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Listen, (for free?) to: Opera North - Das Rheingold.

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday 28 June 2011 | 8:42:00 pm

EDIT: If you missed this - I did - it will be available on-demand for the next six days - click HERE.

Yep, the first part of Opera North's semi-staged Ring Cycle -  the one that critics have unanimously hailed as a triumph (I should write advertising copy shouldn't I? But in this case it's true -  read here for a summary) is now yours to hear, completely free of charge!

To part-take of a wagnerian feast just tune into BBC radio three this Friday at 7.30pm. Listen on your radio, your digital box or online. Press release below:

1 July, 7.30pm Leeds Town Hall

“one of the most enthralling Wagner performances of recent years" The Guardian

We are delighted to announce that Radio 3 will live broadcast Opera North’s performance of Das Rheingold this Friday.

Critics are raving about the quality of the music-making and audiences loved Peter Mumford’s mesmerising dramatisation. In case you won’t be able to experience any of the three remaining performances, you can tune in to BBC Radio 3 who will broadcast the performance live from Leeds Town Hall on Friday, 1 July at 7.30pm.
8:42:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

ARTE to begin to broadcast Bayreuth Festival live on TV

Of Mice and Knights

The Bayreuth Festival will be screened live on television for the first time during the 2011 season, in an agreement signed between the arts broadcaster ARTE and general director,  Katharina Wagner

The cultural/arts channel ARTE will transmit one show each year from the Bayreuth Festival

The agreement was signed with the event's general director Katharina Wagner. The first screening will be Wagner's "Lohengrin" directed by Hans Neuenfels on 14 August 2011 (See below for cast)

Lohengrin will be hosted on ARTE by Annette Gerlach in the afternoon and evening along with, as yet, unannounced  guests.

Edit: I have checked the ARTE website and elsewhere but as yet no confirmation as to whether this will also be included in ARTE's webcasts. 

Lohengrin cast 2011

Lohengrin - Klaus Florian Vogt
Heinrich der Vogler  -Georg Zeppenfeld
Elsa von Brabant - Annette Dasch
Friedrich von Telramund - Tómas Tómasson
Ortrud - Petra Lang
Der Heerrufer des Königs - Samuel Youn
4:11:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

Entire Performance: 1943. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Schöffler, Suthaus, Scheppan (Hermann Abendroth, Bayreuth)

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 26 June 2011 | 9:23:00 am

Much thanks to Youtube poster: Bayreuthathon 

Youtube Description:

 The staging of this Meistersinger was by the young Wieland Wagner. The style is indeed very, very different compared to his post war productions.

Compared to the Meistersinger under Furtwängler this recording is technically even better. Great sound for the period. 
9:23:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

Nuremberg Used and Abused: The true and imagined Nuremberg of Wagner and others

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday 25 June 2011 | 8:33:00 am

Thomas Stewart "Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!"

"Wahn! Wahn!
Uberall Wahn!
Madness! Madness!
Everywhere madness" Han Sachs
Had it ...(not)... been forced to serve the imaginative needs of others for so many years, the history of a city (Nuremberg), a country, perhaps even a world, might have shared more of the benevolent humanism of Wagner's Hans Sachs, and less of the Wahn of his confused compatriots" - David Littlejohn: The Ultimate Art. Essays around and about Opera

This is a chapter from David Littlejohn's "The Ultimate Art. Essays around and about Opera". It describes the history of Nuremberg - both real and imagined - in the context of Wagner's opera, the rise of the Nazies and after. I present it in anticipation of tomorrows broadcast of Glyndebourne's Meistersinger. Think of it as part of an unofficial program note. Images and audio added by The Wagnerian

The whole of" David Littlejohn's: "The Ultimate Art. Essays around and about Opera" is available (as is this chapter) to read, completely free,as part of the generosity that is the UC Press E-Books Collection. To read the entire book follow the link at the end of this article.

Chapter Ten — Nuremberg Used and Abused

The imagination of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has burdened the mastersingers' city of Nuremberg with an almost unbearable weight of symbolism. Like other of the world's dream cities (Alexandria, Istanbul, Paris, Venice), Nuremberg has been seized on by people living elsewhere to represent one thing or another, because of either real or imaginary qualities in its history and nature.

But few other cities have paid so heavy a price for the dream images of them that non-natives have created and maintained. The story of Nuremberg is unique and impressive—particularly its story in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the period that most of its idealizers choose to idealize. But that story has been rewritten and misread, used and abused many times since then.

The first people to invest the old imperial city with their own fantasies were German Romantic writers and painters of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. They half-discovered, half-invented a stage-set image of quaint old Nuremberg, which continues to work well in opera. These men were followed by Baedeker-toting tourists, who followed their predecessors' directions in search of the authentic altdeutsch picturesque: crumbling riverside castles, steep dormered roofs, high half-timbered buildings projecting over narrow cobbled lanes. For better and worse, Nuremberg has also been chosen to serve private symbolic functions by Teutonic chauvinists from Richard Wagner to Adolf Hitler, men who were trying to rewrite European history in order to prove that Germania was and always had been number one.

Hans Sachs
Reconstructing the "real" Nuremberg of its own Golden Age (from the birth of Albrecht Dürer, say, to the death of Hans Sachs, 1471–1576) requires that one abandon all subsequent images of the city. Independent since 1219, Nuremberg grew in prosperity mainly because it was, for most of that one century, at the crossroads of a dozen trade routes. With a population of about 25,000 citizens behind its walls (and perhaps another 20,000 dependents outside), it was one of the largest and richest cities in the German-speaking empire. Since 1422, even the imperial castle on the hill, about which it had grown, had been the property of the all-powerful city council.

The forty-two members of the council had sole and absolute power over virtually every activity in the city. They kept Nuremberg as tightly self-contained and rulebound a little beehive as Europe has ever known. The councilmen, almost all wealthy patrician merchants from the top forty families—those stout fellows one sees in paintings and engravings, with their fur-trimmed robes and velvet berets—established an intricate set of laws and all extensive civic bureaucracy to govern wages and prices, weights and measures, foreign relations, dance steps, the length of jackets, the quality of herring, and the texts of poems.

Wagner to the contrary, they forbade the town craftsmen to form guilds, so as not to risk protest demonstrations or a dispersal of their own power. A street not like that of Die Meistersinger , Act II they would have put down in no time. Not only had they no emperor, prince, viceroy, or bishop to tell them what to do; the council actually ran the town's thirteen Catholic churches, convents, and monasteries. It appointed their pastors, administered their finances, legislated their morals. When Luther came along in the 1520s, this puritanical and fiercely independent city slipped from Catholic to Protestant with scarcely a ripple. Both Sachs and Dürer publicly welcomed the new dispensation. The council happily took over the rich monastic properties in the name of the city. Unfortunately, the Lutheran distrust of sacred images marked the end of rich commissions for many of Nuremberg's celebrated artists.

"Celebrated" may be overstating the case. Nuremberg of 1470–1570 was almost as famous for its fine craftsmanship as it was for its stable government, its mercantile prosperity, and its thick double circuit of walls. But what we think of as "art" was rarely taken with any special seriousness, despite the modern aesthetic assertions of Wagner's Pogner and Sachs. In sixteenth-century Nuremberg, Dürer was certainly respected, but primarily for his magical-realist technique and his popular woodcuts. For all of his 3,848 songs, 133 comedies, and 530 poems (by his own count)—or perhaps because of them—Hans Sachs was regarded as a kind of droll civic father figure. But he was no more considered a serious "artist" than were the other versifying Rotarians who attended the weekly meetings of his Shopkeepers' Singing Club.

To mystical Germans looking at the city through the rose-stained glasses of a later generation, Nuremberg appeared as "the Florence of the North." But take away Dürer—who probably preferred Italy anyway—and one is left with a few highly skilled wood and stone carvers, glaziers, engravers, and goldsmiths, whose workshops were judged by the city fathers no more important than those that turned out Nuremberg's excellent (and profitable) bells, cannons, scissors, toys, clocks, trumpets, and locks.

