#From the Chair
#Tristan & Isolde
#Forthcoming Events
#Buddhist Philosophy and Richard Wagner
#My own very Personal reflections on my visit to Bayreuth 2021

From the Chair

As the world emerges from the past two years of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Richard Wagner Verband International (RWVI) will be getting an allocation of tickets for the Bayreuth Festival this year – 1250 tickets in all, which is far fewer than they used to get, but of course, better than nothing. As soon as we know, we will be in touch about the ticket ballots for the coming year.

We also currently have 2 tickets available for members to accompany our 2020 Stipendiat Tomas Leakey for the Bayreuth Festival 18.8. – 20.8.2022. Please contact the Bayreuth Convenor, Gabriele Kuhn asap at gabriele.kuhn@btinternet.com if you would like to buy either or both tickets. There is a tight turnaround, as this closes 25 April.

Unfortunately, the Wagner Congress in Madrid, scheduled for mid-February has again had to be postponed to later in the year – possibly May or more likely September or October. The RWVI Congress is a packed week of superb seminars, meetings and concerts usually attended by members of the Wagner family, and every year the Wagner Society of Scotland sends a delegate. Members are very much welcome to join us – there were 8 who attended the Venice Congress in 2020. If you would like to know more about attending, please contact me at chair@wagnerscotland.net

As you are aware, the pandemic has also significantly impacted the Society’s monthly talks programme, leading us to move to Zoom to continue the high standard of presentations we’re accustomed to, and these have been well attended. This policy will be reviewed by the Committee regularly, and we will continue the online delivery until safe to return to in-person events. We are looking into continuing the online delivery in addition to the live venue. The same policy has applied to our weekend courses that were previously held each year at Gartmore, delivered instead online by David Nice. We will be announcing the next course soon.

Derek Williams

Bayreuth & our Stipendiat

Covid permitting, Bayreuth expects to stage a full Festival in 2022 without seating restrictions, and on this basis the Stiftung will be offering the normal 250 places. This will enable them to catch up with those who were unable to attend in 2020 and 2021. Our 2020 Scholar, Tomas Leakey, will attend but our Society will not be able to offer a second Scholarship. We plan to resume our Scholarship in 2023.

Forthcoming Events

Oper Leipzig will perform all 13 Wagnerian operas in chronological order over June/July 2022. Full details are at https://www.oper-leipzig.de/en/wagner22

At the Deutsche Oper, Berlin our Patron Sir Donald Runnicles will be conducting the new production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in June 2022.

In early October, the Ring will be performed by the Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Daniel Barenboim and directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov staatsoper-berlin.de

‘The Wound that will Never Heal’ by Paul Brian Heise Paul. Heise’s confrontation with Wagner occurred in 1971 when he heard in one sitting, libretto in hand, the 1951 Seraphim recording of the Ring with the Italian Radio Orchestra conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. He has since devoted his life to discovering and sharing this knowledge, which involved a wholesale reassessment of the meaning of Wagner’s dramas and their music. ‘A comprehensive assessment of the Ring’s drama and music which reveals the Ring’s underlying allegory, a new vision of its ‘meaning’ that calls for the wholesale revision of our received conception of it.

Buddhist Philosophy and Richard Wagner By Dilip Roy FRAS

Gautama the Buddha or the Enlightened one was born at a place called Lumbini in (Sixth century BCE) in ancient India. Buddhist philosophy spread from across India to Sri Lanka to the entire South East Asia including Japan and Tibet reaching the West in the 19th century.

In America his admirers included intellectual thinkers like Albert Einstein, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and in Germany it was philosophers of the likes of Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Friedrich Schlegel, and above all Richard Wagner (1813-1883) were all influenced by Buddhist philosophy. In India too intellectual giant and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was also greatly inspired by the Buddhist philosophy.

During his exile in Switzerland, Wagner came across a massive 647 page tome by Indologist Eugene Bernouf (1801-52). After reading the book he was deeply moved by its philosophical concept of redemption and renunciation and immediately sketched out a dramatic poem based on the book and called it Die Sieger (The Victors) and it was this project that occupied till the very end of his life. Wagner in his own diary (1865) wrote a letter to King Ludwig of Bavaria on 31st May 1868 with a proposal of developing the opera and in that he explains the terms nirvana, brahman, samsara and dhyana are roughly equivalent to eternity, soul and paradise. He goes on to say that Brahman becomes desire, as music; the music which is turned towards samsara, poetry; which is the other, the side which is turned away from samsara? Nirvana – untroubled, pure harmony.

