A Bust In Bayreuth?

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[Oh show us the way to the next whisky bar… And we won’t ask why as long as Julia Rutigliano (Woglinde) and Okka von der Damerau (Floßhilde) pour the drinks. Wagner’s “Rheingold”, Wagner bicentenary production by Frank Castorf, Bayreuth 2013. – Photo Credit: Enrico Nawrath/Bayreuther Festspiele]

Last night, the new Bayreuth Ring started with “Rheingold” and predictable boos for director Frank Castorf. I don’t really understand why, since Bayreuth knew what they bought when they hired Castorf and as far as I can tell, he remained true to his line. The production looks exactly like the “GDR meets 60s cowboy USA escapism fantasies” at Volksbühne Berlin that Castorf is known for – minus the sometimes subversive, sometimes sentimental use of popular song repertory. Is he prone to trash aesthetics, shrill taste and simplifying things? Sure. Does he sometimes acheive startlingly true and touching results with that? Also sure. Is it something a hoity-toity Wagnerian would sneer at? Most definitely.

But I also think everyone at Bayreuth last night knew what to expect. Castorf is popular enough, it wasn’t a secret he wouldn’t emulate Wolfgang Wagner’s snoozetastic visions of yore. It’s not Castorf’s fault that many a Green Hill pilgrim would perhaps prefer that. It wasn’t even a scandal, just a calculated provocation that remained over all tame. It merely allowed those who are only happy when they get to boo at something “modern” to holler their lungs out, but left those interested in a new take on the “Ring” guessing.

Does Castorf, who is not an opera director by education a good match for Wagner? Does he offer a vision behind all the gimmicks and bright colors, perhaps even via that look, and perhaps even a startling one? This would be the interesting thing to discuss beyond the calculated shock and the (well-known) Castorf aesthetics. Speaking of which, I want Fricka’s (the wonderful Claudia Mahnke, whom most readers as this blog will remember as Oberto in THE “Alcina”) dress for Halloween. Joan Crawford herself would envy those shoulder pads! And I want a whisky, please. Coming up next: “Walküre” with Catherine Foster as Brünnhilde, who first sang the part in the small house of Weimar, where she was originally slated to sing Sieglinde, and then said during the rehearsals, “Uhm I think I could also do Brünnhilde”. And she did. All three of them (there’s a DVD set of the Weimar ring, very much worth a look also beyond Foster – the start of the Rheingold also is fantastic: who gets to play God to day, and who will be the dwarf?!)

More photos from Bayreuth, with some subtle snark derision by Christine Lemke-Matwey, over at ZeitOnline.

3 thoughts on “A Bust In Bayreuth?”

  1. Generally not enthusiastic about Castorf, but you’re right that this is hardly shocking. From what I’ve been able to hear, Petrenko is living up to all the expectations in the pit and while some of the singing (especially Koch as Wotan) seems not quite the best on offer today (though Foster seems excellent and Botha did his thing, as he does) the musical side if more than festspiele worthy.

    The Rhinemaidens certainly have done their part. Okka von der Damerou has the Rubens thing going something fierce. This puts one in mind of The Three Graces…and surely some director somewhere will find a way to deploy the RHs in this time honored fashion. 🙂

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    1. They sure will… imagining Wotan as a Medici Duke and the Rhine Maidens conceived by Botticelli? That would definitely be some eye candy. I vote for including Okka von der Damerau. Oh, and I would want Fricka to be Lucrezia Borgia.

      Overall, I think the singing is better this year (still a far cry from the Golden Years, perhaps, but I have really enjoyed Foster’s path, and Petrenko adds a lot to it).

      Castorf generally isn’t my beed, either – too much whiney machismo. Also, I don’t find him a good match for opera (he works better when he conjure up soundtracks) but as far as the craft goes, there are far worse contenders out there.

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