Back from Bayreuth, the Wagner temple, where worshippers of Wagner flock for their annual ritual. The quality of the opera productions in Bayreuth has been deteriorating for years – a not untypical outcome of a family run business, in which the main criterion for leadership is being a descendant of the founder, in this case of Richard Wagner.
There was special anticipation this year, for the opening night was a new production of Tristan und Isolde, directed by the now sole director of the Wagner Festival, great granddaughter of Richard W, Katharina Wagner. In true Nibelungen style, Katharina got rid of her co-director and half-sister Eva. Eva has not been killed but rumour has it that she is not permitted to tread the “Green Hill”, i.e., the temple grounds.
The production had some quirky und unnecessary ideas. Unfortunately, most of the time, the stage was under lit, and it was hard to impossible to distinguish facial expressions and mimicry. This would point to Katharina’s lack of professionalism. But, all-in-all, it was fairly safe, which should ensure Katharina’s acceptance by the Wagnerians.
The evening’s real disappointment – to my mind - was the great Wagner and Strauss specialist, conductor Christian Thielemann. In interviews he explained how the music had drug-like impact on the senses, that it could in fact be life threatening. It didn’t. The second and third acts of Tristan und Isolde, in which one normally gets goose bumps, left my skin in peace. But, Wagnerians love their Thilemann, who has so clearly tied his flag to the Bayreuth (“a house to which my heart is bound”). He is indeed a very gifted conductor, whatever his other failings may be and the singing (except perhaps that of last minute cast change Isolde) was very good.
Thus, the druids of the Wagner Temple, had a good opening shot for this year’s events.