Production boos for Vienna Lohengrin

“Barrie Kosky’s Wagner is not Wagner’s Wagner. The audience at [a] new production of Lohengrin [at the Vienna State Opera] thought so too. At the end of a five-hour performance, there was prolonged applause and “bravas” for the soloists, choir, orchestra and conductor. But Kosky, the director, was roundly booed, along with stage and lighting designer Klaus Grünberg and Alfred Mayerhofer, responsible for costumes.

Most of their work was neither jarring nor controversial. It was worse — irrelevant, leaving the audience little choice but to concentrate on the mastery of the conductor Semyon Bychkov and the soloists Johan Botha, Soile Isokoski, Falk Struckmann, Janina Bächle, Kwangchul Youn and Adrian Eräd. They — and an alternately feisty, majestic or tremulous orchestra — wove a magical musical tapestry.

Of course, a lot of liberties have been taken with Wagner operas since. But those that don’t work because they are deemed out of sync with what Wagner might have done today are booed by audiences familiar with the German master, like [the audience] in Vienna. Worst was the second act, putting the scheming Ortrud and her weak-willed husband Friedrich von Telramund in a child’s playground, complete with Day-Glo toy house and plastic animals, including — you guessed it — a swan.”

(OK, so this isn’t exactly the very latest news, but I thought it was worth sharing nonetheless.) The above is an excerpt from an Associated Press review by George Jahn of the opening night (3rd December 2005) of Barrie Kosky’s production. The description of the staging of the second act sounds especially trying. I’m not sure if I would have joined in the booing if I’d been there (we’re just too polite really, aren’t we?), but the review suggests that the experience might even have been on a par with the now-legendary, and appallingly awful Munich staging of poor old Gounod’s Faust. Barrie Kosky: another name to add to the Black List of Producers.

4 thoughts on “Production boos for Vienna Lohengrin

  1. By the way, can anyone tell me the name of the producer who was responsible for the Faust disaster? He needs to go on the black list too. Actually, it might be a good idea for those of us with greater experience of the international opera scene (you know who you are) to add some other names and explain why they deserve to be there.

  2. The offender in Munich was David Pountney – and booing would have been too good for him. Perhaps there’s something to be said for capital punishment in the field of the arts? Mr Pountney should have been strapped to his own aerial steam-train and lethally injected!

    A word of caution though: we are into the realm of “one man’s meat being another man’s poison”. I disliked the production of “Turandot” we saw in Dresden, but others thought it fine.

    When debating matters of this sort I suggest we ask ourselves if the production is true to the composer’s (and librettist’s) concept of the work. For example, setting an 18th century work in the modern age of technology is always going to be authentically dubious for me. Furthermore, some social conventions just don’t translate to a later time, e.g. the “Droit de Seigneur” whose reality is inherent to a convincing “Figaro”.

    PS: The photo from Vienna’s “Lohengrin” is hilarious; I bet the swan is plastic.

  3. Well said Bernard. I knew I ran the risk of being accused of inconsistency when I included this post, in view of my own enthusiastic reaction to the Dresden “Turandot”. I’m inclined to see the whole thing as a matter of whether or not it’s done convincingly, and if the producer’s motives are sound (rather than, as so often seems the case, merely being deliberately controversial).

    In this context I’ve probably bored an awful lot of people by constantly referring to Patrick Mason’s modern-dress “Don Giovanni” for the DGOS all those years ago. That was a triumphant success, and the stagecraft at the end was as good as you’d see anywhere.

  4. Another friend confirms Viennese Lohengrin an absurd failure. It’s getting harder all the time, but do not write off Barrie Kosky. His Orpheo in Berlin in 2004 was a resounding success. I was there.

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