Thursday, August 1, 2013

Get Your Kicks at Bayreuth

Red Baron loves the theater or should I write loved? I still remember the Golden Sixties of German stagecraft. Theaters in Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich played classical pieces by Lessing, Schiller, and Brecht as well as modern ones by Dürrenmatt, Frisch, and Kroetz. I was in Munich at the time and watched actresses like Therese Giehse, Elfriede Kuzmany, and Edda Seippel and actors like Rolf Boysen, Thomas Holtzmann, and Romuald Pekny performing on stage. They all are long gone but I shall never forget their fine acting and articulated speech. These artists had been educated in schools of renown like the Otto-Falkenberg-Schule, the Max-Reinhardt-Seminar, and the Folkwang Universität der Künste.

What a discrepancy between the past and today. Actors and actresses of the new generation prefer performing on TV, just move around the set, and mumble their words. As far as theater performances are concerned I no longer recognize the classical authors when stage directors rewrite the texts in what is called Regietheater in German. However, there are laudable exceptions. I remember a performance of Schiller's trilogy Wallenstein here in Freiburg where the stage director had reduced the text so that the three-evening show fitted into one evening. In limiting the story-line to just two threads, the personality of Wallenstein and the love between his daughter and General Piccolomini's son, the plot gained in density and depth. Eventually it only was a detail that at the end the Irish Colonel Butler dressed in a World War One uniform killed Wallenstein with a six shooter instead of using a halbert.

Coming back to Bayreuth. There is a crucial difference between the spoken theater and an opera: stage directors do not change the music. However they compensate their frustration by transposing archaic plots into modern times like this year in Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung at the Bayreuth Festival. In Rhinegold, the first part of the tetralogy, you meet some sluts and get your kicks in a motel on Route 66 instead of Wotan's Valhalla. Wotan is a noble rogue, the Rhine daughters are saloon sluts. Movies in black and white project gunmen on to a screen.
Rhinegold stage set 2013 (©Bayreuther Festspiele)
If you think that this is going too far take a look at the set for Siegfried. A communist Mount Rushmore featuring Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao intrigued the bourgeois spectators and resulted in some boos. Siegfried whacks Fafnir, downgraded from a terrifying dragon to a mere crocodile, using a Kalashnikov AK-47 (Crocodile Siegfried?). Following a spaghetti and red wine orgy the norn Erda (Urd) wearing a blond headdress gives Wotan a blow job. Critic Alexander Dick writes in the Badische Zeitung: Richard Wagner's music and Frank Casdorf's stage set do not have anything in common but so far that is the only thing that hurts.
Siegfried stage set 2013 (©Bayreuther Festspiele)
Yet the real Wagner aficionado is not concerned. He will simply close his eyes and enjoy the music.

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