Wagner birthday "Ring" booed: will clan go up in smoke?

Thu Aug 1, 2013 6:19am EDT
 
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By Michael Roddy

BAYREUTH, Germany (Reuters) - Richard Wagner made hand grenades for the 1849 Dresden uprising, so maybe he would have cheered the tumultuous end of his 200th birthday "Ring" cycle in Bayreuth, a production that has raised questions over his heirs running the festival.

A thunderous chorus of boos and hisses, competing with cheers for the singers, conductor and orchestra, greeted the final curtain on Wednesday night of a new staging of the 17-hour-long, four-opera cycle by radical Berlin theatre director Frank Castorf.

The well-heeled and mostly staid Bayreuth audience, frazzled by the summer heat, was in an uproar after experiencing a staging that retained "the master's" text and music but threw in simulated fellatio, group sex, a Kalashnikov instead of a sword to kill a mythological dragon, and copulating crocodiles.

Castorf, prevented by contract from engaging in his usual practice of excising whole passages from theatre classics, layered mini-dramas and live video feeds atop Wagner's 19th-century adaptation of Norse legends about the forging of the Rhine gold into a ring whose wearer rules the world. It ends with a bonfire of the gods in their Valhalla palace.

The cycle, touted as a "Ring" in which the quest for oil replaced the usual scenario about gold, had people scratching their heads wondering whether it was about anything at all. It was also a "Ring" portrayed by the German media as critical to the futures of Wagner's great-grand daughters, Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner, whose contracts as festival co-managers are up in 2015.

"We like the music, what the conductor is doing," said mayor of Bayreuth Brigitte Merk-Erbe, who will have a say in that decision, and was on the red carpet on opening night to greet the arriving dignitaries. Eva and Katharina were absent.

The city is among the entities, along with the federal and state governments, that has a vote on the renewals. Merk-Erbe said it was too early to say how it would go, but she did have a view on the staging.

"I am not too sure whether the director Castorf, who is doing the 'Ring', perhaps sometimes...is making fun of the audience, but it's not boring," she said.   Continued...

 
Sculptures of German composer Richard Wagner are seen outside the Gruener Huegel (Green Hill) opera house in Bayreuth July 25, 2013. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle