MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Bayreuth’s Free-Willing Tannhäuser

Here are the most perceptive reviews I’ve encountered so far of the controversial new Bayreuth “Venus-goes-to-Burger-King” Tannhäuser that recently opened the 2019 season.

In [Tobias] Kratzer’s rollicking production — intelligent and surprisingly wrenching, though not quite fully formed — the Venusberg is not the libretto’s mythical pleasure realm so much as a lifestyle of young, brash artistry.

Some confusion aside, Mr. Kratzer’s reading of the opera is both novel and clever. … The idea is that our interpretations of Wagner are ever-evolving; that’s why directors are hired for several years, to tweak their productions with each revival.

Joshua Barone in The New York Times

Kratzer and his team simply refused to let themselves by intimidated by tradition, by the overwhelming aura of this historic theater, and by the ever-virulent orthodoxy of the Wagner cult. They instead choose to tell the narrative-romantic saga of the inner human conflict between love and lust, between conformity and rebellion, using sassy, fresh images. And for all their irony, they avoid the trap of playing with it in a way that degrades the work. The opera’s lofty pathos has always provoked parody, but Kratzer does it better: he does it brilliantly.

Christian Wildhagen in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German)

The real trick [of Kratzer’s staging] is that the jokes are not all at the expense of the work. Kratzer doesn’t aim to mock Wagner but to humanize his mythically enraptured figures … Most of all, he shows two forms of art clashing with each other. On the one hand, the world of canonical masterpieces … on the other, the sensual, spontaneous world of performance and counterculture. Wagner himself contained both: the anarchic revolutionary who became a classic during his life. Kratzer doesn’t glorify either side in the process. Venus’s subversive gang is shown to be not only violent but also venal and selfish.

Bernhard Neuhoff for BR-Klassik (in German)

A shared observation: despite the excellent cast and stimulating (while problematic) staging (especially in the third act), Valery Gergiev was less than satisfactory in the pit.

And here’s an interview with director Tobias Kratzer from Deutsche Welle:

DW: How do you tell the story of Tannhäuser in 2019?

Tobias Kratzer: For me, the biographical context behind the creation of Wagner’s Tannhäuser is important. If you take that into account, the opera appears more up-to-date and contemporary. Wagner developed his play during a phase in which he didn’t really know where his life was going; whether he’d go down in history as a revolutionary and anarchist, or as a composer. That was a really interesting insight for me.

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Filed under: Bayreuth Festival, music news, Wagner

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