifal of Regisseur Stefan Herheim. We can, however, say in Mr. Herheim's Konzept's favor that at least there were no dead rabbits in sight.
Update 2 (12:27 PM Eastern on 26 Jul): For an overview of the Stefan Herheim Konzept and how it was received by the opening night Festspiele audience, see this Deutsche Welle piece.
[Note: This post has been updated (1) as of 6:43 PM Eastern on 23 Jul. See below.]
Time to start girding your loins. The 2008 Bayreuther Festspiele opens this Friday, 25 July, with a new production of Parsifal with Konzept by Norwegian director Stefan Herheim, and with Italian conductor Daniele Gatti on the podium (he's currently music director of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna opera house as well as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra).
From what little we've heard of the production (Eurotrash in spades, natch, one tipoff being that the staging requires the services of a professional stunt man — a Festspiele first — as a stand-in for Christopher Ventris, the Parsifal, to take a 20-foot leap off who-knows-what followed by a few-minutes prancing about going who-knows-where), a cast of singers the names of none of whom we've ever heard before (Gurnemanz: Kwangchul Youn; Parsifal: Christopher Ventris; Amfortas: Detlef Roth; Kundry: Mihoko Fujimura; Klingsor: Thomas Jesatko), and an Italian opera conductor on the podium, we suspect a train wreck of Wagnerian proportions is in the making. If, however, you'd like to hear a live streaming audio feed from the Festspielhaus, you can log onto Bayern 4 Klassik radio on the Web beginning at 9:55 AM, Eastern, by following this link:
If we're awake and up in time, we'll probably tune in for at least a quick listen, loins fully girded, of course. We won't, however, be setting our alarm clock.
Update (6:43 PM Eastern on 23 Jul): Things may not be as catastrophic as they first appeared to us they might be. Two members of the CM&OF have responded to the above with these reassuring nuggets of information:
I have heard of most of these singers, and they are experienced Wagnerians. Daniele Gatti is a talented conductor who has conducted all over with considerable success. I don't know how good he will be in Wagner, but the fact that he's Italian is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to this composer. After all, Toscanini was closely associated with Wagner....
From Italy, here some details on Daniele Gatti: He’s no more in Bologna, where he worked close to Thielemann (and this can explain why he’s been called to Bayreuth). In January this year he conducted a most appreciated concert-performance of Parsifal in Rome, with the prestigious Accademia di Santa Cecilia orchestra (whose director is today Antonio Pappano, a long time Bayreuth guest). [...] He’s very much acquainted with Wagner and the German romantic and post-romantic musical school.
Our thanks to these two most generous informants. We now feel somewhat more sanguine about this opening.
For the first time in its history, the Bayreuther Festspiele will, on 27 July, stream on the Web a live video feed of this year's opening performance of its production of Die Meistersinger with Konzept and direction by Katharina Wagner. But there's a catch. A $77 catch to be more precise. That's what it'll cost you to view the feed. Notice, please, we said, "cost you". Given our knowledge of that Eurotrash production, we'll be taking a pass on the opportunity.
Details on the live video streaming of Die Meistersinger can be read here.