Bayreuth from Wieland to crocodiles

Audience members headed to the Bayreuth Festival weren’t happy. The train route from Nuremberg, the principal way to reach this small town in northern Bavaria, was suspended because of construction. They would have to take a bus instead. It would be slow. It would be uncomfortable. Yet much of the renown of the festival, which runs through Aug. 28, has been rooted in its inaccessibility, in its steadfast resistance to speed and comfort.

I wrote about the Bayreuth Festival for this Sunday’s New York Times Arts & Leisure section. For the record, I took the bus out of Bayreuth and its seats were more comfortable than those of the Festspielhaus.

I do plan on writing about the rest of the Ring here, but I have been busy with this and other deadlines, as well as moving into a new apartment in a new state (hi, everyone in Northampton, MA!). I am also going to Written on Skin this weekend. More later.

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There Will Be Wälsungs (Castorf Ring, 2)

After an animated Das Rheingold, Frank Castorf’s Bayreuth Die Walküre is a rather flat affair. There are rumblings of a larger plan, but as expected they’re more like suggestions of themes than anything systematic. For one thing, the narrative isn’t linear. We’ve gone from an indeterminate trashy American motel in Rheingold back to the 1880s. The 1880s in–you guessed it!–Baku, Azerbaijan. (Sorry if you did not, in fact, guess it. Perhaps it is helpful to remember that Castorf is from East Berlin.) There’s an oil drilling boom and once again people/gods/dwarfs/singers are destroying everything. The Wälsungs Siegmund and Sieglinde, however, don’t have any real place in this ecosystem, and this turns out to be a problem. Musically, though, this was a very strong installment, making the cleft between sound and stage ever wider.

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Real Housewives of Valhalla (Castorf Ring, 1)

Many of Bayreuth’s audience members can tell you about Ring cycles going back decades. They know the Ring very well. Not only that, but when we–and now I mean all of us–go to Bayreuth we engage with Wagner in a certain way: immersed, initiated, as part of a thread of history.  We are here to contemplate, to chew over things. We see the Ring as a work whose meaning and presentation has changed through the decades, as works with life cycles and symbolic significance. And of course the works themselves construct their own, internal networks of meaning.

The challenge of Frank Castorf’s Ring, now in its third year, is that it cannot be read in those terms. It rejects those premises. The more you ask what it “means,” the less you will see what it is.

Here are a few thoughts on Rheingold.

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Ratty Lohengrin

Hans Neuenfels’s Bayreuth Festival Lohengrin has become an improbably beloved production. Klaus Florian Vogt’s Lohengrin is justifiably the most popular performance of the festival and the score sounds amazing in the space, even though it predated the Festspielhaus. But the production: famous for its chorus of rats, it seemed like the kind of thing that would be remembered for one weird image, put into a collective Strange Opera photo album along with Neuenfels’s Nabucco with bees and that Bieito Ballo that no one can get over. Instead it became an almost instant classic. In part it is memorable for the rats’ indexicality, yet the rats are not only an image but a compelling idea. And while the rats would seem to preclude the romantic knight in shining armor aspect of this opera, that’s not really what happens.

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Parsifal from Bayreuth–watch online

This year Stefan Herheim’s revelatory Bayreuth production of Parsifal was taped and broadcast on TV. You can now watch it online. Don’t miss this one.

Herheim takes the story of Parsifal as the story of Wagner and Bayreuth
themselves, a journey from isolation to disaster to the possibility of
redemption. It’s challenging but will make you see the piece and hear
the music in many new ways. I saw this production live last year, with a slightly different cast and, from what I hear, slightly different production (I am watching this video tonight, so I can’t yet say how different). Here is what I wrote about it then. I also recommend’s short introduction, which has links to many more reviews.

To be a ridiculous elitist, I expect the video is a poor substitute for the live experience. Camera direction is a problem with filmed Herheim–there’s always a lot going on and the camera strictly controls what you see, including some things and excluding others and governing when you move from one part of the stage to another. (I think Rusalka in particular was far more exciting live.) But this production is also about the journey you took to get to Bayreuth, and why you made that not uncomplicated trip.

That’s not meant to discourage you from watching this, indeed it would have been a travesty had this production not been filmed. (This is the last year it will be seen in Bayreuth before being replaced.)

The videos are on YouTube; I recommend downloading them because who knows how long they will stick around.

