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‘Die Walküre’ at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago‘s new production of Die Walküre is a success. Go see it! The company’s new Ring cycle is now officially full steam ahead.

Last year’s Das Rheingold not only started this new production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, which will culminate in three full cycles in the spring of 2020, but it also symbolized a break from the past. Whereas 2005’s cycle featured marquee names in signature roles (most notably James Morris as Wotan, and also Jane Eaglen as Brünnhilde), this 2016-2020 production is visually rich and centered around two marquee names in newer roles, Eric Owens as Wotan in a role debut and Christine Goerke hitting her stride as Brünnhilde. (I saw her in Canadian Opera Company’s Götterdämmerung in February, in which she commanded the stage. Ain Anger, who portrayed Hunding in Die Walküre, gave a masterful performance as Hagen in that same Götterdämmerung.) This is also director David Pountney‘s first full cycle, and he is accompanied by the late Johan Engels—carried on by his successor Robert Innes Hopkins—and costume designer Marie-Jeanne Lecca, lighting designer Fabrice Kebour, and choreographer Denni Sayers. The production has traded stark minimalism for captivating sets and costumes that fill up every inch of stage and bar of music—even during the vorspiels, some sort of action is occurring to propel the story forward.

Pountney, Engels et al. put together a visually compelling production. There is some continuity with Das Rheingold that I’ll now expect to see in some fashion in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, namely the aspect of making some of the stagehands characters themselves, thereby acknowledging that this is a theatrical work through and through. Also, whereas the gods in Das Rheingold dressed as eighteenth-century patricians, they now appear as nineteenth-century aristocracy in Die Walküre. Which makes sense, considering that we’re now at least a generation removed from the events of Das Rheingold. The contrast in color throughout, coupled with the attention to detail for both costumes and set design, makes for a vivid presentation. This is perhaps most apparent in the third act, with the red Valkyries against the set’s whites, blacks, and grays. (The hues, though bold in contrast, are themselves worn, suggesting that the Valkyries have been at this a while.) But other acts and scenes also made their marks: Hunding’s pale quarters giving way to the warm and sensually bright springtime of Siegmund and Sieglinde’s love; Fricka’s red dress and Wotan’s white coat against Valhalla’s austere hall; Loge’s consuming fire. The contrast in color becomes more apparent in each successive act.

And the acting! Generally, even when the score, libretto, and set design work well together on the opera stage, what passes for “acting” often has a much lower bar. This production, however, has the right mix of personnel and direction. Movements were often organic. Perhaps a subtle facial tick from Goerke’s Brünnhilde or Tanja Ariane Baumgartner‘s Fricka (a role she continued from Das Rheingold) as opposed to grand gesture, or the passionate caressing between Elisabeth Strid‘s Sieglinde and Brandon Jovanovich‘s Siegmund instead of the more typical glacial embrace. The hypnotic, almost desperate love between the Wälsung twins was believable, which only amplified their high passions and low grief. As a viewer, I nearly felt as if I were witnessing private moments between them.

In a similar vein to Das Rheingold, Pountney’s conceit here is less of a Regietheater-esque reinterpretation than one of a theatrical telling of the “original” story—or at least largely staying out of the way in order for you to come to your own interpretive conclusions. The twist, though, is that, as an audience member, you’re not watching and listening to a story so much as you are watching a story being told (likely decades ago). The stagehands-as-characters—moving sets, operating spotlights, etc.—is critical to this. Also welcome is the fact that the production is self-aware enough to not take itself too seriously. When the spotlight instantly shone on Nothung in the ash tree for the first time, it’s as if the production team did it with their tongues firmly in cheek. And, though I won’t spoil it, Loge’s in-person appearance hours later had a similar effect without intruding on the drama too much. Dare I say that it’s a fun production of Die Walküre? All I know is that the audience laughed with the production far more than I had expected.

Pountney and other members of the team have made reference to Henrik Ibsen in discussions of any sort of approach or interpretive framework, citing “intimate relationships within a family” as well as the feminist leanings of A Doll’s House. Given that, I’d be remiss to not at least briefly address the viewing experience in November 2017. This tale of romantic, familial, and power politics rife with emotional and sometimes physical abuse is particularly resonant right now, given that every news cycle is now saturated with what hopefully becomes a necessary, though grievously belated, reckoning regarding sexual harassment and abuse as well as skewed gender dynamics in general.

After I left the theater I read Anthony Tommasini’s review in the New York Times, an overall positive assessment that otherwise chides Pountney for Hunding’s literally chaining Sieglinde to the ash tree running through his home, arguing that her captivity was more emotional than literal. (As a general rule, I try to avoid all reviews beforehand.) I disagree. It not only restricted her movements, making for an interesting staging device, but it made painfully obvious that Sieglinde isn’t just in a loveless marriage with Hunding, but rather she is his slave for all intents and purposes. (Nothing wrong with beating that point home with a sledgehammer.) In a way, this is similar to the Valkyries being scolded by their father Wotan in Act III. Within minutes, the Valkyries regress from triumphant warrior-goddesses with weapons and horses to disobedient schoolgirls being reprimanded while seated in comically small chairs, all while Wotan—seemingly all-powerful father and god, but ultimately just a man behind his own curtain—scolds them from Valhalla above. The visual infantilization was powerful. This context creates extra resonance for the most threatening and insulting remark over the course of the work: when Wotan tells his favorite daughter Brünnhilde that she will submit to a husband and honor his will. Goerke’s reaction was clear; she may as well be chained to a tree like her half-sister Sieglinde.

The vocal roster was superb and delivered powerful performances across the board. Owens’s Wotan was richer and more powerful than in last year’s Das Rheingold. And Goerke’s Brünnhilde was youthful and energetic, and a definite contrast to her portrayal in Canadian Opera Company’s Götterdämmerung—a Brünnhilde that is older, wiser, and vengeful. (And apparently Goerke was fighting a cold Tuesday night. She sure fooled us!) Both Jovanovich’s Siegmund and Strid’s Sieglinde were lyrical across the full emotional spectrum, and I followed them wherever they led. Anger’s Hunding was dark and oppressive to great effect, whereas Baumgartner’s Fricka was guarded and vulnerable. And then the Valkyries1…whew! There were a couple moments in which I couldn’t believe just how mightily big those warrior-singers could get.

Sir Andrew Davis led the Lyric Opera Orchestra through a rousing performance, and I was struck by just how well the voices and orchestra blended with one another. So many graceful transitions of melodic lines throughout. It was sometimes difficult to tell where an instrument would end and a voice would begin. Tuesday’s performance marked Davis’s 30th anniversary since he first stood at Lyric’s podium, and he marked the occasion with a strong, moving delivery.

A few performances remain through November 30th. Don’t wait until 2020 to see this production of Die Walküre for the first time.


1.  Despite an illness and understudy being announced twice before the performance, I regret to write that I know neither which vocalist was ill nor her replacement. (Neither did the gentleman sitting next to me, as we immediately tried clarifying with another.) That said, the official casting includes: Whitney Morrison as Gerhilde, Alexandra LoBianco as Helmwige, Laura Wilde as Ortlinde (and Freia in this cycle’s Das Rheingold), Catherine Martin as Waltraute, Deborah Nansteel as Siegrune, Lindsay Ammann as Rossweisse (and Flosshilde in this cycle’s Das Rheingold), Zanda Švēde as Grimgerde, and Lauren Decker as Schwertleite.

‘Das Rheingold’ at Lyric Opera of Chicago — The ‘Ring’ Begins Anew

Lyric Opera of Chicago‘s current season opened on Saturday with a new production of Richard Wagner‘s Das Rheingold, kicking off a four-year unveiling of a new Ring cycle, which will culminate in full proper cycles in 2020. Having attended their last Ring cycle in 2005, I was glad to be a part of this double-opener.

This production of Das Rheingold, as well as the cycle overall, is noteworthy in several ways. Whereas 2005 featured James Morris as Wotan (in one of his signature roles), this production features Eric Owens in his role debut. (He sang Alberich in the Met’s 2013 production.) Adding Wagnerian heft to Das Rheingold‘s playbill, bass-baritone and Bayreuth staple Samuel Youn made his American debut as Alberich. (In later installments, Christine Goerke is to play Brünnhilde.) Visually, Das Rheingold (and presumably the rest the tetralogy) is a clean break from 2005’s minimalist aesthetic. Director David Pountney, continuing with the original designs of the late Johan Engels (1952-2014) with current designer Robert Innes Hopkins, has conjured up a playful and visually rich staging, particularly in contrast to ’05’s Ring. As someone who saw the Pountney/Engels production of Die Zauberflöte at Bregenzer Festspiele (of which Pountney was the Intendant from 2003 to 2014, and which I attended 2011-16), there are certainly shades of that in this Ring, namely the use of color and frivolity. (Their production of Die Zauberflöte was in the vein of a child’s dream or fantasy. And while that’s not the exact course here, a related whimsy is present throughout Rheingold.) Related, Engels’s use of color was also striking in Lyric’s 2013 production of Parsifal.

Notably, this production of Das Rheingold begins before the Vorspiel, with the three Norns, onstage and in silence, laying the groundwork for the Rhine — a golden satchel that gives way to the river (which in turn houses the gold) — and by extension the drama of the entire cycle. (I presume they will again play some role once the ring finds its way back to the Rhine at Götterdämmerung‘s end. We’ll see in 2019.) The river then begins to flow with the orchestra’s opening churn, with the rapids’ intensity increasing with the musical texture’s density and volume. From the opening scene until the final curtain, Pountney made use of the entire stage, manipulating the width, depth, and height for a more expansive view. The Rhinemaidens themselves were both singing and “swimming” in three dimensions (a task often left to two separate trios) via wheeled, levered platforms. Diana Newman, Annie Rosen, and Lindsay Ammann blended beautifully as Woglinde, Wllgunde, and Flosshilde, respectively. This use of height of course helped also to demonstrate both the depths of Nibelheim and the heights of Valhalla. Further, Wilhelm Schwinghammer and Tobias Kehrer, who sang Fasolt and Fafner, respectively, spent most of their time tastefully singing while stories above the stage, drawing both the eyes and the ears upward as if they actually were the giants they embodied. My only quibble with such staging is that occasionally those singing near the stage’s ceiling didn’t project as strongly as others, likely a consequence of the natural acoustics. (It was less of an issue for the same singers when placed elsewhere, particularly in the case of Flosshinde.)

There was far more humor in this production than I had anticipated, most of which worked quite well. Sonically, this was achieved via more vocal utterances from the characters — laughing, coughing, yelling — than I had expected. Some of the visual elements, I believe, are a consequence of having come fresh off the heels of the Pountney/Engels Die Zauberflöte. (The original announcement of this cycle’s production team was in 2014, and Zauberflöte premiered July 2013.) For Alberich’s transformations while wearing his magical helmet Tarnhelm, he became a dragon and then frog via instantly inflatable backpacks. (I immediately thought of Zauberflöte‘s inflatable grass.) There were the Norns who suddenly appeared with a mop to clean up after Alberich’s severed arm, and Loge’s near-caricatured portrayal as a carefree dandy. (As an example, while the gods initially made their entrances on carts symbolizing their powers, Loge casually rode in on a passenger bicycle.) The gods themselves — including the demigod Loge — were portrayed less as powerful entities and more as hapless patricians. Upon reading the Director’s Note afterwards, it made sense to learn that Pountney likened Valhalla’s inhabitants to the likes of the Habsburgs. Also, Pountney’s describing Rheingold as a “political cartoon” adds to the comedic and structural elements. Many non-singing cast members were mimes who performed a lot of the “behind the scenes” work — operating the Rhinemaidens’ levers and Fasolt and Fafner’s giant limbs — while onstage and visible. In total, it could be seen more as a fantastical reading of Das Rheingold than a cerebral re-telling.

Musically, the cast gave strong performances across the board. While Owens has received top billing as Wotan, he was joined by an excellent cast and by no means the show’s only star. Owens sang and emoted well throughout, though I would’ve preferred more volume. For me, Štefan Margita nearly stole the show as Loge, a role that’s become a regular for him as of late. His fanciful yet emotional tenor soared above the orchestra. And I wouldn’t have guessed that it was Youn’s role debut as Alberich, as he sounded natural throughout. Tanja Ariane Baumgartner‘s Fricka and Laura Wilde‘s Freia commanded attention as Wotan’s wise, seasoned wife and her youthful sister, respectively. Each sang with both power and nuance that really broke through to another level beyond an already strong production and performance. Rounding out the cast were Okka Von Der Damerau as Erda (whom I saw excel as Mary in Der fliegende Holländer in Munich this past July), Rodell Rosel as Mime, Jesse Donner as Froh, and Zachary Nelson as Donner. Sir Andrew Davis led the Lyric orchestra in an exciting rendition of the score, with the brass particularly shining in the later scenes.

Performances continue through October 22, with the new Die Walküre debuting in the 2017-18 season and Siegfried and Götterdämmerung following in kind. Whereas Lyric’s previous Ring featured more marquee names (e.g., Morris, Placido Domingo) and a rather traditional (though minimalist) staging, this new production seems to be going in a new direction in both regards, and I’m excited to see it unfold over these next several years.

Guerrilla Opera: Reflections on Bicentennial ‘Rienzi’ at Bayreuth’s Oberfrankenhalle

rienziposter

Under the heading “Better Late Than Never,” I figure it’s worthwhile to jot down a few thoughts on my seeing Wagner’s Rienzi in Bayreuth this past July. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for months, but as the schedule got increasingly busier with work, teaching, and playing, the blog grew dormant. It’s not yet midnight/2014 EST, and it’s best to at least get this out during the same year as the performance…

Also, I feel compelled to at least mention it here because the performances seem to have came and went with little notice from the journalistic- and blogospheres. (A handful of reviews are here, here, and here, with a brief video from the Bayreuther Festspiele here.) I can somewhat understand the cold shoulder, unintentional or not: of the three orphans, Rienzi is perhaps the “most performed,” so particular attention was paid to performances of Die Feen and Das Liebesverbot. (But don’t let that fool you, Rienzi is rarely performed and gathers much dust.) And of course there was the Castorf Ring, which sucked much of the air out of the room at summer’s end…

The ban of the first three operas from the Festspielhaus remained in place during the bicentennial. However, as a compromise, they were performed down the road at Bayreuth’s Oberfrankenhalle: an arena that’s home to sporting events and pop concerts. (Bayreuth’s municipal opera house was closed for renovations.) Hence “guerrilla opera” – the experience of seeing any opera in such a venue would be memorable enough, let alone Rienzi in Bayreuth during the bicentennial celebrations. As regular readers know, I’ve attended many arena rock/pop shows, but never have I seen an operatic performance in such a venue. It provided an odd but unique backdrop to the occasion.

Oberfrankenhalle

Oberfrankenhalle

Because of July’s teaching schedule in Bregenz, Austria and August’s schedule back in MI, I was only able to make it to Bayreuth for two days and nights. After my train journey, I spent much of Saturday 07.06 wandering around Bayreuth on foot, including my venturing into town from my hotel, which was approximately an hour’s walk away. I of course paid my respects at Wahnfried and the Festspielhaus. I spent the first part of my Sunday catching up on work at the hotel before trekking to the Festspielhaus. (While there, I was unintentionally serenaded by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, members of which were staying on my floor and loudly singing excerpts while hanging out.) Heading into town for the performance, I found the Oberfrankenhalle to be prepped for the operagoers who came from all over the world, including cloth tables for drinks beforehand and during intermission. An added twist for me was the fact that, while it was my second visit to Bayreuth, this was my first time attending a Wagner performance in the city. And while I have yet to see a performance in the Festspielhaus, this was technically my first festival concert (since it was a co-production). (But considering I’m only 30 and live in the US, there’s still much time to get inside.)

oberfrankenhalle2

Oberfrankenhalle

The juxtapositions continued into the arena. Throughout the concourse formalwear abound, and merchandise stands sold official Bayreuth Festspielhaus goodies including clothing, CDs, DVDs, programs, and books. A very different scene than, for example, Rage Against the Machine at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Once I took my seat – pricey, but near the back – the transformation/juxtaposition continued. Tiered seating filled the arena floor to provide the “illusion” of the theater, as well as a specially-designed stage and set design and and makeshift orchestra pit. Worlds had definitely collided to realize this performance:

rienzistage

The co-productions of the first three operas were joint ventures by the Bayreuther Festspiele and Oper Liepzig, the latter city being Wagner’s birthplace. At the podium was Bayreuth staple and renowned Wagnerian Christian Thielemann, leading the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Oper Leizpzig Chorus in a solid and often moving performance. Because of the venue, there were understandable limits to the staging, but Matthias von Stegmann‘s production was often effective, all things considered. It was a mix of old and new. While not a historic production by any means, allusions to ancient Rome were peppered throughout. As you can see from my (snuck) photograph above, coliseum arches were a mainstay for much of the production, often trading place with a tree and another pillared platform that occasionally doubled as a church. One effect – mostly effective but occasionally head-scratching – was the use of image and video projection. There were occasionally militaristic videos and images to complement the militaristic themes of ancient Rome (and/or other militaristic powers and societies). However, there was one image that appeared a few times that looked to be a visual continuation of either the bleachers or the “inner working” of the arena. Was it supposed to give on the illusion that the arena – and therefore the audience – was part of the story? Hard to tell, but it nonetheless made an impression, if only a confused one. The wardrobe choices were a mix of austere, leather-clad designer-wear for the militaristic and political figures, and pastel outfits for the townspeople who looked more at home in the Hamptons than ancient Rome. A nice visual cue throughout, however.

With it being almost six months later, some of the musical nuances are fuzzy in my mind. But certain aspects definitely stuck out and still remain clear:
• The chorus was lovely. They shined throughout, but particular highlights were the end of Act I and beginning of Act II. A very nice blend, especially considering the sporting complex’s acoustics.
• Mezzo-soprano Daniela Sindram as Adriano. Hers was the single role that musically stole the show. She was impeccable, emotive, and forceful.
• Tenor Robert Dean Smith as Rienzi and soprano Jennifer Wilson as Irene were quite fine, though they didn’t stand above the rest like Ms. Sindram. Smith’s Rienzi was rather light and lyrical.
• Thielemann and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra received the biggest ovation, and deservedly so.

We were treated to an edited version of Rienzi, not the 5+-hr. behemoth. (Though, considering the arena seating, I think my back appreciated it.) It would have been nice to see the ballet, but there are a lot of “would haves.” It would’ve been neat to have seen it in the Festspielhaus, but oh well. I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed Rienzi at Oberfrankenhalle. However, I must admit that the simple fact that it was Rienzi in Bayreuth during the bicentennial helped. Would I see Die Zauberflöte at such a venue, etc.? Nope. All that aside, it was a fine performance and truly a unique experience – one that helped make this Wagnerian’s bicentennial a special one. Furthermore, considering all the hubbub around Castorf’s bicentennial Ring at Bayreuth just a few weeks later, perhaps I lucked out with my 2013 Bayreuth experience? (Though, admittedly, I would like to see that Castorf production in person for myself.)

Bicentennial or not, here’s to more Wagner in 2014. First up, details from Chicago Lyric Opera on 01.17 regarding their next Ring…

More bicentennial Wagner posts here, here, here, here, here, and here.

(All above photos by yours truly, 2013.)

‘Parsifal’ at Chicago’s Lyric Opera

Chicago’s Lyric Opera debuted its new production of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal this past Saturday, directed by John Caird. It was delightful and moving. Much like my post on Lyric’s production of Die Meistersinger, I’m not here to necessarily write a “review” of the performance, but rather to discuss my experience.

Parsifal is Wagner’s final opera. Premiering in 1882, it’s the only one to have been written after the construction of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. Wagner didn’t consider it an opera, but rather a “a consecration play for the stage” (or, in German, ein Bühnenweihfestspiel). Adding to the work’s quickly mythologized status, the Wagner estate kept Parsifal from being performed anywhere save Bayreuth for its first twenty years. Such quasi-religious treatment of the work is appropriate, considering its deeply religious and philosophical themes and overtones. Centering on the knights of the Holy Grail, Parsifal is a tale of temptation, compassion, and redemption. Despite the piece’s drama, Wagner’s characteristic dissonance and aggressiveness are downplayed in comparison to his other works. It’s still dramatic, chromatic, and moving, however the sonic experiences is one of beauty, reflection, and awe. It’s a wondrous sonic experience that nicely complements the work’s nearly liturgical ambitions.

This production is Caird’s first Wagner endeavor, and I thought it a successful one at that. (“Official reviews” have been mixed to positive.) He and set designer Johan Engels created a visually striking series of images and scenes. (This was my second Engels outing this year after his David Pountney-directed Die Zauberflöte at the Bregenzer Festspiele.) The set’s centerpiece – a large circular platform with removable panels and a mechanically adjustable eye – was utilitarian and provided a focal point. Aside from the Grail, holy spear, abdominal wounds, and a trio of swans, there was little overtly Christian iconography, opting instead to focus more on philosophy and cultural symbolism. (For example, women play a an important role in Act III, adding a sisterhood to the brotherhood of Grail knights.) I enjoyed the use of color throughout: from the sullen green forests and stark blue worship hall of Act I, to Klingsor’s hellish red domain and the Flowermaidens’ vibrant garden in Act II, to the pale forest in Act III. The Flowermaidens (Act II, Scene 2) were a highlight. Call me a sucker, as I’m sure many will scoff and say that this part is an easy “go to” visually, but I thought that the brilliant colors mixed with the choreography was stunning. That, coupled with the female chorus’s impeccable performance made for an arresting second act. Having the swans played by people was a nice touch also. The three swans – the Trinity? – flying in the forest during the prelude and the lone swan – in lieu of a dove – in the finale offered not only a visual treat during the prelude but also a nice way to bring the production full circle at the end.

