Tonight is the opening of the Bayreuther Festspiele, arguably the most prestigious event of the German cultural year. Angela Merkel and Joachim Gauk (the German president) are scheduled to attend. These two “Ossies” should be feel at home in Bayreuth this year, which will speak with a Berliner accent, thanks to Frank Castorf, a fellow Ossie who runs the former East German Volksbühne (People’s Theater), as well as the Ring conductor Kirill Petrenko, a prodigiously talent young Russian maestro who spent five years in Berlin leading the Komische Oper, the former East Berlin house founded by Walter Felsenstein after the war and known for its envelope-pushing productions. Petrenko has a high tolerance for bizarre productions. He was, in fact, at the pulpit for the premiere of Calixto Bieito’s now-infamous Entführung aus dem Serail in 2004.
Before tonight’s performance of Die Fliegende Holländer in Jan-Philipp Gloger’s acclaimed production set partially in a factory / warehouse (Thielemann conducts a promising cast that includes Samuel Youn, Ricarda Merbeth and Benjamin Bruns) is the official press conference. We’ll keep you updated in case Castorf says anything else truly revealing or incendiary.
In yesterday’s interview with DW, Castorf, never one for diplomacy, said that working at Bayreuth reminded him of life in the GDR: “Here, I’m sometimes reminded of former East Germany. It’s almost like a state-run company where you get the feeling that anyone you work with is a potential enemy. They view you with a certain, necessary skepticism at first.” I’m curious to see how Katherina and Eva appear on the stand alongside their director.
Castorf’s Ring, which will be unveiled to the world tomorrow evening with the first performance of Das Rheingold, seems perfectly calibrated to incite a scandal. But before everyone starts shouting fire, here are a few helpful guidelines to Castorf’s artistic and theatrical approach that I’ve plucked out of the DW interview. It may be helpful to bear these in mind while watching (or at least reading about) the new Bayreuth Ring.
Up until now, Castorf has turned down most requests to do opera because “I don’t have the freedom to move a storyline through time and space the way I want. That’s how I decide whether to do something or not. Otherwise, I could just as well work for the railway system and make sure the trains run on time. I’m more interested in the detours. ”
Castorf thinks it’s possible to present a work as “more complex, yet maybe even more accurately, without damaging the original.”
The director says that he’s Interested in translating Wagner’s universe of symbols into recognizable contemporary equivalents. A guiding question for him is: “What images fit in a day and age when our images are primarily determined by the media?”
It’s OK for the audience to be frustrated, confused or befuddled by what you see: “I’d say that you discover something new through paradoxes, disjunctions and through things that are less than absolutely clear.”