Act 1

Act 2

Act 3

Postscript: I warn you against listening to Parsifal and Bohème in close proximity. At some point you will hear, in your head only, Rodolfo crying out “Mimì!” followed by the Heilesbuße-Motiv (the descending arpeggio), and it will be really weird.

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Scenes from Bayreuth (2)

Here are more photos from Bayreuth.

The Festspielhaus is located about a 20-minute walk north from the center of Bayreuth. The approach is dramatic:

My first visit was without a ticket. I went to see the red carpet notables at the premiere of Tannhäuser.

Well, attempted to see. I didn’t get there quite early enough.

Some people took extreme measures for a better view.

But honestly, every person on the carpet had to be identified for me with the exceptions of Angela Merkel and Guido Westerwelle. The guy next to me would say, “That’s the minister of the environment!” and I would say, “toll!” and he would add, “…of Bavaria,” and I would think, “…oh.” I was reassured that a lot of the Germans needed to have the notables identified for them as well. One of the photographers said as he was folding up his tripod that the crowd was pretty B-list compared to previous years.

Merkel stayed the whole week, spending the other nights incognito and unbothered by everyone else (though it’s not like she wasn’t noticed). Her security was very discreet but she’s been coming every year for years and I’m told they have it down to a science.

Here are people milling around during intermissions. As you can see, the dress code is formal compared to anywhere in the US but casual-ish compared to Salzburg. I can endorse Intermezzo’s dress advice as accurate with one exception: I did see at least a half-dozen drindls dirndls each night.

Before the end of each of the very long intermissions, these guys play a fanfare consisting of some music from the next act. Fifteen minutes before they play it once, ten minutes twice, five minutes three times.

I didn’t take any pictures inside because I suspected it was not allowed. I will say that the seats are uncomfortable, but not for the reason I expected. The seat is indeed unpadded, but the only thing that bothered me was how the seat back hit my lower back at an awkward spot.

But other people were taking photos of the Parsifal curtain call so I took one too. The women’s chorus doesn’t appear onstage so they’re just wearing street clothes.

One thing I really liked about the atmosphere was how unpretentious and unritzy it is. People are really there for the music (sometimes in a terrifyingly intense way!), also unlike Salzburg. Even the food tends towards the casual:

I promise I do have a few other things to blog about before the fall season starts, but if it seems like I’m trying to stretch my material out, well, I am.

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Scenes from Bayreuth (1)

Here are some photos I took around Bayreuth.

Above is Wahnfried, Wagner’s house. Unfortunately it’s closed at present, undergoing restoration for the big anniversary year in 2013. The back may look more familiar:


The town is quite Baroque:

But also sports a Bavarian totem pole:

One of the older festival visitors:

Intermezzo did a wonderful series of Wagner windows from Bayreuth last year. I saw many of the same ones (I’m sure they haul out the same Wagneriana every year), but I also saw this, in case you have a wound that just will not heal:

(They must have a required Wagner course in pharmacist school, because this is my third Wagnerian pharmacy. There’s this one in Munich, near the Schloss Nymphenburg. I wouldn’t trust the healing powers of the Nibelungs:

Then there’s this one in Berlin, off Savignyplatz in Charlottenburg. I can’t remember Wotan healing anything either. Where is the Isolde Apotheke?:)

Back in Bayreuth. Is your ass bothering you due to those uncushioned seats?

The tourist office’s slogan is “We always have the best tickets!” (in white on green on the windows):

(*except for any for the one venue you really care about.)

While in town, don’t miss the other opera house, the spectacular 18th-century Markgräfliches Opernhaus.

Photography isn’t allowed inside, so here’s a stock image:

It may look familiar from the ROH production of Adriana Lecouvreur.

But it’s mostly a Wagner town, as evidenced by the street names.

I think my copy of the Parsifal libretto, which I got in Berlin, came with the perfect bookmark.

Finally, the Bayreuth Jugendherberge (youth hostel), where I stayed. I got my tickets kind of late and it was the only thing in town that was available. And it is very, very cheap. But it’s a 2.5 mile walk to the Festspielhaus, almost that far to the train station, and isn’t exactly warm and comfy. Only for the desperate.

In part two, we’ll climb the Green Hill itself.

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Parsifal in Bayreuth

That this production is the last performance I will be writing about in this European year is more or less accidental–I saw Die Frau ohne Schatten afterward but was obliged to file quickly on that one–but it is fitting, because I’m not sure if anything could top this.

