sábado, 15 de septiembre de 2018

Video review: The productions by Wieland Wagner.

Wieland Wagner, the grandson of Richard Wagner, started a revolution in performing and understanding his grandfather works since the reopening of Bayreuth Festivals since 1951.
Sadly, he died in 1966, when Opera filming was still in its infancy; but despite all we have four of his stagings filmed: The famous Tristan and Walküre from Osaka in 1967, the first part of Act 3 of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and a reconstruction in-house filmed of Der Fliegende Holländer in Rome Opera House in 1997. All those recordings have survived in low quality, and filmed in black and white, excepting Holländer which is in color; what we cannot perceive his magical lighting work who was the most important part of his productions. Wieland worked with expressions to transmit the psychology and emotions of the characters, sometimes making them to sing in distance, to make the audience to perceive their respective inner worlds who come closer and closer until they are at last together.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, 1963. A still from the video.

In 1963, the first part of Third Act of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was filmed for a broadcast television. This production was so disliked that was cancelled after its second season in 1964. After the prelude, we could see a big curtain with images of Nuremberg and fantastical images, and in the centre the Sachs' workshop in a tiny house full of shoes in the middle of the scene. That tiny house was the world of  Sachs, the rest representing the outside world. Wieland treated this opera like another drama, not focusing too much in its comedy side or traditionalism. A comic moment is when Beckmesser enters, spying everywhere and with his lute wrecked as a consequence of the fight of the previous night. Sachs renounces to love and gives his blessing to Stolzing and Eva (dressed in a fantasy fairylike costume), singing in the quintet by her side, taking her and before Stolzing does. At the end, as all characters are leaving the scene, David puts a sign saying Geschlossen (closed) in the table.

Musically, is conducted by Thomas Schippers, doing a decent job with the orchestra. Singers are of the historical New Bayreuth school: Josef Greindl doing a great and wise Sachs despite being vocally past his prime. Wolfgang Windgassen sings a beautiful Stolzing with an aristocratic air. Anja Silja is a charming and nicely sung Eva, a role appropriate to her natural voice. Carlos Alexander has a Nosferatu-like appearance as Beckmesser, playing it as a comic villain. Erwin Wohlfahrt is an amazing David, and Ruth Hesse has a nice low note in the quintet as Magdalene.

In 1967, Bayreuth Festival went on tour to Osaka, Japan, for performances of  Tristan und Isolde and Die Walküre. Wieland had  recently died, and this films of this productions are his artistical testament. The Japanese NHK Orchestra was in charge of the music, under Bayreuth conductors.

Birgit Nilsson and Wolfgang Windgassen in a still from Tristan und Isolde, 1967.

His second and most famous version of Tristan was premiered in 1962 and he was at the peak of his artistical creativity. He created and abstract world of beauty and patetism. Pesimism flows is in the air during the whole performance. In the first act we see projected the shape of the ship at the bottom, a tiny monolithic stanza where Isolde stays and all the male characters throghout the scene. Act 2 has the famous celtic monolith with two gaps in the top and lighting creating an oniric effect where the lovers express their passion. Act 3 shows an imponent rocky alike setting, showing the ruined castle of Tristan, dying as well as his owner. Here the emotions and gestures express the tragedy: Isolde is an energic but fragile woman, Tristan a tormented hero or Marke a nobleman seeming a good man but heartbroken after the betrayal of his friend and bride.

Wieland commissioned Pierre Boulez to conduct Tristan, as they both wanted to start a music revolution in musical approaching to Wagner's works but his death left Boulez in trouble. His lack of preparation was worsened by the unexperienced orchestra, despite being a good ensemble. The leading couple helped him with the tempi, but his modern style was the opposite of the romanticism displayed in the score and as a result his conduction was too fast and not adequate.

The cast was legendary, being the only film including Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen and Hans Hotter, who worked and conveyed the expressions and pathos of their characters in a magistral way. Nilsson was at the peak of her vocal power, singing almost perfectly, with amazing high notes and technique. To hear her Liebestod is always a supernatural experience. Windgassen was past his prime but his voice was still beautiful. He reserved his voice for the third act, singing with powerful volume and heroically. His performance was so chilling and heartbreaking, conveying the agony of Tristan to an unsurpassable level, even 51 years later. His is one of the best Wagnerian performances even filmed and has no rival. Hotter was past his prime too, but his style remained still a reference. Despite the tireness, the great bass-baritone sings his long monologue with beauty and impressing with his authority on stage. Herta Topper and Frans Andersson were accomplished Brangäne and Kurwenal, despite not being at the level of their parts fellow singers in Bayreuth.

Theo Adam as Wotan in a still from Die Walküre, 1967.