After his Italian travels, Dürer became part of a small Nuremberg cenacle of humanists—one or two of them genuine scholars, the rest fascinated dilettantes. But their private readings, their translations from the Greek and Latin, and their heady conversazioni had no effect whatever on the hard-working, penny-counting habits of their townsfolk, who—like Wagner's mastersingers—resisted every effort at innovation. As Gerald Strauss writes in Nuremberg in the Sixteenth Century:

From the mastersingers with their mass of punctilious rules guarded by official watchdogs, to the small band of humanists who dissected and criticized each other's books, from the physicians, so vain of their professional reputations, to the Protestant theologians who knew truth when they saw it, men spoke and acted by codes according to which they approved and censured.

The new, the different was everywhere regarded with suspicion. Nuremberg was emphatically an unintellectual society. . . . Not a single thinker, poet, or scholar was able to impress his mind upon the city's civic personality. Nuremberg would have been exactly what she was had no one written a book there or, for that matter, read one.

For a short while—as long as prosperity maintained, as long as churches and rich merchants needed new buildings and decorations, as long as costly wars could be avoided and powerful nation-states had not rendered them obsolete—cities like Nuremberg could at least feel contented, secure, and self-righteous. With the shift of trade routes to Atlantic ports, the emergence of Protestantism and the trauma of the Thirty Years' War, and the consolidation of power in the united kingdoms of Spain, France, and England, snug and prosperous little cities like Nuremberg lost much of their energy, their spirit, their very reason to exist. This lack of continued prosperity helps to explain why Nuremberg remained frozen in its sixteenth-century form. It was like an ancient ship caught in the ice, waiting to be discovered.

After three decades of religious wars, the city slept in its economic and cultural decline for the better part of two centuries. Educated Germans of the Enlightenment saw nothing but dark, clumsy Gothic crudeness in the native art and traditions it embodied. Passing through en route to Frankfurt in September 1790, Mozart (who rarely noticed the scenic attractions of the cities in which he performed) only "breakfasted in Nuremberg, a hideous town," as he wrote to his wife. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, more progressive German cities had adopted new and sophisticated French or Italian models, or had turned to ancient Greece and Rome for their inspiration.

It was Goethe himself, in an outburst of youthful enthusiasm for Strasbourg Cathedral in 1770, who gave the first notable German stamp of approval to the old native style. He went on to praise Hans Sachs, the almost forgotten cobbler-poet. Most historians attribute the cultural rediscovery of Nuremberg itself to two Berlin University students, Ludwig Tieck and Heinrich Wackenroder, who took a walking tour of the South during their spring break in 1796. They loved what they saw of Italy and the Rhine valley; but Nuremberg was a revelation. "Nuremberg, thou once world-famous city!" wrote Wackenroder. "How gladly did I wander through thy crooked alleys; with what childlike love I contemplated thy old-world houses and churches, which so firmly bear the stamp of our old native art! How deeply do I love the products of that age, which bear so racy, strong, and genuine a character!"

Wackenroder and Tieck helped persuade a whole generation to "honor the German masters" (as Wagner's Sachs commands). At an exhibition on "the Romantic discovery of Nuremberg," held at the city's German National Museum in 1967, misty, past-evoking paintings and drawings of the city by twenty-five Romantic artists were displayed, along with rapturous, loving descriptions of the city by many of Germany's most famous early nineteenth-century writers. The tricentennial of Dürer's death was celebrated in Nuremberg in 1828 with all embarrassing excess of fervor. Longfellow—a great admirer of Goethe, the German lyrists, and German culture generally—celebrated his visit to Nuremberg in 1836 with one of his drippier poems ("Through these streets so broad and stately, / These obscure and dismal lanes, / Walked of yore the Mastersingers, / Chanting rude poetic strains").

After the poets and painters came the tourists. From 1883 on, the indispensable Baedeker guides to southern Germany led the seeker-after-art dutifully past every even marginally noteworthy building, sculpture, and painting in the city. While declaring "there is probably no town in Germany so medieval in appearance," they also reminded their English-speaking readers that "great care should be taken to ensure that the sanitary arrangements are in proper order, including a strong flush of water and proper toilette paper."

"Year by year," began a guidebook of 1907, "many a traveller on his way to Bayreuth, many a seeker after health at German baths, many an artist and lover of the old world, finds his way to Nuremberg." It was "a city of the soul," with "a flavour indefinable, exquisite."

By the mid-nineteenth century, a proper grand tour would have been unthinkable without a wistful pause at Nuremberg. The only qualms expressed by the Victorian and Edwardian guidebook writers were over the recent, almost too exact imitation-old Gothic buildings in the city, which tourists had a hard time distinguishing from the genuine article; and over the increasing number of factory smokestacks that were beginning to surround the jewel-casket of Germania.

Die romantische Entdeckung Nürnbergs —the Romantic discovery of Nuremberg—was more than just a local version of a European cultural craze, a trendy taste for the picturesque past. Unlike comparable "Romantic discoveries" in England or France, it was also part of an aggressively antiforeign movement, part of a defensive, irrational, even monomaniac chauvinism.

Ludwig Tieck
Nuremberg satisfied the needs of romantic travelers, poets, and painters because it offered a virtually "unspoiled" image of a fourteenth-to-sixteenth-century town. But it also satisfied the needs of Germany-firsters, because they thought it the purest possible representation of just how wonderful German culture could be, with no alien admixture of anything French or Italian.

This is one of the most important reasons Richard Wagner chose Hans Sachs, the burgher-mastersingers, and the common Volk of sixteenth-century Nuremberg to serve as both background and (much of the time) foreground for his most accessible and most popular opera. Sachs, he declared, was "the last embodiment of the artistically productive national spirit . . . something different from the Latin type." Wagner carefully studied historical accounts for his text, then incorporated into it actual verses of Sachs's, folk songs, and a Lutheran congregational chorale. He consciously strove for a musical style more simple and old-fashioned than his own norm at the time.

In 1867, he had published a long essay entitled "German Art and German Politics," which has been called "his commentary on Die Meistersinger ." In it, he wrote, "Ever since the regeneration of European folk-blood, considered strictly, the German has been the creator and inventor, the Romantic the modeller and exploiter; the true fountain of continual revolution has remained the German nature. In this sense, the dissolution of the 'Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation' gave voice to nothing but a temporary preponderance of the practical-realistic tendency in European culture"—which had now, he insisted, reached a nadir of spiritless decadence. The Thirty Years' War, he declared, had utterly destroyed German civic culture. It left all German art, for two barren centuries, in the hands of the petty princes. They, unfortunately, had simply imported or imitated spineless Latin art: tinny Italian operas, insipid ballets from France (a vain and light-minded nation").

Late in the eighteenth century, a few prescient Germans, led by Lessing and Winckelmann, recognized their "Ur-kinsmen in the divine Hellenes." (Wagner, like Hitler, regarded the ancient Greeks' as the only culture equal to the pure German.) Then the sublime Goethe symbolically wed Greek Helen to German Faust. Next, Schiller inspired a generation of patriotic German youth to an ideal of Volk und Vaterland , around the time of the 1814 Wars of Liberation.

But since then, Wagner insisted, there had been nothing; or at least nothing better, in German theatre, than Rossini and Spontini, Dumas and Scribe, the penny-dreadful melodramas of Kotzebue ("the corrupter of German youth, the betrayer of the German folk"), fatuous actors and singers. Worst of all were the operatic travesties that Rossini had made out of Schiller's William Tell and Gounod out of Goethe's Faust —"a repellent, sugary-vulgar patchwork, with all the airs and graces of a lorette, wedded to the music of a second-rate talent." Somehow, Wagner declared, German art had to find its folk roots again; and particularly German theatre, the folk art par excellence.

And where were German writers and composers to find their ideal inspiration? Not, surely, in the decadent, Paris-aping court theatres. Certainly not in the soulless, Jew-dominated commercial theatre. No—look to "the Mastersingers of Nuremberg, [who] in the prime of classic humanism, preserved for the eye of genius the old-German mode of poetry."

