First-night review: Bayreuth becomes Gayreuth

First-night review: Bayreuth becomes Gayreuth


norman lebrecht

July 26, 2019

Hats off to this morning’s Neue Presse of Hannover, which nails the summer festival’s opening production of Tannhäuser with a headline that will resound long after the last kids’-company director has gone to his care home.

The headline reads: Bayreuth wird Gayreuth.

We’re happy to recruit the Neue Presse editor – whoever he or she may be – to the Slippedisc team.

Among other early-hours reviews, Deutsche Welle likes director Tobias Kratzer’s interspersing of film and live action and his Bayreuth/Wartburg cross-stitching. It reports loud cheers for soprano Lise Davidsen and tenor Stephen Gould, but ‘substantial booing’ for the conductor Valery Gergiev, whether for his Putin connections or his failure to adjust to the delicate Bayreuth acoustic. Read here.

BR-Klassik writes that Valery Gergiev was the only weak link in an otherwise innovative and well-sung production. Deutschlandfunk has further criticism of the conductor. Kurier also records anti-Gergiev responses. He’s not used to that.

More reviews to follow.


photos: Bayreuth Festival


  • Tamino says:

    Apparently some critics seem surprised about the booing for Gergiev, can’t see it being based on musical grounds. As anyone who wasn’t there himself (broadcast transmission doesn’t count, since it can alter the balance of the original acoustics.)
    I can’t comment.

    from the DW review:

    “Gergiev was the only protagonist to reap some substantial booing at the end. That can probably only be explained politically, by his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, as this reporter has never heard the overture to Tannhäuser rendered more beautifully or meaningfully, or all the musical resources better appointed throughout the four-hour marathon.”

  • Gustavo says:

    The booing was just as substantial for Kratzer and team – completely unjustifyed!

    Even Gateau au chocolat got booed. Why? For his views on Bojob and Trump?

    Singers were indeed superb, and no harm was done by Valery -really not fair to boo anyone stuck into that pit or continuing the performance in the heat of the interval.

    In the 3rd act, Venus was dressed up like Pussy Riot…
    Bayreuth has always been a little sadistic (Placido effect). German hospitality…letting Thielemann shine above all.

    • music says:

      what do you mean with ‘sadistic’ ? the audience there has highest expectations towards Wagner – Interpretations which is understandable. Placido wasn t really at his best, to say it friendly .. Even though the idea from Katharina was good .. but why people doesn t prepare better for this house which is so difficult (and has seen so many great conductors) .. same for Gergiev : without rehearsing you can t have any result. when people like this utterly trivial and iconoclastic staging then it only shows how low the intellectual level already is.

      • Gustavo says:

        So is it confirmed that Valery came too late to rehearsals and didn’t listen to what the Musikdirektor had to say about the special acoustics?

        They could simply open the pit to solve the problem.

        • Luca Postorino says:

          A few conductors have tried having the hood covering the orchestra removed. It doesn’t work since it destroys the balance between the pit and the singers.

        • Tamino says:

          Open the pit? Nonsense. The pit is essential for the Bayreuth sound.
          You just have to learn how to work with and in it, like in any particular acoustical environment.

          • Gustavo says:

            You also have to lower your expectations as a listener. I found Jimmy Levine’s Siegfried sounded like porridge. But he wasn’t booed at those days.

          • Gustavo says:

            That said, Jonas Kaufmann could easily adapt to the special Elbphilharmonie acoustics (instead of fussing around) – just a matter of attitude and rehearsal time. At any rate, booing doesn’t help.

          • Gustavo says:

            You probably mean the hood.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Orchestras have become quite suspicious about VG’s willingness to attend his own rehearsels, especially after a couple of times when he only appeared AFTER the performance.

          • Tamino says:

            Nonsense again. No singer can adapt to audience behind him.
            Maybe in the future genetic engineering creates singers with two mouths, also in the rear of the head…

          • Gustavo says:

            …but audiences can adapt to singers infront of them: simply continue booing Kaufmann if you happen to sit behind him.

