Bayreuth Festival begins with controversy, augmented reality glasses and many doubts

The new version of Bayreuth FestivalEstablished by Richard Wagner 147 years ago to stage his musicals, it will again start with controversy. Next Tuesday, July 25, two versions of a new production Parsifalone with augmented reality (AR) glasses and the other without.

Explained by theater director, North American playwright and artist Jay Ship, for the Bavarian newspaper Munchen Mercury:There are two concepts, so basically it would be necessary to witness our two times Parsifal. Augmented reality glasses add many ideas and projections that cannot be seen in another way.

The problem is that the festival couldn’t buy enough augmented reality glasses. And only 330 of the 1937 spectators would attend each of the seven performances of the Parsifal Until August 27, you’ll see these virtual elements superimposed on stage events in Wagner operas.

Controversy in the German press

Controversy jumped in the German press for nearly a year. Therefore, Ulrich Jagels, General Manager of the Bayreuth Festival, seized on the technical, financial and organizational challenge involved in using augmented reality to justify something like this. But the critic Marcus Thiel attributes this to the ancient moat which, at Bayreuth, separates the Restorationists from the Traditionalists.

The festival’s artistic director, Katharina Wagner, will embody the first camp. The composer’s granddaughter has directed the festival’s designs since 2008, first in the company of her half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasker, and since 2015, alone. The balance in the last eight releases, it’s obviously broken Pandemic forced its cancellation in 2020promoted parallel activities to popularize his great-grandfather’s operas among the younger ones (Wagner for children) and strengthened his dialogue with contemporary creativity (The speech Bayreuth).

But her art direction hasn’t released any related productions since 2017, with Nuremberg MastersingersBarry Koski. Irregular Path achieved its biggest flop, last year, with the quartet’s disappointing production Nibelung ringfrom youth stage director Valentine Schwartz. To this must be added the festival’s distance from the great clubs of the moment, even from Christian Thielmann In this year’s edition, or the limited presence of the principal Wagnerian singers, who usually join the annulment rosary.

Figures at the start of the Bayreuth Festival 2021.Picture alliance (dpa/picture alliance via Getty I)

The chairman of the Society of Friends of Bayreuth as well as the festival board, Georg Freiherr von Waldenfels, embodies the traditionalists. This association of patrons announced, last February, a significant cut in their contributions to the Wagnerian Festival It is held, in equal parts, with the Federal Republic of Germany, the Free State of Bavaria and the city of Bayreuth. A reduction of 1 million euros, starting in 2024, which represents approximately a third of the 3.4 million euros paid annually.

This passage has been interpreted as another episode of his quarrel with Katharina Wagner. Von Waldenfels publicly criticized the composer’s great-granddaughter’s artistic decisions on the new production of the aforementioned. bell Schwartz, as well as Thielmann’s departure. And he seems determined to refuse a renewal of his contract, which expires in 2025, and which would end Wagners’ control of the festival, as it has always been in the hands of a member of the composer’s family.

This artistic drift of the Wagnerian Festival also created an unprecedented situation. Until a few years ago, all those who wanted to make a pilgrimage to the Wagnerian Festival had to wait at least eight years to get their seats, today tickets for many performances are no longer sold.

“Scenic Deviations and Questionable Directors”

Ewan Hollander warned of the seriousness of this situation, on 30 June, On the pages of the Austrian newspaper the press. The former artistic director of the Vienna State Opera, from 1992 to 2010, attributes the disillusionment with the current Bayreuth audience “to the scenic distractions of recent years and to the questionable conductors and singers”. He further acknowledges that the “fantastic acoustics of the Festspielhaus, unique in the world, can no longer compensate for the mediocre musical direction, often bad staff of singers and incomprehensible visual versions invented by stage managers”.

Hollander’s harsh critic yearns for Wolfgang Wagner’s days as artistic director of the festival, from 1951 to 2008. Katharina’s father, who steered the Bayreuth course alone after the death of his brother Wieland, in 1966, Choose to turn it into a “workshop”. A place of scenographic innovation with the ten canonical operas of his grandfather, from Flying Dutchman until Parsifal. Since then, proposals from major French, German and British stage directors, such as Patrice Chéroux, Jean-Pierre Bonnel, Peter Hall, Götz Friedrich, Harry Kupfer or Hans Neuenfels, have combined with the traditional musical excellence of voices and directors specializing in Wagner operas.

