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 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.
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. Following 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 confess it's beyond me how anyone who admits to "wearing [his] Wagnerian badge on [his] sleeve" could have any good words to say for the staging of the new Opera Australia Melbourne _Ring_. That staging is clearly and unmistakably out-and-out Eurotrash and should be condemned as ought all Eurotrash stagings of any canonical opera whatsoever. Such stagings are an especially pernicious malignancy no matter how well-designed and -executed they may be. Any directorial hack can come up with a Eurotrash staging of a canonical opera. There's no trick to doing that. The trick is to come up with a new, fresh, and revelatory staging of a canonical opera that's faithful to the full spirit and sense of the concept and vision of the opera's original creator (called in German, _Werktreue_). And the trick there is that such a staging requires an opera director with a deep understanding of the opera in question as well as a genuine creative gift, a rare commodity always. On the evidence of this Melbourne _Ring_, Neil Armfield is clearly no such opera director.As always, the above reprinted here for the purpose of making a record of it on S&F.
I have an opinion that is much simpler, lol. We're dealing largely with the world of myth. How does one "realistically" portray a world of mythical or fantastical creatures onstage? - Ancient gods with human behaviors, dwarves, giants, sea maidens, fates, magical birds and dragons, etc. Though the experiences and triumphs and foibles and emotions of these characters are of course meant to be universal, many of the characters themselves are not rooted in our everyday human reality. They are creatures of our imaginations, who live in imaginary worlds. How does one "definitively" or "realistically" portray this onstage, in a basic sense, let alone all the various "coups de theatre" events that take place? [...] [W]ith the Ring ... we're dealing with a much more intangible world of imaginary settings and characters. There is no definitive world here.To which we responded:
Oh, but there is. Does any sane, honest (as opposed to self-serving, self-involved) opera director/stage designer (or anyone at all, actually) imagine that Wagner's setting the _Ring_ in mythological time and space was done willy-nilly or because it was expedient? Of course not. Accordingly, in staging the world of the _Ring_, there are three fundamental, "definitive" requirements that must be met: 1: The overarching physical context of that world must be a recognizable (as opposed to metaphoric or symbolic) representation — abstract or literal — of raw Nature at whatever scale is called for in the score.Once again, the above for the purpose of making it part of the S&F record.
2: There must be NOTHING in that world that fixes the time of the action to any specific, identifiable real-world era or period — past, present, or future — beyond the action taking place at some time deep in mankind's prehistoric (literally pre-historic) past.
3: There must be NOTHING in that world that fixes the location of the action to any specific, identifiable real-world place beyond the action taking place somewhere along the length of the pre-historic Rhine River Valley. Beyond staging the _Ring_ so that that staging first satisfies those three fundamental, "definitive" requirements, one is perfectly free to do pretty much whatever it is one's little heart desires provided it's at all points consonant with the full sense and spirit of Wagner's original vision and concept as made manifest in the score (music, text, and stage directions).
Wagner's dream of using advanced stage technology to depict convincing dragons, dwarves, rainbow bridges, flying horses etc. has been shattered. It's up to those who have grown up in the post-realistic era of the theater to pick up the shards of Wagner's vision and forge new conceptions of theatrical reality, ones not willed or even foreseen by him, in their attempts to redeem his works for each successive generation.To which we responded:
Wagner's mature stageworks (i.e., his music-dramas) are hardly in need of "redemption" for this or for any foreseeable future generation. They are, however, as are all stageworks, perpetually in need of fresh, thoughtful, and faithful rethinking (i.e., faithful to the full sense and spirit of Wagner's original concept and vision as made manifest in the scores — music, text, and stage directions) in terms of their staging. I addressed this problem generally in a lengthy S&F entry of 2005 titled "Staging Wagner's Music-Dramas" (http://tinyurl.com/78jl72m) using the _Ring_ as the example case. Below is an extended excerpt from that 2005 entry.As always, the above for the purpose of making it part of the S&F record.In approaching the immense problem of staging the _Ring_, one must at the very outset admit to oneself that as colossal a dramatic and musical genius as Wagner was, his genius did not extend to solving, or even dealing with, the manifold problems — even impossibilities — inherent in accomplishing a physical realization of his idealized vision on the stage, the copious and explicit stage directions in the scores of the four works notwithstanding. This is made painfully clear (although never so stated) in the diaries of Richard Fricke, Wagner's devoted and hugely capable assistant stage manager (Wagner himself was the stage manager) for the first complete cycle of the _Ring_ presented at the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876 (Fricke was officially the "ballet master" even though nothing resembling a ballet plays any part in the tetralogy), in which diaries Wagner can be seen to be a man almost beside himself with indecision and dismay about just how things