Yesterday’s free concert in the RBA featured four members of the Ensemble Studio. Megan Quick and Stéphane Mayer gave us Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen followed by Sam Pickett and Rachel Kerr with Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. The first set was interesting in that I was so engrossed by Stéphane’s playing that at times I almost drifted away from the singing. He really is a bit remarkable. Few collaborative pianists have that effect. Megan continues to develop as a singer. She has a big, dark mezzo that’s actually so operatic I’m not sure it’s heard to best advantage in lieder with piano accompaniment. Still, she’s developing interpretive skills and her German diction has improved out of all recognition in the past eighteen months. It’s now very good. She took the first song, Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit, really slowly but had the control to pull it off and there was some real lyricism in Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz.
When François Girard’s production of Wagner’s Parsifal opened at the Met in 2013 the COC was listed as a co-producer. A year passed: winter changed into spring, spring changed into summer, summer changed back into winter, and winter gave spring and summer a miss and went straight on into autumn… until one day… at a Wagner Society meeting COC boss Alexander Neef came up with something more definite. One day was last night. The plan, apparently, is to stage the piece in 2021, hors saison. It will form an epilogue to the 2020/21 (presumably in late May) season or a prologue to the 2021/22 season (late September). This would appear to have two advantages; firstly it means that the technical problems of running a show where the stage is flooded with thousands of gallons of blood in tandem with another production are avoided and it means that if financing falls through the regular seasons are safe. Naturally there is still the issue of the seven digit number so expect four years of rather intensive fund raising. Anyone fancying sponsoring a flower maiden should contact Mr. Neef.
Dmitri Tcherniakov’s 2015 production of Wagner’s Parsifal recorded at the Staatsoper in Berlin in 2015 left me emotionally drained as I don’t think I’ve ever been after watching a recording. I can only imagine what it must have been like to experience this live. The combination of the production, exceptional singing and acting and Daniel Barenboim’s conducting is quite exceptional. It’s not going to be easy to unpack it all coherently but here goes…
Last night the COC began its run of Götterdämmerung, the last and longest opera in Wagner’s epic tetralogy at The Four Seasons Centre. It’s very different from Die Walküre and Siegfried. The visual elements that tied them together; tottering Valhalla, disintegrating world ash, gantries, dancers, heaps of corpses are mostly gone. In Tim Albery’s production the visuals are spare almost to abstraction. The Gibichung Hall is a CEO suite with computer monitors and red couches, both Brünnhilde’s rock and the Rhinemaidens’ hang out look improvised, almost like squatters’ camps. Costuming, apart from an occasional flashback, as in Waltraute’s scene, is severely modern business; grey suits, black dresses. Only Siegfried himself in tee shirt and leather jacket stands out from the corporate crowd. Dancing flames are replaced by red lights. Everything that can be understated is and the world ends not with an overflowing Rhine and collapsing Valhalla but a stately pas de quatre between Brünnhilde and the Rhinemaidens.
Katharina Wagner’s take on Tristan und Isolde recorded at Bayreuth in 2015 is hard to unpack. There are some hints in a short essay in the booklet accompanying the disk and a few more in the interview with conductor Christian Thielemann included as an extra but it still leaves the viewer with a lot to do. It’s essentially unromantic and quite abstract. A lot of stuff that happens in a traditional interpretation just doesn’t happen but there’s not really anything much to replace it. What’s left is the story of two people who fall in love in a situation where that is bound to end badly and where, despite the best efforts of pretty much everyone else, it does. It’s actually quite nihilistic. Tristan, and maybe Isolde, seek a kind of transcendence in love/death but there is none. At the end Isolde doesn’t die but something in her does. It had me thinking of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (but then so much in life does).
Wagner’s Rienzi is really quite an interesting work. It follows the conventions of the French grand opera rather than the more integrated structure of most of the later works, although as presented in Toulouse in 2012 some of those elements, for example the ballet, have been removed in the interests of cutting the work down to manageable size. Even with the Toulouse cuts it runs three hours.
Back at the Four Seasons Centre last night for another look at the current Claus Guth production of The Marriage of Figaro. It was a somewhat different experience than opening night. The timing and physical comedy seems to have crisped up and the audience seemed more relaxed. There was a lot of laughter. A lot. I could see why too, although I have never thought of this as a “funny” production. Indeed the 2006 Salzburg original earned its reputation as “the darkest Figaro ever”. Interval conversation suggested that the production has been progressively “lightened up” in its various Salzburg revivals and maybe this was just the next step in that progression. There seemed to be fewer dead birds too. One effect of the shift was to bring the character of Figaro more to the fore. I thought Joseph Wagner was a bit anonymous on opening night but he impressed me last night.