Bayreuth: Richard Wagner: Parsifal (August 23rd, 2023)

By , September 3, 2023 17:27

First, again, the obvious (In German):

Musikalische Leitung: Pablo Heras-Casado
Regie: Jay Scheib
Bühne: Mimi Lien
Kostüm: Meentje Nielsen
Licht: Rainer Casper
Video: Joshua Higgason
Dramaturgie: Marlene Schleicher
Chorleitung: Eberhard Friedrich

Amfortas: Derek Welton
Titurel: Tobias Kehrer
Gurnemanz: Georg Zeppenfeld
Parsifal: Andreas Schager
Klingsor: Jordan Shanahan
Kundry: Ekaterina Gubanova
1. Gralsritter: Siyabonga Maqungo
2. Gralsritter: Jens-Erik Aasbø
1. Knappe: Betsy Horne
2. Knappe: Margaret Plummer
3. Knappe: Jorge Rodríguez-Norton
4. Knappe: Garrie Davislim
Klingsors Zaubermädchen: Evelin Novak, Camille Schnoor, Margaret Plummer, Julia Grüter, Betsy Horne, Marie Henriette Reinhold
Altsolo: Marie Henriette Reinhold

This is the new staging in 2023, and it was highly interesting, as for the first time in a large opera house and a large festival it used Augmented Reality (AR) (sadly, only for approx. 300 people from the close to 2000 in the audience) as an artistic addition. As I had been studying Computer graphics in the mid 1980’ies, and as I did so at the best location in Europe (University of Darmstadt with Prof. Encarnacao), I was also very interested in seeing and experiencing, what the 40 years of development now allow.

So, the first part here will be on technical aspects, and less on artistic aspects. Later I will try to put that artistic aspect also into perspective of the overall experience.

So, let’s start with technology.
It’s been the first time for me with AR (VR I did use even 40 years ago, like a roller-coaster ride through the human intestine (sitting on a moving chair with VR glasses on), or being in a car wholly virtually in a so-called 5-sided projecting cave, before that car even had been build as a model. So, I know, how complex technology is, what needs to be done to create virtual worlds, etc.

And as I am shortsighted, and as the AR-glasses are not that lightweight, I decided for the first time in my life to get eye-lenses fitted for me for that experience to reduce the weight (no additional lenses in the AR-glasses), which was a very good approach. The NReal Air glasses (now XREAL) are very nice, but the nose-pads did not sit (although fitted to me) as nice as my regular glasses, but I did use the AR glasses the whole time. Also the “heat” (yes, you have two different TV-sets right in front of your head!) was not to bad.

The things, that I noticed, are not necessarily related to the glasses, but to the technical aspects of the overall approach.

1.) The human view-angle is much larger than the area covered by the AR screens, so turning the head sometimes introduced new objects at locations, which the eye could normally see (extrem left, or extrem right, same with the bottom (or also even top), but that was not as surprising as at the sides). So, to the developpers of the AR glasses: Make the screens wider!

2.) What was annoying for someone who studied CG 40 years ago, is that fact, that the objects didn’t really act like objects. So, when objects “moved” close to each other, they just “morphed” into each other (snake winding around the fingers of a hand simply had the finger or the snake disappear because they were at the exact same location in space. This is something, that I can not really except, as at a different place, two snakes were fighting, and yes, they inflicted “damage” to one-another. So, sometimes it was just “pixel-objects floating in free space”, sometimes it were objects in virtual reality added to reality via AR. Either confusing, or simply not really “modelled” to the end. If it should have been an artistic freedom, then it was not obvious, when things were just pixels or objects. Very disappointing.

3.) As the glasses take away some light, it is required to have more light on stage, so that one can see all things at the same time, especially, as at some times, there were so many objects in the glasses, that it was really difficult to see, what’s happening on stage (due to light in glasses), also due to the fact, that the objects in the glasses did hide the objects on the stage at some cases.

So, it seemed to me, that the CG-modeler didn’t have enough time to “create” the virtual world as real objects, it seemed they just let some simple objects float freely through space.

With that we’re now entering the artistic aspect.

An acquaintance mentioned to me in the second break, that he thinks, that the esthetic appearance of the VR-worlds feels like a Windows 95 screensaver (you all most probaly remember the famous flying toasters), and I have to agree, he’s right. Yes, there were way too many objects floating around (and yes, they also covered the view to the stage), and just having 3 swans falling from the sky instead of just one does not add any additional artistic value.

At the end of act two, when the empire of Klingsor breaks down, we experienced the Festspielhaus falling together around us. A really shocking/surprising element, which was good.

But, there also were some interactive aspects also: Once there was a fox (should it have been a wolfe?) and two sheep grasing on a meadow, and when you looked into the flowers of the meadow, you could “kill” the flowers, or move them aside. Sadly, even if you removed all flowers around the fox (wolfe?) or the sheep, that had no influence on the animals. And, what fox and sheep have to do with parsifal is an still open question to Jay Scheib.

What I also did like was the end: There was a dove flying in a fire-ring, and you could direct it with your viewpoint/eyes. When “Erlösung dem Erlöser” came, I placed the dove on the head of Andreas Schager (aka: Parsifal). Nice gimmick, but did it add to the artistic approach?