Many observers have stressed the elements of historical authenticity in Die Meistersinger , from the correct architectural settings Wagner demanded for the 1868 première to David's recital of the mastersingers' rules and tones and modes. But more important than the opera's historicity, I believe, are the uses to which Wagner put it.

Most of what Wagner wants to say is communicated musically of course, and can never be reduced to a prose statement. He is "saying" things in this opera about true love and true art that have nothing specifically to do with German art or German culture. But in addition to his conscious choice of setting and subject, Wagner does from time to time repeat in the opera the ideas of his essay.

Viet Pogner (who has traveled far in deutschen Landen ) is distressed that the courtiers of other provinces make so little of the solid burghers of Nuremberg—who, after all, alone in the wide German Reich still care for art. When he learns that Walther von Stolzing—a knight, after all—wants to gain entry into their guild, he feels that the "good old days" have returned. Hans Sachs argues with his fellow masters that, if they genuinely want to show the people how highly they honor art, they will let the people themselves judge their work; that way Volk und Kunst will bloom and thrive together. All of this comes close to Wagner's own prose prescription, published the year before the opera's première, for a popularly based revival of true German art.

But nowhere in the opera are Wagner's own cultural and political opinions more clearly voiced than in Hans Sachs's final exhortation ("Habt Acht!") to the people, who then take it up en masse as the opera's closing chorus.

Beware! Evil tricks threaten us:—
If the Deutsches Volk und Reich  should once decay
Under false foreign rulers
Soon no prince would understand his people any more,
And foreign mists, with foreign trifles,
They will plant in our German land;
No one would know any more what is German and true,
If it did not live in the honor of the German masters.
Therefore I say to you:
Honor your German masters! . . .
And if you favor their endeavors,
Even if the Holy Roman Empire should dissolve into dust
For us there would still remain—Holy German Art!

The link between Wagnerism and National Socialism, between the muddled social thinking of Richard Wagner and that of Adolf Hitler, has been written about too much already. Although the two men shared certain noxious racial and German-nationalist notions, Wagner did also create works of art that even the most scrupulous humanitarian can enjoy without guilt. Wagner cannot be blamed for the fact that Hitler enjoyed Wagner's works even more than some of us do—and no work more than Die Meistersinger , which the Führer is reported as having seen more than two hundred times.

 H. S. Chamberlain
Long before Hitler, Die Meistersinger 's vision of Nuremberg and Old Germany, and especially Hans Sachs's notorious "curtain speech," had made this work a special favorite of the newly unified German empire. It was adopted as a kind of propaganda piece by those who wanted to assert not only German national unity, but also German superiority over "false foreign rulers."

Under the guiding spirit of H. S. Chamberlain, the dogmatic English anti-Semite who had married Wagner's daughter Eva in 1908 (and who first met Adolf Hitler in 1923), the annual Wagner Festival at Bayreuth became more and more an Aryan-nationalist celebration. When, after a ten-year wartime hiatus, the festival reopened (with Die Meistersinger ) in 1924, it was firmly committed to the new National Socialist cause. At the opening performance that year, the audience rose to its feet at Sachs's "Habt acht!" and remained standing to sing "Deutschland fiber Alles" at the close.

Nine months before, in September 1923, Adolf Hitler had personally chosen the city of Dürer, Sachs, and Die Meistersinger to be the site of his National Socialist German Day—the first of nine increasingly spectacular Nazi Party rallies to be held in Nuremberg. Flowers and flags were laid on, the imperial castle was illuminated, and the market square was roped off for speeches.

Hitler liked the visual image of the city, its symbolic fortress-castle, the islanded river that ran through it, its surrounding walls with their sturdy gates and round towers, the hill-forest of steep roofs and church spires within. It seemed to give ancient Germanic roots, and thereby a spurious authenticity, to his movement. After 1933, it also asserted a connection between the Third Reich and the First—that loose federation of more than three hundred German states and independent cities, called (for no good reason) the Holy Roman Empire, which had begun to offer some form of allegiance to a German "Kaiser" (i.e., Caesar) in the year 962.

For almost two hundred years (1355–1523), Nuremberg had been the city in which every new emperor held his first Reichstag, or parliament, of German leaders. For more than three hundred years (1424–1796), Nuremberg had the honor of serving as the civic safety-deposit box for the sacred imperial relics and regalia.

These two distinctions, in Hitler's view, made Nuremberg the symbolic holy city of the First Reich; so he determined to make it his as well. In a folio of photographs of old Nuremberg, published in Bremen in 1940 for American readers, the author made explicit the connection between the old city and the new: "From the Heidenturm of Kaiser Freidrich Barbarossa, in the Burg, float the colours of the new Reich, and over the Market Place which bears the Fuhrer's name Young Germany marches every year. The Old City gives the proud consciousness of a great imperial and civic tradition, the town of the Reichsparteitag faith in the future."

Today, thanks to old newsreels and Leni Riefenstahl's 1935 film Triumph of the Will , most people probably identify the Nuremberg rallies of 1927–1938 with the immense parade ground and arena southeast of the city. But the old city of Dürer and Sachs played its role as well, in these morale-building propaganda rituals.

Hitler was always officially received in Nuremberg at the 1618 Town Hall, with its great vaulted chamber dating from 1332. Each year the mayor of Nuremberg offered him some splendid and symbolic gift: one year an engraving of Dürer's "Knight, Death, and the Devil"; the next year, copies of Charlemagne's crown, orb, and scepter. Before Hitler's arrival, all of the church bells of the city were ordered to ring for half an hour. The roads were hung with Nazi banners; the window boxes were filled with flowers. Hitler received visiting foreign diplomats in the old imperial castle, where he expounded on the beauties of old Nuremberg. (He had tried, he explained, to clear the medieval sector of all "trashy imitations," and to restore its ancient charm.)

Day after day, the wide, winding streets of the city were filled with marchers (from 500,000 to 1,000,000 party members descended on Nuremberg in September for the 1930s rallies), parading twelve abreast: first the Hitler Youth with drums and banners; then a torchlight parade of up to 180,000 party leaders; and finally the "march-past" of the Führer in "Adolf-Hitler-Platz" by 100,000 SA and SS men, and a closing serenade under his hotel window.

A highlight of the 1935 and 1936 rallies was a gala performance for the party elite at the Nuremberg Opera House of Die Meistersinger . For these performances, Hitler himself commissioned new sets and costumes, which were reproduced for almost every subsequent production of the opera during the Third Reich. The Festival Meadow set for Act III was backed by a long row of banners in perspective, exactly like those at the Parteitag rallies.

One is tempted to believe that the next two nightmares in the life of this much put-upon city were visited on it as punishments for its symbolic role as what Allied reporters liked to call the "birthplace" or the "nursery" of Nazism; "the heart of the world's enemy," in Rebecca West's phrase. But this may not have been the case.

Nuremberg was bombed eleven times between September 1944 and April 1945, most devastatingly on January 2, when a thousand RAF planes all but obliterated the historic center in one twenty-minute raid. This was done not because it was Hitler's favorite city, not because of the Nuremberg laws or the Nuremberg rallies; but because it was an "important industrial and communications center" (something the romantic guidebooks rarely mentioned), manufacturing aircraft engines as well as pencils and toys. It was besieged and shelled for five straight days by the U.S. Seventh Army in the last days of the war, not because it was "quintessentially German," but because the two SS-Panzer divisions remaining within its walls put up such a ferocious resistance.

At the end, three-fourths of the buildings in the old town were destroyed. What was left for the Allied armies of occupation were piles of rubble stinking faintly of disinfectant, under which lay at least 2,000 dead Germans. Half the population had fled; the remaining half lived on as best they could, many without food, in cellars and bomb shelters. The city's total wartime toll was estimated at 8,000 dead, 12,000 missing, and 350,000 homeless. No German city except Dresden had been so totally wiped out.

