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Watch Now: Siegfried Act 1.

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday 20 December 2014 | 12:32:00 am

Queen City Chamber Opera, in collaboration with the Wagner Society of Cincinnati, continue to produce their Ring cycle - albeit one act at a time it would seem - as they turn their attention to act 1 of Siegfried. Well worth your time.

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Who Is Richard Wagner? Paul Dawson-Bowling

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday 19 December 2014 | 10:24:00 am

The following is the introduction - especially adapted by the author -  to Paul Dawson-Bowling's two volume introduction and analysis of Wagner and his work: The Wagner Experience

The Wagner Experience

This is a book of enthusiasm. It is addressed to everyone with an interest or a potential interest in Richard Wagner. People who take to the Wagner Experience encounter something wonderful, like gazing into a silver mirror which dissolves into a miraculous, self-contained world, glinting with life-changing possibilities. There are others who sense its appeal but find it difficult, and the first aim of this study to provide an Open Sesame for anyone wanting it. The aim is to make things easier for new-comers by presenting Wagner’s works as they stand before us.[1] The book also offers good things to old-timers, scholars and longstanding enthusiasts in virtue of the distinctive disciplines and viewpoints which it applies; but for all those drawn to the Wagner Experience, the key factor is the direct encounter with his ten great stageworks as they are. This accounts for the first main purpose of this study, to describe them in all their immediacy.

This is not to belittle the background, or deny its importance. The man Wagner, his background and his output are so interwoven that an awareness of his circumstances, his influences, his sources, his explanatory prose works, the psychological considerations, the performance history and the reception history – all these things can deepen the Wagner Experience. Adding the right background can be like adding the right lenses during an eye test. As lenses are added, what was blurred takes on new focus and depth, and we see more clearly and better. Even so, trouble arises when anyone turns the background into the foreground in a way that inflates features from the margins and distorts Wagner’s explicit intentions. He created mysterious worlds of knights in shining armour, grottos of enticing eroticism, magic fire and quests for the Holy Grail. Does it add meaning if people are led to think of Das Rheingold as not really about beautiful Rhinemaidens swimming in luminous depths and not about the Rhinegold shining through the waters? How does it help if even in telling the story it is reconsituted in line with some unusual element from the background, if the gold is recast as faeces and Alberich the dwarf is made into a Freudian symbol of a deprived infant, wanting to play with his own excrement?[2] What if the Ring which Alberich forges from the gold becomes a bizarre combination of an anal and vaginal sphincter? This kind of thing may produce interesting glosses, according to taste, but it is not Wagner, and when someone promotes it as the real Wagner, I believe that error is at work, and a reworking of his intentions which is unwarranted. This is a particularly glaring example to make the point, but it is a real one; and a particular drawback is that these reworkings is that they can put off newcomers who are trying out the Wagner Experience. The same happens if Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is set up as a Luddite manifesto attacking industrialisation, on the grounds that Wagner later had a violent argument with a factory owner about factory conditions and because Die Meistersinger’s main characters are manual craftsmen.

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Parsifal: Jonathan Meese Is Out And Uwe Eric Laufenberg Is In

Uwe Eric Laufenberg -sans mother or swastikas

After  Jonathan Meese's less than graceful exit from Bayreuth's 2016 Parsifal, a replacement has been, very, quickly found. However, one suspects those looking for a straightforward reading and presentation of the text maybe somewhat disappointed given Uwe Eric Laufenberg's revisionist tendencies with Wagner's work. However, we might expect something  both closer to that text and perhaps much more coherent a production then we have seen at Bayreuth for sometime - we hope
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Nina Stemme: Tristan's Death Wish & Why Kundry Must Wait

While a typically pedestrian interview in someways - but one has to consider its audience and the journalists need to write for that audience - Rupert Christiansen's recent discussion with Nina Stemme, never-the-less produced some interesting moments.

Discussing the relationship between Tristan and  Isolde for example, she told him, “I used to be preoccupied with conveying Isolde’s status as a Princess and the reasons that she hated the love that she felt for Tristan – issues that dominate the first act. Now I’ve become more fascinated with what she feels about death. Tristan has always been suicidal, because he can’t believe he will ever be loved, but for her the idea of death as an escape is a new one.”

And as to the  work itself, "“What some people don’t realise is that Tristan is a chamber opera, delicately analysing the most intimate feelings. So I find more abstract productions difficult: it reads so much better if it seems human and specific."

