Howls in Bayreuth

(About music and theatre rather than language.

A link from Betsy Herrington to this astonishing piece on the Raw Story: “Simulated fellatio, group sex and copulating crocodiles draw boos at 200th anniversary production of Wagner’s Ring cycle” (from Reuters 8/1/13) by Michael Roddy, beginning:

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.

The key to what happened is in the bold-faced part of the continuation:

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.

… [Castorf] He recast the “prequel” opera “Rheingold” as a 1960s-something sleazy American soap opera-noir, with the god Wotan decked out as a black-suited Texas oil man cum Las Vegas mobster who cavorted first with his wife Fricka and then with her sister Freia. In the third opera, “Siegfried”, the earth goddess Erda performed simulated fellatio on Wotan.

The scenes undermined Fricka’s and Erda’s roles as the voice of moral authority in the opera in a subverting of traditional portrayals of the characters that Castorf did time and again. The only woman who got away as less than loose was Wotan’s daughter Brunnhilde, who is the real heroine of the piece.

Barred by contract from excising text, Castorf instead created new characters, including a Norman Bates-like motel clerk from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, and used video projections to show scenes that were happening behind the mammoth stage sets that included a Texas motel, the Berlin Alexanderplatz U-Bahn subway station, an oil derrick in Azerbaijan, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota with the heads of communist notables replacing American presidents and, last but not least, the New York Stock Exchange. Nowhere was there a Rhine river – except that the floozies portraying the Rhine maidens always showed up in a vintage black Mercedes convertible.

There are re-castings of classic theatre pieces that bring out meanings and feelings we would not otherwise have appreciated. This one sounds just perverse, and not in a good way. I’d probably have been howling in Bayreuth too.


One Response to “Howls in Bayreuth”

  1. Chris Brew Says:

    Little extract from Reinhard Brembeck’s positive review in Suddeutsche Zeitung (not online yet, I think)

    Worin aber bestehen Castorf’s Verbrechen? Der Mann hat Wagner’s Ring-Text genau gelesen. Er hat aber weder unter den Goettern, Riesen, Menschen, Zwergen noch Tieren einen einzigen liebenswerten Charakter gefunden, sondern ausschliesslich Macht- und Sexgierige, die die Liebe verraten. Das zeigt er schonungslos. Sowohl texttreu als von immenser szenischer Phantasie getrieben, erzaehlt er Wagners Traum vom besseren Leben, das die Liebe uebers Geld stellt.

    [What do Castorf’s crimes amount to? The man has read Wagners “Ring” text precisely. But neither among the gods, giants, people, dwarfs nor among the animals did he find a single character worthy of love, but instead nothing but the power and the sex-crazed who betray love. He shows that without mercy. Faithful to the text and driven by an immense scenic fantasy, he recounts Wagner’s dream of better life that values love above money]

    Eek. I could spend a day trying to get that translation better. Read the German if you can. Anyway, the reviewer liked it, and there’s an amazing photo of Siegfried and Gunther swearing blood brotherhood in Hagen’s stereotypical kebab shop. I love the idea of evoking anti-Turkish stereotypes in representing the Nibelungen, since they were pretty obviously representatives of Jewish racial evil in Wagner’s horrible politics. The allusion to current horrible racial attitudes seems exactly on point to me.

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