There are three new Ring cycles in Europe this fall, and the most interesting one is definitely at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. It is the parting gift of outgoing general director Jean-Pierre Brossmann, who brought back director Robert Wilson and teamed him up with conductor Christoph Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris. I've been reading a lot in the wake of the media saturation in the French newspapers. Here are a few excerpts, beginning with Jean-Louis Validire's interview with Eschenbach (Eschenbach : «Je suis dans les griffes de Wagner», October 15) for Le Figaro (my translation):
What need drove you to attempt the tetralogy right now?Next, Eric Dahan interviewed Robert Wilson («Fidèle à l'idéal wagnérien et à "Star Wars"», October 22) for Libération (my translation):
I have always lived with Wagner. When I was young, Wieland and Wolfgang, Richard's sons, gave me the opportunity to witness the performances at Bayreuth for three or four years in the orchestra pit. Each summer for four weeks, I was actually seated inside the score. I have been in Wagner's clutches ever since. I have thus not had to relearn The Ring, only rediscover it, which is very exciting and reminds me of those precious hours in the 1950s and 60s, when I first became aware of the magic of this musical language that is so personal.
Your Ring begins in a very prosaic way, almost like a space opera...I'm not sure what any of that means. In English, Mary Blume did a piece on Eschenbach and this production (Eschenbach's united effort behind 'Ring', October 13) for the International Herald Tribune:
I was looking to get past German mythology. Baudelaire, when he saw Tannhäuser in Paris in 1856, wrote that he experieced time, space, and light in an unheard of way. As I see it, this confirms my approach to The Ring, as faithful to the Wagnerian ideal as it is to Star Wars. It's like peering through a porthole on a spaceship, forgetting all of the world's space, letting oneself be invaded by this music that stamps its own time and space on us. Staging tends to saturate space with movements, while I personally seek to eliminate them. I am often bothered by the illustrative and resounding character of a tradition that plays Brünehilde as an agitated hysteric, thus obscuring the power of her ice and fire singing. Yes, Wagner was like Cecil B. De Mille but also wanted his music to be treated nobly. That is a feeling that also strikes me when I hear The Ring.
He was born Christoph Ringmann in 1940 in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland), where his mother, a pianist, died in childbirth. His musicologist father, an anti-Nazi, was sent to the Russian front to die. As the war ended, Christoph fled west with his grandparents. His grandfather died en route and, quarantined in a makeshift camp, his grandmother was killed by typhus with the child lying by her side. A musician cousin and her violinist husband eventually tracked him down and adopted him. Christoph was unable to speak for more than a year. His horrible experiences, he says, brought him to music. "I had to express myself, find a let-out for those terrible impressions that were locked in me. And when I heard my second mother play and sing I also wanted to play and sing. It was saying yes to music - that was what I wanted to do in life because I was for the first time really happy."Eschenbach and Wilson have known one another for 20 years. According to Blume, they have been discussing this production for five years and auditioning singers for it for three years. Lastly, there is this interview with Eschenbach by Yannick Millon ("Une certaine atmosphère de musique de chambre", October 15) for the Châtelet program (my translation):
Where do you position yourself with respect to Wagnerian tradition?Not constant shouting can certainly be nice. I'll be back tomorrow with some reviews of the production. This being the Châtelet, I assume that their Ring cycle will be available on DVD in a year or two.
I have great respect for it, but I prefer to leave it behind me. My Wagner has little in common with that of a conductor who was the very incarnation of tradition, Knappertsbusch. I loved that tradition very much, long ago at Bayreuth, and I still love to dive into it today through recordings, but for a 21st-century conductor, it's a different world. The one who left a mark on me, because he was truly looking for something new, is Karajan. He discovered a transparency, a certain chamber music atmosphere in these scores, and as a result completely rethought the balance and textures. He was notably among the first not to let the singers constantly shout.