Monday, August 06, 2007

Pape's Hans Sachs

In an interview given to PlaybillArts in May of 2006, German bass René Pape disclosed that he is preparing the role of Hans Sachs in Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg for the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin in 2008. However, the current information on the Staatsoper website reveals that James Morris is scheduled to play Hans Sachs in this production, which is a revival of a staging by Harry Kupfer.

I venture to guess that Pape might need a little extra time between other engagements to learn the role of Sachs which is monumental in length. Who knows what the reason for the change was! One thing's for certain: once he masters it, however, the role is one that he will be able to sing until he retires.

Now my sources tell me, however, that René Pape will debut his Hans Sachs in a new and first ever staging in Glyndebourne in 2009. If this is true, then this is good news and worth waiting for.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

"Mamarracho:" The Last Word on Schlingensief

Opera houses mounting productions of Richard Wagner's last work, Parsifal, are careful to remind audiences that according to the wishes of the composer there ought to be no applause at the conclusion the work's first act. In reverence to a drama filled with religious overtones and to a performance which hopefully has built a sense of spirituality, Wagner thought that a quiet reverent public was the ideal bunch to come to worship at his church on the Green Hill. Of course, he also did not want his Consecrational Festival Drama to be performed outside of the sacred precincts of Bayreuth either, but after The Metropolitan Opera successfully absconded with the score and performed the work against the wishes of Wagner's widow Cosima, opera houses around the world have tried to atone for their theft and always remind audiences of the Master's last wish for silence and reflection before retiring to the first interval.

Since 2004, the Bayreuth Festspilehaus has experienced all kinds of sounds after the conclusion of the three acts of Parsifal -- mostly it has been people booing. The production by Christoph Schlingensief, now in its fourth and final year, has been received with the most fervent booing and catcalls heard at Bayreuth since the Centennial Patrice Chéreau Ring back in 1976. Katharina Wagner's current Regietheater examination of her great-grandfather's only comedy might just beat out Schlingensief when it comes to audience audible displeasure.

Today, at the conclusion of the first act of Parsifal there definitely was audible displeasure. A single voice -- I had never heard this before at Bayreuth -- yelled out the word Mamarracho! as clear as day. Then some scattered murmuring was heard, followed by a smattering of applause. Obviously it was a Spaniard! The word mamarracho, whose etymology goes back to the Muslim occupation of Spain, is applied to anything which is defective or ridiculous, something which is badly put together and ultimately ends up being imperfect and extravagant (see the picture above of the Flowermaidens of Schlingensief's production).

Then came Act II... and this Spanish guy was ready. No sooner did the curtain go down on Klingsor's Magic Garden, which in this production consists of a Voodoo den complete with fat topless black women (some characters are in black-face!), that this guy yelled out "A la cárcel!" which of course means "To jail!"

And that, my friends, was the last word on Schlingensief!

PS: After the conclusion of the third act, I heard only a solitary whistle, followed by the loudest booing of the evening. Our Spanish friend had either been escorted out of the Festspielhaus, or the sight of a movie playing footage of a decaying rabbit taking the place of the Holy Grail had left him speechless.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bergman and Antonioni Die

Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni died this week, both on the same date: July 30, and both in their native countries of Sweden and Italy respectively. Not since 1616, when on April 23 both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died in their respective countries has there been such an artistic coincidence where two giants die on the same day.

During the decade of the 1950's and especially the 1960's, Bergman and Antonioni seemed to divide the world of cinema between them, and it is their creative output, more than any other director's that led the critics and especially the public to re-evaluate cinema as a kind of unique 20th century art and not just as a commercial enterprise. In the same way that during the later part of the 19th century, Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner divided the musical world of the lyric theater between them, Bergman and Antonioni were contemporaries whose films seemed to be put together as meticulously as music, and whose sounds seemed to emerge from two different planets.

Bergman was younger, a little more prolific and popular and in his native Sweden the one director against whom every other artists was compared. Antonioni was older, more obtuse in his artistic output, not as prolific as Bergman, and had to share the limelight of Italian cinema with more popular contemporaries: Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica and the younger, controversial Pier Paolo Pasolini. His movie making was so different from those of his countrymen, however, even though they all emerged from the same Neo-Realism stew. His creations were always based on meticulously written scripts; he always used professional actors; he created a mise-en-scène that rivaled the composition of the great Italian masters of the Renaissance; and his photography was as carefully crafted and as inherently beautiful and powerful as those of Ingmar Bergman's best films. Antonioni always joked that he removed the bicycle from neo-realism, a reference to Vittorio De Sica's classic.

Together, these two artists exemplified a time when films mattered as an artistic medium. A time, not so long ago, when philosophers and poets were spoken about in the same breath as serious filmmakers. With their death a period in the history of the cinema also passes on.