Posts Tagged ‘Uwe Eric Laufenberg’

Safety First at Bayreuth

Friday, August 19th, 2016

Parsifal at Bayreuth in 2016

Published: August 19, 2016

BAYREUTH — Clouds over Europe’s festivals this summer are as figurative as they are literal. The trouble is not lower standards or Regietheater, or even money, but has to do with Europe itself and macabre shifts that are gradually threatening the way of life accepted since 1945. Last year, you could see it in the organized beggars at the very doors of the Salzburg Festival under the noses of undirected Austrian police. Now it shows, conversely, in a massive security operation around this city’s Festspielhaus. Nobody knows what is coming for the various main seasons.

Consider: nine police vans at Wagner’s theater, forty officers; Arndt Gruppe protective staff, carrying; no visitor walk-around of the building without recourse to the street; segmented access areas; Siegfried-Wagner-Allee closed to vehicles; taxis on a footpath loop to the Liszt-Büste; endless patrols; bag searches (but no metal detectors); and ticket checks at the doors, at the feet of the interior stairs, and on entry to the auditorium. Heightened security was announced months ago — before an Afghan asylum-seeker armed with an ax hurt four people on a train here in Bavaria on July 18, before an Iranian-German obsessed with mass killings shot nine people dead in Munich on July 22, before a Syrian asylum-seeker slew a pregnant woman with a meat cleaver near Stuttgart on July 24, and, pertinently, before another Syrian that same evening botched a plan to explode his metal-piece-filled backpack among two thousand listeners at a different music festival in this state.

No extra measures applied, the Bayreuth Festival said, for Tristan und Isolde (Aug. 1) or Parsifal (Aug. 2, pictured) with Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel in discreet attendance. Both performances upheld high levels of artistry, at least in terms of the listening.

Christian Thielemann, whose impulsive musicianship suits the love-potion work, gauged the score’s climaxes shrewdly and made as much of its barely pulsing nostalgia as of its ecstasies. His hidden orchestra — drawn from a roster of 198 musicians from no fewer than 55 orchestras, 52 of them German — delivered entrancing, duly rapturous sounds, though detail in this instrumentally driven Musikdrama would have registered more luminously in a normal theater. Petra Lang, a past Brangäne for Thielemann and here for the first time an Isolde, produced consistently full and secure dark tones but swallowed much of the text; stage direction presented the promised bride as violent as well as sarcastic. Stephen Gould’s noble Breton tended toward blandness in the high notes, but a musically astute and unstinting portrayal in accented German emerged anyway. Georg Zeppenfeld sang Marke richly, with solid lows, but projected little in the way of authority; being depicted as a kind of thug did not help. Claudia Mahnke’s Brangäne got somewhat quashed by Lang’s timbre and haughty stage presence, while Iain Paterson, as Kurwenal, wobbled vocally on the approach to Cornwall before finding his form.

Hartmut Haenchen’s way with Parsifal, finely executed by the orchestra, brought a perceptive sense of purpose to each phrase, not least in a deeply focused Act I Vorspiel. But the conductor proved less potent in ensembles and dense passages, seemingly unwilling to home in on any single musical line. He had a strong cast: Elena Pankratova, whose thrilling top notes, resonant chest voice and attentive musicianship as Kundry reinforced impressions of a major artist, albeit one who appears to have doubled her weight in three seasons; Klaus Florian Vogt, a pleasing and relatively credible Parsifal; Ryan McKinny, intoning suavely as Amfortas; and Gerd Grochowski, musically incisive but dramatically betrayed as Klingsor. Zeppenfeld, alas, conveyed limited pathos in his neat delivery of Gurnemanz.

Neither of the two stagings offers an uplifting visual counterpart to the music or masterful use of color and form. Katharina Wagner’s considered production of Tristan und Isolde, new last summer, at least allies its Personenregie with cues in the score, and at Kareol musters a plausible probe of Tristan’s mind. But its spaces are confined, notably in Act I when the composer is breathing the sea air. And the young régisseuse undercuts the nobility of both Isolde and Marke. Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s Parsifal staging is at its most poignant as Act III ends and the stage is left bare by exiting Muslims, Christians and a token group of Jews. What comes before is a leaden admonition, set in the unholy and here timeless Middle East, on the perils of religion. Topically for the German audience, it begins with Muslim refugees in Christian sanctuary. Act I’s Verwandlung lifts us on a cosmic flight out of Iraq courtesy of NASA and Google Maps. A quasi-Muslim Gurnemanz hands us off to a quasi-Muslim Klingsor who collects and fetishizes crucifixes. Kundry starts in a hijab, progresses to a mini-dress (in which she bizarrely nods off during her mission to seduce), and terminates as a graying kitchen hag in the service of the ruined knighthood. Less inventively, Laufenberg has Amfortas’ wound parallel Jesus’ stigmata; it won’t heal because the knights keep knifing it open to refill their sacred chalice. So much for ambiguity. DVDs of both operas are promised under a new deal with Deutsche Grammophon.

