Wagner for kids marks modernized Bayreuth Festival

Wed Aug 4, 2010 10:24am EDT
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By Max Chrambach

BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - Wild ovations resonated as 200 spectators paid tribute to the musicians who had brought Richard Wagner's opera Tannhaeuser and the Singer's Contest at Wartburg to this southern German stage.

The scene from this year's 99th Bayreuth Festival -- an annual month-long operatic marathon for aficionados of the 19th-century German composer -- would not have been unusual, had the ecstatic reception not come from an audience of six to 12 year-olds.

The children's version of Tannhaeuser is part of an attempt by this year's Bayreuth Festival, which began in July and runs until August 28, to attract a broader audience than the Wagner enthusiasts who flock to the Bavarian town every year.

"This is about attracting tomorrow's opera audience to Wagner," said Reyna Bruns, who adapted and directed the children's version of Tannhaeuser as part of the festival's project "Wagner for Children."

Wagner's operas are not only long, they are also characterized by complex tonal structures and bombastic epic passages, which makes them difficult to appreciate for a mainstream audience, not to mention one under the age of 10.

"When I was first told about making Wagner palatable for children, I thought: 'Oh god!'," Bruns recalled.

She began by replacing the central themes of Tannhaueser -- which tells the story of a 14th century minnesinger (troubadour) and his struggles with sensuality, love and eroticism -- with more age-appropriate focus on friendship and the adolescent search for identity.

Bruns also pared down the three-and-a-half hour opus to 60 minutes, streamlining the complex plot and translating the 19th-century German into a more contemporary idiom.   Continued...