Parsifal, Bayreuth Festival — ‘A washout’

Klaus Florian Vogt as Parsifal. Photo: Enrico Nawrath©Enrico Nawrath

Klaus Florian Vogt as Parsifal. Photo: Enrico Nawrath

The barricades began at the bottom of Bayreuth’s iconic Green Hill. Hundreds of uniformed police stood by, some of them giggling nervously the atmosphere was 1 of mild hysteria. Really who they have been attempting to shield from whom, and why, seemed clear to no one.

There was no red carpet at this year’s Bayreuth Festival opening. The official state reception was cancelled. Safety, even for the duration of the rehearsal period, has been so extreme that at one particular point tenor Klaus Florian Vogt was seized by mistake. He was wearing complete military attire and carried no identification can you blame them?

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Because Germany does not have a royal loved ones, it pays disproportionate focus to the petty upheavals of the Wagner clan. The theatrics around this year’s new Parsifal production had been intense. Provocative artist Jonathan Meese was hired to direct the production, and then sacked once again, ostensibly because his idea was as well pricey. The fact that he was also prosecuted (and acquitted) for employing the Nazi salute for the duration of one more artistic efficiency may possibly have been entirely coincidental.

Perform-a-day opera director Uwe Eric Laufenberg, who occurred to have a Parsifal concept in his back pocket, was hired to cease the gap. Then, with much less than a month to go before curtain-up, star conductor Andris Nelsons bailed out. Was it since Bayreuth’s famously undiplomatic music director Christian Thielemann had been sitting in on his rehearsals, telling him how to conduct? In an effusive interview following the occasion, Thielemann insisted that Nelsons could not possibly have objected to his effectively-intended suggestions the two conductors have been “almost friends”, he added.

Mercifully, Wagner veteran Hartmut Haenchen was cost-free, and the production could go ahead. Then came Good, Würzburg, Munich, Reutlingen, Ansbach. Germany was unsettled. Laufenberg’s production was rumoured to be overtly vital of religions, like Islam. On the edge of panic, probably overestimating its own value, Bayreuth girded its loins for disaster.

In the finish, there were no calamities only a series of disappointments. Sixty prime seats stayed vacant as Wagner hopefuls queued for tickets — nearby politicians who could not attend declined to return their unused tickets. A ban on cushions, classic accessories to soften six hours on Bayreuth’s notoriously uncomfortable seats, was issued. Police rifled by means of handbags and patted down dinner jackets, but identified absolutely nothing suspicious.

There was no overt criticism of Islam in Laufenberg’s production. Such as it was, his notion showed a generic religious order (monks’ robes, crucifixes, prayer mats, prayer shawls, chadors) in a war-torn society. A cruel ritual of drinking blood from Amfortas’s wound peters out when Parsifal returns in the third act and everybody casts their devotional accoutrements into Titurel’s coffin. Think about no religion. As a remedy to Wagner’s cryptic “redemption of the redeemer”, this is a feeble work.

For a provincial German property, Laufenberg’s staging would be acceptable. His handicraft is unimpeachable, and there are some fine details, which includes brief but gorgeous video interludes (Gérard Naziri) in the very first and third act. But for Bayreuth, which has small purpose to exist if it is not setting globe standards in Wagner interpretation, it is a washout. Following Christoph Schlingensief’s 2004 voodoo exegesis and Stefan Herheim’s complex hymn to the work’s reception history in 2008, the Parsifal bar in Bayreuth is set high. Laufenberg falls far quick of the mark.

Not so Haenchen, whose conducting is a single of the best issues about the evening it was higher time for his Bayreuth debut. His is a sober, intelligent, meticulously crafted Parsifal, not offered to the ecstatic or transcendent gestures that Nelsons may have brought. With his modest clarity and tender insight, Haenchen tends to make a Parsifal that is totally his personal — no mean achievement beneath the situations. This is a secular humanist take on the piece that actually does have weight.

Also outstanding are Georg Zeppenfeld’s virile, articulate Gurnemanz and Elena Pankratova’s impassioned Kundry. Ryan McKinny’s Amfortas sounds much less wounded than he looks, although Vogt produces his trademark choirboy higher notes in the title part, even if his palette of vocal colours is restricted and his phrasing frequently wooden.

