Thursday, 28 July 2016

When the new becomes old: Bayreuth's predicament

In an interview with Deutschlandradio Kultur, the German stage director Hans Neuenfels, notorious for dressing-up the chorus in a Wagner production as laboratory rats, has accused Katherina Wagner - who leads the management at the Bayreuth Festival theatre - of lacking vision. There were 'no artistic visions and sensations' any more.
There were ‘no artistic visions and sensations any more.’ - See more at:

It is very easy to accuse the Bayreuth management of 'lack of vision'. In its first decades, it was a unique theatre where model performances took place, as an example for other opera houses how to do Wagner. Meanwhile, every opera house can do something with these operas, and the 'model performances position' of Bayreuth has lost most of its meaning: only the famous acoustics remain an exclusive asset. Given the crazy presentations everywhere of Wagner operas - the notorious Regieoper - it is no longer 'schocking' and 'original' when Bayreuth does the same. It is the result of the attempt to try to be as original and nonconformist as everybody else. The requirement of 'vision', in this case coming from a stage director, has thus to be treated with the greatest suspicion, to say the least, especially if such a director thinks that dressing-up the chorus as laboratory rats will contribute to the meaning of the work (these ideas are always very nice on paper, in the quiet of a study, but on the stage they mostly fall completely flat). Staging an opera is not about creating sensations, but about revealing the nature of the work, and if the result is sensational it should be because of the work is sensational, not the stage director's ideas. Staging an opera is revealing the work and not using it for your own ideas.

In the light of Bayreuth's history, and the current trends of Regieoper, the most original and explorative vision Bayreuth can come-up with is to produce the works as loyally as possible to the original intentions of the composer, which can be quite a challenge in itself, and where the pitfalls of Wagner's original stage directions can also be avoided. Regieoperproductions of Wagner are, meanwhile, thoroughly conventional, stale, and juvenile, in desperate attempts to avoid what elsewhere is done and thus arriving again and again at similar results, and what was considered 'oldfashioned' in the seventies and later, can now be seen as new and forward-looking.

'Kinder, schafft neues!' said Wagner - but what to do when the new has become old and stale and conventional? Then the old becomes new again.

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