Study days

Staging Wagner – March 2nd 2019 – report

Manchester Wagnerians enjoyed a fascinating Study Day on Staging Wagner delivered by Anthony Ogus on Saturday 2nd March.

Opening session

Anthony began with a magisterial overview of staging styles from the days of the first production at Bayreuth in 1876 when Wagner was not only composer of The Ring but also theatre director. He described Wagner’s style as Romantic Realist, which might seem like a contradiction in terms, but for Wagner it was important that his illusory world should be credible to the audience. With Parsifal, however, Wagner allowed a staging that was more visionary and symbolic, though he was still concerned to ensure that the motivation for dramatic action was convincingly communicated to the audience.

Since then Wagnerian productions have exhibited a huge range of styles which Anthony described under the headings ‘exoticism and fantasy’, ‘abstraction and symbolism’, ‘politicisation’, ‘modern realism’ and ‘deconstruction’. Key exemplars of these styles were discussed with illustrations, though Anthony emphasised that these were not exclusive categories. He concluded by suggesting that there were five ‘tests of quality’ in a production:

  • Clarity of narrative
  • Clarity and coherence
  • Compatibility with text
  • Compatibility with music leitmotifs
  • Aesthetic pleasing

Following sessions

In the following sessions, Anthony introduced extracts from two contrasting productions of four of Wagner’s works – Tristan, Rheingold, Meistersinger, and Tannhäuser. The discussion of each pair of extracts was introduced by members of the Manchester Society, who succeeded in provoking lively discussion by the participants in the Study Day. The Study Day was both enjoyable and stimulating as the high level of engagement by the participants amply demonstrated.

The extracts (listed by title, director, designer, conductor, theatre, date and singers) were as follows:

1a. Tristan
Wieland Wagner, Wieland Wagner, Pierre Boulez, Osaka, 1967, Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen.

1b. Tristan
Heiner Mueller, Erich Wonder,  Daniel Barenboim, Bayreuth, 1995, Waltraud Meier,  Siegfried Jerusalem.

2a. Rheingold
Patrice Chereau, Richard Peduzzi,  Pierre Boulez, Bayreuth 1980, Donald McIntyre,  Hanna Schwarz,  Heinz Zednik.

2b. Rheingold
Kasper Holten, Henning Larsen,  Michael Schønwandt, Copenhagen,  2006, Johan Reuter, Randi Stene,  Michael Kristensen.

3a. Meistersinger
Katharina Wagner,  Tilo Steffens,  Sebastian Weigle, Bayreuth, 2007, Klaus Florian Vogt,  Frank Hawlata,   Michaela Kaune.

3b. Meistersinger
David Alden, Gideon Davey,   Marc Albrecht, Amsterdam, 2016, Roberto Sacca, James Johnson, Agneta Eichenholz.

4a. Tannhäuser
Götz Friedrich, Jürgen Rose,  Colin Davis, Bayreuth, 1978, Spas Wenkoff, Gwyneth Jones

4b. Tannhäuser
Sebastien Baumgarten,  Joep Van Lieshout,  Axel Kober, Bayreuth, 2014, Torsten Kerl,  Michelle Breedt.

About the speaker

Anthony Ogus is a retired academic lawyer, and an Emeritus Professor at the Universities of Manchester and Rotterdam. He is an elected Fellow of the British Academy and was awarded the CBE in 2002. In 2013 he published a book on opera-going, Travels with My Opera Glasses, and he writes a monthly article for the Opera Now magazine under that same title. Anthony also records works of English Literature for LibriVox.