Vocally, recent Bayreuth staple Kwangchul Youn as Gurnemanz and Thomas Hampson as Amfortas reigned, along with Tómás Tómasson‘s Klingsor. Daveda Karanas‘s Kundry and Paul Groves‘s Parsifal were both quite good, but there were moments in which they felt stretched in their extreme ranges. That’s being picky of course. However, I can’t say enough good about the Lyric Opera chorus. The choral moments were phenomenal – deep, musically rich, and well balanced.

Sir Andrew Davis led the orchestra in a mostly superb performance. I say “mostly” due to one glaring error at the very end, in which a trumpeter opted to hold a note between the final two chords. (Perhaps he/she thought they were proceeding to Rienzi attacca?) That and a couple small intonation blips aside, the orchestra sounded lovely and offered a warm, moving reading.

Moving. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s why I don’t want to really focus on more “negative” aspects or drawbacks, as is the case with many reviews and reviewers, because, ultimately, I was moved. And greatly so, at that. Parsifal‘s gesamtkunstwerk was in full effect Saturday night. Many will quibble about the production’s interpretive qualities, and of course performances of any kind are subject to criticism. But the DRAMA is what matters. And by that measure, this new production wholly succeeds. I wasn’t checking my watch throughout the 4.75-hour event. In fact, much of the time, I wasn’t even really “there,” but rather lost in the soundworld and imagery. I understand that that’s probably too naive for some, but I doubt Wagner intended for us to attend every performance in the context of the scores of other audio and video recordings – and possibly score study – serving as a reference point. I believe that the performance can largely be judged on this simple yes/no: was the listener affected (positively, of course)? If yes, then much of the battle is already won. And it was a glorious victory Saturday in Chicago.

NOTE: This production runs through November 29 in Chicago.

Austro-German Opera-ing 2013

I recently returned from my annual month-long course in Austria. It was another great program and I saw some great performances.

As mentioned before, the program is based in Bregenz, Austria, home of the Bregenzer Festspiele. I teach a music appreciation course focusing on opera, and as part of the program I take the students to both of the festival’s operas. This year featured Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte on the renowned floating stage and the posthumous world premiere of André Tchaikowsky‘s The Merchant of VeniceDie Zauberflöte was, as expected, pure spectacle, though it was well performed. (What else is there to expect when the Queen of the Night wears a crystal-encrusted gown with the help of Swarovski?) Tchaikowsky’s almost Berg-ian setting of Shakespeare’s Merchant was rather compelling. The official reviews have been mixed to positive, but I enjoyed it. The audience at the premiere was somewhat lukewarm, but I was told that subsequent performances were enthusiastically received.
Festival aside, I also took the group to see Verdi’s Attila at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien. This little-performed work was staged for Verdi’s bicentennial. Although it was far from a traditional staging, as it was featured a new production by renowned director Peter Konwitschny. Known for his association with the Regietheater movement, he directed a surprising and lovely production that was both entertaining and artistically satisfying. For example, Attila and his Huns were lost boys with wooden spoons and fur pelts, and the closing (supposedly serious) quartet portrayed the characters as senior citizens on the verge of comical deaths. While it’s not a scientific measurement, all but one of my students – many of whom hadn’t previously attended an opera – enjoyed the production. In fact, many of the students credited the production with their enjoying the opera overall. From what I could tell, the rest of the audience was in general agreement.
The crown jewel was my pilgrimage to Bayreuth to see the bicentenary production of Rienzi under the baton of renowned Wagnerian Christian Thielemann. The fact that one of the “orphans” was fully staged in Bayreuth is news alone, even if it didn’t take place in Wagner’s Festspielhaus. Nonetheless, it was under the banner of the annual Bayreuth Festival. And the audience’s excitement over Wagner, Bayreuth, and seeing a rarely-performed work fully staged under the direction of the Bayreuth Festival’s unofficial music director was palpable. Needless to say, this experience deserves its own post. (But doesn’t everything regarding the old wizard?)
It was a nice operatic assortment: Classical, Romantic (both Verdi and Wagner), and contemporary. I’m glad the students were able the productions (minus Wagner), as it was a great assortment both musically and visually.
What’s more, I’m glad to be home and getting back into the usual routine. Keep an eye out not only for new posts but also possibly a new release or two on the horizon.