On April 28, 1945, the London Times correspondent inventoried the incredible damage done to what he called "the finest medieval city in Germany." " 'The best thing would be for the citizens to go and find a vacant piece of ground and build a new town,' " he quoted one Allied officer as saying. "This cannot be rebuilt," declared a member of the U.S. prosecution team in the fall of 1945.

But it was rebuilt. The "old city" tourists visit today is in great part a reconstruction. The pale stonework in the facade of St. Sebaldus's Church is all new; the darker stones inserted here and there were recovered from the ruins. Again and again, guidebooks and placards note, "Destroyed in 1945." The more important buildings, beginning with the castle, the two great churches, and the Dürer house, were rebuilt to look more or less as they did in the sixteenth century; the ruins of others were simply cleared. A few—including St. Catherine's, the mastersingers' church—were left as ruins. A little Disneyland imitation of an Old Nuremberg street was built for quick-stop tourists behind the Frauentor gate.

In On Trial at Nuremberg , Airey Neave wrote in 1978, "There are many reasons why Nuremberg in that October after the war was a most hated city. It had given its name in 1935 to the laws by which Jews were deprived of their rights as citizens. . . . If the highest Nazis were to be tried what better place could there be than Nuremberg? . . . Was it not here that Hitler's oratory had turned Germans into savage hordes calling for blood?"

In fact, Nuremberg was chosen for the international trials of Nazi war criminals because—as General Lucius Clay told Justice Robert Jackson, who was to head the tribunal—it had the only law court building still standing in any German city: the 1877 Palace of Justice, which Rebecca West called "an extreme example of the German tendency to overbuild. . . . Its mass could not be excused, for much of it was a waste of masonry and an expense of shame, in obese walls and distended corridors."

Twenty-one Nazi leaders were lodged in the prison behind this building, while U.S., English, French, and Soviet judges heard testimony from them, their attorneys, and their adversaries six hours a day, five days a week in Courtroom B. After nine months of hearings, sentences were passed. On October 17, 1946, eleven of the Nazi leaders were hanged in the gymnasium of the prison.

The most famous of Hans Sachs's utterances in Die Meistersinger is his nationalistic exhortation, often misread and exploited during the Third Reich. But to my ears, his profoundly moving Act III soliloquy is Wagner's definition of the best possible symbolic role that this ancient city could have played in the heart of its tormented, sometimes dangerous, even barbarous land. Reflecting on both the history of humankind and the mindless riots of the night before, the old man begins to despair of his city, his land, his century.

Wahn! Wahn!
Uberall Wahn!

Madness! Madness!
Everywhere madness![1]

Everywhere he sees people tormenting and beating one another, even themselves—"the old madness without which nothing can happen."
Midway in his reflections, Sachs pauses. The satisfying, stately, steplike "Nuremberg" motif breaks like sunlight through the melancholy clouds:
Wie friedsam treuer Sitten
Getrost in Tat und Werk,
Liegt nicht in Deutschlands Mitten
Mein liebes Nürenberg!

How peacefully with its faithful customs,
Contented in deed and work,
Lies in the middle of Germany
My beloved Nuremberg.

More than any subsequent fantasy of altdeutsch charm, volkisch art, or Teutonic superiority, this winning quatrain of Sachs's does describe the actuality of sixteenth-century Nuremberg—a solid, stolid, unified, hardworking, and contentedly conservative community. Had it been allowed to retain this image, and not been forced to serve the imaginative needs of others for so many years, the history of a city, a country, perhaps even a world, might have shared more of the benevolent humanism of Wagner's Hans Sachs, and less of the Wahn of his confused compatriots.

To read this and more from  David Littlejohn: The Ultimate Art. Essays around and about Opera
8:33:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

WNO: Don Giovanni. A new production 2011. What would Wagner say?

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday 24 June 2011 | 8:21:00 pm

“Is it possible to find anything more perfect than every piece in ‘Don Giovanni’? Richard Wagner: Oper und Drama

"Oh, how doubly dear and above all honour is Mozart to me that it was not possible for him to invent music for ‘Tito’ like that of ‘Don Giovanni,’ for ‘Cosi fan tutte’ like that of ‘Figaro’! How shamefully would it have desecrated music!" Richard Wagner: Oper und Drama

I love Don Giovanni - it is without doubt my favourite Mozart opera (although the Flute runs a close second). It has everything: some of the finest music for opera ever written, a wonderful overture and a great piece of drama and theatre to boot; together  with Mozart and Da Ponte's wonderful psychological analysis. How could anyone not love it? Well, according to his autobiography Wagner in his youth - much preferring The Magic Flute and seeming to dislike the Don for its Italian text - amongst other things. However, as you can see, he changed his mind greatly in later years, going on to not only conduct it on many occasions but to take much time over it's production - especially  while in Zurich. According to Newman (Wagner's greatest biographer):
"Meanwhile Wagner had been doing his best to raise the standard of opera in Zurich. As we have seen, he opened the season on the 4th October, 1850, with Der Freischutz. He further conducted La Dame Blanche of Boieldieu on the llth and 18th, Norma on the 21st, Freischutz again on the 27th, Don Giovanni on the 8th and 18th November (again on the 26th March, 1851), the Magic Flute on the 29th November, La Dame Blanche again on the 6th December, 1850, and the 7th February, 1851, and Fidelio on the 4th April, 1851

He took particular trouble over Don Giovanni, a work that had been greatly disadvantaged, since Mozart's time, by the difficulties of all kinds that are inseparable from a modern performance of it.

Wagner spent three days and nights with Billow and Hitter correcting the orchestral parts and writing substitute parts for instruments, such as the trombones, that were missing from the local orchestra ; he made a working German dialogue version of some of the Italian recitatives, retaining others in their original form ; he simplified the scenic arrangements so as to avoid too many changes of the set tings; he transposed Donna Anna's aria to the graveyard scene, writing, by way of introduction to it, a short musical recitative for Ottavio and Donna Anna.
"I was furious ", Biilow wrote to his father, " when I remembered how it used to be said in Dresden that Wagner conducted Mozart's operas badly on purpose, because in his vain self-esteem he could not tolerate this music! He shows towards Mozart a warm, living, unselfish, but rational piety to which none of Mozart's pseudo-worshippers will ever attain." The theatre, according to Biilow, was sold out, but the Zurich public was somewhat irresponsive and ungrateful. Though Wagner, to get Kramer out of a difficulty, consented to conduct Don Giovanni again on the 26th March, 1851, and to close the company's season with Fidelio on the 4th April, 17 his more or less official connection with Kramer seems to have terminated when Biilow resigned, Wagner feeling that he had no longer any moral responsibility towards the management.
The Zurich score with Wagner's revisions in it has unfortunately disappeared".


And so, now that I feel I have well justified my inclusion of WNO new production of the Don here, onto the details.

Award winning West End team bring opera’s greatest villain to life

Three members of the multi award-winning creative team behind the smash hit West End musical Les Misérables are working on WNO’s new production of Don Giovanni this autumn.

Co-director and adapter of the musical John Caird, designer John Napier and lighting designer David Hersey have been re-united on WNO’s latest production which will open at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on 16th September before touring to Liverpool, Swansea, Llandudno, Bristol, Birmingham, Oxford and Southampton.

John Caird is directing his third opera for WNO, Don Carlos and Aida have both been critically acclaimed. He says Don Giovanni is a powerful piece: “Mozart’s dark masterpiece is a complex study in sexual obsession and the exercise of power, the greatest and darkest of the three Mozart/da Ponte collaborations.

“My designer John Napier and I have worked on creating a sculptured world of dark intensity as a backdrop for these profound human dramas. Just as the obsessive collector of art may be completely unaware of the pain and hardship endured by the artist, so the obsessive collector of women is unaware of the desperation and loneliness he leaves in his wake.
The most compelling irony of this story is that while the statue of the slaughtered Commendatore comes to life, his human heart is still beating after death. The living Giovanni, tragically unmoved by the plight of others, slowly turns his own heart into stone.”