Wagner, Parsifal. Bayreuther Festspiele, 7/28/2011. Production by Stefan Herheim (revival), conducted by Daniele Gatti with Simon O’Neill (Parsifal), Susan Maclean (Kundry), Kwangchul Youn (Gurnemanz), Detlef Roth (Amfortas), Thomas Jesatko (Klingsor)

The current Parsifal in Bayreuth, directed by Stefan Herheim and conducted by Daniele Gatti, premiered in 2008 and has since become the festival’s most acclaimed production (and one of its tougher tickets). Parsifal in Bayrueth has a special meaning like few other musical works–the theater and the opera were designed for each other and for decades this theater was the only place the Bühnenweihfestspiel could be seen. Herheim’s production is geared towards Bayreuth, too. Along with telling the story of Parsifal, Herheim traces the history of the opera’s reception and its place in Bayreuth in particular, including the issues that confront the festival today (this is a festival that considers its legacy sufficiently important that a brief production history is printed not in the program book but the paper casting pamphlet). Additionally, the production’s complexity enables the many Bayreuth regulars to see something new each year.

It’s a beautiful production of many striking and haunting images and seamless stagecraft. As in other Herheim productions, we shift cinematically through time and space (so to speak). There is no ready key to the profusion of images and narrative; their well of associations and interconnections, keyed more to the music than the libretto, multiplies and gradually comes into focus. And everything moves with the music in a natural, truly Gesamtkunstwerk way. It’s difficult to summarize or describe, because described literally the production would sound chaotic and scattered. And it is. It’s in your head where everything comes together. Not instantly, either–I felt quite confused up to Act 3, but then everything that came before somehow began to make sense, and in the next few days it was still changing shape. I guess I’m saying that summarizing what happened onstage in my usual fashion is very different from describing my experience.

But the thematic material itself does demand description, because it’s fascinating and brilliant. There are several plot threads. Simultaneously, we watch the story of Parsifal, sometimes seen quite literally, along with the reception history of Parsifal the work in the context of the Bayreuth Festival (from its premiere to sometime in the 1950s), and the path of German history itself from Bavaria’s entrance into the unified Germany through both world wars. All go through interconnected journeys of discovery, seduction, maturation and an ambiguous kind of redemption (or more accurately Erlösung). Parsifal and Parisfal grow through history.

The main set replicates the backyard of Wagner’s Bayreuth house Wahnfried. The prompter’s box is transformed into Wagner and Cosima’s grave, the center of the stage is taken up by a (functional) fountain, the house is in the back. Here is the set (the bed, site of birth, death, sleep and seduction, is where the fountain will appear) and below a picture I took myself of the house:

In the staged Vorspiel, we see Parsifal’s mother Herzeleide in a bed in the center of the stage. This red-haired woman resembles the militant figure of Germania in the painting hanging above the fireplace (where the mirror is in the picture above), Friedrich-August von Kaulbach’s “Deutschland–1914.”:

This gives you an idea of the kind of cultural references that go through this whole production. The women are all variations on the Germania figure, with Herzeleide and Kundry (considering their relationships to Parsifal, rather disturbingly) morphing into each other. In the prelude, Parsifal builds a small wall on Wagner’s grave. This is the theme that will dominate Act 1: repression and shelter. Parsifal is sheltered by Herzeleide, Parsifal is sheltered in Bayreuth by Cosima. There is even an allusion to the work’s anti-Semitic elements when Kundry in the form of a maid threatens to steal Herzeleide’s baby. (That’s in the transformation scene, in which we see Parsifal born. I’m sorry. I warned you that this summary would probably not make any sense. And I feel kind of dishonest writing this because it’s only the tip of the iceberg.)

At the end of Act 1, the boy Parsifal wakes in his bed and his guardian Gurnemanz and asks if he understands (at this point I would have agreed with him: no). Was this all a dream? The dreamlike quality is further emphasized by the giant black wings worn by most of the characters (but not the Christ-like Amfortas, who also carries echos of Wagner’s insane patron Ludwig II). They also prefigure the swan and (German) eagle that will dominate the work. The adult Parsifal shoots the boy Parsifal with his bow (a [Bavarian] swan crest simultaneously falls from the proscenium), ending his childhood and beginning his journey into the world. The Grail temple is a replica of the one from the opera’s premiere (see photo at top of this post), the dead boy Parsifal, symbol of sheltered, traumatized innocence, momentarily plays the part of the Grail. The knights are a collection of ordinary people, both men and women.