Angela Merkel, who frequently attends Bayreuth openings, stayed away. Sensible lady.

To August 28,

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Section: Arts

Figaro Gets a Divorce, Millennium Centre, Cardiff — ‘A rollercoaster’

David Stout and Marie Arnet in ‘Figaro Gets a Divorce’. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith©Richard Hubert Smith

David Stout and Marie Arnet in ‘Figaro Gets a Divorce’. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Hollywood does well by sequels, so why not opera? Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro positively invite a successor, not least due to the fact Beaumarchais himself left a third play in his trilogy prepared for adaptation. Milhaud tried it, Corigliano borrowed some of the characters, but their operas have not caught on.

Enter composer Elena Langer and librettist David Pountney with Figaro Gets a Divorce. Welsh National Opera is enterprisingly offering the three operas in tandem, so audiences can comply with the story in sequence. That may possibly not support, even though. The new situation is intentionally disruptive, transporting plot and characters to a new era of experiences.

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Pountney has dropped Figaro and company down in the 1930s (like Ŏdön von Horváth’s play just before him). How will they survive in a globe more Brecht than Beaumarchais? The Almaviva household have turn into migrants fleeing a rightwing coup, apparently in Latin America to judge from the dance music. The Count degenerates into a compulsive gambler. Cherubino is a cross-dressing barman, known as “the Cherub”, in a casino. It is hard to keep up with it all. The tone veers from surrealism to revue, existentialist angst to romantic comedy. No wonder the characters finish up masquerading as inmates in a lunatic asylum.

The most successful creation is a new character far from the original, a sinister manipulator of people referred to as The Major, sinuously delineated in Langer’s music and brilliantly sung by Alan Oke. The cast is powerful, particularly on the male side, with Mark Stone as the Count and David Stout as Figaro. Andrew Watts is vocally seductive as the doubly transvestite Cherubino. Elizabeth Watts and Marie Arnet perform challenging as the emotionally overwrought Countess and Susanna.

It is outstanding that Langer’s music manages to preserve pace with the stylistic somersaults of the plot, but it does. Tango, pantomime, impending doom, youthful romance: she brings all to life, employing a modest-sized orchestra, vividly conducted by Justin Brown. In the end, though, it is all as well much. Mozart’s genius was to develop men and women on stage we really feel we know. On this rollercoaster of an opera these much-loved close friends get lost from sight.

To April 7,

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Section: Arts

The Encounter, Barbican, London — ‘A story about storytelling’

Simon McBurney in ‘The Encounter’. Photo: Jane Hobson©Jane Hobson

Simon McBurney in ‘The Encounter’. Photo: Jane Hobson

Acoustic baffling. The phrase describes both the backdrop to the vast Barbican stage for this Complicite production — a pattern of foam wedges to deaden reverberation within a space — and director/performer Simon McBurney’s approach to telling this specific story. The audience don headphones and attend as McBurney performs a stage bare but for a functional table and chair, a handful of dozen mineral water bottles and the wherewithal to generate a range of soundscapes.

McBurney wears a head microphone there are a quantity of ambient mics, and a binaural set-up shaped like a human head to generate the type of stereo surround panorama we naturally perceive. One of two directional mics at the table is set to fluke McBurney’s tenor speaking voice down to become that of his protagonist, American photojournalist Loren McIntyre. McBurney uses handheld speakers and looping units to develop the sounds of the Amazon rainforest in which McIntyre made 1st make contact with in the 1970s with a Mayoruna tribe and, reduce off from make contact with with “civilisation”, accompanied them in bewilderment on their quest to return to “the beginning” . . .  of time.

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Recordings from different times — interviews with Petru Popescu (of whose book Amazon Beaming this is an adaptation) and the mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, domestic conversations with McBurney’s young daughter — blend in our ears with the reside performance. For this piece not only retells McIntyre’s story about time, but is itself about storytelling and time, and also about voices. The multi-vocal storytelling of McBurney’s Berlin production of Stefan Zweig’s Beware Of Pity , which I reviewed here a number of weeks ago, now becomes apparent as a kind of limbering-up for this presentation, in which one particular man remains alone on stage for much more than two uninterrupted hours.