Richard Wagner also relates the title “The Victors” to his own individual philosophy and situation. The expression for Buddha and disciples is from the Buddhist term Jina and does not refer to the archetype of a radiant conqueror, but rather to a person who, in course of moral struggle with himself, overcomes his passion and selfishness through renunciation. On 22nd February 1859, Wagner felt that he had made so much progress himself along the Buddhist path that he could imagine – and indeed yearned for a – a life as a medicant monk outside the social constraints.

However, in spite all the efforts, Wagner’s dream of staging the Buddhist opera remained unfulfilled, for he was too ill to continue the project which only survives in sketches, although a lot of it found its way into his last opera Parsifal. Wagner was among the very first European to appreciate Buddhism, and he was the first major European artist to be inspired by this religion and philosophy.

Dilip Roy is a Fellow of Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He is an ardent admirer of Richard Wagner’s operas and prose works, and considers Wagner the greatest cultural icon of 19th century, who remains unequalled to date.

My own very Personal reflections on my visit to Bayreuth 2021, by Joy Millar

‘Life is short, Opera is long, Wagner is forever’ Richard Wagner

By the end of June 2021 I had resigned myself to another year without Bayreuth when suddenly through the post came a magic letter from the Friends offering me tickets for all the music dramas to be performed that year – four in total plus a concert. After discussions with Robert McCutcheon we decided that if we were allowed to travel we would go. I paid the advance of over two thousand pounds and held my breath! We could hardly believe it when we finally boarded the Eurostar train and arrived in France. Apart from French immigration stamping our passports, all went well. There was little traffic (even the Brussels ‘Ring’ was moving and manageable), my new car proved fast, economical and fun and we reached our overnight stop – Selengenstadt in good time, even though the sat-nav had gone haywire and taken us through the middle of Frankfurt. This was particularly annoying as I know the area well and had done the drive many times without help. Fortunately, while I cursed, Robert proved to be brilliant with the old fashioned map and we arrived safely. Selengenstadt is a pretty medieval town with a very old herb and rose garden and lovely tea rooms. It is usually packed with tourists in August but thanks to Covid there were few which made life much more pleasant. For some reason all the restaurants in the centre – of which there are many – served Italian food – particularly strange because while all the waiters looked Italian they were actually Arab, I assume from East Asia.

We arrived safely in Bayreuth at lunchtime and except for a further minor incident with the sat -nav which insisted on taking us down a newly built road which was hardly finished. I then turned it off for the remainder of the visit! For the last two years we have stayed in a Gasthof, very down market, but a lot of fun with singers, stagehands, photographers and reporters and Wagner enthusiasts etc. The Gasthof is the centre for the local Scat teams, a complicated card game beloved of Richard Strauss and Franconians. It is in the area of St Georgen built by Arch Prince Georg Willhelm, complete with a magnificent palace (now a prison) and an artificial lake (now an industrial estate.) When we first stayed in the area it was very run down. However in two years it has greatly improved to the extent that although there is an extremely wide cobbled thoroughfare, within fifteen minutes I received a parking ticket! Progress indeed. However, almost opposite our Gasthof is the loveliest church in Bayreuth, the Ordenskirche or the Church of the Order. The foundation stone was laid in 1705 and it remains a gem among Protestant churches with a largely unchanged interior – a magnificent example of the baroque style. Indeed, Cosima’s funeral was held here.