ought to go, or could even be made to go, in transforming his idealized vision of the _Ring_ into the cold, hard reality of an actual stage presentation, and in consequence driving just about everyone involved with the production to near distraction, not to mention resulting in the mise en scène of that first _Ring_ being, for the most part, an illusion-shattering and drama-distracting failure even down to the costumes the final design of which baldly disregarded Wagner's explicit instructions to Carl E. Doepler, the costume designer, to make the costumes "a creation wholly of your own imagination," and "from a cultural period that is remote from any experience or reference to an experience." The principal problem in staging any of Wagner's music-dramas is directly and intimately bound up with their very nature. Since in Wagnerian music-drama the music, and in particular the orchestral music, incorporeal as it is, contains and is the expressive transmitter of the very interior core of the drama itself as opposed to merely providing mood-setting or -enhancing accompaniment for a drama whose interior core is contained in and transmitted by other means as with, say, a stage play, movie, or the typical Italian opera, any attempt to echo that incorporeal dramatic interior core by concrete visual representation will serve only to blunt that core's expressive power by unavoidably competing with that core's main transmitter: the music. Such concrete visual representation can, at its most dramatically successful, be no better than superfluous, and at worst, distracting or even confusing. In the matter of concrete visual representation of the drama in Wagner's music-dramas, the texts, as sung and mimed by the singer-actors, provide all the concrete dramatic representation necessary as those sung and mimed texts are the narrative- and fact-explicit armature about which the entire drama is constructed. But as that drama is made for presentation on the stage, it requires a mise en scène within which to play itself out. As with any stagework, the mise en scène of a Wagner music-drama is comprised of two principal elements: the human (and, on occasion, animal) actors, and the representation of the physical context in and through which they operate and move. In the _Ring_ , Nature itself at its largest scale is the central and overarching physical context, and therein lies the fundamental staging difficulty presented by the tetralogy. The problem, even today, but especially in Wagner's time, of accomplishing a convincing naturalistic realization of that central physical context within the bounded physical space of the stage, no matter how large it may be and no matter how sophisticated the stage machinery, should have been immediately apparent to Wagner, and the solution to the problem reflected in his stage directions. Wagner, however, seems to have taken no notice of the problem much less its solution. In the heat of creation, oblivious to the reality of the problems engendered by such mechanical matters, he instead wrote those stage directions as if he expected that by the sheer force of his genius a way would be found to make convincing their naturalistic realization when the time came for actually mounting the work on the specially built stage he always envisioned for it. As noted above, however, no such way presented itself, and Wagner found himself ultimately in much the same near-impossible position as do producers and directors of the _Ring_ today and with far more crude and far fewer technical resources available to him with which to deal with it. In short, what Wagner had done when writing the _Ring_ was to visualize the work cinematically decades before such a thing was even imagined rather than in terms of what was physically possible naturalistically within the circumscribed space of a theatrical stage and its limited technical and mechanical means. Interestingly enough, even had that as yet unknown medium been available to Wagner in all its 21st-century glory, he would have quickly found that it presents constraining problems of its own, at least one of which is every bit as difficult, even as insurmountable, as the most difficult problem he faced in mounting his magnum opus on the theatrical stage of his day: make convincing within the relentlessly realistic medium of film, actors singing their dialogue. So, what's to be done today in presenting the _Ring_ ... on stage? In my long-considered opinion there's but one wholly adequate way to handle the thing, and it can be expressed in but a single idea: suggestion by way of abstraction. Easy to say, hugely difficult to accomplish dramatically and aesthetically convincingly. I'm firsthand familiar with the work of but one director who actually managed to accomplish that: the brilliant director and stage designer Wieland Wagner in his first post-war staging of the _Ring_ which staging I witnessed at Bayreuth in 1958 (Die Walküre). It was Wieland's genius to come up with what was essentially Regietheater at its very best and set a new standard for Wagner productions worldwide, showing what could be done by the use of inspired modern stagecraft in the service of Wagner's own idealized dramatic vision, that last being the key to this production's great artistic success. With Wieland taking his (unacknowledged) cue from the groundbreaking work of the brilliant Swiss theater theoretician Adolphe Appia (1862-1928), the production's almost total absence of stage furniture, its use of non-period-or-place-committal costumes, and the creative use of lighting to model and shape space and the characters who inhabit it, Wieland — taking his grandfather at his word when in 1853 he declared that the yet unwritten music of the _Ring_ "shall sound in a way that people shall hear what they cannot see" — created a neutral "frame" or "matrix" for the tetralogy, so to speak, that permitted the music itself, working in