Realising this world is former sculptor-turned-designer John Napier. John, who designed Cats, Starlight Express, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and Sunset Boulevard for the West End, makes his WNO debut with Don Giovanni. His opera work includes Lohengrin and Macbeth for the Royal Opera House, Idomeneo for Glyndebourne and Nabucco for the Metropolitan Opera.

Further Details (including booking and touring information) please go here: WNO: Don Giovanni

The Creative Team

(Conductor ex. 29 Nov & 2 Dec)

(Don Ottavio)

(Donna Elvira)



(Donna Anna)

(Don Giovanni)




(Assistant Designer)

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Meistersinger for the perpetually perplexed

From today's Guardian and for Meistersinger "newbies" only. Click the link at the end for the rest of the opera and some Meistersinger miscellanea  

Denis Forman,

Meistersinger (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), Wagner

The one with a disagreeable town clerk, a noble cobbler, a street brawl and a prize song.


Veit Pogner, goldsmith and Mastersinger - Bass

Eva, his daughter - Soprano

Magdalene, her maid - Mezzo

Hans Sachs, cobbler and Mastersinger - Bass

David, his apprentice - Tenor

Sixtus Bechmesser, Town Clerk and Mastersinger - Bass

Walter von Stolzing, a knight - Tenor

Mastersingers (nine), a night watchman

Act I Sc I: Inside the church of St Katherine's Nüremberg

In which our hero declares his love for a lady but fails to sing his way into the club of Mastersingers whose members will be allowed to compete for the lady's hand.

We are in Nuremberg medieval city of song and there is a church service in progress. Handsome knight Walter sidles up to pretty young woman Eva and says excuse me but are you spoken for? Eva recognizes Walter as overnight house guest. Well no not exactly says her maid Magdalene not actually engaged but father Pogner has booked her as the prize for an upcoming song contest. Whoever wins gets her as wife. I see I see says Walter to Eva let me escort you home. No stay here says Magdalene, here's Mastersinger's apprentice David (sure enough David is fussing about resetting the church as venue for a song contest) he'll teach you the tricks of the Mastersinging trade: you stay and get your Master's certificate and then you can compete for her. Eva I love you says Walter [a bit sudden? Ed] see you tonight. OK says Eva. Exits.

Act I Sc 2: A makeshift arena

So you think you can get your certificate at first try? says David. Ho ho. How much do you know about the Meister method? Zero says Walter. OK listen to this says David. He launches into a farrago of rules regulations admonitions prohibitions. Meanwhile the apprentices set up the singers'dais all wrong. David sorts them out: they take the mickey out of him.

Pogner and Beckmesser enter. You are odds-on favourite to win my girl Eva says Pogner to Beckmesser: such a good singer you are. But if I win and she won't have me will you push it? asks Beckmesser. No I will not push it says Pogner. Excuse me says Walter would the Masters accept me as a late entry? I must propose you for the Masters' club first old friend says Pogner . The Masters assemble: roll call: Pogner makes the opening address. In my travels he says I found Nuremberg's image very poor. We are generally perceived as stuffy starchy stingy also philistine so I dreamt up this song contest to improve the image of this great city of ours and I offer my daughter as wife to the winner. Nice one Pog! shout the Masters. Viva Veit! cry the apprentices. But just one thing says Pogner if she doesn't like the winner she has power of refusal.

Why not allow the people to exercise their democratic right and judge the contest? asks Social Democrat Sachs. Subversive left-wing talk say the Masters. Order! back to the agenda says Pogner: we have this late entry my friend Sir Stolzing. I propose him as candidate for the Masters' Guild. Excellent C.V. noble parents property owner Name at Lloyds member of the Athenaeum banks at Coutts. Vocal education? asks the baker Kothner. I studied these classic LPs of Caruso Gigli Chaliapin says Walter (All dead says Beckmesser). But what actual educational establishment? asks Kothner. School of Nature says Walter (He learnt from the birds says Beckmesser. Are you prepared to submit a trial song? asks Kothner. Yes says Walter (poetically and at some length). Right! Into your marker's box Beckmesser says Kothner and remember Sir Stolzing seven faults and you're out. Take a look at the conditions of contest (apprentices show a video to Walter whilst Kothner sings the soundtrack).

Cue! shouts Beckmesser. Walter takes off into a romantic rhapsody. Beckmesser jumps out. Seven faults already he cries gleefully: do you want any more of this rubbish?It's funny sort of stuff say the Masters. Is this what they call minimalist? asks one. More atonal I would think says another. Perhaps it's tone rows says a third. Can't stand this modern stuff says a fourth. I liked it says Sachs: the marker is clearly biased jealous and emotionally upset. His intervention is unfair. I say go on Sir Stolzing to hell with the marker. Walter sings. Sachs and Beckmesser slag each other off: the Masters argue. Pogner tries to cool it: the apprentices dance: chaos. Beckmesser yells let's take a vote. Big majority against Walter's admission. Curtain.

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Listen Now: Vladimir Jurowski discusses Die Meistersinger

In preparation for live internet broadcast in association with the Guardian nodoubt

Stephen Moss discusses Glyndebourne's production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with its conductor, Vladimir Jurowski. From its historical context and its notorious association with Hitler and the Nazi ideology, to how their current production sets out to liberate the opera's humane intentions and more emotional themes.

You can watch the production live on Sunday at, or, if you miss it then, it will be available for the following week.

Click to launch MP3 audio player.

Alternatively go to the Guardian and listen there by clicking here

Source: Guardian Newspaper
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"Arise Sir Daniel Barenboim" - well, not quite but you can certainly pick-up that lance

There are all sorts of puns to be made about  Daniel Barenboim receiving a Knighthood, but I would never stoop low. They shall remain where they should - buried deep in the shrubbery. 

Conductor of at least two of my favoured productions of Tristan Und Isolde on DVD (the Ponnelle and the Chéreau), and a much visited Ring Cycle,  Daniel Barenboim,  will accept a knighthood from the British ambassador to Berlin on Thursday. According to the British Embassy, this is to be given in in recognition of his work toward reconciliation in the Middle East through music.

Unfortunately, because he is not a British citizen he will not - even if he wanted to - be able to use the title "Sir". Instead he will become  an honorary Knight Commander of the most excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE). But as this is the highest accolade that can be given to a none British citizens it should not be under estimated.

According to AFP:
"British Ambassador Simon McDonald will present the accolade, the highest accorded to foreign citizens, at a gala dinner in the German capital in the name of Queen Elizabeth II.
McDonald hailed Barenboim's tireless campaign for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, including his founding in 1999 of the East-West Divan orchestra with the late Palestinian-American scholar Edward W. Said.
"Daniel Barenboim is a staunch advocate of the unifying power of music. He certainly has become an inspirational figure, not least of all for the next generation of musicians," he said in a statement.
Barenboim, who lives in Berlin and is general music director of the city's State Opera and its Staatskapelle, said he was "deeply touched" by the honour, adding that years he spent in Britain had been "of formative importance until this very day."
Sounds like a good excuse for a little Barenboim conducted Wagner to me, and a little Bruckner too - for good measure.

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Listen Now: Wagner Through a Jewish Lens

Source: The Jewish Community Centre Of San Francisco

Wagner Through a Jewish Lens—The Enigma of Wagner’s Genius and Anti-Semitism
With Deborah Lipstadt, Randy Cohen and Joshua Kosman

A very insightful and highly interesting panel discussion. I believe, in part, stimulated by SF Opera new Ring Cycle.

Podcast: Click to Play in new window | Download (Duration: 55:42 — 25.5MB)

Overview from 

He warned of the “harmful influence of Jewry on the morality of the [German] nation,” and that “the Jew has no true passion to impel him to artistic creation.”

That wasn’t Hitler at some torch-lit Nuremberg rally. It was composer Richard Wagner, writing 80 years before the advent of Nazism.

Richard WagnerNo artist stirs up as much Jewish unease as Wagner. To this day, the very thought of his music causes some Jews, especially Holocaust survivors, intense stress.

Yet Wagner was by all reckoning one of the great creative geniuses of all time.

