Review: My August 2019 trip

Salzburg Festval

By John Banner

Just back from my August trip where I attended the Munich and Salzburg festivals. Here are some of the points of interest.

Before Munich I travelled to Wurzburg where they were doing Götterdämmerung at the Mainfrankentheater. As a smaller company they don’t do the Ring but just the operas individually. Next year they are doing Rheingold.

It was an interesting production with some ideas I liked and one that I hated. It was set in a museum where the exhibits were the main characters who come out of their glass cases when required. They were all in traditional armour costumes. The Gibich were not in the museum and were in modern dress so Siegfried and Brunhilde stood out when they arrived though Siegfried changed into modern dress and got a haircut before fetching Brunnhilde.

In the Norns scene, there was a young boy listening to them who turned out to be Hagen because Alberich also turned up. Later when Siegfried was telling of his time with Mime another young boy who was Siegfried came on stage with Mime. At the end after everything was destroyed young Siegfried and Hagen came out happily playing seemingly having inherited the new world together. Not my idea of an appropriate ending.

I also saw their production of the Waits/Burroughs The Black Rider which I thought was better than the Malthouse version.

The other Wagner opera I saw was The Mastersingers at Munich. While the cast and particularly the orchestra were fantastic I didn’t like the production much. Perhaps having seen the Kosky and Holten productions recently, which were both excellent, it was hard to compete but David Bösch the director seems to like the grungy side of life. It was set in a sort of East German style concrete apartment slum. Han’s shoe shop was an old van and the contest took place in a boxing ring. Bosch also did a grungy production of The Bartered Bride which featured a live pig, a tractor and the poor soprano having to wear the least flattering dress I have seen in recent times. The Mastersingers will be repeated in their festival next year this time featuring Jonas Kaufman. Other operas at Munich I saw were an excellent production of Andrea Chenier and the mandatory Kosky production which was Agrippina very well done.

I then went to the Venice biennale which this year I thought was very good. For opera people who are going to go (it’s on till October), look for the Lithuanian pavilion where they perform a continuous opera in English about the beach. You look down on the cast below who are in bathing costumes on a sandy beach. The opera is in English and the Barrier reef and the Gold coast get a mention.

Finally Salzburg, which in the year before its 100th anniversary, had what the New York Times critic described as “Six excellent new opera productions this year”. I was only able to see five as I couldn’t get a ticket to the Peter Sellers production of Idomeneo. The vague theme was Greek mythology and my standout production was Australian director Simon Stone’s production of Cherubini’s Medée. I was curious to see how he would do opera as when he does theatre he completely rewrites the play. While the libretto was unchanged as the opera had been updated seamlessly to the present day he replaced the spoken exposition with his own voicemails from Medee left on Jason’s phone.

(Simon Stone’s production of Die Tote Stadt which was at Salzburg last year will be at Munich next year featuring Jonas Kaufman).

The mandatory Kosky was Offenbach’s Orphée aux Enfers, which was very funny. It will be on at the Komische in Berlin next year. One clever feature was how he handled the spoken dialogue given a cast from 8 countries including the USA and Russia. The German actor playing Jack Styx did all the dialogue in appropriate accents also with sound effects. Achim Freyer’s staging of Enescu’s Oedipe was something else again. In the Rock Riding School with its vast stage he conjured up a Freudian nightmare. The other operas I saw were Alcina with Cecilia Bartoli and Simon Boccanegra which were also very good.