tandem with the text and the audience's own imagination, to fill in all the missing stage furniture as if it all were right in front of the audience's eyes. It was a brilliant stroke, a stroke of genius even, as it made manifest to the audience in the most intimate way imaginable Richard Wagner's deepest interior vision of the _Ring_ while rendering Wieland's properly transparent. As even given today's formidable stage technology a convincing, non-distracting, and dramatically non-enervating naturalistic realization of the _Ring_'s central and overarching physical context is a clear impossibility within the bounded space of a theatrical stage with its relatively limited mechanical and technical means (as compared to cinema), and, further, that the result of any attempt at doing so will ultimately compete with the carrier and main transmitter of the drama, the music, one is, as consequence, ineluctably driven to adopt the solution of realizing that central physical context by way of suggestion, which is to say, abstractly. That, in turn, dictates that the realization of every detail of the physical context of the entire work, costumes very much included — the work's entire mise en scène, right down to the stage and costume decorations (which decoration should be used only when telling dramatically and in every case kept to an absolute minimum) — be similarly handled, the style of abstraction a task for the director in collaborative effort with the producer, stage designer, and music director to ensure that not only is the result aesthetically expressive and resonant dramatically but that it works to produce a heightened and more revelatory realization of the deeper layers of meaning embodied in the music rather than fight against or compete with the music's dramatic centrality, and that it works to maintain at all points a consonance with the full spirit and sense of Wagner's original idealized theatrical vision and concept as made manifest in the scores (music, text, and stage directions).
The current plan, as revealed in the NYT, is to revive the Lepage Ring in the 2018-2019 season. [...] I can't say the Lepage production's return is anything other than a disappointment. [...] ...bad news for anyone hoping to see traditional Wagner stagings at the Met.To which we responded:
Also bad news for anyone wanting to see a thoughtful and genuinely imaginative new staging of the _Ring_ faithful to the full sense and spirit of Wagner's original concept and vision without in any way being a so-called "traditional" staging. Today, one has to be reminded that such a staging is more than merely possible but that it would require a director/designer of significant and authentic creative gift. Generally speaking, there are never many of those around at any one point in time. With my limited experience of the work of today's practicing directors/designers, my vote would be for Julie Taymor who, provided she had real enthusiasm for such a project, would fit the bill perfectly. As to the revival of the Lepage abortion, Gelb really has little choice in the matter. He's simply *forced* to attempt to amortize the obscene cost of that failed experiment over at least one revival.As always, the above merely for the purpose of making it part of the S&F record.
If Wagner had a flaw as a librettist, it's that he was not ruthless enough about trimming interesting "color" details he had unearthed in his research. There are places in MEISTERSINGER and PARSIFAL where it is difficult to get a clear emotional through-line because there is so much talk about minutiae of the Mastersingers' tablatur [sic] or the complicated relationship between the Grail and the Liturgy, for example.Bypassing our, um, corrective response to the former commenter, we responded to the latter:
While I never had a problem dramatically with the setting forth of the minutiae of "the complicated relationship between the Grail and the Liturgy" in _Parsifal_ as its dramatic pace fit well with the dramatic pace of the rest of the music-drama, I for years had a problem feeling the same way about the lengthy, detailed, dramatically disproportionate explanation of the technical requirements a song must meet in order to be considered a song worthy of a Mastersinger not to even speak of a song worthy of a prize. But little by little I came to realize that without that lengthy, detailed explanation the audience would never really feel or get a real sense of just what Walther was up against in creating a new song for the competition much less a song worthy of a prize from the Mastersingers — in this case, THE prize. Once I understood that, the lengthy, detailed explanation of the technical requirements a song must meet in order to be considered a song worthy of a Mastersinger and a prize seemed just the right thing dramatically, its disproportionateness a purposeful (if dramatically risky) creative act on Wagner's part. Lesson learned: never second-guess a transcendent creative genius. If you imagine there's something amiss with a work of his (or hers) you will invariably find in the end that the fault was with your understanding, not the work.We await the static our above closing graf is almost certain to bring.
Ah, does Mr. Douglas even suspect the implications of his last paragraph? One wonders...To which we responded:
Mr. Douglas is indeed aware of "the implications" of said paragraph. But then, it very much depends on who one considers to be a member of that very exclusive Transcendent Creative Genius club. In the domain of opera, one may, for instance, consider, say, Verdi to be among their number. But with all due respect to Verdi's great creative gift, I do not. In the domain of opera, I consider but two composers to be members of that very exclusive club: Mozart and Wagner, and so in this case my referenced paragraph applies to them exclusively.We expect more. Or perhaps not, given our above quoted response.