And what of Brünnhilde? “For a long time, I thought Brünnhilde wasn’t really for me, and I still think very carefully before I commit,” she says. “I want to know who is conducting, who my colleagues will be, and what the production is like. But she’s inside me now. I need to sing her more, and I shall.” While Kundry must wait it would seem, “It will come, it’s in the diary. But first I have to get Elektra under my belt. ”

To read the full interview click here
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When Opera Directors Need To Step Back And Reevaluate Their Work

Düsseldorf Deutsche Oper am Rhein's Tannhauser.
An interesting discussion from Jessica Duchen which asks "Should an opera production be changed if audiences dislike it?" Sparked by the clear revision of Christof Loy’s production of Tristan und Isolde at the ROH this season and going on to discuss the Glyndebourne/Richard Jones’s new production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, Mariinsky’s staging of the Ring and Düsseldorf Deutsche Oper am Rhein's Tannhauser.
When the director Christof Loy’s production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde first opened at the Royal Opera House in 2009, some of the audience were in for a shock.

The set was dominated by a long, high, diagonal wall; and people seated on the left-hand edge of the auditorium found their sight lines virtually non-existent. Loud booing resulted on opening night; anybody would be angry after paying Wagnerian prices – in every sense – for an opera they could scarcely see.

Beyond the wall, though, the production was psychologically fascinating; and now it is back to Covent Garden starring, as Isolde, Nina Stemme, widely regarded as today’s greatest Wagnerian soprano. And the angle of that wall has been shunted by a few degrees; the theatre is offering a reduced price on seats where the view is still restricted.

Unlike mainstream theatre, opera is not blessed with a run of previews in which the creative team can fine-tune the staging and catch any likely bloopers. If something goes wrong, it tends to do so under the spotlight of acerbic critics and full-price audiences. Mistakes happen – this was a biggie – but how much can and should a production be changed if it goes over badly with its audience?

Most directors would naturally regard the idea as anathema. A good director has, in certain ways, to function as a benign dictator to realise a consistent concept; and anybody would need the hide of a large reptile to shrug off negative reactions. Mucking around with a show to try to please everyone risks pleasing nobody; besides, controversy is often a driving force in opera. If something strong is being said, somebody, somewhere, is bound to dislike it.

And in the best cases that is exactly why the director should stick to his or her guns. The 1976 production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Bayreuth by Patrice Chéreau, set during the Industrial Revolution, was greeted with considerable revulsion at first, yet in due course it became a true classic.

Continue Reading
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Lyric Opera's Ring - Reinterpreting Wagner?

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 7 December 2014 | 8:14:00 pm

 Kearley, Sayers, Pountney,  Lecca, and Matthew Rees
With the sad and untimely death of Johan Engels, the remaining  team behind  Lyric Opera's Ring Cycle discuss the productions future, a discussion  that may provide hints on its visual, narrative focus.

Talking to Deanna Isaacs, in a room that tantalizingly contained models of Engels' set design behind blackout curtains, and with a clearly subdued team,  model maker Matthew Rees, who was sitting in for Engels, said "We're all devastated". As David Pountney had said early last month, "Johan’s death leaves an enormous void in my personal and artistic life. We were very close collaborators, having worked on over 20 operas together over the last 20 years, and not only did we have two important projects for WNO this year, but had just completed designs for the Ring in Chicago due to be premiered over the next 5 years. Everyone who has seen one of Johan’s productions will mourn the loss of this artist with a superb aesthetic grasp and stunning visual flair. I have lost an inspiration and a friend.The theatre has lost one of its most brilliant and dedicated practitioners.'

So, where does this leave the production? David Pountney explained, as one might expect given his track record with Wagner, that this production will not be one that revises the narrative - whatever it  maybe about.  Pountney was keen to point out that any re-write of the work that places it, as has become popular, within a narrative that seems to support Fascism and the Third Reich in particular (a re-write that  was first done by the Nazis themselves, as they did with the work of Shakespeare, Beethoven, Bach and much else) is not what he wants.  Indeed, he was adamant that,"To narrow the vision that yielded (the Ring and the 20 years that Wagner spent on it) is incredibly stupid." Poutney says they simply want to "tell the story,". As Wagner seemed to want, and as might, at last in someways, be fitting with the intellectual zeitgeist of his time, any interpretation will be made by the audience. If Wagner intended that his audience should interpret its meaning only by what he wrote (and clearly the Ring is much more than an operatic "Epic Fantasy" - at least if you want it to be) this is now an oddly  fresh  approach to Wagner productions.

But does this mean a use of "high tech" theatrical effects like those of the METS recent Ring cycle? Not according to Pountney, "This Ring will be characterized by its avoidance of high tech,”  It'll be "pure theater," with the "virtuosity" coming out in the storytelling. While each opera will have its own environment and the cycle will move through time, the works will be mounted on a "common theatrical skeleton," with the artifice exposed.

The full interview can be read here
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