Director Chosen For The Bayreuth Bicentennial _Ring_

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Re: Director Chosen For The Bayreuth Bicentennial _Ring_

Postby alberich00 » Tue Sep 06, 2011 4:22 pm

Dear Feuerzauber, fellow Bayreuth Initiates, and prospective Bayreuth initiates:

I thought I'd add my two cents to Feuerzauber's vivid account of Bayreuth. I've actually visited that charming Bavarian hamlet twice, once just to look over the town (September, just after the festival, of 1981), and once to attend (8/01). I saw "Lohengrin," "Mastersingers," and "Parsifal," three of Wagner's works in which the chorus (and what a chorus at Bayreuth!!!) comes to the fore. I won't go into details about the performances, each of which had, for me, a mixed review. I was simply so spellbound by the ambiance that the entire experience was an aesthetic treasure.

A friend arranged for me to stay at the Goldener Anker, which was priceless. I was awestruck at the list of guests who had stayed there since the early days. One day I walked the half-block down to the Baroque opera-house, and had the great good fortune to have it all to myself for about an hour. I spent a considerable amount of time when not attending performances, simply wandering around the environs of the Festspielhaus and absorbing the atmosphere. I tried to imagine Wagner's presence there, what it must have been like to witness him in action during rehearsals. I saw Wolfgang Wagner making the rounds outside the Festpielhaus, and his astonishing resemblance in old age to his grandfather gave me the shivers.

"Parsifal" at the Festspielhaus was particularly striking. I recall a terrifically effective transition scene in the first act. Another transition of astounding power was the contrast between Hans Sachs's small white cobbling shop and the meadow with the battlements of the town in the background. Strangely, I remember the choruses in all three works more than specific performances by the singer-actors. I believe I was too swept up by the awe of simply being there to recall details. One detail I do, however, recall, was that I actually heard someone in the row before me engaging in occasional conversation during one of the performances, which I had considered to be metaphysically impossible until I learned that there is a tendency nowadays for folks on general-purpose tours of Europe to include a bargain visit to the Bayreuth Festival. This is not to say that such tourists are apriori likely to disrupt the proceedings, but simply that not everyone present is present for the same reasons, and not all come with the same convictions. Too bad!

I was surprised at how little discomfort I felt in the seats: my primary concern was fear that I might require a bathroom visit, so, in order to avoid that terrible prospect, I avoided eating anything after breakfast, and drank as little as possible (and only water) prior to each act. I was also suffering from a bizarre condition, nerve damage from an old virus contracted in 1987, called "Atypical Post-Herpetic Trigeminal Neuralgia," which made my forehead and the bones around my eyes feel like someone was blowing up a balloon inside. Nonetheless, I was walking on air throughout my week-long visit, and the Nurembergers' chorus of welcome to Sachs in Act III has left me trembling ever since.

There's infinitely more to say, but these things came to mind as I read Feuerzauber's account. Oh, and let me add that the train ride from Frankfurt to Nuremberg and on to Bayreuth (which, as I recall, takes one through some primal mountain scenes with mountain cascades tumbling down) put a spell on me before I'd even arrived and saw the Festpielhaus on the hill.

But most of all, I thought a great, great deal about RW's time in Bayreuth, and thought, over and over again, how strange and miraculous it is that this gentleman actually lived and breathed in this world. This just proves that anything is possible.

Your enchanted friend from Wagnerheim,

Paul
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Re: Director Chosen For The Bayreuth Bicentennial _Ring_

Postby A.C. Douglas » Tue Sep 06, 2011 6:00 pm

feuerzauber wrote:
And the clarity of the singing, even enhanced when the singers occupy the dramatic front third of the extra-deep Bayreuth stage, where the acoustics (I can't fathom how this happens) seem to channel their voices with natural amplification way out into the audience.

I imagine what's going in is that the sound radiated from the sounding-board stage is acoustically decoupled from the singing that takes place above it on the stage. The singers occupy positions close to the focus of the raked amphitheater, and so their voices radiate directly to the audience, while the sounding-board orchestra radiates more uniformly to the open theatre. Whatever the explanation, the effect is incomparable.

Read your entire vivid account with interest.

Re, the acoustic matter above: As intuitively sound (N.P.I.) an idea as it appears to be, the floor of the Festspielhaus stage does NOT act as a "sounding board" for the recessed orchestra. All the blended sound from the pit escapes into the auditorium through what is effectively a curved lengthwise "slot" formed by the edge of the stage apron and the backward-curved "hood" or "cowl" which hides the pit from view from any location in the auditorium. As to the projection of the voices into the auditorium, the front part of the stage acts as an effective reflector of the singers's voices (as do the sets when properly designed) and the reflective and diffusion properties of the auditorium enclosure itself (i.e., walls, floor, ceiling, piers, materials, etc.) complete the effect.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Festspielhaus's astonishing acoustic is that it's largely a happy accident. The design of the Festspielhaus was governed mostly by Wagner's insistence that everything in the theater's design should act to focus the audience's attention on the action taking place on the stage itself, which is to say, his foremost concern was with the visual, not the acoustical.

Go figure.

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