So, sometimes I had the feeling, the overall experience might have been something to be seen while high on drugs (aka: Flower Power), and sometimes I simply thought to myself: Jay Scheib didn’r have any suitable idea for making use of the technology options at hand from an artistic point of view. He said, that he wanted to make us aware on how we as humans destroy the nature by showing us plastic bags, batteries (aka: flying toasters… :-) ), plastic waste on glaciers, etc. Yes, that was there, but the connection to the opera Parsifal was not working. It was more “random” and less “planned” or “fitting”.

As Jay Scheib now also in retrospect mentioned, is, what might have been best to adopt right from the start of this project: The Bauhaus stated prominently as an artistic approach for them: “Less is more”. And, yes, I also think, less would have been much better. There was so much in AR happening, that it really distracted from the music, the singers on stage. Coupled with the fact, that Jay Scheib didn’t have any useful ideas for the two main sentences of the opera (“Zum Raum wird hier die Zeit” and “Erlösung dem Erlöser”), I hope, as Jay Scheib also already mentioned, that the “Werkstatt Bayreuth” will help him in refining the AR-elements to better suite the opera.

But: After all: I loved the experience, and I’m also eager to see that staging again in two or three or even four years to see, how it will be changed and adopted over time. Having been asked to do this AR experiment for the first time in such a demanding surrunding with such a complex opera is a challenge. Not everything can work, but I’m glad, that Katharina Wagner is actively trying to advance artistic options and even allowing such experiments to happen. After all: Wagner only did 10 operas which he wanted to be shown in this house, so for us to not get bored over years, decades and centuries, change has to be embraced. And, yes, I have not been bored a single minute during that longest of his operas, and enjoyed experiencing augmented realities.

Let’s hope, this will not be the last time, these things will have been used, I can imaging great things coming from them for example in the ride down into Alberich’s world of the Nibelungen or Siegfried entering the cave of the dragon.

So, thanks for the entertaining and enjoyable experience, even if it didn’t add much to the questions asked by Parsifal. But that can come over time.

Bayreuth: Richard Wagner: Tannhäuser (August 20th, 2023)

By , September 3, 2023 16:08

First, again, the obvious (in German):

Musikalische Leitung: Nathalie Stutzmann
Regie: Tobias Kratzer
Bühne und Kostüm: Rainer Sellmaier
Licht: Reinhard Traub
Video: Manuel Braun
Dramaturgie: Konrad Kuhn
Chorleitung: Eberhard Friedrich

Landgraf Hermann: Günther Groissböck
Tannhäuser: Klaus Florian Vogt
Wolfram von Eschenbach: Markus Eiche
Biterolf: Olafur Sigurdarson
Reinmar von Zweter: Jens-Erik Aasbø
Elisabeth, Nichte des Landgrafen: Elisabeth Teige
Venus: Ekaterina Gubanova
Ein junger Hirt: Julia Grüter
Le Gateau Chocolat: Le Gateau Chocolat
Oskar: Manni Laudenbach
Edelknaben: Cornelia Heil, Ekaterina Gubanova, Laura Margaret Smith, Karolin Zeinert

This has been the second time, that we saw this staging, and we will not regret it. This IS currently the best staging in Bayreuth, and I’m quite sure, that I can say, that for me, it’s the most convincing staging of a Tannhäuser, that I have seen so far. We saw it the first time, when it premiered in 2019, and instantly fell in love with it, so as it was sopposed to be the last year to be seen, we decided to go again. Luckily, for all those, who did not yet have the chance to see it, Katharina Wagner announced that it will be also shown next year (aka: 2024) again.

So, what Is it, that makes me love this staging?

First: This staging does NOT try to picture the libretto, it tries to provide answers to questions asked by the libretto, like: What role does an artist have in socienty? How can an artist (Wagner states in 1849: “frei im Wollen, frei im Thun, frei im Genießen”) solve his being drawn between being an artist and still belonging to the “normal” society? What role does the audience of an artist play? And more specifically even: What role does the audience in Bayreuth play? And: How shall a staging of an opera happen?

Let’s start with the last question: The whole second act is “staged” in a illuminated frame: The whole singing contest takes place inside that frame. But the artists group doesn’ feel well inside that frame, because the rules of that frame are way to conventional, not liberal or free. But it takes them a long time to break out of that frame (whereas breaking into that frame was quite easy, and shown in Manuel Braun’s great video just above that frame (the stage opening in Bayreuth is a square, and here singing took place in the lower part, the screen for the video is the upper part), and we can see, how they break into the Festspielhaus to disrupt the conventional singing contest in black and white video. But then breaking out of that frame is difficult, and I specifically love the cautios move, that Venus does to “test” the world outside that conventional order and its frame in stepping out of the frame to the front.

Or the audience of the Festspiele: In the first act, we see the Festspielhaus, and the pilgrims choir is just the regular audience coming to the Bayreuth Festspiele and they pilgrim up to the Festspielhaus, including those, coming to late and hurrying up, and those being early and already reading the program book, and also those being well prepared and having their fans used against the hot air.

Or in the third act, where we experience the sadness of a fallen art hero and see the sadness just below an huge ad of one of the successful artists from their group.

So, here, we can experience the whole spectrum of human emotions, put into an entertaining concept, reflecting so many of the questions raised by Wagner in his opera Tannhäuser, which he believed not to have really finished (“Ich bin der Welt noch einen Tannhäuser schuldig”).

And, with a cast like listed above, and with the so-called “Tümpelshow” in the first break, this is really time well spend and time, and an experience, which one will not forget.

Much has been written elsewhere about this staging, let me simply state: I’m happy, that I could see it already two times, with such great detail and love to details from all involved.

Go, if you have time in 2024, it’s more than worth it!

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