After a prolonged renovation, the wraps are off the Festspielhaus’s iconic façade for this first summer under the sole leadership of Katharina. The place looks spiffy, an impression reinforced by the uniforms as much as the gowns. A window right next to the unused central door now ventilates a men’s room. Newly sponsored carry-in cushions now enhance comfort in the auditorium. To their credit, festival staff are keeping up an amiable demeanor despite the security strictures. The caterer, meanwhile, is keeping up its margins. Steigenberger Hotel Group, out of Frankfurt, sells a wild boar sausage on a roll for €7 and a small beer for €5.50 (versus €5 for a better sandwich and €3.50 for a beer in Munich’s National Theater); its on-site manager jokes that steep prices pay for the security. In what amounts to a slap in the face for Landkreis Bayreuth’s own pilsners, such as the outstanding Hütten Pils made with water from the same mountain range as above Plzeň, Steigenberger serves a Saxon beer.

BR Klassik will audio-stream the Aug. 1 Tristan und Isolde at 12:05 p.m. EDT on Aug. 27, 2016, here. Video of the opening night of Parsifal (July 25) is here: Act I, Act II, Act III.

Still image from video © BR Klassik

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Bayreuth Parsifal Due Online

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

Festspielhaus in Bayreuth

Published: July 17, 2016

MUNICH — Bayerischer Rundfunk confirmed on Thursday it will video-stream the premiere of Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s new staging of Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival.

— when: 9:57 a.m. EDT on July 25, 2016
— where:

Laufenberg is reportedly intent on exploring the religious aspect of Wagner’s 1881 Bühnen-Weih-Festspiel, not without reference to Islam.

Watching at home may have advantages. Attendees on Bayreuth’s Grüner Hügel face new security procedures for this festival opener, and indeed all 2016 dates, obliging earlier arrival than in past years. The German chancellor won’t be among them.

Saxon conductor Hartmut Haenchen, taking over from a less practiced colleague, makes his Bayreuth debut with this opera, which he led in a filmed Brussels run five years ago directed by Romeo Castellucci.

Elena Pankratova sings Kundry, Klaus Florian Vogt the naive hero; Ryan McKinny, Georg Zeppenfeld and Gerd Grochowski impersonate Amfortas, Gurnemanz and Klingsor.

Coming from a dedicated broadcaster, the Internet data for listening and viewing should be both stable and detailed.

Photo © Deutsche Presse-Agentur

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More Random Thoughts on Bayreuth

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

By: Frank Cadenhead

The Austrian newspaper, Der Kurier, let drop a great deal of information about what to expect in the future for the Bayreuth Festival. The new Ring in 2020, to the surprise of many, will not be conducted by the new Music Director of the festival, Christian Thielemann, but rather the Boston Symphony’s Andris Nelsons with American soprano Christine Goerke chalked in to sing Brunnhilde. She will be singing the complete Ring when the Robert Lepage production returns to the state at the Metropolitan Opera, it has been announced. Hints are that Dimitri Tcherniakov will be creating the new Bayreuth production.

The 2016 Parsifal will also feature Andris Nelsons and will be staged by Uwe Eric Laufenberg with Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role. The 2017 performances will star Andreas Schager. That same year, Die Meistersinger will return with a new production by Barrie Kosky with Vogt as Stolzing and Michael Volle as Sachs. The 2018 Lohengrin will be conducted by Thielemann and staged by Alvis Hermanis with Roberto Alagna in the title role and Anna Netrebko as Else. There will be a new Tannhäuser staged by Tobias Kratzer in 2019. In addition to Goerke for the Ring in 2020, Andreas Schager will be the Siegfried. With time, however, things happen and with the last minute changes in this year’s casting it is way too early to carve these names in stone.

I find the lack of surtitles in Bayreuth to be a symbol of arrogant old thinking that should change. The lack of such an amenity, now literally everywhere in the opera world, is hard to explain in rational terms. If they think all of the audience has memorized the entire dialogue of the always prolix Richard Wagner they simply have never considered the question. With new technology, seat-back additions, like at the Met, would not be expensive and the one percent who have actually memorized every word can turn them off. Frank Castorf’s very detailed Ring dramatics must have left the majority of the audience in various stage of incomprehension a good part of the time.

My impression is that formal wear is now worn by the minority toward the end of the festival run. I can’t speak about opening night but you could see jeans and sport shirts at the last Ring cycle in August. The fact that there is no air conditioning at the Festspielhaus for the August festival is an added encouragement to forget the bow tie and layers.