Then to the Festspielhaus! Here Covid restrictions were strictly enforced. There was no inside eating, only temporary toilets and outside lockers for bags etc. However, the outside had been transformed with magnificent flower beds, much more seating with attractive tables and white canopies and colourful vans selling street food and drink. Every effort had been made to accommodate opera goers even to providing plastic mac type coverings should it rain (which it did most of the week). To provide additional entertainment, in Tannhauser Venus sang to the crowd at the lake in the first interval while the dwarf floated round it on a plastic duck, while in Die Walküre the audience were invited to fight dragons using virtual reality headsets during the intervals. Before entry to a performance you had to show your vaccination certificate (or negative test results for that day), your ticket and your passport. You were then bracelet tagged to allow your entry to the performance which was closely monitored by dark suited, unsmiling security guards who ensured you had the appropriate coloured bracelet – correct mask – FFP2 (the gestapo I called them, but was there so often I did get them to smile eventually and chat). The old building which had housed the DVD/CD shop/toilets had been replaced by a sterile new building, new toilets (much needed) and a record shop (with little stock) but sadly no familiar post box, post office or fascinating cards and stamps – how sad!

And so to the performances; but first a word about the Friends of Bayreuth. Their office had been moved to the front of the Steigenburger (the main Festpielhaus restaurant) was wide and spacious with a covered open space in front with tables and seating for members. There was also a restaurant providing a three course meal with wine. Everything had been done that could be done to make members feel welcome. The first music drama I attended was one of the great experiences of my life. It was a semi staged performance of Die Walküre. The Festpielhaus audience had been halved by covid restrictions and the atmosphere was electrifying. Each side of me was an empty seat covered in black velvet and when the lights dimmed the atmosphere was of total isolation. The magnificent theatre acoustic sounded quite different, much brighter making the soloists voices louder and deeper. The singers were dressed in long black robes (rather like monks) and sat on simple wooden chairs. The back and floor of the space behind the singers was covered with huge white screens. During the concert performance it was illustrated with a wonderful spectacle of paint colours by the Austrian sound artist Herman Nitsch – merging and changing to reinforce the story – many greens for the forest and wonderful reds for the fire music in Act III, the illustrations continually changing and building the relationships with the music and drama. It was an exhausting task for the paint throwers and pourers who rightly received a huge ovation at the end of the performance. The singers were superb, Klaus Florian Vogt was wonderful, his voice deeper and more resonant. It was delightful to have a tenor as tall as Lisa Davidsen who sang Sieglinde with great passion – her voice so huge it almost hurt the eardrums. The Wotan – Tomasz Konicezny, who sings the role in the Budapest Ring was also extremely good as was Catherine Foster substituting for Irene Theorin who was indisposed (the latter is said to have a strong vibrato which doesn’t appeal to me). Here I must mention Günther Groissböck’s withdrawal from Bayreuth’s production of the Ring cycle in 2023 because of a reaction from Covid-19. I have found his performances in the past both vocally and dramatically amazing and was very disappointed not only about his withdrawal but the less than sympathetic reaction from the management.

After the euphoria of Die Walküre, the same cannot be said of the new production of Der Fliegende Holländer. I disliked almost everything about it. The dramatisation played out on the stage bore no relation to Wagner’s libretto nor to the legend of the Holländer. There was no sea, no sailors, no curse: just an arrogant producer presenting his own story, and to my despair the audience loved it! Even Daland – Georg Zeppenfeld, the Holländer John Lundgren and the chorus sounded subdued. However the whole performance was saved and enhanced by the wonderful Lithuanian/Armenian soprano Asmik Grigorian who portrayed Senta in a way I had never seen before. Her voice was superb and put all previous singers of the role to shame. I have heard many Sentas in my lifetime but never one who sang as wonderfully as she did. She played Senta as a rebellious teenager and dominated the stage. She has since made the front cover of Opera magazine, sang a magnificent Salome, a memorable Jenufa and has huge numbers of engagements in the future including the three roles in Il Trittio by Puccini at the Saltzburg festival. She looks wonderful and she sounds wonderful – do not miss her – you will be rewarded.

A Konzert mit Andris Nelsons – thus was titled the next Bayreuth event I attended. Who would have ever thought we would hear ‘bleeding chunks’ of Wagner at the hallowed hall, but we did and it was magnificent. The orchestra appeared in all its glory on stage – gone were the T-shirts, jeans and shorts we are used to at the Festpielhaus. Instead the impeccable attire of the national orchestras led by that wonderful bear-like Andris Nelsens (returned to favour). I had a wonderful view – centre mid stalls with no one in front or at the sides of me. It gave the impression of a concert for me alone. The programme that evening turned into a ‘Klaus Gig’ a phrase unknown to the Germans at our Gasthof. Firstly we listened again to the wonderful first act of Die Walküre – Klaus Florian Vogt, Christine Goerke and Gunther Groissböck. Then after the interval it was overtures and Klaus all the way – first Lohengrin, then Parsifal extracts to the delight of all concerned, a wonderful evening.

