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Fidelio at Bayerische Staatsoper

Fidelio* Notes *
Peter Mussbach's production of Fidelio, which premiered at Bayerische Staatsoper in 1999, is infuriating and yet strangely dull. The set is boring, despite the many scene changes. It was also rather loud, the scrims made all sorts of sounds as they banged against the stage and a certain metal door squealed when opened or closed. There were bizarre choices of when have the curtain down, as in the middle "O welche Lust" and during the Overture to Leonore No. 3, which was placed, as it sometimes is, between Florestan and Leonore's duet and "Heil sei dem Tag!" The choreography was simply stupid, why have Marzelline spin around in joy and then grab the wall or have everyone space themselves neatly like sculptures on a staircase?

The costumes, by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer, are likewise unexciting, lots of white and grey, though at some point Jaquino wore a skirt for just one scene. Certainly the most annoying part of the production is Konrad Lindenberg's lighting, or rather, lack thereof. The faces of the singers were perpetually in shadow, which dampened their dramatic force. Ridiculously, the rest of the stage was lit well, so one could see a staircase, or a heater, or a pile of dirt perfectly clearly.

Christof Prick's conducting was not inspired, the horns sounded off in the overture of Act I, and generally it seemed somewhat slow. The chorus sounded rather strange in the last scene, for they were placed in rows beneath the principal singers. Waltraud Meier was at least reasonable visually in the title role, but vocally she was brittle and out of tune. Robert Dean Smith was somewhat reedy as Florestan. The rest of the cast was fine, certainly best was René Pape's Rocco. His voice has good volume but is also nuanced. Martin Gantner sang the small role of Don Fernando, and as usual was not unpleasant.

* Tattling *
The audience distinctly less well-behaved than at Parsifal, though, at least, there was no late seating. There was whispering throughout, a chief offender on the orchestra level was in Row 17 Seat 696. This white-haired fellow also turned some sort of device on during the overture, for his face was bathed in a blue light for a few seconds. A person to his left peered over at him, confused by the visual disturbance. There were also two beeps during Act I, at least one was during an interlude in which Florestan and Leonore's voices are heard, but there is no music.

Parsifal at Bayerische Staatsoper

Parsifal* Notes *
Paper was the main motif in Peter Konwitschny's production of Parsifal currently at Bayerische Staatsoper. The set was first hidden by a scrim covered with pieces of paper reading, in various languages, "Erlösung dem Erlöser," the last line of the opera. Act I featured a stage littered with white sheets of paper, a papier-mâché ramp with branches, and a red piece of paper hanging from the ceiling. Act II had many saffron colored pieces of paper hanging from the ceiling, along with the same white sheets still strewn across the floor. Act III had an enormous black sheet hanging at center stage, in addition to black sheets scattered around, and a medium-sized sheet covering the corpse of Titurel. Even the prompt box was covered with paper, at first matching the scrim and at the end black.

The set and costumes, both by Johannes Leiacker, seemed somewhat incongruous. The knights wore long grey coats, Parsifal fleecy lederhosen without a shirt, and both Klingsor and Amfortas wore black robes over their bloody loincloths. At first Kundry had on inexplicable flowered pants, a short wrap dress, and a black blazer with one patched elbow, but changed into a black and red evening gown in her siren guise. The set moved in a clever manner so that changes of scene were unproblematic. The ramp that Kundry rode her toy wood horse down for her entrance lifted up to become a tree that holds the grail. Parts of the stage could be raised and lowered, quite handy for bringing in the choruses of knights or flower maidens.

The production did make me laugh, especially when Parsifal made his entrance by attacking the red sheet of paper as he swung from a rope. Naturally he wore an Indian head dress and carried a stick bow. Another choice part was when Parsifal threw a tantrum at the end of Act II, breaking a plastic statue of the Virgin Mary so that her head fell off. When Kundry started menacing poor Parsifal with the Mary head, I thought I would lose my composure completely.

Perhaps Kent Nagano is still easing in to his position as the Generalmusikdirector, as his tenure began last September. There were moments when the orchestra was not together. The chorus also had a few problems of this sort, especially at the end of Act I.

As Amfortas, Martin Gantner found a certain balance that the others lacked. The baritone acted well and had good volume and control, and his only weakness was a brightness that is not best suited for someone long-suffering. It was rather shocking to see Gantner in little more than diapers, his legs are very skinny. Bass John Tomlinson looked like a proper Gurnemanz, his voice was shaky and gravelly, which is fairly apropos. Luana DeVol was piercing as Kundry, she had a frightening amount of vibrato, especially when she sang "Parsifal! Bleibe!" in Act II. Nikolai Schukoff was a convincing youthful Parsifal, his voice is also rather bright and young, without much heft. He did strain somewhat, and gasped here and there. He saved himself for the last act, his last notes in the opera were beautiful.

* Tattling *
The audience was well-behaved, as it is only a certain type that will go hear Wagner in Germany. There was no late seating, no ringing of mobile phones, no watch beeping, and no speaking aloud. Thankfully for you, gentle reader, there were certainly transgressions nonetheless. Some young men in the standing area of the Second Tier Left Row 1, Places 1 and 3 waited for the very last moment go to their spots. This was in hopes of nabbing some seats, but there were very few left, and none together. They pushed their way behind the three others in this standing section and then one sat up on one of the barrier walls (his head practically touched the ceiling) and the other had himself perched on the railing. The seats in the Nationaltheater are small and creak a great deal, plus the shape of the theater is such that it is difficult to see all of the stage from the sides. Audience members on the sides would sometimes just stand up so that they could see what was happening. There were isolated cases of whispering, mostly in the first act. A woman in Row 1 Seat 17 unwrapped a candy.

The Münchner have a peculiar habit of trying to find the best possible place in spite of whatever ticket they may hold. The person next to me in Place 15 found a seat in Row 3, and no one was on either side of me for the first act. In Act II, the woman who had Place 17 on the other side of the aisle decided that 15 was better, and stood next to me. She took off her shoes and kept ducking so that she could see the supertitles, then she finally sat in the aisle. During Act III two other women surrounded me, for I moved to Place 11 to get away from the aisle woman. I noticed that the latter fell asleep at one point, as she rested her head on the railing.