Die Walküre was the second title in Osaka. Wieland's Ring was a hit in its Bayreuth premiere in 1965. In this Ring he took distance from the extreme minimalism of his past Ring production, by adding some mythological like sets and props, but in his minimal style. Here, lighting played a big role, too. Again, gestures and expressions take importance, considering the complex net of emotions of the characters in the Ring.  Act 1 opens with an imposing ash tree set dominating the whole scene, with two horse skulls pending on it and of course the sword. In Act 2 we can see a big rocky mountain, a menacing sight for the drama which is to come. Act 3 returns to minimalism, with the empty stage, and the colour lighting as the only set. The dramaturgy is specially moving and intense in Act 1, with the welsungs moving with their grief and anxiety expressions. The costumes are simple, but in the case of the gods they give a powerful appearance despite their simplicity.

The ride of the valkyries from Walküre.

Thomas Schippers led the orchestra with a good level despite some fails of the instruments due to their inexperience. The cast was excellent. Jess Thomas as an heroical and moving Siegmund and Helga Dernesch as a Sieglinde well acted, with a powerful voice and dramatic low notes. Gerd Nienstedt is an accomplished Hunding, with a brutal performance of his umpleasant character. Theo Adam was the Wotan of the 60s, not always a beautiful voice but he has great moments and also astonishing low notes. His acting is excellent, since he conveys a tragic and authoritative profile of Wotan. Anja Silja has the perfect appearance for Brünnhilde: blonde, tall and beautiful and young. Vocally, despite her characteristic high notes, she sings her part well and her level would be missed in our days. Her acting is solemn and the lessons of Wieland are quite visible. Grace Hoffman is a good Fricka, and the valkyries are at a good level too.

Sue Patchell and Glenn Winslade in a still of Der Fliegende Holländer. Rome, 1997.

In 1997, Wieland had been dead for thirty years. The Teatro dell'Opera di Roma commissioned a reconstruction of his famous 1959 Bayreuth production of Der Fliegende Holländer to Winifred Bauernfeind, and according to the Italian press, the results weren't too faithful to the original staging, introducing differences with it, specially in Act 2. A color video in-house film is online on YouTube. In Höllander, Wieland made his most faithful staging, introducing into a harsh realist version of the story. Act 1 is really beautiful, with the Dutchman ship dominating the scene, with its red sails projected through an impressive lighting effect. The ship is seen from Daland's ship, suggested by the wooden big rudder in the middle. Act 2 is shown empty, only with the spinning wheels and Mary and Senta sit on the middle. In Act 3 we see the same setting for Act 1, The Dutchman dissapears on the darkness to be followed by Senta (in the original he died on stage) and the ship vanishes to reveal a blue-white spiral cloud which represent Dutchman's redemption by love. The costumes of the women were unattractive, with grey top and skirts of different colours, so as the sailors in Act 3, all ochre-coloured. The characters's costumes  are simple and  classic, excepting the Dutchman who wears a spectral and complex costume.

A 23 year-old Philippe Jordan conducts the orchestra of the Opera House, achieving a good level with the Italian ensemble, but still far from the style he would reach today. The Overture is well played, and the conduction is enjoyable as the acts go by. The chorus are in a splendid form.

José Van Dam is a Dutchman worthy to be in any original Wieland production. His voice is not the same of a decade ago but still astonishing with his beautiful style and excellent acting skills who try to convey through his expressions a tormented and spectral portrait of the character. Sue Patchell is a dramatic and improving Senta. Glenn Winslade was in a good moment and his voice sounds heroical despite his troubled high notes in the third act aria. Ulrich Dünnebach is an excellent Daland and nice to hear. Mette Ejsing has an stunning contralto voice and her Mary steals the show whenever she appears. Tommasso Randazzo has a good heroical voice for the Steersman, despite having a bit long vibrato.

A video of this production is visible on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UO620zQGc4g

These examples are the visual legacy of Wieland's stagings for Wagner Operas, along with the famous photographs. Low quality is a true handicap but even to get an idea of the significance of Wieland's revolution are worthy to see. With his magical colour lighting effects and expressions, he gave his grandfather's operas a new lecture which reinforeed their universal and contemporary message, valid for  all time. In artist families not always the genius is completely inherited, but fortuntately it was the case of Richard Wagner and his grandson Wieland.

My reviews are not professional and express only my opinions. As a non English native speaker I apologise for any mistake.
Most of the photographs are from the internet and belong to its authors. My use of them is only cultural.
Any reproduction of my text requires my permission. 

1 comentario:

  1. An excellently written article, if only all blogger offered the same level of content as you, the internet would be a much better place. Please keep it up!. Great tips, I would like to join your blog anyway. Waiting for some more review. Thank you Website Designer