Last night, Frank Castorf unveiled part four of his Ring des Nibelungen at the Bayreuther Festspiele. If the early reviews are any indication, this may be the most hated Ring in the history of the festival. “Boos, Boos and More Boos Greet Director of Bayreuth ‘Ring,'” screams the headline of Catherine Hickley’s review in Bloomberg Businessweek, while Clive Paget of Limelight titles his notice, “Blowjobs Rock Bayreuth”. Mike Roddy on Classicalite is perhaps the most direct with “Frank Castorf’s ‘Götterdämmerung’ booed out of Bayreuth.”
After failing to appear at the curtain calls for the three previous Ring opera, Castorf finally took a bow last night during a 10-minute-long boo fest. There is little to no indication that there were ANY members of the Bayreuth audience who defiantly applauded. Castorf reportedly made gestures that either seemed to encourage the audience’s response or suggested that he enjoyed having their venom directed towards himself and exaggeratedly consulted his watch, as if to show that he had all the time in the world to be jeered at.
Apparently the audience had gearing up to sink their claws into Castorf. Die Welt reported “rabid booing” that greeted the final notes of Siegfried, which included “blowjobs, crocodiles and a communist Mount Rushmore. ” “This Ring of the Nibelung is not to be taken seriously…Wotan has spaghetti hanging out of his mouth like Don Camillo. Then he forces the goddess of wisdom, Erda, to her knees. But just as it is about to come to oral sex, the waiter appears and forces Wotan to pay the bill for the spaghetti and the red wine.”
Classicalite, who reported that several audience members walked out noisily in protest, was equally damning. “It was bound to happen in a staging of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle someday, but few would have expected that in Wagner’s own opera house, in his bicentenary year, his hero Siegfried would kill the fierce dragon Fafner with a machine gun instead of a magic sword.” In reviewing Götterdämmerung, they reported: “The gods did not go up in flames, but the audience erupted in a fury of booing…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 Götterdämmerung.”
A common refrain among the critics has been that Castorf’s Ring is simply out-of-synch with the music and lacks any sort of cogent interpretive backbone. “It was not very convincing,” Eddie Vetter, critic for the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, said. “It’s a very fragmentary production and the direction of the individuals was very poor. 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.”
Bloomberg’s two-star review mentioned that most of Castorf’s good ideas were used up in Rheingold. The whole 16-hour-cycle came to an incoherent end with Brünnhilde “dousing the ground around the New York Stock Exchange with petroleum and then inexplicably not set it alight, so the final conflagration of the last act of the opera never occurs. The ring is briefly dunked in a small fire before being carried off by the Rhine maidens. Brunnhilde, like the NYSE, survives.” In conclusion, they wrote, “This is a disjointed, fragmented “Ring,” full of half-ideas and half-thoughts, none of them sustained.”
When maestro Kirill Petrenko and the Bayreuther Festival Orchester appeared on stage, the audience abruptly changed its tune and greeted the musicians with the sort of thunderous applause that Castorf had been denied. This Ring has another three full cycles to go (oy vey!), and it seems rather unlikely to be staged again in the coming summers, although perhaps Castorf will import it to Berlin Volksbühne, the theater that he leads in the former east, where in all likelihood, it would be received enthusiastically.