With next month’s opening of the San Francisco Opera’s production of the Ring cycle — the epic four-part, 15-hour “Der Ring des Nibelungen” — the sturm und drang over Wagner will get an airing at a Thursday, May 26 panel discussion at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

Titled “Wagner Through a Jewish Lens: The Enigma of Wagner’s Genius and Anti-Semitism,” the discussion features historian Deborah Lipstadt, former New York Times columnist Randy Cohen and moderator Joshua Kosman, the classical music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.

“The problem is deceptively simple,” says Kosman of the panel’s topic. “[Wagner] left this unbelievable artistic legacy that cannot and should not be denied, and which has enriched the cultural world for 150 years.”

But, he adds, “he also had a host of amoral political and personal views that many would find repugnant today. Furthermore, his ideas then came to a certain ugly fruition after he was dead.”

That “ugly fruition” was, of course, the Nazi co-option of Wagner’s music as the soundtrack to a reborn Teutonic nationalism, subsequently perverted into the Holocaust.

For Hitler’s Germany, the ride of the Valkyries went right past the smokestacks of Auschwitz.

With the Ring, Wagner invented what he called the music drama, an outsized blend of theater, music, singing and spectacle. Its influence on all subsequent music and opera cannot be denied, yet the use of his music by the image-conscious Nazis twisted it into an aural symbol of genocide.

Kosman notes that for Holocaust-era Jews, “Wagner’s music was used as a symbol for terror. It’s a musical swastika, a totem for a very specific historical event. But it doesn’t follow from that that Wagner was a Nazi before his time or that we can blame the crimes of Hitler on Wagner. Certainly not on Wagner’s music.”

Former New York Times ethics columnist Cohen has pondered the ethical dilemma surrounding Wagner. It comes down to this: Can one separate the art from the artist? Or, in Wagner’s case, do the artist’s vile beliefs taint the music itself?

“The librettos themselves contain symbols that were understood to be anti-Semitic,” Cohen says of the four operas that make up the Ring cycle. “There can’t be anti-Semitic math. There can’t be anti-Semitic physics. But when it comes to opera, the answer is yes, there can be.”

Many scholars agree that the loathsome dwarfish race of the Nibelung depicted in the Ring represent the Jews.

On the other hand, Cohen concedes that Wagner was a product of his times, which in the case of 19th century Germany meant a period of virulent anti-Jewish hatred. Similarly, 20th century German composers such as Richard Strauss and Carl Orff openly worked for or belonged to the Nazi Party.

Yet nobody calls for boycotts of Orff’s “Carmina Burana.”

“Must you forswear participating in a work [of art] if the creator of that work is a truly vile person? “ Cohen asks. “I believe the answer is no, but it is a reasonable question. What moral standing must you give to people who have a close connection to the Holocaust? [Wagner’s] music is so imbued with suffering and death and tragedy.”

While fully acknowledging the dark side of Wagner, both the man and the music, critic Kosman can’t help but love the aesthetic power of the Ring.

“The more I get to know Wagner and the cycle, the more I am in awe of it,” he says, “of its majesty and depth and great theatrical fervor. It is long, yes, but there is no flab, nothing in the Ring you could cut.”

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Listen Now in discussion: Opera North, Das Rheingold - Richard Farnes and Michael Druiett (Wotan)

Written By The Wagnerian on Thursday 23 June 2011 | 11:30:00 pm

The Independent's Edward Seckerson discusses Das Rheingold with conductor, Richard Farnes and Michael Druiett who will be performing the role of Wotan.

Chorus and Orchestra Director and Concerts Director, Dougie Scarfe discusses the scale and power of Das Rheingold.

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Adam Fischer's new Wagner temple.

(Reuters Life!) - Richard Wagner's operas are linked with the Rhine, but a modern concert hall beside the Danube has become a new temple for works of the 19th century German romantic who never fails to stir passions, pro and con.

This year, Hungary's Palace of Arts, with its splendid acoustics, added a new production of Wagner's "Lohengrin," bringing conductor Adam Fischer closer to his goal of having all of Wagner's major works, from the epic "Ring" cycle to the mystical "Parsifal," ready for annual "Wagner Days" festivals.

"We are planning strategically all the 10 operas and that was planned for 2013 that we finish it," Fischer, 61, told Reuters backstage during an interval in the five-hour-long "Parsifal" where he had a fruit platter to keep up his blood-sugar levels.

"Unfortunately, we can't do the 'Flying Dutchman' because of turbulences at the opera house. We have trouble and fighting -- it's Hungary," he said, referring to a tug of war between his festival and the National Opera House, possibly aggravated by Hungary's famously contentious politics.

"So the 'Dutchman' is missing but the nine operas we will finish by 2013," he said, with plans to add "Tannhauser" next year, the mammoth "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg" the year after and the "Dutchman" whenever.

And what distinguishes the Budapest productions from those at Bayreuth, where Fischer has conducted, or by other opera companies which have found that Wagner operas, for all their heavy demands on singers, musicians, set designers and audiences, pull the punters like almost nothing else?

In Budapest, as in Bayreuth, opera-goers get veteran Wagner singers, like Petra Lang, who sang in this year's "Lohengrin." The orchestra is drawn from the ranks of Hungary's highly skilled musicians. There's a lovely terrace, too, to sip a coffee while overlooking the Danube.

But there is something fundamentally different as well.

"We have much more contact with each other -- the musicians hear the stage...they hear each other and we can be much more spontaneous, we don't need as many rehearsals as in Bayreuth because there you must be spontaneous but it is very, very difficult because you don't hear each other," Fischer said, referring to his hall's limpid and clear acoustic.

"We can make a bigger sound and have bigger dynamic differences without the danger of being too loud for the singers."


The net result is that Fischer's Wagner is not for the faint of heart, or for people who like their classical music playing softly in the background. This is Wagner with the volume up, in the forte passages, while in quiet ones every detail comes through.

That approach paid off handsomely in the "Lohengrin," despite some eccentricities. Announcing in the festival program that his Lohengrin "is not a soldier, but a poet," director Laszlo Martin transformed music's most famous knight in shining armor, who traditionally arrives onstage in a boat pulled by a white swan, into a bespectacled intellectual who wanders in with a white violin case strapped to his back.

Critic Miklos Fay writing in the left-learning Nepszabadsag said the staging was "not a sensational idea, but you could still sing the piece."

And sing it they did, with the Hungarian Army Men's Choir, assisted by other choirs, giving the "full volume" Wagner lovers their money's worth. The 100-plus ensemble made a mammoth sound, fulfilling Fischer's goal of getting the choir more involved in the action than is traditional in Wagner stagings.

"The new challenge this year was the active chorus," Fischer said. "We don't know exactly how the hall will react, or how to use the chorus, but we started this year, and of course the biggest challenge will be in two years with 'Meistersinger' where the chorus is not just huge, but must act as well."

A mixed male-female and children's choir was prominent in the "Parsifal" staged by two young women directors, Alexandra Szemeredy and Magdolna Parditka, who put on Wagner's tale about terminally dysfunctional Knights of the Holy Grail almost as an oratorio, with the choir beaming their voices from three levels.

They also directed Wagner's searing romance-gone-wrong, "Tristan und Isolde," with a set that made it appear that the inside of the concert hall had been hit by an earthquake.

"We are lucky to show the two pieces together. If 'Parsifal' is positive then 'Tristan' is negative," Szemeredy, dressed in white, said in an interview during a break in "Parsifal."

"Our stage design in 'Tristan' is negative, the whole room is broken while here in the 'Parsifal' we try to show the whole room in white," Parditka, who was dressed all in black, said.

"'Tristan' can be addictive," she added, with a nod to Wagner's musically most sophisticated and most romantic work.

