Twilight of Wagner, as ‘Ring’ cycle ends in boos

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Twilight of Wagner, as ‘Ring’ cycle ends in boos

BAYREUTH, Germany - The gods did not go up in flames but the audience erupted in a fury of booing on Wednesday night as an unorthodox new staging of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle for his 200th birthday at his opera house in Bayreuth came to a near-riotous conclusion.

Radical Berlin theater director Frank Castorf, who had teased, challenged, mocked and scandalized the audience over the four-opera cycle that featured slinky Rhine Maidens, simulated oral sex and gangster-style characters stood center stage acknowledging the audience’s displeasure for some 10 minutes at the end of “Gotterdammerung” (“The Twilight of the Gods”).

Castorf, who was born in 1951 in then-communist East Germany and had a reputation in the 1980s and 1990s as one of the bad boys of German theater, egged the audience on, gesturing to them to boo louder and even suggesting through hand motions that it was the audience, and not him, who were out of their minds.

The scene, which had the audience on its feet booing Castorf and his assembled team of stage and costume designers, was said by veteran operagoers to be unprecedented.

It came to an end when Russian conductor Kirill Petrenko, one of the audience’s favorites throughout the six days it has taken to present the four operas, assembled his orchestra behind the closed curtains. While Castorf stood on stage being booed, the curtains were opened to show the musicians, which prompted the audience to start applauding again.

Castorf’s set designer, Aleksandar Denic, told Reuters, “I like it if there is a response, that is the biggest compliment to me,” but perhaps he got more than he’d bargained for.

But Bayreuth has always courted controversy and some of its most famous productions have been ones which got the worst receptions at their premieres.

“A lot of booing, I think it’s good for the newspapers,” said Gerhard Reissbeck, 49, an artist.

What had been touted as an oil-themed production to update Wagner’s 150-year-old cycle originally about the pursuit of gold took the packed audience in the 1,925-seat Bayreuth opera house on a roller coaster ride across the planet, from a motel on Route 66 in Texas to Azerbaijan with a side trip to East Berlin and a conclusion in front of the New York Stock Exchange.

As he has throughout, Castorf used live video shot by cameramen on stage plus unconventional props and settings, including in “Gotterdammerung” a kebab shack behind a chemical factory and a three-wheeled German car from the 1950s, to pour Wagner’s old libretto and staging directions into a new mould.

Hagen, the leader of the underworld Gibichung clan that is at war with the gods and the Volsung race of heroes, was played by South Korean bass baritone Attila Jun sporting a Mohawk haircut as a nightclub-style bouncer who stopped in periodically at a voodoo shrine behind a metal gate to spit on images of his enemies.

A gold-lame-attired Brunnhilde, sung vividly by English soprano Catherine Foster, pretty much stole the show in the second act, vowing revenge as the woman scorned.

“It’s a very fragmentary production and the direction of the individuals was very poor,” Eddie Vetter, critic for the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, told Reuters at the conclusion. “There were a lot of very clumsy transitions and I don’t like this kind of dialectic approach.

“Also he has no feeling for the music. It goes against the flow.”

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