Sunday, July 29, 2012

A New Dutchman at Bayreuth

From the very first measures of its famous overture, in a great production of Der fliegende Holländer we are transported to the middle of a supernatural thunderous storm and to the depths of a very dark sea.  Richard Wagner's fourth opera is such a great leap forward in the musical development of the composer that it seems that his earlier three works were written by someone else. And perhaps they were.  Wagner was not the same man after he and his first wife Minna survived an arduous journey to Paris on the ship "Thetis."  Wagner never forgot the fury of the storms that caused Minna to have a miscarriage.  Surely it is the memory of that event that caused Wagner's genius to develop the great evocation of the sea that makes The Flying Dutchman such a powerful and unforgettable work.  The sea is in the music, and the music is married to the story.  Remove the story from Wagner's maritime world, and the musical spell is broken.  This is unfortunately what happened opening night of the Bayreuth Festival this year.  The fury of the sea was there thanks to Christian Thielemann's superb reading of the score, but for his debut at Bayreuth Jan Philipp Gloger delivered a dry dock version of the Dutchman.  Picture Moby Dick shanghaied to the desert or a jungle.

In Gloger's Dutchman, the leading character, beautifully sung by Samuel Youn (who replaced Yevgeny Nikitin) is some kind of itinerant salesman with a briefcase.  He arrives without a ship, dressed in a modern suit, but with a shiny black tattoo on the side of his head, which suggests an island archipelago.  He falls in love with Senta (Adrianne Pieczonka), a girl dressed in red who works in a factory packing electric fans into cardboard boxes.  What this has to do with Wagner's original intention for a story is beyond me.  It's just another example of Bayreuth being the place for wonderful musical performances of Wagner's works and way-out productions.  Needless to say, the singers as well as the orchestra, along with maestro Thielemann received an outstanding ovation from the audience.  Mr. Gloger and the rest of the production team were booed.

The irritating aspect of this production is that ultimately it does not have anything interesting to say about the work.  The lusty boos that the late Christoph Schlingensief and Katharina Wagner received for their Parsifal and Die Meistersinger respectively were well-earned.  They set out to provoke, and boy did they ever.  This production seems to earn the wrath of the audience not because it deviates from Wagner's original intentions, but perhaps because it does not deviate enough.

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