Next came Tannhäuser. As usual the singers Lisa Davidsen, Stephen Gould and Markus Eiche, chorus and orchestra were wonderful although after Stephen Gould’s rendition of ‘Inbrunst im Herzen’ – well sung but with no nuances – as soon as I returned home I played Jonas Kaufmanns wonderfully dramatic and sensitive version of the same aria. I have mixed views of this production. In my opinion some of it works, some doesn’t but at least the producer addresses the story of Tannhäuser and doesn’t ignore it completely although what a dwarf, a drag artist among others have to do with the plot I have yet to understand. However his concept of Venus proved interesting and unusual. My favourite part of the opera was the banner hung from the balcony of the Festpielhaus:
Frei Im Wollen (Free In Willing) Frei Im Thun (Free In Doing) Frei Im Geniessen (Free In Enjoying), Richard Wagner
(as usual RW says it all) I now have it adorning my wall in the dining room.

So, last but by no means least ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’ – Wagner’s most human music drama and perhaps his most vilified. Sadly this is the last time we will see this production by Barrie Kosky. I have long been an admirer of Kosky since I saw his production of the Magic Flute in Scotland and the dramatisation of Saul the oratorio at Glynebourne. I don’t always agree with what he does but I usually understand why he does it. When he first produced Meistersinger he was happy to attend the performances and discuss it at length with the audience during the intervals, which was greatly appreciated. I have seen this production several times and it seems to have evolved and developed over that time or perhaps my understanding of what he is trying to achieve has. Michael Volle – not my favourite Hans Sach – has both vocally and dramatically moved on, and his performance was extremely moving. The supporting cast Klaus Florian Vogt, Georg Zeppenfeld, Johannes Martin Kranzle and Gunther Groissböck was superb with Daniel Behle a most engaging David. Whoever produces the next Meistersinger will have a hard act to follow.

When our partners sadly died, Robert McCutcheon and I decided to go to the Bayreuth Festival in the week of our birthdays. In the twenty two years when I have been to the festival, the weather has been almost unbearably hot – this year it was cold, wet and miserable so much so that I wore my winter coat for the last performance I saw – Meistersinger. However, the sun shone on us for my birthday and we spent the morning at the beautiful L’Ermitage – always a must on our visits to Bayreuth, returning to eat my birthday lunch with German friends at the Wolffenzacher my favourite restaurant – trout and sparkling German white wine outside in the sun amid numerous wedding parties and celebrations. Roberts celebrations were at Wagners favourite public house Der Eule (The Owl) to equally fine fare.

Our week in Bayreuth is usually the international meeting of Wagnerians from all over the world – America, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand to name but a few. This year we were the only Brits we knew about, and heard only five American voices – everyone else was German or from the European mainland as far as we could tell. Wherever we went, whoever we talked to was puzzled why Britain left the European Union – we had no answers to a question we also didn’t understand.

Finally – our journey home. With proof of negative covid-19 test we started home. The journey was excellent until we reached the channel tunnel. All travellers had to park and take paperwork into the main building – usually the restaurants etc. While we had our ticket, passport, negative covid test results, confirmation of PCR test booked 2 days after our return, we had no passenger locator forms although my P.A Julia had entered our details on the gov website. A delightful woman behind the desk seemed amused that at 85 I was not computer literate, and had no documentation. When I said anyway I would rather stay in France or Germany she found her boss – a charming and good looking cultured middle eastern gentleman – who offered to do our documentation for us, which he managed with efficiency. When asked what would happen when I next went to France in four weeks’ time – he replied – ‘ask for me, I will sort it out’! That’s what I call service. So three hours after entering the tunnel precinct we boarded the train, congratulating ourselves that we had done what many others had not the courage or stubbornness to do.

‘If there gleams in your breast the sincere pure glow of art, assuredly the lovely flame will someday burst forth: but it is knowledge that nourishes this glow and turns it to strong pure flame.’