          • Gustavo says:


  • Gustavo says:


  • Olassus says:

    Nah! Different vowel-sound.

    • Gustavo says:

      Whoops, I forgot about the Gesamtkunstwerk.
      In the meantime, there are rumors that Valery won’t be returning next year. Welcome to the club.

      • Tristan says:

        Let Domingo take over and Netrebko singing Venus – Bayreuth under Mrs Wagner wants a show – talent isn’t easily inherited – one can calmly stay away as most they do there is simply mediocre –

  • Not russophobe says:

    Norman, poor soul, what did Putin do to you that you are so traumatized about?
    You just won’t shut up about him! Not one week passes by without at least one article where you mention his name. May God help you….

  • Luca Postorino says:

    Having seen some pictures of the production I can only say that Gergiev should have had nothing to do with such tripe.

    • Ms.Melody says:

      Nor should have any self-respecting singer
      But, as long as there are patrons willing to pay top prices to see this drek, it will continue under the guise of “brave, fresh and relevant”.
      About time somebody yelled, that the king is indeed

    • Robert Groen says:

      CD then, not DVD?

  • Caravaggio says:

    Regie -garbage at its tasteless worst. It is one thing for children to create anew; quite another to abuse (for abuse’s sake).

    • Gustavo says:

      So do you feel abused by Le Gateau chocolat, by Valery, by Kratzer & team or by Kathie and Chrisi?

  • Pedro says:

    I was at a cinema for yesterday’s performance. The production started badly but improved as the evening went on. The orchestra sounded a little thin at the start but Gergiev masterly delivering of Wolfram’s aria and the orchestra postlude was second to none. The cast was excellent even if we could ask for a more wagnerian voice (Meier?) in Venus. But Zidkhova is a superb actress and a great singer. A very good evening overall.

    • Robert Groen says:

      Did you say something positive about Gergiev? Norman won’t like that. He’s not here for the music, you know. That’s why I do not expect this comment to reach you. Come on Herr Lebrecht, are you a music man or a paid stooge of politicians out for world domination?

  • John S Orel says:

    The gaslighting goes on

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    I watched the BR-Klassik live relay and thought it well worth the effort, and Tannhäuser is an effort within the canon, The production was innovative and the singing probably as good as any available in any other house. Based on the relay I didn’t find Gergiev any worse than many others who have ploughed their way through the work, in fact I thought it quite fleet footed and very much in tune with the production. On the whole this was much better than the post modern chic that is currently available in Munich, for which pretty, pretentious, obscure, and deathly dull would seem to be the prevailing dramaturgy. And BTW I just loved Le Gateau Chocolat and wonder what booing a performer doing what (s)he has been engaged to do does other than show those doing it as little more than small minded bigots.

  • John Borstlap says:

    “Four misfits — a clown, a vamp in a black sequined pants suit, a black drag queen and a Lilliputian — beg, borrow and steal their way through the countryside in an old truck. Discarding convention and law and order is fun until the vamp behind the wheel, Venus, fatally runs over a policeman. The clown, Tannhäuser, gets cold feet and wants to leave the mini commune.”

    We wait for the further rewriting of the work which will include the music.

  • urania says:

    Since Miss Wagner is in charge, she does show a deep dislike for the operas of Richard Wagner: Cynical stagings which belittle libretto and music. Her contract is not for life and there is no reason that the Bavarian State should reconsider to prolong her contract which does end next year. The dammage is more than enough. Not only for Bayreuth and Germany, no, the entire opera tradition is put into question. She should look for a playground somewhere else.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Yawn…. another Gergiev story….
    Let’s face it, folks: The Toothpick Conductor is an over-rated, overpaid poser.
    He’s hired over and over again only because his name unexplicably (to me) sells tickets.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    re: my previous post – “inexplicably” is a good word too, so how ’bout we just plug it in there instead of “unexplicably”.

  • Robert McCutcheon says:

    I’ve watched the opening performance (on youtube) and it’s a damn sight better than the previous Bayreuth Tannhauser !