Many years ago, the offerings on the nascent web were few and far between. Yes, the BBC’s Radio 3 was a pioneer in the frontier of web streaming (THANK GOODNESS). However, I still remember the thrill of hearing a LIVE performance from BAYREUTH – to which I will probably never get to attend in person. Since then each late July and early August has found me mesmerized once again to the glorious music (yes, I love the RING). Still shuddering at the wonders of last year’s performances with Thielemann et al. who is thankfully back again this year.
Wednesday is the first performance in this year’s Bayreuther Festspiele – a new production of DIE MEISTERSINGER with Franz Hawlata as Hans Sachs, Klaus Florian Vogt as Walther and Amanda Mace as Eva (all three in debut roles at the Festival) . Along with the new ``Meistersinger,'' the festival offers Christoph Schlingensief's controversial ``Parsifal,'' complete with voodoo and rotting bunny carcass, alongside Philippe Arlaud's Teletubby ``Tannhauser" and Tankred Dorst's soporific ``Ring'' production.
There is something special about the new DIE MEISTERSINGER as Katharina Wagner is making her Bayreuth Festival directing debut with this Festival opening night.
As Manuela Hoelterhoff of Bloomberg reports
“Katharina is the great-granddaughter of the composer himself, who died in 1883, and the daughter of Wolfgang Wagner, 87, who has been running the festival since his more avant-garde brother Wieland died young in 1966.
Wolfgang has been saving this job for her, fending off other relatives, including his own daughter by a first marriage, Eva, so that Katharina, the daughter by his second wife, could receive proper tutelage. Actually, the job isn't even hereditary: Some 30 years ago, the Wagner family ceded the festival to a foundation in order to receive government funds.
Still, a Wagner festival without a Wagner seems inconceivable, and Wolfgang will probably get his way. He survived a heated battle to dislodge him by simply refusing to vacate the premises. The man probably quaffs dragon's blood, and may be immortal.
Certainly, Wolfgang seems immune to critical abuse and smiles cheerfully at the pests who eat his canapes at the festival's ritual press conference.
His enemies berate the man for letting Bayreuth ossify, though he's avant-garde enough for me. One season he allowed the extremely peculiar Christoph Schlingensief, a guy who works with slaughtered piglets and excrement, to inject images of rotting bunnies into his staging of the holy of holies, ``Parsifal.''
And more on the family drama from the BBC:
“Wolfgang's son Gottfried explained the crux of the problem to the BBC in 2006.
"When you're talking about Richard Wagner you cannot split up his ideas either - his anti-semitic, racist attitudes and anti-feministic tendencies too - so the mentality that you're just going to enjoy the music and it has no relevance to the political is absolutely absurd."
Nike Wagner, Wolfgang's niece, could be described as having undertaken a lifelong audition for the post of running Bayreuth. Others are no less ambitious. Eva, Wolfgang's first daughter - somebody else who was excommunicated - and 29-year-old Katharina, whose staging of Die Meistersinger opens this years festival.
It's all turning into a high culture soap opera. But the stakes couldn't be higher. What will happen to Bayreuth and its theatre, the holy grail of the Wagner cult? When will Wolfgang finally step down? Will it be this year? No-one knows for sure, but he's not been seen around the Green Hill this week, and is rumoured to be very ill. “
“What's amazing is how much he looks like Richard; as if his grandfather's own spirit was somehow standing in front of me. "He has snowy white hair and he wears this hair so long that no other man of his age would wear it like that. And you can see something of the old Richard twinkling in his eyes," explains Marcus Veullner, Bayreuth resident and writer. “
Some exceprts from an Interview with Katharina Wagner by DW,
When I give an interview or take a position on my work, I don't do that as Katharina Wagner, great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner, but as the director of "Meistersinger von Nürnberg." I'm not any more interesting because I am related to a famous composer; that was his achievement and not mine -- and I'd rather talk about mine.
I stay out of all the family disputes.
[Where did you set your "Meistersinger"? ] Not in the Middle Ages. It's also not important that it takes place in Nuremberg. For me, Nuremberg is a synonym for a spiritual location. My production takes place in a room with very many doors, that's also extremely closed and seems very heavy. Ultimately, new impulses from the outside come in -- the Nuremberg system can't exist any more as it did and Nuremberg changes at the end of the second act.
Innovation collides with tradition, which for me is the most exiting issues in the opera, that these master singers are really a big art class. And that's one of the biggest questions: What's the relationship between innovation and tradition, and art -- or the artist -- and society?
From The DAILY TELEGRAPH comes this report:
“In rehearsals for Katharina's staging, to which The Daily Telegraph was given exclusive access, the nationalist themes are deliberately perverted. "Katharina's idea is that the stage is filled with statues of Germany's great thinkers Goethe and Schiller carved in a monumental Third Reich style," said Mr Busche.
"But during the finale they deform and collapse, symbols of what happens when thinkers are trapped in such an extreme ideological system." For the performers however, neither the opera's tarnished history nor the Wagner family feud has dimmed the magic of the festival.
"Katharina has gained all our respect," said Edward Randall, an American tenor who plays one of the Meistersingers. "She has a much older soul than a 29-year-old. We've worked on every detail, every glance and every movement, for weeks.
"This is the Olympics of opera," he added. "It's amazing."
Katharina Wagner is well aware of that. "I've been born with this name," she said. "I'm not like Britney Spears who went out to be a star. In Germany, if you're born with this name you can't escape it. You just have to get on with life."
You can hear the Festival Operas broadcast live on various European radio stations – go to Operacast’s Bayreuth Festival page for schedule.
Now on to other less politically charged (?) festivals that are around this week:
Also starting Wednesday – the 2007 Cleveland International Piano Competition which will be webstreamed (and broadcast) live as it takes place from July 25th through August 5th at the Cleveland Play House and at Severance Hall. Hosts for the wall-to-wall broadcasts will be WCLV's Mark Satola, Nancy Sinning, Jacqueline Gerber and John Simna. Rounds One, Two and Three take place at the Bolton Theatre of the Cleveland Playhouse. Then on August 3 and 4, the action moves to Severance Hall for the Final Concerto Rounds with The Cleveland Orchestra and Jahja Ling. More here Cleveland Piano Competition.
Add those to the ongoing BBC PROMS: this week features a semi-staged MACBETH (today, but listen again at BBC Radio3)
and the as ever wonderful MET SIRIUS offerings… and well, who needs to sleep?