In Act 2, Germany and Parsifal have gone out into the world, and started a jolly tragic war. The scene is a World War 1 hospital (one also thinks of The Magic Mountain or of Freud), and Klingsor is a cabaret transvestite, an outcast of a decidedly fin-de-siècle/Weimar sort. The flower maidens are both nurses to comfort the dying war victims and a succession of showgirls. Parsifal is seduced by them and finally by a Marlene Dietrich-like tuxedo’ed Kundry, who envelops him in her wings. Then comes the biggest coup de théâtre of the production. Amid a crowd of suitcase-carrying refugees, Parsifal realizes he must purify the world and heal Amfortas, and enormous swastika flags unfurl and the hospital/castle collapses around him in a giant crash. A boy (the young Parsifal again?) appears in a brown uniform, surrounded by SS officers and bearing Amortas’s spear (the Nazi’s Wunderwaffe?). Parsifal points the spear at Wagner’s grave.

Act 3 opens with my favorite theater-in-theater effect, showing a miniature version of the Festspielhaus proscenium behind the main one (above). But this is a wonderful use of this device, because this is a deconstructive staging, and the history of Parsifal is bound up with the history of this theater itself. Wahnfried has now collapsed, the Wagner regime, German nation and Grail order are in ruins. Parsifal arrives in a heavy medieval outfit like a refugee from a traditional production, but is transformed into a red-haired Germania figure identical to Kundry. The staging, which up to this point had been tremendously busy, suddenly is almost drained of all activity. The work has stopped signifying anything outside itself; we seem to be inside a giant Wieland Wagner tribute scene. With the return of the spear, the Wahnfried fountain begins to bubble, an attempt to wash away the past. Parsifal, Kundry, and Gurnemanz sing This is finished off with another tribute: the Wirtschaftswunder in the form of a procession of workers in front of the stage (a reference to Götz Friedrich’s 1972 Bayreuth Tannhäuser).

As we move to the last scene, in a nod towards Syberberg’s Parsifal film, Titurel’s motive prompts a giant projection of Wagner’s death mask. He is still haunting the festival, but it, like the boy Parsifal in the prelude, is soon blocked by a wall. And we see a 1951 proclamation from then-Festspiel leaders Wolfgang and Wieland Wagner, requesting that audience members refrain from political discussion in the Festspielhaus. But politics, obviously, remain. In the last scene, we are in the West German Bonn Bundestag. The wings are gone by now, but the giant mirror reflects the West German eagle in the floor. Amfortas speaks at a podium where the Grail once stood. But Parsifal’s arrival is ambiguous. The giant reflected eagle, first turning red, is washed of its blood by the appearance of the grail, as water from the fountain washes over it and is seen in the reflection. But, the mirror finally shows the audience and, rather shockingly, the normally concealed conductor and orchestra. The magic veil of the temple of Bayreuth has been lifted. This isn’t a mythic, holy object, it’s something we create and participate in, and also have the power to renew. Or is it just something that we’ve made, our own neuroses?

Musically, the highlight was as expected the Klang of the orchestra, beautifully played and clear and balanced, and never overpowering the singers despite being by any measure pretty loud. Daniele Gatti took slow tempos judging by numbers (around 4 hours 10 minutes, I think Metzmacher in Vienna back in April was around 3:45), but it never felt slow. This was in part because there was so much going on onstage, but the pacing was excellent and variety in color and phrasing fantastic.

The cast was, for the most part, good. Simon O’Neill (above) as Parsifal was the weakest link. He has a fine upper range, with powerful and clear high notes, but his lower range has an unfortunate tinny and nasal tinge, and his singing was neither very musical nor idiomatic in its treatment of the text. His acting did not detract from the production but nor did it help–yes, Parsifal is largely a passive character, so this was OK, but it was not ideal. Susan Maclean’s Kundry was not beautifully sung either, but this is Kundry we’re talking about. It isn’t bel canto, it’s more important that she have scary intensity and shriek well, and for that Maclean was great, with spontaneous and clear singing and hair-raising moments of Crazy. Her Marlene Dietrich impression is really very good, so it seemed a shame she almost seemed to adopt a Dietrich tinge to her voice at that point as well.

While O’Neill and Maclean were new this year, the rest of the main cast remained from the premiere. Kwangchul Youn was a resonant and warm-toned Gurnemanz, but lacked something in gravitas and personality. Detlef Roth has a small voice for Amfortas, but in the favorable Bayreuth acoustic could still be heard, and offered a wonderful singer-actor type integrated performance with extremely physical acting. Thomas Jesatko was a Klingsor also more memorable for acting than singing, but likewise excellent. The chorus, flower maidens, and acting of the supernumeraries (particularly the unnamed Act 1 boy) were all great.