(Information about the "Wagner Days" and other events at the Palace of Arts on
(Editing by Paul Casciato)

Source: Reuters.
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The Countdown Continues: Glyndebourne 2011: The history of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - video

On Sunday 26 June from 2.45pm, will be live-streaming Glyndebourne Opera's new production of Wagner's masterpiece. Here director David McVicar and conductor Vladimir Jurowski discuss the work and its history at the festival

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Nearly Time: Glyndebourne 2011: Staging Wagner's Die Meistersinger - video

From The Guardian:

In a second video previewing's live stream of Glyndebourne's sold-out staging of Die Meistersinger, we go behind the scenes to see preparations for the biggest production in the company's history.

Watch Die Meistersinger live, here, on Sunday 26 June from 2.45pm

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Nina Stemme - Fidelio - Sat 25 June

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday 22 June 2011 | 8:19:00 am

Edit: 26/06/11. I know you will be busy with the Meistersinger from Glyndebourne, but it seems the BBC have  put the Fidelio "On Demand" for the next 6 days, should you have missed it. Just follow the link below.

It's going to be a busy weekend for Wagnerians - and all for free! Glyndebourne's Meistersinger broadcast in cinemas and at the same time free to see and hear on the internet; and now Wagnerian soprano of the moment (see reviews of San Francisco Opera Ring Cycle) Nina Stemme in Fidelio on Radio 3.

Catch on Radio 3.

Beethoven's Fidelio

Presented by Martin Handley

The opera that cost Beethoven so much time and energy tells the story of a woman's determination to rescue her husband from imprisonment at the hands of an evil governor. Leonora disguises herself as a man - Fidelio - and takes a job as a guard at the prison where she believes her husband, Florestan, is interred. She manages to charm the prison warden and his family (to the extent that his daughter falls in love with her) before taking on the governor and achieving her aim. The Swedish soprano Nina Stemme tackles the demanding title-role for the first tme on stage and is supported by a highly experienced cast and conductor.

Leonore ..... Nina Stemme (soprano)
Florestan ..... Endrik Wottrich (tenor)
Jaquino ..... Steven Ebel (tenor)
Marzelline ..... Elizabeth Watts (soprano)
Don Pizarro ..... John Wegner (bass)
Don Fernando ..... Willard White (bass)
Rocco ..... Kurt Rydl (bass)
Prisoner ..... Dawid Kimberg (baritone)

Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director Renato Balsadonna)

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Conductor ..... Mark Elder.

Nina Stemme As Leonore

© The Royal Opera / Catherine Ashmore

Endrik Wottrich As Florestan

© The Royal Opera / Catherine Ashmore
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Bayreuth Festival Tickets: Make more available - or else?

This is a fascinating article from the Economist. Of course we are all aware of the "peculiarities" - and shear difficulties -  of getting a ticket to performances at the home of Herr Wagner and clan. And who hasn't felt sympathies for those poor devils holding-up a sign like that pictured below:

For years of course we have been told that this is because the festival is just so over-subscribed, with to many people chasing to few tickets. While this might be true, this article suggests the reason there are so few tickets available may not only be for the factors that we would assume (Only 16 percent of tickets sold to the public for premiers! 40 percent for everything else?). However, it seems that the Wagners maybe forced to make changes. Never under-estimate the power of the "bean-counter" - or $7.2 million public funding for that matter.

FRUSTRATED Wagner fans may see some good cheer approaching from a strange quarter. It is notoriously difficult to get tickets for the annual Bayreuth Festival in Germany, which runs through the entire canon of Richard Wagner’s operas: the average waiting time for a seat is nine years, if you stick out persistent disappointment in the yearly ballot.

But things may change. On June 15th bean-counters at the Bundesrechnungshof, the federal audit office, recommended to parliament that the festival, which gets more than €5m ($7.2m) a year of public money, should change the way it allocates tickets. Only 40% are sold directly to the public; a mere 16% if it is a premiere. Ill-explained “quotas” take care of the rest: the Society of Friends of Bayreuth gets 23% for its members. Around 30% go to travel agents, who wrap them into hugely expensive tours, or to corporate sponsors, for entertaining those they want to impress. The Federation of German Trades Unions has one closed performance for its own big night out (at a reduced rate); until 2009 it had two. The city of Bayreuth gets an allocation to lavish on regional and other guests. Chancellor Angela Merkel and spouse are regular visitors, though their tickets may not be free.

Some are, however. Although ticket sales cover less than half the running costs, the Bayreuth Festival gives away 2,650 tickets a year to students, its own staff, artists, journalists, and “special cases”. That reduces even further the tickets available to Joe Public.

Hardened Bayreuth-goers do find ways to beat the system. They have a friend, perhaps a theatre producer, who gets a special allocation. They pay through the nose for a hotel package which includes a performance. They join the Friends of Bayreuth, which costs €200-odd a year but doesn’t always guarantee a ticket. Or they go to the rehearsals before the festival proper. One lady, who had done this all her life, wrote a letter begging for a ticket so that she could see the real thing before she died. Her wish was granted.

According to the audit office’s report, assigning tickets is largely handled by five women, some of whom have done the job for more than 20 years. The best way to get around them, suggests a helpful website, is to join a Wagner society outside Europe, or even better start one.

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Das Rheingold, Opera North, Review Summary

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday 21 June 2011 | 8:17:00 pm

Yes, it's that time again, talentless hacks with the inability to produce anything of their own (myself included on occasion), have been sitting in the best seats (while getting paid to do it to boot. Well all but me at least) and casting their judgement on something they couldn't dream of doing themselves - Nero like. But no simple thumbs up or down here. No, instead 1 to 5 stars and  a little, one hopes, elegant and witty prose to go with them. 

I jest of course, critics have tried to save me a few bob in the past by warning me of terrible productions. Of course I normally ignore them, based on the fact they were "only" critics, and wasted my money anyway - but such is life. However, as I have said before, any appraisal  is as subjective as any other  form of sense processing. And with that in mind I always look for the commonalities in reviews. When two or three people find  the same things then there is likely to be some truth in them to most, if not all, of us.  So, with that in mind let us look at the votes returned - unspoilt - so far.

Wagner’s Das Rheingold, Leeds Town Hall, Jun 18


Yes, I know it's "billed" as a concert performance but it seems Opera North have pulled in some sort of overall image for the "costumes"; done some fancy stuff with the lighting;  used three large video screens for effects and directed the vocal talent to act  (the last of which is something that can be a struggle to achive in fully staged productions with some performers). Indeed, designer Peter Mumford, has done enough for Ron Simpson at "Whats On Stage" to consider this production "semi-staged". But does this semi-staging "work"? I have seen enough to know that this is not always the case.

But no, everything is not only ok but it works wonderfully, says Graham Rickson at The Arts Desk:"
"Three large video screens are suspended above the orchestra platform and the singers do much more than just enter, stand up straight and deliver. You forget that you're in Leeds on a Saturday night, so engaging is the effect, and only occasionally do you notice the presence of more than 100 grinning musicians sitting behind the cast, visibly delighted at just how well the whole thing works. Wagner performances can feel a little like solemn religious experiences. There's a fair bit of sly wit in this Rheingold, and there were several moments where you wanted the capacity audience to loosen up a little and smile as much as they jumped at the thunderclap before the entry into Valhalla".
He goes on:
"Mumford's screens are deployed for narration and scene-setting, making use of classy, ambient images of mountains, rippling water or molten metal. There's effective, unobtrusive lighting, as in the warm yellows which cover the Rhinemaidens when the sun strikes the gold, or the brilliant white light into which Alberich is dragged, blinking, after he's been captured. Mumford's gods look and behave like an upper-class dysfunctional family and it's hard to feel much pity for Michael Druiett's world-weary Wotan as he tries to wriggle out of his property-related deal with the giants Fasolt and Fafner, both stiff, sinister figures in immaculate grey suits wanting immediate payment for having built Valhalla."
 However, remember our comment about no two people perceiving things in the same way? All that nonsense (no pun intended) about subjective sense perception? Well, just as if to prove there is work for research psycholgists the breadth and width of universities everywhere, along comes Rupert Christiansen at the Telegraph:
"My only reservation relates to Peter Mumford’s rather feeble attempt to provide a rudimentary mise-en-scène. A little lighting does no harm, but the three screens above the platform offering video of rippling water, volcanic sludge and snow-covered mountain-tops verged on the naff.
Nor am I persuaded it is good idea to add to the surtitles once-upon-a-time passages from Michael Birkett’s well-meaning attempt to re-tell the Ring saga as a kiddies’ bedtime story: it underestimates both the audience’s intelligence and Wagner’s dramatic skill."
How can two people find things so different in a production?.  Ok, so lets look to our third critic to settle the matter - two out of three wins it? Enter Ron Simpson at Whats On Stage:
"With Peter Mumford in charge of the visuals, Opera North has opted for a huge orchestra banked up below screens with impressionist images and rather poetic narrative (by Michael Birkett), an effectively dramatic lighting plot, simple identifying costumes and enough acting to realise the emotions of the music".
Settled!. It seems the trophy, rather than the slow walk home, does indeed go to Peter Mumford's vision.

