Kirchner's Götterdämmerung Redux
Mostly Opera, a blog that has all the news you can use, especially when some of us are off on our tangents, reviews Alfred Kirchner's Götterdämmerung, out on DVD. I trod the same soil a while back. Here are my comments.
Our correspondent from Copenhagen, however, hits the nail on the head when she notes,
The major point being, however, that Kirchner does not really seem to have a sense of direction of the work. In that respect, it distinctly reminds of the current Bayreuth Ring production by Tankred Dorst, in which the characters also wear odd semi-Japanese Star Wars clothing, as well as being placed in a production with no intrinsic drama. Wagner can be about many things. But in this production, nothing seems to happen underneath the surface.She is, of course, right.
My comment would be: Look at the epithet applied to the Kirchner Ring. It's not called the "designer Ring" because it is a sensible, intelligent, and sensitive approach to a cycle of music-dramas that demands nothing less. I am sorry, but most avant-garde fashion is the triumph of form over utility or substance.
On later viewing, I was reminded of nothing more than, say, P. T. Anderson's Magnolia. Kirchner's Ring is a very slick, very stylish, and very smart production that doesn't say a whole lot on its own power. It has a good cast, a good conductor, and an audience that likes it some Wagner. Nevertheless, it skates on the surface of the Ring.
This goes back, in my mind, beyond Chéreau and Kupfer, back to Wieland Wagner's stagings.
A.C. Douglas has a view of Wagner's designs that places them at the root of the Welt-Asch of Regietheater (Eurotrash) interpretations of Richard Wagner's music-dramas. The intent, [as Mr. Douglas points out - see below], behind Wieland's designs was - in my view - to strip away eighty or so years of baggage and superfluities and arrive at a staging that allowed the fundamental drama and music to make their points. Regietheater, by its very name, makes it pretty clear that the "fundamental drama" is the last thing on the book for these productions.
The problem is one of a tipping point. If you carry this minimalism and text/music-focus too far, you arrive at a place where the reduced and decentralized surface becomes the focus. In other words, you're too busy looking at Brünnhilde's fabulous bloomers to worry much with Wotan's Farewell or the prelude duet from Götterdämmerung. To put it still another way, you arrive at a situation where the surface becomes an end in itself.
The music and drama are left in the dust, and the artistry of the Konzept becomes the primary concern. Just like haute couture.
Not an outcome devoutly to be desired, to put it mildly.
Revision: 20 March 2008
A.C. Douglas, in the comments section to this post, notes, "You've given the impression here that I've said otherwise, and took a negative view of Wieland's original stagings of the Ring. I did no such thing."
For context, and since the link is what Mr. Douglas left us with, here is the relevant passage from his post, "Elegy,"
And who was the very first there to break totally with Bayreuth tradition and Wagner's original stagings of his works, and replace them entirely with his own? None other than Wagner's grandson, the hugely gifted producer, stage designer, and director, Wieland Wagner. His so-called New Bayreuth production of the Ring — first presented in 1951, and subsequently each succeeding year thereafter through 1958 (and about which I here write as firsthand witness) — set a new standard for Wagner productions worldwide, and showed what could be done by the use of inspired modern stagecraft in the service of Wagner's own idealized dramatic vision, that last being the key to this production's great artistic success.
With the production's almost total absence of stage furniture, and its use of non-period-or-place-committal costumes, and the creative use of lighting to model and shape space and the characters who inhabit it, Wieland — taking his grandfather at his word when in 1853 he declared that the yet unwritten music of the Ring "will be such that people shall hear what they cannot see" — created, so to speak, a neutral "frame" for the tetralogy that permitted the music itself, working in tandem with the audience's own imagination, to fill in all the missing stage detail as if it all were right in front of their eyes. It was a brilliant stroke, a stroke of genius even, as it made manifest to the audience in the most intimate way imaginable Richard Wagner's deepest interior vision of the Ring, while rendering Wieland's all but invisible.
Unhappily, this wasn't to last. Along with Wagner's physiognomy, Wieland inherited as well Wagner's monstrous ego, and it wasn't long before he began not only to replace Wagner's original stagings with his own, but Wagner's original idealized vision as well, and thus did Regietheater first ensconce itself within the Bayreuther Festspiele where it still reigns supreme to this very day, influencing Wagner productions everywhere.
On a less-contentious issue, has Mr. Douglas ever addressed his own 1958(?) visit to Bayreuth at length? I can't recall, and - since, with the release of the Keilberth set and the Knappertsbusch set from 1956 having made the rounds for a while now, interest in the Golden Age seems high - it would interest me, and likely others.