Stage Malfunction, Boos Greet Opening of Bayreuth Festival

Saturday, July 26, 2014 - 09:00 AM

Torsten Kerl in the title role of Wagner's Tannhauser at the Bayreuth Festival Torsten Kerl in the title role of Wagner's Tannhauser at the Bayreuth Festival (Bayreuth/Enrico Nawrath)

BAYREUTH, GERMANY—The opening night of the 2014 season of the Bayreuth Festival, the mecca for lovers of the operas of Richard Wagner, was disrupted by a technical breakdown that resulted in a one-hour delay.

Toward the end of the overture of Tannhäuser, a large piece of scenery rose out of the middle of the stage making a huge blast of sound that was obviously not meant to be heard even in this very modern production, in which the setting has been transplanted from medieval Germany to a factory in which excrement and other refuse are converted into biogas.

The Tannhäuser (Torsten Kerl) and Venus (Michelle Breedt) gamely continued their singing until the curtain was brought down and a stage manager came forward to announce a 20-minute intermission until the problem was resolved. The audience of approximately 2,000 (including many dignitaries and government officials) was asked to leave the auditorium for what turned out to be a one-hour delay. The performance resumed more or less at the place where it was halted. No more technical problems were reported.

The opera, which began at 4:00 pm and was supposed to end at 9:05 pm, ended at 10:12 pm, delaying the gala opening party at the Neue Schloss, the palace on the Hofgarten park where one finds Wahnfried, the home and burial place of Wagner. The musical forces of this performance received warm ovations, especially the chorus, while its producer, Sebastian Baumgarten, was accorded thunderous boos.

The Bayreuth Festival continues through August 28 with performances of Der fliegende Holländer, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser and the four operas of the Ring Cycle.

Fred Plotkin’s next two articles will report on Bayreuth, Wagner and the Festival.

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Comments [17]

Alex Drago from Sarasota

Just to read what these people have to say only confirms to me that they fully deserve what they got.
Malfunctions happen,- as other things happen. Hey, you're there on holiday (I presume). Richard turned over at least three times and proclaimed :
" Ach, Du Lieber "
Why don't you just do the same and call it a day, err, night ?

Or, is it possible that in your life you never experienced a snafu and exclaimed : Verdammt!

Aug. 15 2014 05:34 PM
Dimitrios from Athens

So long as people are prepared to pay good money for this sort of disgrace, well we will continue being offered such productions. Only if the performance was presented before empty seats would the powers above condescend to produce an opera the way it should be,

Jul. 31 2014 12:29 PM
TWS from NWNJ

While I am a traditionalist I can and do appreciate new presentations of classic operas (and ballet and Shakespeare). I may not be thrilled with this particular setting but I appreciate the effort to keep the art kinetic.

Jul. 31 2014 09:40 AM
Barry Owen Furrer

. . . when Kramer hears about this, the S***'s gonna hit the fan!

Jul. 28 2014 08:17 PM
David from Flushing

I bet the powers that be at the Met are drooling over this production.

Jul. 28 2014 01:21 PM
Peter O'Malley from Oakland, New Jersey

So, will somebody please tell me where, in the libretto for "Tannhauser", there are any textual indications that would even thinly support the absurd and pretentious idea of "a setting transplanted from medieval Germany to a factory in which excrement and other refuse are converted into biogas"? How long will the European opera community put up with this nonsense? Wagner wrote specific stage directions for his works, as well as the music, and, whatever we may think of some of his ideas, to the extent they are coherent they arise out of the settings and plots that he devised. We don't need some ignorant and self-serving director's self-indulgent web-spinning that does nothing more than obfuscate while pretending to tell us what Wagner really meant to say.

Jul. 28 2014 09:36 AM
Richard Pairaudeau from Madrid

Thanks for the clarification of the production's history. It seems an odd choice with which to open a season, but there is a strand of thought in opera administration in which an angrily booing audience is represented as an intellectual success. Of course, this does not mean that we want a wholly conventional or anodyne approach to opera production, either, nor too many 'concert versions' - rehearsals in evening dress.

Jul. 28 2014 05:15 AM
Fred Plotkin from Munich

To James Jorden, This "Tannhäuser" is being seen again this year, but I gather that this is it and will not be brought back again. It is, how should I say it?---Unimprovable.

Jul. 27 2014 06:49 PM
Russ Stratton from USA

Ah, more Eurotrash! Now if only that red dress and big clock . . . C-L-O-C-K, please notice.

Jul. 27 2014 09:01 AM
Madison from Manhattan

Unbelievable! What wondrous creativity! I think,however, we would all understand even more what Wagner was getting at if it were set in Las Vegas. Pilgrims passing thru could be busloads of tourists from LA,the shrine to the virgin could be a statue of Dean Martin,the Wartburg could be the Sands Casino, in the Bacchanale, the dancers could be naked pole dancers and the Hall of Minstrels could be the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Go for it Mr. Gelb.

Jul. 27 2014 08:55 AM
Gev Sweeney from Ocean Grove, New Jersey

"The setting has been transplanted from medieval Germany to a factory in which excrement and other refuse are converted into biogas." Lovely. A production that fully illustrates the innermost complexities of the libretto.

Jul. 27 2014 07:00 AM
James Jorden from NYC

I missed this production last summer (by design) but the scuttlebutt around the Green Hill was that it was so unpopular it was going to be removed from the repertory a year early. (Productions in Bayreuth ordinarily run five consecutive summers.) The Bayreuth practice is to restudy and fine-tune each production every year of its run, and many productions that were booed heavily their first year have gone on to become classics, e.g., the Neuenfels "Lohengrin," which in the theater is really a miracle of beauty. The Baumgartner "Tannhauser" seems not to be growing on the Bayreuth audience.

Jul. 27 2014 01:22 AM
Fred Plotkin from Bayreuth

To Mr. Pairaudeau in Madrid: This production of Tannhäuser was new in, I believe, 2011. It was notorious then and caused a lot of discussion and controversy at the time. One could say that it was a provocation to revive it, especially as the opening night opera of the 2014 season. Obviously (to answer the Marschallin and Paul Pelkonen) the excrement analogies proved irresistible to people here as well. I think the booing was for the production and not the individual malfunction, which was technical rather than a creative choice. I will write more about this in an upcoming article.

Jul. 26 2014 07:16 PM
Richard Pairaudeau from Madrid

Dear Mr Plotkin,

I'm wondering whether the booing was aimed at the staging/production concept per se, or whether it was occasioned by the untested/unoiled nature of the scenery. It would be interesting to hear how you rationalized or 'read' the production, as a member of its opening-night audience and therefore lacking access to a wider range of audience and critical responses.

Jul. 26 2014 05:05 PM
The Marschallin from New York, NY

To follow-up on biogas factories and other "modernizations" of opera, why do we put up with this shit (literally here)?

Jul. 26 2014 04:16 PM
The Marschallin from New York, NY

Funny! Did the biogas explode? Meanwhile, back at the ranch (the Met, NY) other things may explode!

Jul. 26 2014 03:41 PM
Paul Pelkonen from Brooklyn, NY

Apparently they couldn't hold their gas in any longer.

Jul. 26 2014 10:19 AM

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