Next to the lions goes the cast.


Despite his reservations about the design, Rupert Christiansen, was highly impressed not only by the cast but the coaching of Dame Anne Evans and Martin Pickard:

"... its casting was exceptionally canny. A team without weakness had been assembled, and coaching led by the great Wagnerian soprano Dame Anne Evans and Martin Pickard meant that everything was sung accurately and cleanly, without barking or shouting. The German enunciation was noticeably above the usual standard, too."
And what about individual memebers of the cast Mr Christian? Any worth singling out?
"An enchanting trio of Rhinemaidens got things off to a sparkling start. Michael Drueitt made an authoritative Wotan, with just the right hint of pomposity, in sharp contrast to Yvonne Howard’s cool and elegant Fricka. Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke was a sly, crisp Loge, Nicholas Folwell a lightweight but effective Alberich. James Creswell’s imposing Fasolt bodes well for his Dutchman at ENO next season."
All good so far but what does Graham Rickson at the Arts Desk have to say:
"Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke's Loge steals the evening; it's his dubious advice which has led to Wotan's problems, and Ablinger-Sperrhacke is compelling to watch, with his virtuoso display of shifty body language, fussy hand gestures and insincere facial expressions. The biggest cheers of the evening deservedly went to Nicholas Folwell's Alberich, a charismatic pantomime villain inviting both sympathy and scorn, especially during his scenes with Richard Roberts's wretched Mime, a perfect physical match for Folwell. There's a lovely moment when Alberich is carried by Wotan and Loge, his body contorted and wriggling frantically like a small child being dragged furiously to bed.
For the female characters in Das Rheingold there's less to do once the Rhinemaidens have lost their gold, but Yvonne Howard impresses as Fricka and Andrea Baker as Erda makes time stand still during her brief scene."
Wow! Not a bad note in the house it would seem. Based on our two out of three rule the cast wins also, but lets still check-out our third reviewer Ron Simpson, of Whats On Stage:
"All of the admirably committed Opera North cast are adept at conveying character by gesture and expression and the semi-staging works well for anyone not seeking an 'interpretation"
Sounds good. Again, anyone you would point out for special mention Mr Simpson?
"Outstanding are Nicholas Folwell, who brings vivid singing and characterisation (and a wealth of experience) to the role of Alberich, and Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke whose sneeringly cynical Loge is equally precise vocally and in gesture. Yvonne Howard’s Fricka and Giselle Allen’s Freia are both convincingly human and sung with affecting intensity. A strong American contingent includes James Creswell’s sonorous Fasolt and Gregory Frank’s dangerously unpredictable Fafner, plus Richard Roberts making much of little as Mime. Michael Druiett, Donner in the Scottish Opera cycle, is initially more lyrical than heroic, husbanding his resources to save something for his confrontation with the giants, and maintains an oddly human dignity even at his least admirable."
Thanks for that - just what we were looking for.

Orchestra and conductor:

And finally to the orchestra and conductor. I think, as you may have guessed by now, things are looking favourably on both:

Robert Rupert Christiansen pointed out that the night had been an outstanding success with rapturous applause from the audience at the end. And the main responsibility resides with?
"The chief medium of this alchemy was the conductor Richard Farnes, relatively new to this repertory but already a master of its narrative ebb and flow. The pace never dragged, and the entry of the giants, the descent into Nibelheim and the march into Valhalla provided thrilling climaxes.

The resonant acoustic may have flattered the orchestral sound, rounding out the string tone and beefing up the brass, but the playing was always alert and sensitive."

And The Arts Desk - anything to say?
"Richard Farnes's inspirational conducting is perfectly paced and he's not afraid to let his augmented forces let rip and fill the hall with sound, whether it's with 10 clanking anvils, six harps or contrabass trombone. It's skilfully balanced, and the singers are never overwhelmed.
Oh he also points out as a matter of interest: "
 "For the record, the blood-curdling scream of the Nibelungs is, in fact, a chorus of Leeds schoolchildren"
Love it! and now last but not least Ron Simpson at Whats On Stage:
At the end of Opera North’s first performance of Das Rheingold, conductor Richard Farnes singled out the orchestra section by section (horns and Wagner tubas inevitably, rightly, first) for applause before calling on the singers. Such a reversal of the normal operatic order was entirely appropriate, not only because he had just led a hugely impressive orchestral performance of great balance, intensity and dynamic range, but also because of the concept of the Opera North Ring Cycle.
High praise indeed. There is still time to catch this performance - details at Opera North. Don't miss it would seem to be the conclusion..

But, let me leave you with a few final comments about the performance overall - just in case you are still undecided (To find out who-said-what, read the full reviews by following the links below (well except for the Times who want to charge you to read the full review - that one I will cite):
Beg, borrow or be like Wotan and steal a ticket for this show as it tours the northern England. And if you miss out, make sure you catch the rest of Opera North's Ring as it unfolds over the next four years"
"Even more admirable is the quality of the performance. Farnes has done many fine things at Opera North, but his pacing of this 150-minute sweep of music, his care about balance...and the sumptuousness of the orchestral textures - all this constitutes a massive achievement." Richard Morrison, The Times
...the massive applause that erupted at the performance’s end proved that yet again Wagner has worked his magic as both composer and storyteller.
So there is much to look forward to in next year’s Die Walkure. Unusually, there are no carry-overs in casting, but the key elements in the success of Das Rheingold, conductor and orchestra, will, of course, still be in place.
This is a long evening with no interval, but it flies by.
There was a distinct air of trepidation outside Leeds Town Hall as the audience gathered for the first leg in Opera North’s four-year project to mount the Ring cycle in concert form: running at two-and-a-half uninterrupted hours without the visual distraction of scenery or costumes, would Das Rheingold prove more penance than pleasure?  
The answer came emphatically no: the massive applause that erupted at the performance’s end proved that yet again Wagner had worked his magic as both composer and storyteller


I thought the Guardian was this weeks "also rans" but it seems they were simply slow off the mark. Perhaps Tim Ashley couldn't get a signal on his Ipad tilll he got to London and thus he was late submitting his review? Maybe he left his Blackberry in Leeds? Maybe he was simply overwhelmed by the performance and couldn't write for a while? Who knows, but better late-than-never, here is his review, in summary form:

"Images of water, mountains and molten metal are projected on screens above the orchestra, which also carry summaries of the plot drawn from Michael Birkett's The Story of the Ring. They sometimes prove distracting, though telling references to "middle earth" remind us of the often controversial similarities between Wagner and Tolkien.
Peter Mumford's semi-staging is strong on psychological interaction and moral probing..."
"...we're acutely conscious of how Nicholas Folwell's unusually empathetic Alberich and Michael Druiett's arrogant, if overly rigid Wotan are linked by greed and self-deception. Yvonne Howard is the classy, very manipulative Fricka, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke the camp, sinister Loge"
Orchestra and conductor:
"Much of its success is due to conductor Richard Farnes, who is meticulous as to detail, though he also has a tremendous sense of the ebb and flow of Wagner's vast musical paragraphs. The orchestra play as if inspired, and with an accuracy that often surpasses some ensembles that are ostensibly more familiar with this music"

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