At the end of the Castorf ring, the larger implications for Wagner’s shrine are being examined whether the regulars like it or not. My first time there, in 1963, Bayreuth and the festival reminded me of a temple of worship and the stiff, well-aged and very formal audiences were acolytes at a ceremony. Significantly, the Wieland Wagner staging of Tannhäuser (with Grace Bumbry as the Black Venus) stirred rage among the traditionalists by abstracting the stage direction. The overt sexuality of the ballet for the Venusberg music was, for me, assuringly apt but provoked the regulars. Aside from the rather more mixed audiences – more varied ages and social levels – a half-century later the Castorf staging still had the traditionalists in a lather. But, at the end of the run, I noted little of this heat. Clearly the staging was intended to puncture some balloons. This lèse-majesté began to be understood better, as with the Chereau Ring, after some time.

The festival Ring program was quite specific about what a dangerous revolutionary Wagner was. While many are aware of his anti-Semitism and assumed he grew socially conservative, Wagner advocated radical social movements all his life. Siegfried’s “Mount Rushmore” with Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao was no accident and his depiction of the lust for wealth and control, here “black gold,” provided a logical background for the drama.

Something that was little discussed among this year’s festival news was a fundamental change in the structure and soul of the festival that will certainly have major long term consequences. My guess is that the change, announced a few days before the start of the festival, will have a ultimate negative impact. The appointment of Christian Thielemann as “music director” of the festival first became public when the new sign for his parking place, with his new title, was widely tweeted. Some days later a press conference gave the official declaration.

Since the beginning, the festival never has had a music director. The structure formally was to hire the conductor and director for a particular opera and wait for the results. Casting was the prerogative of the conductor. Now this is not certain and Kirill Petrenko, the new designated successor to Simon Rattle at the Berlin Philharmonic, had his tenor changed just weeks before opening night and it was likely that Thielemann had something to do with that. It resulted in an uncharacteristic public statement critical of the meddling from the notoriously media-shy conductor. I would imagine this will not be the last scandal involving Thielemann who has a long history of arch-conservative remarks and trouble with management and musicians. Clearly there would be conductors and stage directors who would not consider Bayreuth while he is “music director.” My view is that this appointment, approved by the festival’s board of directors, will likely be regretted in the future.

Thielemann’s Rosenkavalier

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Daniela Sindram and Daniela Fally in Der Rosenkavalier in Dresden

Published: November 19, 2012

DRESDEN — Christian Thielemann made his opera debut here yesterday (Nov. 18), thirty-seven long months after agreeing to replace Fabio Luisi as Chefdirigent of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, effectively music director of the Semperoper company. The vehicle, Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s 12-year-old, quasi-faithful staging of Der Rosenkavalier — notable for its Act II, set in a Trump high-rise complete with high-wire paparazzo window cleaner — looked a little clunky for the grand occasion, but the Munich Philharmonic’s ex-boss unfurled his Strauss credentials effectively.

Early on, an out-of-balance woodwind musician sparred with Thielemann until a nifty ascending phrase triggered smiles. Eventually a refined steadiness was achieved across all sections of the orchestra and did not let up. In contrast to recent performances in Munich and Vienna — where handsome werktreuen Otto Schenk stagings dating to 1972 and 1968 hold sway, and where casts are gathered on longer purse strings — this traversal of Der Rosenkavalier cohered musically: rhythms chugged or raced where needed, elsewhere pulsing their way with nonchalance; vocal lines prevailed through instrumental storms; climaxes rose without advance detection; waltzing came naturally.

Daniela Sindram sang with warm impetuosity as the Knight, mooring the cast. Soile Isokoski shaped and shaded the Feldmarschallin’s music with poignant know-how. Veteran baritone Hans-Joachim Ketelsen, jumping in for a sick Martin Gantner, found the high-lying duties of Faninal a bit strenuous. Also straining at the top, at least in Act I, was Wolfgang Bankl as the pivotal Ochs. Sadly, his was the role most impaired by Laufenberg’s comedy-defeating tendency to enrich the action, already finely calibrated by librettist Hofmannsthal. Daniela Fally introduced a too-cute, small-voiced Sophie who blew easy chances to relate to her fellow protagonists.

The saintly-quiet Dresden audience, bewildered and agog at curtain at the effect of Strauss’s Act III dénouement properly executed, just stayed put and applauded one call after another until the conductor effectively ordered an end with a low sweep of his arm. The production returns next June with a different cast. Thielemann’s other 2012–13 Dresden stage engagements are Lohengrin in January and, against type, Manon Lescaut in March, for a grand total of twelve dates.

Photo © Matthias Creutziger

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