From the Rome-based composer Rodrigo Ruiz:
I feel completely heartbroken, sad, angry, outraged, and abused. I’m in Bayreuth with Kerenza (Peacock), her dad and my family. We came here to experience one of Wagner’s most incredible achievements: The Ring Cycle. What we have gotten so far is a new surrealist, nonsense play by Frank Castorf with incidental music by Richard Wagner.
More than anyone else before him, and possibly also after him, Wagner wrote and lived by this philosophy: music and drama are both inseparable things. In fact, he coined the term Gesamtkunstwerk, meaning “complete work of art”, to describe the inseparable relation between all the different art forms that make opera what it is. In an opera, the plot, the text, and the music are all part of a single whole. Those are things that are set, and that can’t be changed. Period. There are plenty of things that can be interpreted within that frame to make extraordinary new, fresh and compelling productions. If pianists for the past 200 years have found enough freedom within the music notation in Beethoven’s piano sonatas to produce a myriad different original, fresh and exciting interpretations, how much more freedom could a director find when there are costumes, makeup, wigs, props, sets, lighting, psychology of the character, and much more to deal with? Maybe it’s just easier to come up with random nonsense, cash in on their check and go home than to spend the kind of time a musician spends honestly and humbly studying the masterworks with a sense of awe and gratitude to be able to interpret them. In the current state of things, it almost seems like the music establishment wants us to feel grateful they’ve left us the music.
I won’t go into detail about all the absurd things the director came up with; it would take several encyclopaedic volumes to do that, and we’ve all seen the worst of Regietheater in stages all over the world. Here we’ve had a master class on it. But, as if the desecration of the work wasn’t enough, I’ve been shocked by the things the artists, both men and women, have gone through. In this production we’ve seen them in barely-there underwear, inappropriately touched and kissed, beaten, tied to a rope by their neck, undressed, mimicking fellatio and sex, women dressed and treated as prostitutes, cameramen taking up-skirt shots of women artists shown live on an on-stage screen, and even two inflatable crocodiles having intercourse. Most artists I’ve spoken to are unsurprisingly not willing to do any of these things on stage, but since directors always find someone else that is willing to sell out, they end up running themselves out of a job. They are forced, then, to accept anything and everything just in order to get food on their table and pay the rent.
What can we do? Honestly, I don’t know. All I could think of was not clapping, making eye-mask wearing a new form of protest by the audience (which I will try out tomorrow in Götterdämmerung), and creating awareness through social media. I’m truly saddened by all of this, and I feel very powerless to do anything. If you have other ideas, I’d love to hear them.
Wagner’s reactions to some of the things happening to his operas on stage during his lifetime are better summed up in his own words: “Having created the invisible orchestra, I now feel like inventing the invisible theatre!” Today, I truly wished he had.
From Kerenza Peacock, British violinist:
It breaks my heart that I could not applaud the performers at the end of tonight’s opera. I have come on a once-in-a-lifetime expensive trip to Bayreuth to watch Wagner’s Ring Cycle. For over a century, music lovers have come here as a pilgrimage. What made it even more special was that I was able to bring my Dad, and it truly was a pilgrimage for us. He doesn’t like flying so we travelled by train for 11 hours from England. The music is divine. The production is anything but. I am truly open to innovation in production and set design; fresh ideas, minimalism, embracing new technology. But what we have been faced with has disturbed me.
I have never complained publicly about any performance, and I never thought I would be writing a “Disgusted from Ipswich” type message, but I actually feel the need to speak out. I used to say I didn’t like opera when I was younger. But I set out to actually study it in an effort to understand it, instead of just dismissing it. And I have come to a deep appreciation and love of Wagner. I believe he is giving important spiritual teachings within his operas, and layers and layers of meanings. Whoever made this production clearly has barely read the libretto, let alone contemplated its deeper meanings. I came here in search of beauty. What we were confronted with was ugly on every level, a cheap Motel scene, a stage crammed full of every possible device to distract from the beautiful music and libretto. Lust and greed displayed every second, distracting from the virtues being described in the music. Giant faces of Chairman Mao and Lenin (WHY?) and lewd sex acts. The character that represents the Divine Mother forced to strip and seduce. And all this ugly rubbish made the plot make NO SENSE. It ruined the story; vital props like the sword were not where they were supposed to be, characters were talking to someone who was off stage, extra characters or noisy props were on stage. There were endless distracting TV screens. I want to ask the producers, ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO THE MUSIC??? Why do you think anything needs to be added to Wagner’s tale of love and virtue? If I wanted to see all that I would have just watched a cheap soap opera. The beautiful duet at the end of the 3rd opera was ruined because the singers were surrounded by moving plastic inflatable crocodiles, that would have fitted in a pantomime in Milton Keynes circa 1972.
I covered my eyes with my hands and just listened. And why did I choose not to clap the singers? I have wrestled with this a lot, but have decided we have to speak up as artists. I have many times been asked to do or wear something inappropriate in a performance. We have to speak up against the system that is bullying us (especially female performers) into doing things we are uncomfortable with. The argument is that there are always performers willing to take your place. But when we have studied hard from a young age these master composers, why cheapen their (and our) efforts by our fear? By agreeing to take part, these performers are accomplices in this damaging production. A score of such incredible beauty demands our respect and our care. When a new baby is born, we acknowledge it is miraculous and we take care to surround it with love and light, softness and purity. We would never dream of exposing it to the ugliness I witnessed on stage tonight. Should we not nurture our precious and rare masterpieces the same way?