Herheim’s Yevgeny Onegin in Amsterdam
Katharina Wagner’s Meistersinger in Bayreuth
Nikolaus Lehnhoff’sParsifal in London
Christine Mielitz’sParsifal in Vienna

Despite the above being mostly about Herheim’s vision, this is a great production because it is such a Gesamtkunstwerk, a model not of artistic megalomania but of collaboration. And how wonderful to see everyone working together to create something so intellectually challenging, beautiful, and unique!

Per-Erik Skramstad at has a good essay about this production with a compilation of reviews from the premiere year.

The best way to get a taste of this production without going to Bayreuth is in these videos, first a longish story from German TV and then two short intros from dramaturg Alexander Meier-Dörzenbach. They’re only in German, sorry:

Photos copyright Enrico Nawrath/Bayreuther Festspiele (some from previous years)

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Katharina Wagner’s Bayreuth Meistersinger paints the town

Katharina Wagner’s Bayreuth production of Die Meistersinger is widely loathed (and the director was indeed greeted by a torrent of boos at the end). A few people covertly whispered to me, “I actually kind of like it,” as if they were confessing on the sacred ground of the Green Hill that they prefer Verdi to Wagner. As a matter of general principle I would have loved to join this secret circle of Katharina admirers, but in the end I was unconvinced (though not loathing). Which is too bad, because there’s some genuinely interesting stuff in this thing. The only problem is that it’s a mess, and unfortunately not an entertaining one.

More disappointing was the low musical quality of this performance.

Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Wagner-Festspiele Bayreuth, 7/26/2011. Production by Katharina Wagner, conducted by Sebastian Weigle with James Rutherford (Hans Sachs), Burkhard Fritz (Walther von Stolzing), Michaela Kaune (Eva), Adrian Eröd (Beckmesser), Norbert Ernst (David), Georg Zeppenfeld (Veit Pogner).

This production is already available on DVD, but it has undergone some changes in recent years. You can see a bit of the DVD at the end of this post.

The setup is clear enough. The masters are part of a museum-like space or academy dedicated to the worship of dead art, with the uniformed apprentices as their students. Their art is not just singing but, in vaguely-Gesamtkunstwerk-ish fashion, a little bit of all the arts. Scattered around the set are a cello, a piano, some Dürer and other paintings, and an enormous number of Reclam books (little yellow paperback editions of classic German literature). The worship is even takes the form of religion, with a communion-like ceremony around one of the Reclams.

Among this reactionary, mindless, and rule-bound worship of the past (David spends his rules lesson photocopying Reclams, and the apprentices take a good 10 minutes to assemble a big table in faultlessly ordered fashion), Walther is an action painter or graffiti artist who splashes paint on whatever is nearby, preferably some icon of past culture like a piano or a cello. The use of visual art as a realization of the various singer characters’ performances is a theme of the entire production, and ultimately for me its biggest sticking point. In Act 1, it’s clear enough: Given a giant jigsaw puzzle of Nuremberg, Beckmesser assembles it “correctly” and Walther makes an Escher-like crazy landscape.


After the heavy-handed, single-minded Act 1, Act 2 is more scattered. The apprentices, seated at tables, show no excitement about the upcoming party, content with their rules. Sachs, who flirted with Eva at the very opening and spent the trial scene as a barefoot hippie without the robes of the other masters, is also a creator of a sort, daring not to photocopy but to use a typewriter. There’s no shoemaking, and he pounds on the typewriter during the hammering song, but not on the beats that you would expect (this actually really bothered me). However, it does start raining sneakers at this point. Make of that what you will. Eva’s idea of flirting with Walther is to let him paint all over her. The Wahn that breaks lose in the riot involves a lot more thrown paint, more a large-scale act of performance art than anything violent. (After the curtain opened on the second and third acts, a whiff of paint remover gradually wafted through the theater.)

Beckmesser 2.0

This production wants to be a drama of ideas. Unfortunately, the first two acts have such a narrow concept that it turns obvious and repetitious. The stage is usually in motion, but without character development. You can only watch people dump paint on things for so long before you lose interest. This seems a shame for Meistersinger, which more than any other Wagner work is populated by accessible human characters. Katharina (sorry, her last name obliges us to be on first-name terms) doesn’t seem to be interested in that, and there’s not enough else going on.

