Thursday, September 19, 2013

Boycotting Castorf's Ring: The Follow-Up

Remember my 'Weird Wagnerian' who coughed up €25,000 not to go to see Frank Castorf's new Ring in Bayreuth this summer?

Or more accurately, a certain Erich Fischer who took out five adverts in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on August 10, 14, 15, 17 and 19 this year to proclaim to the world that "out of reverence and love for Richard Wagner, we will not be taking our seats in Ring II in Bayreuth"? 

You know, that droll little story that filled the Sommerloch for a while. (If your memory needs refreshing, you can read my original blog posting here. )

Well, just when I'd given up hearing from him, despite multiple enquiries, an e-mail plopped into my in-tray.
More than 5 weeks after I first contacted him. But hey, who's counting?

To be honest, even now he didn't respond to my questions personally and directly, but chose to answer them instead via a mock "self interview" that he'd similarly paid to have published in the FAZ on August 29.

In it, he claimed that while the media had initially "shown an interest, it led nowhere, for one reason or another."

(I'm sorry, Mr Fischer, but that's more than just a little disingenuous of you.
You had my contact details and I'd already pestered you several times. And your secretary promised me you'd contact me when you were ready.
So I can't help feeling you were avoiding a direct interview, either face to face or via telephone.)

Anyway, as I'd already surmised in my original article, it was indeed the very same Erich Fischer, a 75-year-old Munich-based former entrepreneur and founder of the philanthropic  Internationale Stiftung zur Förderung von Kultur und Zivilization.

According to a pamphlet downloadable from its website, the main achievements of this organisation is putting on afternoon concerts for senior citizens and financing music lessons for school children and prisoners in an attempt to re-socialise them. 
All laudable aims in themselves even if the organisation's name is rather pompous and self-aggrandising.

Fischer also confirmed that he'd spent €25,000 on his highly unusual advertising campaign, a sum most of us could put to infinitely better and more constructive use.

(Interestingly, he never reveals what he actually did with the tickets.)

Throughout the "interview", Fischer never broaches the crucial question as to how he hopes to judge a production that he has never actually seen. 
Nevertheless, his fear, he assures us, is that "Richard Wagner's oeuvre is in mortal danger, particularly in Bayreuth." 

What is more, he wants to save opera in Germany from the curse of Regietheater.
Now this is a hazily defined term, usually spat out venomously by the cultural Taliban of the opera world whose artistic notions are challenged and their hackles raised if the female leads don't wear a pretty frock and the male singers aren't hamming it up in tights and a ruff.
You know the ones: the self-appointed guardians of Wagner's Holy Grail who harp on endlessly about the composer's "true intentions" and insist that his stage directions be followed to the letter.
(They're usually the ones, too, who complain that 'modern' directors can't read music when I'd bet my bottom dollar that they can't either.)

Fischer is one such High Priest in this strange cult called Wagnerism.

"The issue is the authenticity of the work of art that is being reproduced," he tells us.

The directorial excesses of Regietheater "make a mockery of the artwork and the audience," Fischer complains. And they are almost only seen in Germany.
"If you go to the opera in France or Italy, you  can -- in contrast to here -- recognize which work is being performed."
He then goes on to say -- seemingly completely without irony -- that "even in the US, at the MET in New York, things are a lot more conventional."

And he confounds such hair-raising ignorance further by saying later: "Look at the Comédie Française in Paris or the Royal Shakespeare Company in London -- the stagings are antiquated there, too." 

This man has patently never been to any of these places and I'm not sure the theatres in Paris or London would take kindly to seeing their productions described as "museum-like" (or in his word museal).

Neither is the boycott of Castorf's Ring Fischer's first such campaign. He took out similar ads after seeing "with horror" Stefan Herheim's Parsifal in August 2008, which he said "adulterated and bastardized Wagner's Bühnenweihfestspiel beyond all recognition."

Fischer's biggest clou, however, comes in his proposed remedy to the plague of Regietheater productions in Bayreuth.

"Instead of surrendering Wagner's works, particularly in Bayreuth, to the mercy of ever new, ever more dubious 'interpretators'... the ideal solution" would be to re-stage Wieland Wagner's "timelessly relevant stagings from the 1950s and 1960s," Fischer says. 
"Their symbolism is completely coherent and even 'more correct' than what Richard Wagner did himself," Fischer says. 
In addition, it would save the festival many millions of euros each year, money that could be spent training new Wagner singers, he argues.

He makes no bones about it. Opera, for him, is clearly not a living, breathing art form, but a museum.
(And this man has set up a foundation the aim of which is to "promote culture and civilisation? The irony is clearly lost on him.)

To this end, Fischer is launching an initiative entitled "Save Richard Wagner's Bayreuth" and asks for the support of "everyone who has say in politics, in culture, in the media and in industry, as well as all Wagnerians." 

What Fischer fails to realise is that there is just such a festival already in existence, the Richard Wagner Festival in Wels, Austria.
And it nearly went bust this year due to lack of support.

Now I challenge anyone to say Wagnerians aren't a pretty mad bunch.

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