|Bregenze Festspiele - Summer 2009|
A rippling paddling pool at a corner of Austria slipped between Germany and Switzerland on the east end of the Bodensee Bregenze keeps its elbows out with an extraordinarily fine music festival each summer. Mostly opera but sprinkled with excellent concerts in between opera performances. The citizens and their kiddies and dogs splash around in the lake, sailing boats scud about, and wurst is grilled in the cafes on the waterfront. What could be better?
For starters on the first evening a performance of some of John Dowland¹s songs set by Harrison Birtwhistle for eight instruments and a singer, plus two dancers performed by the Semper Dolens Theatre of Melancholy. Oh yes, these songs are melancholy all right! With titles such as I Saw my Lady Weep,¹ Sorrow Stay,¹ In Darkness Let Me Dwell,¹ heart aching stuff and all beautifully sung by Mark Padmore. You could even hear the words! Not sure so many of these songs should be performed in one hit, or even performed in a theatre, better performed as more casual music such as after dinner in a great hall. But why the dancers? The songs tell all and the physical illustrations were both ugly gymnastics and confusing. Take them away and leave the beautiful music alone.
The second part of the evening was devoted to a Harrison Birtwhistle scene, THE CORRIDOR. Super idea, an hour of the last moments together of Eurydice and Orpheus. Again Mark Padmore with Elizabeth Atherton, both excellent. The piece is designed by Alison Chitty, very simple, actually just a red line along the backdrop, and directed by Peter Gill. The problem with this work is that it is a howl from beginning to end. The Birtwhistle score is excellent but because of the shouting any glimmer of tenderness is lost and the agony of the final parting just isn¹t there. An hour is too long to hold such heavy emotion; the audience needs a breather in order to truly suffer the agony. But such a good piece, and an evening of two fine contrasting performances.
Two vast cranes hang over the set, ones big enough to build skyscrapers with. These wondrous machines move stuff around. The priestess, here dressed as an abbess, appears over our heads a hundred feet up singing her heart out. How they got a soprano to do that! Guess she was chained on to her platform and had no choice. At the end when Aida and Radames are in a little boat rather than being walled up, the little vessel is lifted up and slowly swung round high above our heads and swirled out into the darkness of the lake. And everyone is singing the entire time.
The production is a triumph of technology; the orchestra is in quite another theatre and of course the singers are all miked But it all works. There are three separate casts for the main parts; nobody could sing this every night. Graham Vick directed, bit of a different scale from his usual Glyndebourne work, not easy to get this cast of hundreds organized. Dan Brown designed the set, two vast feet on top of a pyramid of steps and bits of a broken Statue of Liberty here and there. Not sure what it meant, was it all supposed to be post 9i//1? Carlo Rizzi conducted, and well. So vast is the whole production that I saw his car scooting out over a pier to get him back stage in time to come and take his bow.
But for me the heroes of it all were the technicians, balancing the singing and orchestra, working the lights, manoeuvering the cranes, getting the water out of the divers and so on. These productions on the Seebuhne take two years to mount. I am not surprised. It is a breath taking achievement. But am not convince it is exactly opera. Although the sound is good it is all tinned and in the long thoughtful arias of intimacy one is just too far away and much is lost. In fact Aida has to wear a bright pink dress in order you can always pick her out on stage. A magnificent evening, but go for the fun not the music.
All the singers
were magnificent, too many to name all. Only four
I could go on for hours about all these productions. Bregenze is quite a big miracle in the musical calendar. You readers will never realise quite what you have missed during these chill and rainy days in the middle of holiday Europe. Sign up now for 2010