Alone on stage, but not in our perception. The Encounter is not in contrast to one particular of Katie Mitchell’s dramatic deconstructions, except that the artificial composition builds up not just before our eyes but among our ears and that, in a Complicite keynote, the method is in no way allowed to overshadow the material. This account of the lessons and wonders that a technology-totally free Brazilian men and women might have to teach us is conveyed by utilizing modern technologies to create a palpable impression of these wonders.

To March 6,

‘The Encounter’ will be offered as a live stream direct from the Barbican on on Tuesday March 1, at 7.30pm. For a full appreciation, please put on headphones:

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Section: Arts

The Danish Girl — film overview: ‘A dire movie’

Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander in 'The Danish Girl'

Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander in ‘The Danish Girl’

Eddie Redmayne works so tough in The Danish Girl, as the painter and
pioneer sex-adjust patient Einar Wegener, who became renowned as “Lili Elbe”, that you want to sit him down, wave a towel and spray water in his mouth. It’s acting as histrionic slugging: except that Redmayne must be counter-macho for ten rounds, not punching but preening and simpering. That’s how you win trophies — or feel you win trophies — in gender reassignment roles.

It is a dire movie. Via the distorting glass of David Ebershoff’s semi-fictionalised book about Einar/Lili (which inter alia airbrushes out wife Gerda’s lesbianism), screenwriter Lucinda Coxon and director Tom Hooper generate a period drama that is all period and no drama. 1920s Denmark is a Vienna Secession-style delirium: art nouveau by the tonne, Klimt-like dresses and poses. And dialogue like mottos written about a painting’s frame or gilded speech balloons. “This surgery has never ever been attempted before,” declares, for the hard of hearing or apprehending, the surgeon professor. And “I want my husband!” emotes Alicia Vikander’s Gerda earlier, as Redmayne-Einar begins morphing into Redmayne-Lili.

Some commentators have attacked the film for casting a “cis” actor (a single comfy with his personal gender) in a “trans” function. That appears the least of The Danish Girl’s offences or failings. It is like criticising a white actor’s assumption of Othello in a Shakespeare production falling apart wherever you appear.

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Section: Arts

Joy — film evaluation: ‘A wry swipe at American optimism’

Jennifer Lawrence in David O. Russell's 'Joy'

Jennifer Lawrence in David O. Russell’s ‘Joy’

Something is running around, difficult to catch, in David O. Russell’s Joy. At initial you want to trap it, or zap it, with one of the multi-function mops patented by the inventor heroine (Jennifer Lawrence). You realise, eventually, what it is. It’s the film’s mis­chievous subtext. It is the answer to the question, “Why are we watching this feelgood, even hokum-ish story, primarily based on true events, about a self-created lady who marketed a household tool?”

Russell is a mischief-maker. Three Kings was a war film as opposed to a war film, a lot more a black comedy in a fire-zone. Silver Linings Playbook was a feral fairy tale. Joy, like his last film American Hustle, is about the American dream. But with Russell the American dream is an antic, elusive issue, far more like the oneiric tatters that form a dream as you slip in or out of it.

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Joy’s first hour is loose, ludic, exhilarating. Right here, largely beneath one particular roof, is a working-class dynasty that is all proximity and no relating. Joy, primarily based on real mop inventor and later millionairess Joy Mangano, is a struggling blonde scatterbrain dreaming up hit-or-miss gizmos (wonderfully played by Lawrence). Mum (Virginia Madsen) lies on bed all day watching soap operas. Semi-estranged dad pops in and out, played by Robert De Niro in his twangy, vibrant-loser Woody Allen style. Add Joy’s husband, who wants to be the subsequent Tom Jones, and granny (Diane Ladd), who delivers the script’s best line. “You were born to be the unanxious presence in the space,” she tells Joy.