The Act 3 staging is the stage direction equivalent of the Act 2 riot, and the content gets a lot more diverse and interesting. But suddenly there’s so much happening that it’s hard to keep up. Hans Sachs turns out to not be such a liberal after all, and tutors Walther in the painting of a realistic image of trees, later elaborated in the final scene’s Preislied into a tableau vivant stage set of old-school Wagnerian medieval kitsch. Walther’s supposed aesthetic realignment is one of bourgeois conformity, as in the quintet when he and Eva, David and Magdalene form picture-perfect nuclear families. He exchanges his purple pants, and Sachs his casual outfit, for fancy business suits.

Scary Sachs

As we move into the meadow, a bunch of icons of German thinkers in their underwear with oversized masks tie Sachs to a chair and perform a weird dance. This went right over my head. Somewhat clarifying was the subsequent appearance of a conductor, stage director, and designer, who bow and are then stuffed in a dumpster and melted down to form a golden stag (calf?) of some sort. Creativity has been demolished in favor of a new conservatism.

In turn with Walther’s transformation, Beckmesser becomes like the Walther of Acts 1 and 2, performing a weird performance art piece at the trial involving a sand sculpture and some naked people. The crowd, an identically-dressed group who could be Bayreuther Festspiele-goers, prefers Walther’s Mastersinger-like vision over Beckmesser’s incomprehensible avant-garde, and he is awarded a the golden calf, plus a giant check from the Nürnberger Bank like he just won a reality TV show. As Sachs warns about the threatened sacred German art, the stage dims to make him a sinister, solitary figure. The tyranny of the reactionary masses has triumphed again.

Katharina seems to owe something to Adorno. She suggests that Wagner’s argument in favor of revolutionary art is a mixed message, cloaked as it is in a decidedly non-revolutionary form, and reminds us that its subsequent legacy (particularly at Bayreuth) has been not an endorsement of artistic freedom but of arch-conservatism. This is interesting, and it’s a shame that the show itself is often so inept, poorly paced and blocked that it isn’t transmitted more clearly and engagingly.

I also think the interpretation works much more closely with the words than the music. It sets up the metaphor of mastersinging to visual arts, but then stages a transformation in both Walther’s and Beckmesser’s styles of painting that is not reflected in their music. Walther’s style changes between Act 1 and Act 3, but only in a matter of degree, not the radical shift of his painting aesthetic from splashing to realistic landscape. And Beckmesser’s Act 2 and Act 3 music is stylistically consistent, but his painting is not. This seems like a case of wanting to have one’s Regie cake and eat it too.

She also did not have the benefit of a good cast. The first problem was Sebastian Weigle’s soggy conducting. Granted, the Festspielhaus does not present an ideal acoustic for Meistersinger, but only he can be blamed for the weirdly quiet brass, leaden tempos (losing Sachs at several points during the Hammering Song, because he could not sing slowly enough), and complete lack of grandeur. The orchestral playing was mostly OK, though the woodwinds went out of tune a few times.

The singing was rather below A-list level and, despite enthusiasm, genuine charisma was in short supply. According to some regulars, last year’s Klaus Florian Vogt lent a degree of charm to this bratty interpretation of Walther, but I can say that this year’s tenor, Burkhard Fritz, most certainly did not. While he was rarely inaudible and never really made ugly sounds (more than can be said of many Wagner tenors), his completely underpowered, seemingly lyric tenor was colorless and lacking in thrust and ardor. Resembling, tragically, recent Mickey Rourke, he was more an aging B-list rocker than a revolutionary.

James Rutherford was a very youthful Sachs, and his cavernous but unfocused voice carried little gravitas. Michaela Kaune made an acceptable Eva, though sounded a bit overripe. Highlights were surprisingly two Wiener Staatsoper regulars: Adrian Eröd’s accurate and funny Beckmesser and, most of all, Norbert Ernst’s brightly sung David, who overpowered Fritz at times. With all due respect to Ernst, when David is your vocal highlight, that’s a Meistersinger with some problems. The other smaller roles were finely sung and well rehearsed.

My first Bayreuth performance was still a memorable experience, due to it being Bayreuth, but luckily I returned later in the week for what turned out to be an infinitely better experience. More on that shortly.

Photos copyright Enrico Nawarth/Bayreuther Festspiele

DVD trailer:

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