The balance between tradition and innovation that permeated her father’s years contrasts with the innovative ideas of her daughter. Jay Ship’s aforementioned dual landscape concept, with and without augmented reality (AR) glasses, is a good example. In any case, there are hardly any specifics about his proposal, other than a general idea to combine a community looking for a new future with the family drama of its protagonists.

Image of augmented reality glasses from the Bayreuth Festival.
Image of augmented reality glasses from the Bayreuth Festival.

Shoaib hopes that the rapid development of augmented reality will simplify everything. As announced to Munchen Mercury. And in the coming years, viewers will be able to bring their own augmented reality glasses to the Festspielhaus and access the production’s virtual objects by downloading an app. But, for now, the 330 lucky people with augmented reality glasses must go on the morning of each show to be customized with nose bridges and myopia-correcting lenses (from 1 to 8 diopters), after which they will find them seated inside a black bag.

The musical direction of this new production of Parsifal will mark the debut of Pablo Heras – Married at the Wagnerian Festival. The Granada-born director will become the first Spaniard to direct a new production in Bayreuth, the second to operate from the pit of the Festspielhaus, After the ballad performance of Placido Domingo In front of loose replacement Valkyriein 2018. This event is a milestone in the ascending career of the Spanish director, who will open in September the new season of the Vienna State Opera, with Mercy Tito by Mozart, and will direct, in November, its premiere at the Austrian Theatre The great apocalypse from Ligeti. But Heras-Casado does not have the Wagnerian pedigree of the other regular clubbers in Bayreuth. He never directed a production Parsifal It is preceded by irregular interpretations to Flying Dutchman y affiliate bell at the Royal Theatre.

Related characters in future editions

It’s not unlike the rest of this year’s productions in Bayreuth. Finnish director Petari Enkinen, who should have been replaced last year by Cornelius Meister, will finally be able to present his full vision of the film. bell. However, judging from the three performances he led Valkyrie, in 2021, nothing particularly relevant is expected. Markus Buechner will once again perform his landmark symphonic version of the Tristan and Isolde And there will be, for the first time, two directors in Bayreuth: Oksana Lenev at the helm Flying Dutchman and the directorial debut of Natalie Stutzman Tannhauseralthough the absence of Simone Young, the most accredited conductor in Wagnerian Struggles, is surprising.

To cover her back, Katharina Wagner announced last year that more important directors would return in future editions. Next year will be back Semyon Bychkov To guide Tristan and Isolde And in 2025, it will Daniel Gatti Responsible for the new production of Nuremberg Mastersingers. De Thielemann was noted to take over production Parsifal which is now showing Heras-Casado, but as of 2025.

In the voices department, the composer’s granddaughter has managed to deal with a slew of cancellations that have affected lead roles in several operas this year. Starting with Stephen Gould who was going to participate in sunset of the godsAnd Tristan and Isolde y Tannhauserwhich will be replaced by Andrew Schagerand Clay Healy and Klaus Florian Vogt. Schager will also cover the recent loss of Josef Calleja as Parsifal and Michael Voll will return to Bayreuth, after the Sachs premiership, replacing John Lundgren as Dutchman. However, we will miss him Liz Davidson, as Sieglinde and Elisabeth, although Elisabeth Teague would serve both characters well. And among all the templates, there was mizu right Elena Garanka who would debut in Bayreuth, as Kundry, in the first three shows of Parsifal.

But the events of Katharina Wagner do not stop. As revealed by the news portal OperaWireby 2026 plans to produce a new Renzi. The opera has never been performed at the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, as it is considered outside the Wagnerian Ten Commandments canon. But her great-granddaughter is willing to revise this law and fits her great-grandfather’s opinion: “I am sure that Richard Wagner, in his artistic interest, would have enjoyed it in today’s perspective.” Today’s Bayreuth Festival would be much better without Wagner at the helm.

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