Even when the film sails close to accurate-story triteness, teledrama-style, the director as ironist is at function. As Joy goes ahead of the purchasing channel cameras, nervously wielding her mop below the lights although chirruping of single-weave cleaning heads detachable for machine-washing, I thought of a famous painting by Richard Hamilton — that pop-art paragon and paradigm of the 1950s — titled “Just what is it that makes today’s houses so different, so attractive?” Russell achieves the exact same blend of consumer cheesiness, collage exuberance and bizarre bliss-out. And when Bradley Cooper turns up playing the tycoon as dream hero, a suave comic-book hunk, you can add Roy Lichtenstein to Richard Hamilton.

Postmodern wryness is a risky style. It is via faith as considerably as cause, at times, that we credit Russell with intending a wry swipe at American optimism simultaneously with a loving handshake. You need two hands for that or 1 hand more quickly than light. In some scenes we sense that second wizardry. There is a corporation waiting area, huge, modernist and Valhalla-shadowed, that resembles an Ayn Rand dream or nightmare. As imagery it is each awesome and lunatic. And watch for Isabella Rossellini as De Niro’s new consort, a witchily glamorous business boss with a sly, unerring instinct for hindering the young although pretending to help. It’s this actress’s best, and spookiest, role considering that Blue Velvet.

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Section: Arts

Madonna, O2 Arena, London — ‘A spectacular show of strength’

Madonna on stage at the O2 Arena. Photo: Neil Lupin/Redferns©Neil Lupin/Redferns

Madonna on stage at the O2 Arena. Photo: Neil Lupin/Redferns

Of the two sides of Madonna revealed on her most current album Rebel Heart — a single a lachrymose balladeer pleading “Just hold me although I cry my eyes out”, the other an imperious sex-crazed queen snarling “Go difficult or go home” — which would predominate at the O2 Arena?

The phalanx of men kneeling on the stage in Game of Thrones warrior garb at the start, every single holding a cross and bowing as they awaited her entrance, was a hint of what to anticipate. And so it proved, with Madonna descending from on high in a suspended cage, singing the blaring dance track “Iconic” with unblinking iciness, wearing a red outfit with black fake fur lining that gave her the look of a ninja-educated tsarina.


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  • Chvrches, Alexandra Palace, London — ‘Muscular, expansive’
  • Aghet-Ağıt, Radialsystem V, Berlin — ‘A howl of protest’
  • Tavener, Pärt and Adams, Kings Place, London — ‘Mystical and visceral’

What followed was a show of superstar invincibility. It was a U-turn of sorts, ending the efforts that Madonna has made in middle age to craft a far more sympathetic, human character for herself, as with Rebel Heart’s weepy ballads. That campaign reached an inadvertent nadir at the Brit Awards earlier this year, when a botched try to get rid of a cape triggered the dazed singer to be dragged down a staircase. Tonight’s show, at the extremely very same venue, identified her coming to her senses. Fallibility is for civilians.

The two-and-a-quarter-hour concert was incident-packed and superbly executed. Higher production values palliated the regal ticket rates the singer charges. Her choreography with 17 backing dancers was expertly detailed, from the Japanese-themed moves that added lethal grace to the crude snarl of “Bitch, I’m Madonna” to a sacrilegious pole-dancing nuns routine in “Holy Water”: salacious but impeccably timed, like the Las Vegas theatrics that the show so effectively mines.

The highlight was “Music”, set as a 1930s Busby Berkeley musical, with the backing band neatly switching in between jazz and thumping beats, and Madonna in a sparkly flapper’s minidress interrupting the song to execute a witty burlesque routine. Self-pitying tear-jerkers had been recast as acts of resilience, such as “Heartbreak City”, which ended with the singer pushing a villainous man off the top of a spiral staircase with the diva’s cry of “You abandoned me!” The model was the indomitable Edith Piaf, to whom Madonna paid tribute with a boldly warbled version of “La Vie en rose”.

Old hits had been imaginatively overhauled. “Burning Up”, from her 1983 debut, an early instance of her unabashed nature (“I have no shame!”), became a wild rocker, Madonna on her knees pretending to shred a guitar. “Material Girl” was rebooted as hard-edged electro. A straight rendition of “Like a Prayer” followed an emotional but defiant speech about Aids: “We shall overcome!” So, in a various context, she did tonight. The Rebel Heart tour turns a muddled album into a spectacular show of strength.

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Section: Arts