One stays with this production out of curiosity to see what von der Thannen is going to come up with next. As soon as the curtain goes up we get a clown Faust, and in the next scene a clown chorus, establishing, perhaps, a carnival atmosphere. But in the second act the picaresque ambience is broken by a gigantic skeleton hovering over the Soldier's chorus (obviously an anti war statement), and gigantic black balls (the kind that King Kong might use in a bowling game) are rolled around the stage during Margerithe's most poignant moments. What does it all mean?
Lohengrin at Bayreuth. There are similarities between the two productions. Both feature sleek, white-walled sets reminiscent of a laboratory, and both stagings are supported by choruses weirdly costumed in unexpected ways and richly directed in a manner that integrates the ensemble with the dramatic setting. Lastly, a sparseness pervades Mr. von der Thannen's settings, which he is quick to populate with colorful intellectual incongruities, like little houses on wheels and gigantic lilies. This is the kind of Regietheatre that does not offend, but which titillates the viewer's fancy, and causes smiles, not growls. It can become highly popular and habit forming. Unlike the audiences at Bayreuth, who at times behave like carnivores waiting to devour a director's new production, this premiere received no audible boos during the curtain calls.
What can one say about the Vienna Philharmonic that has not been stated so many times before. They played with the kind of expert musicianship that makes them one of the world's great ensembles. The young Argentinian conductor Alejo Pérez led them in a passionate reading of a score that many times can sound overly familiar and trite.
Despite its idiosyncrasies this is a production that needs to be seen live to be fully appreciated. That was certainly the case with the Bayreuth Lohengrin for which Mr. von der Thannen designed sets and costumes. I first experienced it through photographs, then on Blu-ray; but the concept did not hit home until I saw it live at Bayreuth in 2012. I hope that other opera houses pick up this staging after its initial Salzburg run.