Boos at Bayreuth, but Brunnhilde shines for Wagner 200th

Wed Jul 31, 2013 6:54pm EDT
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By Michael Roddy

BAYREUTH, Germany (Reuters) - The gods did not go up in flames but the audience erupted in a fury of booing on Wednesday night as an unorthodox new staging of Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle for his 200th birthday at his opera house in Bayreuth came to a near-riotous conclusion.

Radical Berlin theatre director Frank Castorf, who had teased, challenged, mocked and scandalized the audience over the four-opera cycle that featured slinky Rhine Maidens, simulated oral sex and gangster-style characters stood center stage acknowledging the audience's displeasure for some 10 minutes at the end of "Gotterdammerung" ("The Twilight of the Gods").

Castorf, who was born in 1951 in then-communist East Germany and had a reputation in the 1980s and 1990s as one of the bad boys of German theatre, egged the audience on, gesturing to them to boo louder and even suggesting through hand motions that it was the audience, and not him, who were out of their minds.

The scene, which had the audience on its feet booing Castorf and his assembled team of stage and costume designers, was said by veteran operagoers to be unprecedented.

It came to an end when Russian conductor Kirill Petrenko, one of the audience's favorites throughout the six days it has taken to present the four operas, assembled his orchestra behind the closed curtains. While Castorf stood on stage being booed, the curtains were opened to show the musicians, which prompted the audience to switch gears and start applauding again.

Castorf's set designer, Aleksandar Denic, told Reuters: "I like it if there is a response, that is the biggest compliment to me", but perhaps he got more than he'd bargained for.

But Bayreuth has always courted controversy and some of its most famous productions have been ones which got the worst receptions at their premieres.

"A lot of booing, I think it's good for the newspapers," said Gerhard Reissbeck, 49, an artist from Bad Windshein, Germany attending with a friend.   Continued...

German director Frank Castorf gestures before the beginning of the dress rehearsal for the play "Nord, Eine Grandguignolade von Frank Castorf nach Louis-Ferdinand Celine", as part of the "Wiener Festwochen" festival in Vienna June 6, 2007. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer